Russian Bears sharpen their claws

The Russian Air and Space Force’s tactical sub-branches completed their last round of organisational reform in 2015. Since then, they have been growing in both numerical strength and overall mission capability, thanks to accelerated fleet recapitalisation and intensified training, as Alexander Mladenov explains


The first Su-35S batch ordered for the RuASF in 2009 numbered 48 examples, the last of which were delivered in 2016. Deliveries of the second batch of 50 aircraft are expected to be completed in 2020.
All images Andrey Zinchuk

Following the radical reforms put in place in 2009 by former Russian defence minister Anatoly Serdyukov, Russia’s Air and Space Force’s (RuASF’s) Frontal Aviation (FA) reached its nadir. The new command structure imposed by Serdyukov’s team was designed to make the branch a more flexible and potent force with a simplified commandand- control chain. It turned out to be too inflexible and problematic for adoption in dayto- day operations of the newly created Air Base system that replaced the tried and tested division/regimental system. Consequently, the series of structural reforms undertaken between 2009 and 2012 was judged to be a huge mistake, having had an adverse impact on combat potential and morale because of the abrupt savage cuts in the number of units, servicemen and aircraft. The counter-reform effort undertaken in 2014 by the team of the new defence minister Army General Sergey Shoigu saw the revival of the regimental organisation within the FA, together with the establishment of new front line units.

New organization

In an effort to complete its return to the organisation structure the FA used prior to December 2009, the territorial Air and Air Defence Armies (A&ADAs) were re-established in August 2015 to replace the existing Air and Air Defence Commands formed in 2010. These strategic-level structures of the RuASF exercise control over FA units, as well as army aviation and ground-based air defence units stationed in each military district (MD). FA units are now grouped in composite aviation divisions, consisting of fighter, attack, composite (with squadrons flying several different types) and bomber regiments, while the independent reconnaissance squadrons report directly to the HQ of the A&ADA in their respective MDs.

Day-to-day training activity, flight safety, combat readiness checks and logistical support are handled by the RuASF HQ’s Aviation Directorate, while the four A&ADAs come under the direct operational control of their respective MDs. There are four MDs in Russia, all established in 2010: Western, Central, Eastern and Southern. They act as regional joint armed forces command-andcontrol structures, exercising control over all land, naval and air assets permanently stationed on their territory. The Southern MD controls the 4th A&ADA, which has the largest FA fleet, packing the most powerful offensive capability. It controls no fewer than 250 combat jets in 18 squadrons grouped in six regiments and one air base; more than 75% of the aircraft are new or upgraded types. The Western MD, which also boasts a significant offensive capability, controls the 6th A&ADA, with ten squadrons flying combat jets grouped in four regiments and one independent reconnaissance squadron. Its total fleet numbers 150 aircraft, 80% of which are new or upgraded types. The Eastern MD controls the 11th A&ADA, which also has a high proportion of newgeneration combat jets. Its FA assets number 15 squadrons, grouped in six regiments plus one independent reconnaissance squadron. Its total fleet comprises no fewer than 220 aircraft, including 80% of new or upgraded types with significant strike capabilities. Finally, the Central MD controls the operations of the 14th A&ADA, which has the smallest fleet of combat jets, with eight squadrons in three regiments and one air base. Its controls about 110 aircraft, the majority of which are assigned to four squadrons of upgraded long-range fighterinterceptors. The recapitalisation of its bomber force with two squadrons of newgeneration aircraft is set to begin this year, with completion expected in 2019.

Production of the Su-57 is expected to begin in 2018, with the first two examples being delivered to the RuASF for so-called experimental operation and field trials in late 2019. Currently, there are ten T-50 prototypes involved in the exhaustive test and evaluation effort.
This MiG-29SMT is from the first batch of newly built MiG-29SMTs which were handed over to the RuASF in 2009 and serves with the 14th Guards IAP at Kursk-Khalino. The humpbacked Fulcrums serving with the regiment will be replaced by the Su-30SM in 2018 but it is not known where they will be based after that.
The swing-wing Su-24M Fencer-D serves in dwindling numbers with the FA, equipping only four front-line squadrons, two of which will convert to the Su-34 in 2018. A handful of aircraft, including this machine, fly with the Lipetsk combat training centre. Most of the surviving Fencer-Ds are upgraded machines, featuring the SVP-24 navigation/attack avionics package.


