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Su-24 Operations

The Su-24 saw its share of combat in Afghanistan, the two Chechnya conflicts, and 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."

Assets that ASV deployed in the Dagestan operation were especially the Mi-24 Hind combat helicopter and the Mi-8 Hip transport helicopter. ASV also employed the Mi-26 Halo heavy lift helicopter. VVS input consisted of the Su-25 Frogfoot fighter-bomber, Su-27 Flanker fighters, Su-24M/MR Fencer D/E fighter-bomber/reconnaissance (recce) aircraft. From Mozdok operated at least a squadron each of Fencers and Frogfoots.

The Russian Air Force conducted an exercise, which it called Voskhod 93, in an effort to validate its emerging power projection strategy. It involved a package of eight Su-24 Fencer fighter-bombers, plus a number of Tu-95 bombers with tanker support. General Deinekin was aboard an airborne command post for two days, and they generated that package all the way from the western part of Russia out to Lake Baikal. There were also six or eight Flanker escorts. They all went out and delivered simulated weapons at a range and came back.

The most plentiful fighter-bomber in the Russian Air Force inventory, the supersonic Su-24 Fencer, was widely used in the Second Chechen War that started in 1999. The upgraded Su-24M Fencer-D deployed for operations in Chechnya represented the second generation of this versatile strike aircraft. A new navigation and attack system, combined with a laser designator allowed the Fencer-D to deliver the most advanced precision guided weapons. The ability to fly in any weather condition and deliver precision-guided weapons made the Fencer-D a natural choice for operations in Chechnya.

During the Second Chechen War, Fencer crews used the jets advanced attack systems to deliver a wide variety of ordnance. The primary weapons employed by the Fencer in Chechnya included free-fall bombs, cluster bombs and air-delivered mines. The Fencer crews used precision munitions less often, including laser-guided bombs, guided missiles and datalink-guided bombs. A superb strike aircraft, the Fencer is poorly suited for close air support. High-speed level approaches and poor cockpit visibility make visual target identification and attack difficult for Fencer crews.

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.

By late summer 2012, the Syrian Air Force likely had no more than 200 combat-capable aircraft approximately 150 jets and 50 helicopters of the 600 in its total pre-civil-war inventory, and even those had varying degrees of combat capability. Additionally, in light of historical maintenance shortcomings, combined with the pace of operations, the al-Assad regime probably can employ no more than 30 to 50 percent of its aircraft. The air force may have reserved its higher-end MiG-25s, -29s, and Su-24s in preparation for external interventionbut it may also have been unable to use these air-to-air designs in air-to-ground roles.

On 24 Novebmer 2015, a Russian Su-24 attack aircraft was downed by an air-to-air missile fired by a Turkish F-16 a while carrying out strikes against terrorists in northern Syria. The Russian General Staff and the Syrian Air Defense Command confirmed that Su-24 never crossed into Turkish airspace, in accordance to objective control precise data. According to the Russian general staff, radars at the Syrian Hmeimim air base, on the contrary, registered violation of Syrian airspace by Turkish fighter jet that attacked the Russian aircraft. Russian President Vladimir Putin described the Turkish attack as a stab in the back carried out by accomplices of terrorists.

The rescue operation of Russia's Su-24 navigator has been successefully completed with the pilot back at the Hmeymim airbase safe and sound. The other pilot was killed by fire from the ground after ejecting from the plane and a Russian naval infantry soldier was killed during the rescue operation. Vladimir Putin said that the commander killed in Syria will be awarded the Star of Hero of the Russian Federation posthumously. The rescued pilot will also be given state honors.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that Turkey acted in line with its sovereign right to respond to threats, claiming that the Russian jet had violated Turkish airspace.

In a letter to the United Nations Security Council, the Turkish ambassador gave his governments view of the incident. "This morning (24 November) 2 SU-24 planes, the nationality of which are unknown have approached Turkish national airspace in Yayladagi/Hatay region. The planes in question have been warned 10 times during a period of 5 minutes via 'Emergency' channel and asked to change their headings south immediately," the letter read. "Disregarding these warnings, both planes, at an altitude of 19,000 feet, violated Turkish national airspace to a depth of 1.36 miles and 1.15 miles in length for 17 seconds from 9.24.05 local time."

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