Su-24 FENCER (SUKHOI)
Designed from the outset as an all-weather, low-level attack aircraft, the Sukhoi Su-24 'Fencer' bears a resemblance to the American F-111, altough the Soviet jet is somewhat smaller. Entering service after the F-111, but before the Tornado, the 'Fencer is comparable in performance with the two premier Western interdictors, being somewhat faster and with better rough field capability, but having less advanced avionics and attack systems. The Su-24 Fencer has a combat radius only 300 km less than that of the F 111E/F and equal to the Mirage IV A.
At least 500 attack 'Fencers' were built. The type is also used for maritime strike/reconnaissance and for electronic jamming/Sigint/reconnaissance. The eight weapons pylons beneath the Su-24's fuselage, wing gloves and outer wing panels can carry a wide variety of weaponry, ranging from tactical and defence-suppression bombs and missiles through to nuclear weapons.
The wings are high-mounted, variable, swept-back, and tapered. There are twin turbofan engines. The air intakes are tapered away from the body, rectangular-shaped, and mounted on the body forward of the wings' leading edges. There are twin exhausts. The fuselage is long, slender, with pointed, solid nose, and rectangular-shaped body from the air intakes to the exhausts. There are two belly fins and four pylons. There is a bubble canopy. The dorsal spine extends from the cockpit to the tail. The tail fin is swept-back and tapered with square tip. The flats are high-mounted on the fuselage, swept-back, and tapered with angular tips.
With the F-111 seeming to have established US supremacy in the design of attack aircraft in the early 1960s, the task for Soviet engineers was clear – create a plane that could combine the tasks of a fighter-bomber and a fighter-interceptor to achieve accuracy, speed and manuverability at both high and low altitudes.
In the early 1960s, Soviet aviation engineers received one of their hardest tasks yet: As the United States pulled ahead in attack aircraft design with the powerful “sweep-wing” F-111, the Soviet Air Force needed a plane that fused two proven existing designs, the Su-7B fighter-bomber and the Su-15 fighter-interceptor. The aircraft had to be capable of hitting small ground targets, reaching supersonic speeds and breaking through low-altitude enemy air defenses at 50 meters – and make it home.
The Su-15 was taken as the basis for the new design in 1963 and quickly underwent major changes. The Orion radar system installed in the nose cone was large enough to seat its two-man crew in a ‘tandem’ arrangement, side by side. It was initially planned to install four RD36-35 engines to ensure short take-off and landing capacity, but three months after the maiden flight in August 1965, the aircraft received two AL-21F engines instead. These, some claim, were designed using a J79 engine taken from a U.S. fighter shot down in Vietnam.
By this time, Soviet designers were lagging significantly behind their American counterparts who had put the state-of-the-art F-111 aircraft into the skies eight months earlier. The U.S. aircraft had a variable-sweep wing ("swing wing"), which could be adjusted backward for supersonic flight and then returned to its original wide-angled position for slow speeds. This allowed the plane to combine high-altitude supersonic flight and stable low-altitude flight while carrying a heavy bomb load.
The Soviet sweep-wing made its maiden flight in January 1970, when it was officially designated the Su-24, although five more years elapsed before it went into service. The delay in operational development and adoption was due to the number of accidents during testing, especially in the early stages, caused largely by the number of features not previously used in Soviet aviation.
The lives of test and operational pilots were saved on numerous occasions by the K-36D ejector seat, although even these created some headaches in their installation. In one incident in November 1975, a crewman sitting in the right-hand seat prior to a test flight unwittingly snagged its activation pin, and moments later the unsuspecting navigator was catapulted from the cockpit. According to records of the incident, his chute opened normally and he floated down safely in the first ever ejection from a stationary Soviet aircraft.
The chief designer of the plane between 1965 and 1985 was Ye.S. Felsner, and then, from 1985, work was headed by L.A. Logvinov. The total production of the Su-24 type was about 1,400 planes. The Su-24/Su-24M was the only type of modern domestically-produced frontline bomber and forms the backbone of the strike capability of the frontal aviation of the Air Forces of the RF and Ukraine. The Design Bureau has been implementing a joint program with the Air Forces to upgrade combat aircraft since 1999.
The Su-24 can be flown automatically or semi-automatically and hug terrain at an altitude of just 50 meters. It incorporated the Soviet Union’s first integrated digital navigation and attack system, which had a laser rangefinder and TV system, expanding the range of potential targets and also the altitude from which attacks could be launched.
Despite the variety of its weaponry, including guided missiles and an unprecedented heavy payload, the main armament of the aircraft, like many of its predecessors, was a tactical nuclear bomb. According to the US Department of Defense, the Soviet arsenal of the devices at the time was several times larger than NATO’s, and the emergence of such a refined delivery aircraft further aggravated the existing imbalance in the European theater of operations.
Meanwhile, the US F-111 actively fought in Vietnam after a dismal debut in the conflict, when the aircraft was repeatedly downed by old S-75 anti-aircraft missiles, despite its supposed immunity to ground fire. By the end of the conflict, however, the F-111 was regarded as the most effective of all U.S. military aircraft used there.
The Soviets described air accompaniment of advancing ground forces as a form of combat actions by aviation units to achieve uninterrupted cooperation with the troops in the depth of the adversary's defense. The principal targets in this phase of air support are enemy operational reserves, tanks, missile launchers, artillery, and strong points. Air accompaniment is conducted by units of frontal and army aviation.
