Russian aerospace industry developing new Su-34 ISR/EW variants

The Russian aerospace industry is developing two new variants of the Sukhoi Su-34 (NATO reporting name: Fullback) frontline bomber, namely, an electronic warfare (EW) plane and an intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) aircraft, according to Aviation Week & Space Technology (AW&ST) magazine.

Russian aerospace industry developing new Su 34 ISR EW variants One of the three Su-34 fighter jets recently inducted by the Russian Central Military District
(Credit: Russian Federation Ministry of Defence)

"The ministry this month announced it plans to sign, next month, a USD3.9 million contract to enable the Su-34s to use unified reconnaissance pods, including installing pylons, a contract that will be implemented this year and into 2019," AW&ST said.

Under the aforementioned contract, the Su-34 aircraft will receive the BKR-3 (Baseline Reconnaissance Complex 3 or Bazovy Kompleks Razvedki-3) electronic intelligence (ELINT) station. The subsystem will comprise the M400A ISR device developed by the scientific-and-research institute NII Kulon (a subsidiary of Rostec State Corporation) in externally mounted UKR-family (Universal Container Pod) pods. "The adaptation of the Su-34 for carrying UKR series pods and performing reconnaissance tasks is fairly straightforward, costs about USD1 million and is a modification that can be applied to many different aircraft," AW&ST said.

The UKR family of EW/ISR pods comprises three models, the UKR-RL (the radiolocation variant), the UKR-RT (the radio-technical, or ISR, variant), and the UKR-OE (the optical-electronic variant). The UKR-RL houses the M402 Pika-M (Spike M) side-looking radar developed by NII Kulon. The export-oriented variant of the subsystem has a target detection range of up to 300 km and a resolving power of some 1-1.5 m, the developer claims. The UKR-RT stores the M410 ELINT system developed by the scientific-and-research institute TsNIIRTI , while the UKR-OE features the Antrakt camera and the M433 Raduga-VM infrared scanner. "Each pod [also] houses a data storage and wideband data link for real-time transmission to a ground station," AW&ST said. According to the magazine, NII Kulon has already started serial production of the pods "on a piece-production basis".

Along with the ISR variant of the Su-34, the aerospace industry is developing an EW modification of the Fullback. To this end, Russia upgrades the Su-34`s baseline electronic jammer, the Khibiny-10 (L175V) station and integrates a new under-fuselage jamming pod with the subsystem. The L175V C-/X-/Ku-band station can be augmented by three additional EW pods, namely, the L-175VU-1, L175VU-2 (both stations are power transmitters only) and L175VSh-1 (a C-/L-band station). The L175VSh-1 is designed to counter both airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) air platforms and ground-based radars of various air defense systems. "Deliveries of these [the three] pods to operational units started in late 2015," AW&ST said.

In October, the Novosibirsk Aviation Plant (NAZ, a subsidiary of the Sukhoi Company of the United Aircraft Corporation) delivered the 120th and 121st Su-34 frontline bombers to the Russian Aerospace Forces (VKS). The service is slate for receiving of nine Fullback squadrons, and some sixteen aircraft have yet to be delivered to the troops. It should be mentioned that the manufacturing rate of NAZ reaches 16-18 Su-34 aircraft per year.

The VKS may receive an updated version of the Su-34, Su-34M (M for Upgraded, Modernizirovanny), at an early date. "The Su-34M was developed under the Sych R&D [research-and-development] program and was recently cleared for series production," the magazine said. According to AW&ST, the updated aircraft has received the K-102M targeting subsystem on the base of the Elbrus microprocessor, Sh141M radar subsystem, and other modernized devices. Most foreign-made nods of the aircraft have been replaced by those of the Russian origins; however, some small electronic components "are still foreign". "For the time being, replacement of the current AL-31F engines is not planned," AW&ST adds.

According to the Military Balance 2018 analytical report issued by the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), the VKS operated some 100 Su-34 frontline bombers as of early 2018.

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