Russia’s political leadership has used the Syrian campaign – and in particular the FA’s role in it – as a propaganda tool in its campaign to be counted amongst the world’s great powers. As part of that campaign, the branch has had its long-range offensive capabilities significantly increased in recent years.

The Syrian campaign has provided a good opportunity to sharpen the warfighting skills of most if not all FA combat-ready aircrews, who deploy to the war for two-month rotations. As of January 2018, there were, for example, Su-24M and Su-34 aircrews with four tours in Syria under their belts, having amassed 400-plus combat sorties. The campaign is also described as a great proving ground to test in real-world combat conditions every new air-to-surface guided munition in FA’s arsenal.

By February 2018, FA fielded 51 front line squadrons in addition to seven operational conversion and combat training squadrons. The pilots of the two squadron-sized display teams flying combat jets are also required to maintain combat-ready status. The total FA active fleet numbered about 830 combat jets, comprising around 30 MiG-29/UBs, 50 MiG- 29SMT/UBTs, 120 MiG-31/BM/DZs, 50-plus Su-27P/S/UBs, about 70 Su-27SM/SM3s, 20 Su-30M2s, 76 Su-30SMs, 68 Su-35Ss, 104 Su- 34s, about 50 Su-24Ms, about 40 Su-24MRs, about 80 Su-25SMs and 70 Su-25/BM/UBs. The average age of a FA jet is now well below ten years, thanks to deliveries of a great many new-build combat jets since the beginning of the new decade, together with the retiring or placing in long-term storage of more than 300 aged Fulcrums, Foxhounds, Flankers and Fencers.

The highest-priority FA procurement programmes at present are the Su-30SM, Su-34 and Su-35S, latest generation combat jets. The acquisition of all three of these Flanker derivatives has been assigned high importance. The new Su-57 fifth-generation tactical fighter is still in evaluation and testing, with deliveries expected to begin in the mid- 2020s at the earliest.

The MiG-31BM is the only specialised air defence type in the FA inventory. It is used to protect the vast territories without ground-based air defence infrastructure in the extreme northern and far eastern regions of Russia.

Growing up

The emphasis for FA growth at the beginning of the Shoigu counter-reform is associated with the establishment in December 2014 of two new fast-jet regiments in the recently annexed Crimean Peninsula. Each regiment comprises two squadrons assigned to the Southern MD. A fighter regiment, the 38th IAP, was stationed at Belbek near Sevastopol and equipped with an eclectic mixture of old and new Flanker versions, such as non-upgraded Su-27Ps and Su-27UBs, upgraded Su-27SMs and newly built Su-30Ms. The other unit, the 37th SAP stationed at Gvardeyskoye, is a composite strike regiment. One of its squadrons is equipped with a dozen Su-24M/ SVP-24 upgraded frontal bombers, while the other one has a fleet of a dozen Su-25SM upgraded attack aircraft in addition to a handful of Su-25UB two-seaters.

In 2015, the existing independent reconnaissance squadron stationed at Marinovka airfield near Volgograd, again in the Southern MD, was transformed into a composite aviation regiment, the 11th SAP. It controls one reconnaissance squadron equipped with Su-24MRs in addition to one bomber squadron, equipped with Su-24M/ SVP-24 upgraded frontal bombers. Also in 2015, a new independent reconnaissance squadron, the 4th ORAE, was established at Shatalovo airfield near Smolensk in the Western MD, equipped with a dozen Su- 24MRs and at least two An-30 turboprop photo-ships.

A further growth in FA strength in 2018 and 2019 is expected to involve the establishment of at least two more new regiments.

