In Ukraine, the Russian Su-34 “Fullback” tactical bomber was recently tested

According to an estimate by the Oryx website, which documents losses suffered by both sides since the start of the war in Ukraine, Russian troops have lost 68 aircraft and 74 helicopters, including at least 30 Ka-52 “Alligators”, received into service. in early 2010. Several of these devices were destroyed [ou trop gravement endommagés pour être remis en état] while they were on land, their bases had been attacked by Ukrainians, such as Saki, in Crimea [août 2022].

After all, the Su-25 “Frogfoot” attack aircraft and the Su-34 “Fullback” tactical bomber accounted for 37% and 26% of the losses suffered by the Russian Aerospace Forces, respectively. [VKS] In Ukraine. And, for the most part, these devices were lost in combat action.

If, despite their toughness, the number of Su-25s destroyed is not surprising given the conditions of their use, even more so than the Su-34, especially since they are among the most modern VKS aircraft.

As a reminder, nicknamed the “flying tank” because of its mass of 45 tonnes at takeoff, due to its 17 mm armor and capacity to carry between 8 and 12 tonnes of ammunition, the Su-34 is twin engine. equipped with modern avionics, terrain-following radar, laser designation system and electronic countermeasures. Capable of flying at Mach 1.8, its range is 1100 km. And it was supposed to gradually replace the Su-24 “Fencer”, 9 of which were lost during the war in Ukraine.

Prior to this commencement, VKS had received 124 Su-34 “Fullback”. And the order for an additional 76 aircraft, was brought up to “Su-34M” standard. [ou « Su-34 NVO »]notified in 2020. And, to date, 14 copies of this new batch have been shipped [les derniers l’ayant été le 29 décembre, ndlr].

Several reasons can explain the number of attack aircraft and tactical bombers lost to this VKS. The first relates to the quality of Ukraine’s air defenses, whose capabilities, apart from being relatively slightly degraded by the Russian air force, have been strengthened by Western aid. [missiles MANPADs, blindés anti-aériens Gepard, batteries NASAMS et IRIS-T SLM, par exemple, sans oublier l’action de ses pilotes de chasse, qui ont multiplié les sorties].

And even more so since then, as Jean-Christophe Noël points out in a note [.PDF] from the French Institute of International Relations [IFRI]Russian doctrine, inherited from the Soviet period, advocated “especially the use of aviation to support ground forces”.

In addition, the VKS faced structural difficulties, in addition to its apparent isolation, none of its officers appeared on the organizational chart of the Russian military high command. Even worse: in 2017, the Kremlin had appointed General Serguei Surovokine as their chief… an officer from the motorized infantry [et qui dirige, depuis octobre 2022, les opérations en Ukraine].

But beyond this aspect, the Russian air force lacks experienced, well-trained and, especially, experienced pilots, their recent engagements, such as in Syria, because they did not prepare them for a “high-intensity” conflict. Their modernization, with the delivery of new aircraft, was not accompanied by an increase in the flight hours of their crews.

However, notes IFRI, they “need to practice to master the complexities of their most modern multirole aircraft”. And according to the Royal United Service Institute [RUSI]a British think tank, “the average number of flight hours of Russian fighter pilots will be less than 100 hours per year”… As a reminder, the NATO standard is 180 hours per year…

“Crews must have trained less for certain missions than others and participated in several exercises where they could evolve with other actors, in complex airborne systems or in cooperation with ground forces”, the IFRI note concludes.

However, VKS’s temptation was to involve its most experienced pilots, particularly among its flight school instructors, in combat action over Ukraine. This is what RUSI noted in a recent study.

“The Ukrainian army has noticed a greater presence of very young or very old pilots in the Russian air force, with experienced pilots being sent back to the front lines,” he said. And this could have the effect of limiting VKS’ ability to train young pilots… when they are already facing recruiting difficulties.

Indeed, recalls a note from the Center for Strategic Aerospace Studies [CESA] of the Air and Space Force [AEE], Russia’s Ministry of Defense reported a shortage of 1,300 aircrews in 2015… and launched a recruitment campaign to fix it. “However, the process is very long and a selective and procedural recruitment process often makes it impossible to achieve the goal. Additionally, as in the aerospace field, the positions of technicians, engineers or pilots on behalf of the army are rarely valued, especially at the financial level,” the document explains.

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