The Russian Air Force pilots operating the Su-34, medium-range fighter-bomber/strike aircraft, are set to receive training to conduct aerial combat at high altitudes at supersonic speeds.
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The is expected to give an edge over the adversary because the bomber will now be able to carry out combat missions independently without needing another fighter jet.
According to a report in Izvestia, the aircraft will be able to defend itself on its own, especially at long distances, when it is impossible to cover it with fighters. Earlier, the Su-34 was used exclusively as a strike aircraft to destroy the land and sea targets, cover other bombers with electronic warfare.
However, the newspaper, citing defence ministry sources said that the standard training program for pilots operating Su-34 will now be expanded.
“Despite the fact that the Su-34 is a front-line bomber with an increased range, it has the capabilities of a fighter,” Lieutenant General Valery Gorbenko, former commander of the 4th Air Force and Air Defense Army, told Izvestia.
“There is nothing particularly difficult in this. Starting with the Su-17 aircraft, we have been practising shooting at air targets. Fighter-bombers will not carry out air defence functions, but they will be able to defend themselves when performing combat missions,” he added.
He further said that in theory, bombers should accompany fighters, however, in practice, the forces are not always sufficient to cover them.
“The Su-34 can carry out a combat mission autonomously, independently defending itself against enemy aircraft. And if necessary, he can use weapons against bombers,” stated Gorbenko.
The Su-34, NATO reporting name “Fullback”, is a twin-seater but is uniquely different as these seats are side-by-side horizontally aligned instead of vertically aligned to the fuselage.
It is designed primarily for tactical deployment against the ground and naval targets, providing support to the ground troops and has been used by the Russian military in its campaigns in Syria.
Recently, fighter-bomber aircraft carried out a night-time combat exercise reaching to the heights of 15 kilometers at lower stratospheric level, engaging a ‘hypothetical enemy’ at supersonic speed.
“During the training flights, Sukhoi Su-34 crews carried out climbs to altitudes of about 15 kilometers, into the lower stratosphere. Upon achieving supersonic speeds, they practised interception and elimination of a hypothetical enemy. The crew operated totally on their own, without contacting air defence stations on the ground, which made the task more complex,” the press release read.
“This is a powerful high-altitude supersonic aircraft, which at an altitude of 15 km will be able to use air-to-air missiles when meeting enemy fighters,” Gorbenko said.
He further said that the Su-34 is quite manoeuvrable, it can perform all aerobatics and even conduct an air battle. “It is, of course, heavier than specialized fighters, and this specificity must be taken into account when training crews,” concluded Gorbenko.