Another addition to FA strength since 2014 has been the establishment of an additional squadron in some of the regiments, which previously had a two-squadron structure. This was the case with the 559th BAP at Morozovsk in the Southern MD, a frontal bomber regiment, equipped until 2013 with two squadrons flying the upgraded Su-24M/SVP-24. These were subsequently transferred to the bomber squadrons of the newly established composite regiments at Gvardeyskoye and Marinovka; it traded its Fencer-Ds for 36 newly built Su-34s equipping three squadrons. The same happened with the 23rd IAP, a fighter regiment based at Dzemgi airfield in the Eastern MD, which received two squadrons of newly built Su-35Ss and Su-30M2s, to serve alongside one squadron flying upgraded Su-27SMs.

It is also noteworthy that, since 2010, FA’s strike capabilities have had a significant boost, due to the introduction of a large fleet of new-generation bombers complemented by newly built and upgraded multi-role fighters with enhanced air-to-ground capabilities, thanks to their improved targeting systems and guided munitions. These truly multi-role fighters now fully equip 12 front line squadrons that previously flew firstgeneration MiG-29s and Su-27s with a limited ground-attack capability. These newly acquired weapons were used to their full extent during the Russian campaign in Syria, where FA’s Su-30SMs, Su-35Ss, MiG-29SMTs and Su-27SMs were employed in strike missions on a daily basis, in addition to their primary air-to-air role.

In addition to bomber missions, the Su-34 is expected to be made compatible with the Sych under-fuselage recce pod.
The Fencer-D is set to continue its service with the FA branch until the early 2020s, flying with only two front-line squadrons and one conversion and training and instruction-research unit.

In 2016, however, the RuASF lost a proportion of its front line assets that formerly belonged to the FA branch when they were handed over to the newly established Joint Strategic Command North under Russian Navy control. This brand-new structure is responsible for control of all armed forces branches stationed in the north-western corner of Russia and the adjacent Russian part of the High Arctic. The FA assets inherited by this new strategic-level command structure included the 98th SAP at Monchegorsk on the Kola Peninsula, a composite aviation regiment formerly assigned to the 6th A&ADA in the Western MD. It controls one squadron equipped with Su-24M bombers and another with Su-24MR reconnaissance aircraft while its third squadron has upgraded MiG-31BM fighter-interceptors.


FA’s fighter sub-branch is built around a core of two new Flanker derivatives, the Su- 30SM two-seater and Su-35S single-seater, complemented by a smaller number of upgraded Su-27SMs and increasingly fewer non-upgraded Su-27s. Currently, these equip 18 front line squadrons and one instructorresearch squadron.

The Su-30SM thrust-vectoring, multirole two-seater manufactured by the Irkut Corporation is the mainstay of the new-build Flanker fleet, with 76 examples in RuASF service in February 2018. The total number ordered for the FA branch comprises 88 aircraft divided into three separate contracts. The first two, each covering 30 machines, were signed in 2012, while the third one, for 28 more, followed in April 2016. The last 12 examples from the third contract are now scheduled for delivery in 2018. A contract for between 50 and 60 more Su-30SMs in an enhanced configuration is expected to follow, slated for delivery between 2019 and 2022.

The first two Su-30SMs were taken on strength by the RuASF in November 2012, and the following year 14 more aircraft were commissioned to equip the first front line squadron. Currently, the list of Su-30SMequipped units includes two two-squadron regiments that previously flew vanilla MiG-29s – the 120th IAP at Domna in the Eastern MD and the 31st IAP at Millerovo in the Southern MD – both of which have 24-aircraft fleets. In addition, eight Su-30SMs were delivered in 2016 to the Russkiye Vityazy (Russian Knights) display team, replacing its Su-27s. Then in 2017, 12 aircraft were delivered to equip one squadron of the 14th Guards IAP, a fighter regiment stationed at Kursk- Khalino; its second squadron is set to trade its MiG-29SMT/UBTs for 12 Su-30SMs in 2018. In addition, several Su-30SMs fly with the RuASF’s Lipetsk combat training centre and the service’s flight test centre, the 929th GLITs at Akhtubinsk. There are also a few examples assigned to the Su-35S-equipped squadrons at Dzemgi.

Ultimate Flanker

Yet another multi-role Flanker derivative, also boasting thrust-vectoring engines and much-refined aerodynamics, the Su-35S is currently being introduced to FA service in relatively large numbers. Boasting an expanded weapons fit, the type was initially ordered under a development and production contract for 48 examples signed in August 2009, while the second contract, dating back to December 2015, covered 50 more, the last of which is expected to be handed over to the RuASF in 2020.

