Russian Su-34 Fullbacks Fly First Syria Sorties Loaded With Air-To-Air Missiles

Illustration for article titled Russian Su-34 Fullbacks Fly First Syria Sorties Loaded With Air-To-Air Missiles

Russia has publicized its first Syrian air campaign missions with their Su-34 Fullback fighter-bombers loaded with air-to-air missiles. This move is in direct response to Turkey shooting down its Su-24 Fencer attack jet along the Turkish-Syrian border a week ago.


Since the Russia’s air war spun up two months ago, Su-34s have only carried air-to-ground munitions, with just four Su-30s providing counter-air capabilities in Syria. Now, with the addition of this new armament, they will be able to shoot-down aircraft from dozens of miles away as well as attack ground targets.

Missiles shown in the video above include the R-27 “Alamo,” most likely the R-27R or ER version, which uses semi-active radar homing (think later versions of the American AIM-7 Sparrow.) On the outer wing stations are the notorious R-73 “Archer” high-off boresight short-range air-to-air missile. These highly maneuverable missiles can strike targets far off the jet’s center axis when cued by the pilot’s helmet mounted sight system, radar, or infrared search and track system.

Igor Klimov, a spokesman for the Russian Air Force, discussed the weapons with Russian news outlet RT:

“Today, Russian Su-34 fighter-bombers have made their first sortie equipped not only with high explosive aviation bombs and hollow charge bombs, but also with short- and medium-range air-to-air missiles,” Klimov said. “The planes are equipped with missiles for defensive purposes,” he added.

The missiles have target-seeking devices and are “capable of hitting air targets within a 60km radius,” he said.

The weapons mounted on the inboard stations of the Fullback shown in the video are the KAB-500 TV guided bombs. This is a rarity as the vast majority of weapons used in Russia’s air campaign have been unguided. although considering the cameras are there specifically to look at the jet’s weapons capabilities, the appearance of guided air-to-ground munitions is no surprise.

Note that even in this video, FAB-500 unguided bombs are mounted on the Fullback’s under-intake hardpoints. The pods on the wingtips are part of the “Khibiny” electronic countermeasures (ECM) system, which is a staple on many Su-34 airframes these days.


The arming of Russia’s Su-34 is Syria, along with their deployment of the feared S-400 air defense system, is clearly a sign to Turkey and any other potential aggressor that Russia is not going to lose another aircraft, or any other asset for that matter, without reprisal.


Still, arming the four Su-34s for air-to-air engagements in addition to the four Su-30s currently based in Syria is a far cry from being able to provide every strike mission with fighter cover, as Russia claimed it would do. Such a change in tactics would require more fighter aircraft than are currently deployed to Russia’s base in south of the Syrian port city of Latakia, or it will require a large decrease in sortie rates. This is unlikely as Russia is trying to increase it activity over Syria, not decrease it.


If those extra fighter aircraft are not deployed, it would be a sign that all this is largely for show and/or that Russia may just use its multi-role aircraft for missions along the border, with its 11 Su-24s and 12 Su-25s taking on targets located deeper in Syria.

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I have read many breathless reports recently about the capabilities of Russian military hardware. As someone who spent quite a bit of time in Russia after the collapse of the USSR, I’m always fairly skeptical. Russian engineering often leaves much to be desired.

The Russians have built some decent military equipment in their time, but I think the real world capabilities tend to not meet the theoretical projections on many, many occasions.