On February 16, the Russian Ministry of Defense (RuMoD) highlighted the capabilities of the Su-25 attack aircraft upgraded by the country in a Telegram post titled ‘Upgraded Su-25SM3: Superpower Over The Battlefield’.
The post was accompanied by the hashtag ‘Z,’ a letter that became the symbol of the Russian invasion in the initial weeks of the conflict, triggering speculations that the upgraded ground attack aircraft could have been deployed to Ukraine.
The development is significant as it comes amid fears of an imminent aerial raid by the Russian Aerospace Forces (VKS) after several fighters and helicopters were stationed close to the border with Ukraine.
Further, deploying upgraded ground-attack aircraft would potentially aid the fierce Russian offensive allegedly aimed at seizing territories in Donbas, particularly Bakhmut.
Over the months, multiple social media posts alluded to the deployment of the upgraded aircraft. Some reports in Russian media, including TASS, also hinted that the highly modified Soviet-era aircraft was operational on the frontlines.
However, the RuMoD post may be the first official acknowledgment.
Since the onset of hostilities, both Russia and Ukraine have extensively deployed the Soviet-era Su-25 ground-attack aircraft. These fighters typically fly at dangerously low altitudes to evade radars and dodge hostile missiles.
In fact, on February 18, the RuMoD posted a video on its official website showing Su-25 assault fighters launching air missile strikes at the AFU military facilities and equipment.
The accompanying announcement read: “The missiles have been launched in pairs from low altitudes. Once the airpower was operated, the crews launched heat flares and returned to the airfield of departure. The airpower operation has resulted in the elimination of the AFU camouflaged fortified positions and armored hardware.”
Without identifying the specific variants of the aircraft used, the Russian Defense Ministry frequently posts video footage of the Ukrainian army’s armored vehicles and camouflaged reinforced field positions being destroyed by Su-25 assault aircraft.
This Russian fighter jet has been upgraded into different configurations, but the new Su-25SM3 is the most advanced version.
Su-25SM3: Superpower Over The Battlefield
The Su-25SM3 is an updated version of the Su-25 Grach (NATO reporting name Frogfoot), an armored subsonic attack aircraft built to provide direct support for ground forces over the battlefield around-the-clock by attacking visible targets as well as to destroy targets with specific coordinates around-the-clock in any weather.
The Su-25SM3 has a combat radius of 650 kilometers, a maximum speed of 975 kilometers, and a payload capacity of 4.4 tons.
This iteration of the aircraft stands out from its predecessors because of its new SOLT-25 (optical, laser, thermographic) navigation and target acquisition system.
The laser rangefinder-target designator, for one, facilitates the use of laser-homing “smart” ammunition. All these together allow the aircraft to locate targets automatically.
More importantly, the upgraded variant is equipped with a GLONASS system that allows the aircraft to navigate and operate high-precision armament. The system reportedly makes it possible to increase the accuracy of unguided air-launched weapons to the level of guided weapons.
Further, it can destroy small ground and air targets around the clock and is three times more lethal than previous upgrades. The aircraft is equipped with the soviet-era 30mm GSh-30-2 dual-barrel autocannon and a host of other air-to-surface and unguided bombs and missiles.
Not just that, this advanced variant comes with its airborne self-defense system. Named Vitebsk, the onboard air defense system was developed by Research Institute Ekran for the specific defense of aircraft and helicopters against guided missiles and MANPADS. It protects the fighter with optical and electronic jamming.
Since Ukrainian troops have extensively deployed portable air defense systems to shoot down low-flying ground attack aircraft, the Su-25SM3 could use its Vitebsk air defense to attack targets inside Ukraine with impunity. The first samples of this system were supplied to the Russian army in 2015.
Apart from electronic warfare, this system is used to release heat flares if the aircraft comes under attack by man-portable air defenses, according to the Russian MoD. This is significant as both sides have lost several Su-25 in the one-year-long combat.
Thus, air defense increases the aircraft’s survivability in saturated airspace over Ukraine.
Indian Air Force veteran and ardent follower of the Ukraine-Russia war, Squadron Leader Vijainder K. Thakur (retd), says — “Besides improved capability, RuAF is now using better tactics as a result of which Su-25 losses are now rare. The Su-25 variants provide ground support under cover of Su-35S and Su-30SM.”
Moscow had reportedly deployed the aircraft to Syria on multiple occasions since 2015, as it wanted to test this upgraded aircraft in combat to ensure that it is effective and well-defended against modern shoulder-launched missiles like the 9K38 Igla and the FIM-92 Stinger.
A Su-25SM3 can participate in the Russian Armed Forces’ automated battlefield management system, which uses a variety of reconnaissance and strike systems by a network-centric concept.
As Russia continues to push through Ukraine’s defenses and with the conflict entering the second year, these upgraded aircraft could significantly bolster the Russian air offensive.
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