The Russian air force's newest planes are being shot from the sky at a startling rate, due to a lack of precision-guided munitions and the Kremlin's lack of expertise with flying artillery, Forbes reports.
With the type of aircraft Russians are using, air crews must see the ground to achieve any degree of accuracy, which means they must fly below the clouds, where they are vulnerable to Ukrainian attacks.
A twin-engine, twin-seat, supersonic fighter-bomber, the Sukhoi Su-34 is compatible with a range of precision-guided missiles and bombs, making it similar to the Boeing F-15E, the U.S. Air Force's workhorse fighter-bomber.
The difference is that the Americans purchase thousands of satellite- laser- and infrared-guided missiles and bombs each year, frequently training with and using them almost exclusively in combat, Forbes reports.
Because of the high cost of such munitions, and the effect of foreign sanctions on Russian bomb and missile manufacturers, the Russians essentially stopped buying them years ago.
According to Forbes, the Su-34s flying over Ukraine are dropping the same types of "dumb" bombs that their predecessor — the Su-24 — carried in its heyday. Flying below the clouds, they are easy targets.
And while the Su-34 has the capability to carry guided munitions, it almost never does.
"The bulk of the 300 [Russian air force] fixed-wing combat aircraft massed around Ukraine have only unguided bombs and rockets to draw on for ground-attack sorties," Justin Bronk said in a recent analysis for the Royal United Services Institute in London.
According to Forbes, the 22-ton jet can hit targets as far as 600 miles away while carrying 12 tons of bombs and missiles, including air-to-air missiles. It is also armed with a 30mm cannon and possesses a multimode radar.
Four Su-34s have been independently confirmed as being destroyed in Ukraine, and the Ukrainians have allegedly captured at least one Sukhoi pilot, Alexander Krasnoyartsev.
On March 18, Ukrainian officials claimed one Su-34 was destroyed by a shoulder-launched Stinger missile, and Kyiv authorities later said that another Su-34 was shot down by "mobile" air-defense systems, Forbes reports.
But it's not just technological limitations that are bringing Su-34s down.
Unlike American military doctrine, Russian doctrine does not free the air force to conduct its own campaign, because, in Russian doctrine, the air force is an extension of the ground force.
According to Forbes, Moscow sees its air force as airborne artillery, meaning its planes are unyielding in their delivery of intense firepower.
The Russian air force ordered its first batch of 32 Su-34s back in 2008, and, as of 2021, possessed around 122 Su-34s in several regiments.
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