May 16, 2022

Botu Linum

The Car & Automotive Devotees

Russia’s Su-34 Fullback Strike Jet Is The King Of Hauling Gas

3 min read

In the Su-34, the internal fuel load was increased to 25,130 pounds — 26,676 according to some sources — and there was now a retractable inflight refueling probe on the port side of the nose. Despite this new capability, unrefuelled range remained of paramount importance, since in the Soviet era (and still today), aerial refueling tankers were assigned to the Long-Range Bomber branch and were not an organic part of tactical aviation doctrine. 

On top of this, the Su-34 also has provision for up to three drop tanks, each containing 793 gallons, or equivalent to 5,286 pounds of fuel per tank. These are the same PTB-3000 drop tanks that can be fitted under the fixed portion of the Su-24’s wing and each carries more than the total internal fuel load of an F-5E fighter (4,516 pounds) and just roughly 1,700 pounds shy of the internal fuel volume of the F-16 (7,000 pounds).

In the case of a Fullback flying in a ‘three-bag’ configuration, adding all these fuel reserves together provides a grand total of 40,988 pounds of fuel — or 42,534 according to some sources. That is roughly the equivalent of fueling up 400 cars with 17-gallon fuel tanks or six F-16s’ internal fuel tanks. By contrast, the U.S. Air Force’s current long-range tactical strike specialist, the F-15E, carries a total of 35,550 pounds of fuel (including three external tanks plus conformal fuel tanks).

A ferry range of 2,485 miles is possible for the Fullback, marking a huge advance over the Su-24, and allowing the Su-34 to make very long-range deployments, covering almost half the length of Russia. The ferry range is, in fact, very similar to the F-15E, which the Air Force states can reach 2,400 miles — again with the help of conformal fuel tanks plus three external fuel tanks.

More importantly, the Su-34 can achieve a range of 1,864 miles when carrying six 1,100-pound bombs, four air-to-air missiles, and auxiliary tanks, and when flying at high level. Flying a sea level with the same load, the aircraft can still cover an impressive 1,087 miles, based on data published by Russian aerospace expert Piotr Butowski.

Increase the weapons load to 8,800 pounds and the Su-34, flying at low level, can reach targets within a range of 373 miles. That grows to 684 miles when flying at high level.

In practical terms, this means that while the Su-24 was anticipated to strike targets 90 to 180 miles behind the front line in a very high-threat environment, the Su-34 can hit objectives over 300 miles behind the front line. This is, after all, still the Fullback’s primary mission, cutting off forward troops from supplies from the rear, by targeting lines communications as well as command-and-control hubs and depots.

As it is, the Su-34 has, so far, been employed on very different kinds of tasks, during Russia’s campaign in support of the Syrian Assad regime, launched in September 2015. During this conflict, Su-34s have mainly carried fairly small weapons loads, with external fuel tanks rarely employed. A typical load during the early days of the campaign comprised just two satellite-guided 1,100-pound KAB-500S bombs or a handful of dumb bombs.

The Fullback has so far only been used in combat in Syria, but should Russia launch a new campaign of offensive operations over Ukraine, it’s likely that Su-34 units would be heavily involved. And, thanks to their prodigious range, Fullback units from bases much further afield in Russia would be able to make a significant contribution too.

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