In 2011, the RuASF took its first Su-35Ss for testing and evaluation, while two more examples were handed over to the Lipetsk training centre for field trials and then used in the aircrew conversion training role from 2012 onwards. The first Su-35S-equipped front line squadron from the 23rd IAP at Dzemgi in Russia’s Far East received a batch of eight machines in February 2014 and by the end of the year the regiment had a fleet of 24 advanced single-seat Flankers in two squadrons.

This early production Su-34 belonging to the 47th BAP Su-34 is armed with four ZB-500GD napalm bombs.
The Su-30SM (in the foreground) and Su-35S are the mainstays of the FA fighter fleet. Both are multi-role aircraft capable of delivering a wide range of precision-guided air-to-surface munitions.

Su-57 service entry

The Su-57 fifth-generation fighter is set to begin FA testing in 2019, but its massed fielding into front-line service cannot take place before the mid-2020s.

The ambitious programme to develop and field what was previously known as the Sukhoi PAK-FA fifth-generation advanced tactical aviation fighter was initiated in the late 2000s. This all-new heavyweight fighter type, designed to replace the Su-27, was primarily intended to gain air superiority in highly contested airspace. It also has a secondary strike role against well-protected ground and sea targets, employing an array of new-generation precision-guided munitions.

The first prototype of the Su-57, dubbed T-50-1, made its maiden flight on January 29, 2010 and currently the type’s flight test effort is in full swing, involving as many as ten prototypes. The so-called factory test programme performed by Sukhoi to explore the aircraft’s performance, including envelope expansion, handling qualities and system operability, was completed in December 2013, while the first phase of the much more comprehensive state testing programme, undertaken by the RuASF was reported to have been completed in 2017.

According to the latest hints from Russian defence and industry officials, the flight test programme of the definitive Su-57 version, powered by the new NPO Saturn engine, known as Izdelye 30 (Product 30) - tested in flight for the first time on the T-50-2 prototype on December 5, 2017 - is set for completion by 2021. Meanwhile, the Su-57’s interim production-standard version, powered by the less powerful Saturn AL-41F1 engine, is expected to be ordered by the Russian MoD this year. The much-touted production order will cover a 12-aircraft pre-series batch intended for use in the state testing effort and for field testing to be undertaken at the Lipetsk combat training centre.

Delivery of the first two interim Su-57s from this batch is expected in the second half of 2019. According to Russian MoD procurement plans, the first small-scale order for the re-engined Su-57, also intended for field testing, could be placed after 2020 while large-scale production orders could follow in the mid-2020s.

As of January 2018, the RuASF had received a total of 68 Su-35Ss and expects ten more by the end of the year; 2019 and 2020 will each see the delivery of ten more. A followon order for 40 to 50 more examples in an improved configuration is expected to be placed by the Russian MoD after 2020.

In addition to the 23rd IAP at Dzemgi, the list of the front line units equipped with the type also includes the 22nd IAP at Tsentralnaya Uglovaya, which operates one Su-35S-equipped squadron; both regiments are subordinated to the 11th A&ADA in the Eastern MD. The latest operator of the type is the 159th IAP, a fighter regiment stationed at Besovets airfield near Petrozavodsk, subordinated to the 6th A&ADA in the Western MD. It took its first batch of ten Su-35Ss in 2016, but four of these were immediately sent to Hmeimim/Latakia Air Base in Syria to take part in the Russian effort there. Ten more newly produced examples were taken on strength by the regiment in 2017. They were delivered in October and December together with four second-hand machines built in 2014 and previously operated by the 23rd IAP. The regiment continues to operate small numbers of legacy Su-27Ps, Su-27UBs and a few upgraded Su-27SM1s which serve with the new Flanker derivatives.

Currently, the RuASF operates a fleet of 50-plus upgraded Su-27SMs. Fifty-five firstgeneration single-seat Flankers were originally upgraded at KnAAZ (the Komsomolsk-on- Amur Aircraft Plant) between 2003 and 2009 and two of these were subsequently lost in flying accidents. Forty-eight of the remainder were used to equip four front line squadrons while five more examples were delivered to the Flanker-equipped squadron of the Lipetsk-based combat training centre.