Air accompaniment consists of two main phases: a preparatory attack and strikes in support of advancing tanks and motorized-rifle units after the attack begins. For the most part, air attacks in the preparatory phase are coordinated closely with artillery barrages to extend the range of fire. With respect to fire assets, the principal weapons platforms used in Soviet recce-fire and recce-strike complexes are aircraft, short-range ballistic missiles (SRBM), and artillery. Presently, each command echelon from division to a TVD command has its own aviation assets.
The major part of frontal aviation air assets consisted of Su-17 Fitter and MiG-27 Flogger fighter-bombers. These aircraft were tasked for tactical defense suppression and interdiction missions. To complement the fighter-bombers the Soviets used the Su-24 Fencer aircraft for deep interdiction. In the 1980s a new variant of the MiG-25 Foxbat F, specifically designed for defense suppression, entered service. The AS-1l ARM carried by the Foxbat-Fs is used to attack NATO air defense missile belts from stand-off ranges. Older tactical fighters assigned to the frontal aviation such as the aging MiG-21 Fishbeds were being replaced by the more advanced MiG-29 Fulcrums. The Su-25 Frogfoot ground attack aircraft are used for close air support and battlefield air interdiction missions.
In practice, the Soviets showed great skills in jamming and deception. They had begun to deploy a communications jamming variant of their armored personnel carriers. They were also becoming adept at using electronic means to conceal troop movements and deployments. The Soviets had developed a variant of the Su-24 Fencer aircraft intended to assist ground attack aircraft by electronically suppressing enemy SAMs and early warning interceptor radars.
Most versatile of all delivery systems are, of course, aircraft. Modern ground attack aircraft such as the MiG-27 Flogger-D and Su-24 Fencer can attack targets throughout NATO's operational depths. While, unlike missiles, they can be shot down, they can achieve a higher degree of accuracy. They can also tailor their attack profile and weapons load to suit the mission.
The Su-24 saw its share of combat in Afghanistan, the two Chechnya conflicts, and most recently in South Ossetia in 2008. But in all cases it was operating in adverse conditions, with reduced effectiveness against small enemy forces moving in mountains and villages, rather than large concentrations of enemy (NATO) targets on flat terrain as originally anticipated. Unconfirmed reports say two of the aircraft were lost in South Ossetia.
At the start of the conflict between Chechnya and Russia in 1994, Chechen president Dudayev had nearly 265 aircraft. According to Russian sources, Su-24MR reconnaissance aircraft observed the active preparation of Dudayev's aircraft for imminent combat in November 1994. This caused Russia to preempt the Chechen preparations with attacks on airfields on the morning of 01 December 1994. The Russians initially gathered their forces at airfields in the North Caucasus Military District, with most of the aircraft provided by the Fourth Air Army. They employed aircraft from frontal (high-performance), army, and internal-forces aviation. Each had its own air corridor, figuratively speaking, and its own missions. Aircraft included 140 combat planes (Su-25, Su-22M, and Su-24).
The Su-24 seems to have been the fighter-bomber used most often. By December 1995, Russian pilots had flown more than nine thousand sorties, with more than fifty-three hundred devoted to the conduct of bombing/ground-attack strikes and 672 to aerial reconnaissance (nearly 8 percent). Principal weapons included S-5, S-8, and S-24B rockets and FAB- 250 and FAB- 5000 high-explosive bombs. When weather permitted, the Russians employed Kh-25ML guided missiles, KAB-500L and KAB-500KR smart bombs, and KAB-1500L bombs.
The Russian Air Force could not fly in adverse weather. As Russian military affairs expert Pavel Baev writes in his assessment of Russian air operations in Chechnya, "on average, during December-February in Chechnya there are up to 95 percent of heavy cloud and fog days." The most capable aircraft over the Chechen battlefield was the Su-24, which, regardless, was hindered by the same readiness circumstances. Baev points out that these pilots held an average of only 20-40 flying hours within the previous year, undoubtedly due to vastly curtailed funding. Money was short, but so were supplies; Baev states that only around half the required fuel, lubricants, and spare parts were made available to Russian ground crews. "In order," he writes, "to maintain even this minimal level of supplies for a task force of roughly 140 combat aircraft, the Air Force Command had to strip the reserves of many units in other military districts."
All Su-24s were grounded after a crash in the woods of the Kurgan region during a routine flight on 13 February 2012. Both pilots ejected safely. The crash was the third of a Su-24 in Russia over the last four months. The two previous crashes occurred in October and December 2011. It has been in service with the Russian Air Force since the mid-1970s. However, in recent years Russia has gradually been phasing out the planes, which had a patchy safety record.
Later production marks may have different engines, POS R-29Bs @11500Kg.
- Su-24 Fencer-A Early production strike variant w/ squared off aft fuselage
- Su-24 Fencer-B Su-24 from block 15, has rounded fuselage
- Su-24 Fencer-C Su-24 from block 24, has changes in EW equipment
- Su-24M Fencer-D Improved strike variant, can be inflight refueled and has longer nose
- Su-24MK Fencer-D Export Su-24M
- Su-24MR Fencer-E Recce Su-24M variant for navy; can also carry antiship weapons.
- Su-24MP Fencer-F EW Su-24M
More than 1,400 of the aircraft were produced in all modifications. Today, the Russian Air Force operates 124 upgraded Su-24s, but these are being replaced by the Su-34 and are due for complete withdrawal from service in 2020.
|Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list|