Russian Su-34 Hellduck Strike Fighter Units Train for Winter War Near NATO Borders

As tensions between Russia and NATO remain high, Su-34 strike fighters from the Russian Air Force deployed under the country’s Western Military District have conducted exercises in preparation for possible hostilities. The Western Military District faces the bulk of NATO’s forces, and has long been prioritised for deployment of the country’s most capable combat aircraft and other assets. The exercises come as Russia as has made new deployments of strike assets to counter the Western alliance, including Tu-22M3 bombers armed with hypersonic ballistic missiles for patrols over the Mediterranean, more Tu-22M3s to overfly Belarusian airspace, and MiG-31K strike fighters to Kaliningrad also equipped with hypersonic very long range missiles. The Su-34 is the only dedicated strike fighter in the world developed after the Cold War, and first entered service in the Russian Air Force in 2014 after protracted development that began in the late 1980s. The fighter is derived from the Su-27 Flanker airframe, but is considerably heavier and has a much longer range comparable to that of heavy bombers such as the Tu-22M3. 

The Su-34 has been acquired in greater numbers by the Russian Air Force over the past decade than any other fighter, and is quickly replacing the country’s fleet of Su-24M strike fighters in service. The aircraft is prized for its powerful sensors and electronic warfare systems, its ability to deploy a wide range of precision guided weapons, and its formidable air to air combat capabilities despite these only being secondary and defensive. The aircraft is expected to play a central role in any potential conflict with NATO or Ukraine in Europe, but has also been prioritised for deployment to the Arctic alongside MiG-31Ks and MiG-31BM/BSM interceptors which is another theatre where tensions between Russia and the West have often been high. An estimated 120 Su-34s were deployed by the Russian Air Force by the end of 2020, with the fleet size expected to exceed 200 by the mid-2020s as a high rate of production is sustained exclusively to serve domestic needs. 

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