Russian Su-24M and Su-25M aircraft have been recently deployed to Ayni Air Base, Tajikistan. The planes will hold exercises with the 20th infantry brigade stationed in that country in accordance with the bilateral agreement to last till 2042. This relocation appears to be a precautionary measure against the background of worsening situation in Afghanistan. Su-24M and Su-25M planes have been battle tested in Syria with great success.
On February 9, Army Gen. John W. Nicholson Jr., the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, told lawmakers the Afghan security forces faced great difficulties and the country was in dire straits. The general believes the Afghan forces lack air support. In 2016, the Afghan Air Force failed to be up to the task putting in jeopardy the plans for the 2017 campaign.
The general’s statement almost coincided in time with the request of Afghan government to intensify air support operations. Afghan National Security Advisor Mohammad Hanif Atmar requested air support from NATO and its partners in the alliance's Resolute Support training mission during a special meeting with the North Atlantic Council at NATO headquarters in Brussels Feb. 7. According to him, the air support was a «key gap» in the Afghan forces capabilities. The official blamed the deterioration of the situation on the greater number of Afghan and Pakistani terrorists, as well as those from elsewhere in the region and from international networks.
In 2016, the US military delivered only one-two air strikes a day on average, despite being given greater powers to target the insurgency. For comparison, the US-led coalition made over 10 sorties daily to strike Islamic State targets in Syria and Iraq. Last year, Russian Aerospace Forces flew 52 sorties on average in Syria. The brunt of the work was done by Su-24M and Su-25M «workhorses».
The Sukhoi Su-24 (Fencer) is a twin-engine, two-seat, swing-wing, supersonic, low altitude strike aircraft with a variable-sweep wing and a side-by-side seating arrangement for its two crew. The front-line bomber is designed to penetrate hostile territory and destroy ground and surface targets.
The aircraft features automation of many modes of flight, good visibility, well thought-out cabin. The plane boasts an integrated digital positioning/attack system. It uses GLONASS global system for navigation. The cockpit is equipped with multi-function displays (MFDs), head-up display (HUD), digital moving-map generator, Shchel helmet-mounted sights, and provision for the latest guided weapons, including R-73 (AA-11 'Archer') air-to-air missiles.
The plane has a maximum speed of 1,315 km/h (710 mi/h), at sea level; 1,654 km/h (1,027 mi/h) at high altitude. Combat radius: 615 km (382 m/h) in a low-flying attack mission with 3,000 kg (6,615 lb) ordnance and external tanks. Ferry range: 2,775 km (1,725 mi). Service ceiling: 11,000 m (36,090 ft). Rate of climb: 150 m/s (492 ft/s).
The armament includes: one 23-mm GSh-23-6 six-barrel cannon; maximum payload: 8000 kg (17,635 Ib). It has nine external hardpoints.
The plane is powered by two AL-21F turbofan engines each rated at 25,000-lb of thrust.
The Su-24SM3 is equipped with the PNS-M modified integrated navigation and aiming system, which includes a laser/TV-sighting system for the air-to-surface laser/TV-guided missiles. In conjunction with radio navigation equipment, it can perform: terrain warning; detection of targets and their destruction by level and toss bombing; target designation for missiles; detection of operating radars and launch of missiles on these radars; and automatic and semi-automatic aircraft control during landing approach to a height of 40m to 50m.
On April 17, 2014, two Su-24 bombers with no weapons overflew the US Navy's AEGIS-equipped destroyer USS Donald Cook in the Black Sea. The planes’ onboard systems were able to neutralize the AEGIS phased array radar target tracking capabilities while the ship's crew was unable to reboot the system.
The Sukhoi Su-25 Grach (Frogfoot) is a single-seat, twin-engine jet designed to provide close air support. It is designed to defeat small mobile and stationary ground targets and to engage low-speed air targets at the forward edge and in the nearest tactical and operational depth. The aircraft’s ground speed is 975 km/h (605 mi/h), high altitude speed: 984 km (611 lb), service ceiling: 10,000 m (32,800 ft), range without refueling: 2,500 km (1,553 mi), operational range without refueling depending on flight path, speed and payload: 150-800 km (93-497 mi).
All versions of the Su-25 have a metal cantilever wing, of moderate sweep, high aspect ratio and high-lift devices.
The Su-25SM3 variant aircraft is fitted with Vitebsk-25 EW system capable of locating the likely enemy’s azimuth and the radar emission type, and also suppress the signal in different frequency ranges. The system incorporates a radar warning receiver, ultraviolet missile warning system and a powerful jamming suite. According to Russian Izvestia newspaper, the defensive countermeasures suite incorporates a radar jammer and flares. The system is designed to protect the aircraft from surface-to-air missiles. The source reported that the Vitebsk is designed to automatically identify and precisely geo-locate threat emitters, with coordinates passed onto a Kh-58 anti-radiation missile to strike the target. It provides the plane with some ability to perform the suppression of enemy air defenses mission.
The Su-25SM3 modification has a new PrNK-25SM Bars aiming and navigation unit for operation with the GLONASS satellite navigation system. It is built around the BTsVM-90 digital computer.
The weapons suite includes the Vympel R-73 highly agile air-to-air missile, the S-13T 130 mm rockets (carried in five-round B-13 pods) with blast-fragmentation and armor-piercing warheads. It also has the GSh-30-2 cannon with a 250-round magazine.
The aircraft is equipped with the SALT-25 new electro-optical targeting system enabling the pilot to detect and track enemy ground forces at a range of several kilometers day or night in any weather. The jet features a real-time video downlink capability.
The Su-25’s armament includes unguided 250 or 500 kilogram bombs, cluster bombs and rockets. The Su-25 also has Gsh-30-2 30-millimeter cannon under the nose with 260 rounds of ammunition.
The Su-25M3 weapons suite incorporates a new generation of precision-guided weapons, including the RBC SPBE 500-D – a 500Kg cluster bomb fitted with smart SPBE-D submunitions – used recently in Syria onboard Su-24 bombers. Each submunition is an infrared-guided, anti-tank bomblet fitted with an explosively formed penetrator warhead capable of penetrating 150-160mm of rolled homogenous armor – enough to punch through the roof of a tank.
Su-24 and Su-25 are workhorses. The existing models are going through a program of improvement and extension of life, including GLONASS, multifunction displays, digital map generators and the latest weapons such as R-73 (AA-11 Archer) air-to-air missiles. Continuously upgraded, they have contributed greatly into the fight against terrorists. Russia remains true to its obligations to protect the allies – members of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO). With the situation in Afghanistan aggravating, the true-and-tried workhorses are called again to do their job.