Su-24MR reconnaissance aircraft are used to equip four independent recce squadrons – one in each of the four military districts.
The Su-25SM is the mainstay of the FA’s attack force, equipping six front-line squadrons, while the enhanced but long-delayed Su-25SM3 is now expected for service introduction this year.

The upgraded Flanker fleet was complemented by 12 newly built firstgeneration aircraft in an enhanced mission avionics configuration, known as the Su- 27SM3, taken on strength in 2010 and 2011. These were augmented in 2014 by two more upgraded Su-27SM3s converted from old airframes.

There is an ongoing programme covering the upgrade and life extension of up to 36 more vanilla Su-27s to the enhanced Su- 27SM3 standard. These Flankers, manufactured in the late 1980s, are also set for a lifeextension programme. To be performed in incremental steps, together with a structural overhaul, the upgrade will extend the jet’s service lives to 40 years and 2,000 flight hours. A firm contract for this upgrade was signed in mid-2015, but it wasn’t until December 2017 that the first two jets were handed over. The KnAAZ plans to deliver six more upgraded and life-extended Su-27SM3s in 2018.

FA has about 50 non-upgraded Su-27P/ UB single and two-seaters still soldiering on with three front line squadrons and partially equipping one instructor-research squadron of the Lipetsk combat training centre.

Yet another new-build Flanker derivative, the two-seat Su-30M2, was accepted by the RuASF for the first time in 2011. It was ordered in August 2009, together with the newly built Su-27SM3s. The initial batch numbered four newly built examples with full combat capability, thanks to mission avionics almost identical to those of the Su-27SM3 single-seater. In December 2012, the Russian MoD placed its second order for 16 more Su-30M2s to be used mainly for continuation training and check rides in Su-27SM and Su- 35S-equipped squadrons; all these machines were delivered between 2013 and 2015.


Another Flanker derivative, the two-seat Su-34 Fullback, built at the NAPO plant in Novosibirsk, is the combat aircraft being procured in the largest numbers in recent years. It forms the backbone of the FA’s bomber sub-branch, equipping as many as seven front line squadrons in early 2018, by which time the total number of Su-34s handed over to the RuASF had reached 104. The first procurement contract for the type, dating from 2008, numbered 32 aircraft and was completed in 2013; a following contract was signed in February 2011 for 92 more. The first of these was taken on strength in December 2013 and by February 2018 72 had been delivered; the last one of that order is expected in 2019.

Sixteen Fullbacks were delivered in 2017 and 2018 will see 18 more. Ten of the Fullbacks delivered to the Air Force in 2017 were handed over to the 277th BAP, a bomber regiment stationed at Khurba near Komsomolsk-on- Amur that received its first new Su-34s in June 2016, replacing upgraded Su-24M2s. Three more pairs were delivered to the RuASF’s 4th GTsPAPVI, a state aviation personnel training and field testing centre in Lipetsk in November and December 2017 and two more Su-34s followed in mid-January 2018. These Su-34s were intended to be the first aircraft to be delivered in February 2018 to the 2nd Guards BAP, a bomber regiment with two Su-24Mequipped squadrons stationed at Chelyabinsk- Shagol, subordinated to the 14th A&ADA in the Central MD. The regiment is set to take on strength 16 more Fullbacks in 2018 and 2019 to equip fully its two 12-aircraft squadrons. The formal re-equipment of its first squadron with the Su-34 was publicly announced in late February 2018.

Currently the Su-25UB fleet is increasing, with plans for establishing one new regiment with two component squadrons, but pilot shortage is among the factors which prevented this taking place in 2017.

The type serves with three fully equipped FA bomber regiments. The first of these is the 47th BAP at Voronezh-Baltimor in the Western MD (operating two 12-aircraft squadrons), which took on strength its first Fullbacks in 2013. The other two regiments are the 559th BAP at Morozovsk (three squadrons with 12 aircraft each) and the 277th BAP at Khurba (two squadrons with 26 aircraft between them). In addition, several Su-34s, a combination of early and lateproduction machines, are operated by the 968th IISAP, an instructor-research regiment assigned to the Lipetsk-based FA combat training centre.

The State Armament Programme 2018– 2027 is expected to authorise the acquisition of 40 to 80 more Su-34s in a significantly upgraded form. An order is expected to be announced in 2018 or 2019, with deliveries starting in 2021.

The Su-34 bomber, equipped with the Sych unified pod, is slated to undertake tactical reconnaissance-gathering missions currently performed by the ageing Su-24MR Fencer-E fleet. The new-generation pod, carried by the Su-34 on a large under-fuselage centreline pylon, has been developed in three different versions. The first of these is dedicated to electro-optical reconnaissance, the second comes equipped with a side-looking synthetic aperture radar, while the third is designed for use in the electronic intelligence role. The development, testing and entry into service of the Sych pod has proved to be a protracted undertaking and the first deliveries to front line Fullback squadrons may not be until 2019.


The MiG-31 Foxhound is still the main long-range fighter type used for air defence missions. By 2019, the FA will operate a fleet of some 130 life-extended and upgraded aircraft, ordered under three separate contracts in 2007, 2011 and 2014. These MiG- 31s are set to remain in active service until at least the early 2030s. Currently, the upgrade, which includes the overhauling and life extension of the airframe, is being undertaken under two contracts running in parallel. The first, dated August 2011, calls for the delivery of 60 aircraft, with completion set for 2019. The second one was signed in November 2014 and covers 53 more Foxhounds for FA, the last of which are slated for delivery in 2018. The work on the aircraft covered by the second contract is split between NAZ Sokol (Nizhniy Novgorod Sokol State Aircraft Plant) and 514 ARZ, an overhaul plant in the city of Rzhev.

Since the early part of this decade, the RuASF has sharply intensified aircrew training, including employment practice of air-tosurface weapons in attack and bomber regiments. The Su-25 Frogfoot fleet is easy to maintain and overhaul, and the type has ample life-extension reserves to remain in frontline service until the early 2030s. The Su-24M Fencer has been among the most problematic aircraft types in the FA fleet, with difficult maintenance and complex flight performance; the type has suffered from serious attrition in the past decade.

The largescale mission avionics update for the enormous Foxhound to the enhanced MiG-31BM standard, initiated in the late 2000s, covers updated mission avionics together with the integration of new weapons. The upgrade primarily focuses on radar improvements providing longerrange detection and tracking performance combined with enhanced jamming resistance. The Foxhound upgrade effort will eventually cover the aircraft of FA front line squadrons and one operational conversion and combat training (also known as instructor-research) squadron. Front line Foxhound units generally have 12 to 14 jets assigned to them.

As of early 2018, there were around 90 upgraded MiG-31BM/BSMs in RuASF service, serving with six front line squadrons and one operational conversion and combat training squadron.

The MiG-31BM upgrade programme is at full swing. In 2017, the NAZ Sokol plant in Nizhny Novgorod reported delivery of no fewer than 14 upgraded Foxhounds to the 22nd Guards IAP at Tsentralnaya Uglovaya in the Eastern MD and a similar number is expected in 2018 (two more MiG-31BMs were delivered as attrition replacements to the Kansk-based 712 IAP). As a result, the regiment’s single Foxhound-equipped squadron has 22 upgraded MiG-31BMs on strength and it also fields a handful of nonupgraded MiG-31s with a lot of service life remaining. According to a report in Russian daily Izvestya dating from January 2017, the expanded Foxhound fleet of the 22nd Guards IAP is earmarked to be used for the establishment of a new two-squadron regiment to be incorporated into the structure of the 11th A&ADA in the country’s far eastern territories, most likely it will be stationed at the currently abandoned Sokolovka/Chuguyevka airfield north of Vladivostok, which in the past hosted a MiG-31-equipped regiment, the 530th IAP.

Diminishing fleet

FA’s fleet of first-generation MiG-29 Fulcrums is rapidly dwindling. The legacy Fulcrum currently serves with only one front line squadron, stationed at Erebuni in Armenia, and with the Strizhy (Swifts) air display team; a few examples are also used by FA combat training centres at Lipetsk and Astrakhan. There is also one squadron equipped with the enhanced MiG-29SMT/UBT, but it is earmarked to convert to the Su-30SM in 2018.

A batch of 14 newly built MiG-29SMT(R)s and two MiG-29UBT(R)s was delivered in 2015 and 2016 and was taken on strength by the 116th TsBPIA, the FA’s fighter aviation subbranch combat training centre in Astrakhan.

It remains to be seen if the new MiG-35S multi-role fighter, expected to be ordered by the Russian MoD in 2018, will get a meaningful front line role with the FA branch. The first batch will consist of only 24 aircraft, set to be in service around 2020–2021. However, this figure is barely enough to equip two squadrons and most likely these newgeneration Fulcrums will be used to replace the vanilla MiG-29s operated by the Strizhy air display team and the sole front line squadron still flying the legacy MiG-29 at Erebuni airfield in Armenia (if this had not previously received second-hand MiG-29SMTs). This arrangement might leave a handful of MiG-35Ss for the FA combat training centres at Lipetsk and Akhtubinsk.

Legacy bomber

The Su-24M Fencer-D swing-wing frontal bomber flies with diminishing numbers with the FA branch. Four squadrons are still equipped with the type, but two of these are slated to trade their aircraft for newly produced Su-34s during 2018. All of these Fencer-D squadrons fly the upgraded Su-24M/ SVP-24, a version of the baseline Su-24M featuring the SVP-24 add-on navigation/ attack suite. This is an affordable newly added avionics package, purposely designed to give highly accurate navigation and delivery of low-cost unguided bombs, which has proved effective during the Syrian campaign. The only two remaining Fencer-D-equipped front line squadrons, serving with composite aviation regiments of the 4th A&ADA and equipped with 12 aircraft each, are set to continue operating the swing-wing type until the early/ mid-2020s when it will be eventually replaced by enhanced Su-34s.

The tactical reconnaissance fleet of FA is made up of some 40 Su-24MR Fencer-Es serving with four recce squadrons, which are planned to remain in active service until the early 2020s, when the type will be replaced by the Su-34 equipped with the Sych reconnaissance pod.

The FA branch maintains an active attack fleet of some 130 to 140 Su-25 Frogfoots serving with eight front line squadrons and partially equipping one instructor-research squadron. The fleet includes some 80 machines upgraded to Su-25SM standard, introduced in FA service in early 2006. The upgrade added an all-new navigation/ attack suite while the life-extension effort undertaken on both upgraded and nonupgraded Frogfoots will enable the type to remain in active RuASF service until the early 2030s.

The Su-25’s long-term effectiveness on the modern battlefield is being further enhanced by the introduction of the latest SM3 upgrade. Deliveries to FA units were initially planned for 2016, but the project hit serious technical difficulties that resulted in long delays. Most if not all Su-25SMs at the earlier SM1 and SM2 modification standard, implemented between 2006 and 2014, will be upgraded to SM3 standard.

The SM3 standard brings a new software and hardware capability to facilitate the use of new guided ordnance and it also boasts an enhanced integrated self-protection suite. This is designed to counter a wide array of radar-guided and infrared-guided threats encountered over the battlefield at low level. This improved Frogfoot also has a new communications suite with a datalink capability for use in close air support scenarios. The Su-25SM3 has increased night attack capability thanks to a thermal imager being added to its newly integrated built-in targeting system.

After the series of delays caused by snags discovered during the exhaustive testing and evaluation programme, delivery of the first Su-25SM3 was moved back to the end of 2017. According to an interview with the 4th A&ADA’s commanding officer Lt Gen Viktor Sevostyanov carried by the Russian Interfax news agency in August 2017, a total of 16 Su-25SM3s were to be handed over by the end of last year to Southern MD’s two attack regiments, the 960th ShAP at Primorsko-Akhtarsk and the 368th ShAP at Budennovsk. Eventually the first batch of 22 upgraded Su-25SM3s, (apparently upgraded between 2015 and 2017) was delivered to the two regiments in April. The first six were delivered to the 960th ShAP.