Russian Shturmovik’s New Lease On Life

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This video was originally released by SouthFront in June 2016

On May 24, 2016, the Russian Ministry of Defense announced a request for proposals to implement the  modernization of nine Su-25 Grach (Raven) attack aircraft to the Su-25SM3 model at a cost not to exceed 3.3 billion rubles. The initial contract for 9 is likely to be followed by several additional contracts, as the Russian Aerospace Forces want to have at least 40 Su-25SM3 aircraft in service by 2020, out of the total fleet of 180 single-seat Su-25 and Su-25SM aircraft.

The decision to continue the upgrades to the Su-25 indicate this attack aircraft has earned itself a permanent spot in the Russian inventory, with no replacement even being proposed. And there is no real need for a replacement, as the basic Su-25 airframe is well suited for the types of missions the plane was originally designed to perform.

Su-25’s history dates back to the 1970s when a need for a dedicated battlefield fire support aircraft was identified by the Soviet Air Forces. Existing attack aircraft such as the Su-17 were better at attacking targets in the immediate enemy rear area. Given the threat posed by NATO medium-range air defenses and fighters, these aircraft relied chiefly on speed for protection. They were less suitable for operations directly over the front lines where they would be exposed to small arms fire and short-range air defense weapons. That type of environment required an aircraft similar to the original Shturmoviks of the Great Patriotic War, the Il-2 and Il-10 attack aircraft which relied less on speed and more on armor protection for survival.

While counterinsurgency was not one of the missions for which the Su-25 was being designed,  the 1980s war in Afghanistan against non-state actors which the West at the time labeled “freedom-fighters” rather than “terrorists”, and whom the West armed with advanced anti-aircraft weapons such as the Stinger missile, the Grach proved to be the most effective fixed-wing aircraft in that kind of environment. Its long wings endowed it with the ability to carry large weapon loads and with high loiter times which were essential when providing top cover against ambushes to Soviet troop columns. A comparatively slow Su-25 already in the air was going to be on the scene far more quickly than the faster Su-17 awaiting the call on its airbase. Its high level of protection meant that the twin-engined Grach could return to base even after one of its engines was knocked out by a heat-seeking Stinger.  That effectiveness was only to be confirmed against a very similar type of enemy in Chechnya and, most recently, in Syria, where the Su-25s have represented a high proportion of the Russian air group.

The decision to move forward with the Su-25SM3 modernization indicates not only that the Grach has proved itself in the skies of Syria, but also that the need for a well protected battlefield support aircraft is not going away, as the mission cannot be very well performed by other combat aircraft or even by drones. The newest Su-25 variant will incorporate GLONASS and GPS navigation systems and the SVP-24-25 Gefest ordnance aiming system that allows unguided munitions to be used with accuracy approaching that of guided weapons.

Russian media reports have noted that the Su-25SM3 upgrade is also intended to improve its ability to destroy enemy main battle tanks, which is only a reasonable priority in view of the recent NATO hostility toward Russia. It has not been reported how the anti-tank capability is to be provided, as none of the wide range of weapons carried by the Su-25 are dedicated anti-tank systems. It may be that the Su-25SM3 will utilize the experience of the Su-25T and Su-39 programs which attempted to incorporate the 9K121M Vikhr-M supersonic, laser-guided, anti-tank missiles with a range of up to 10km. The missile system, which incorporates an automatic target tracker to enable the launch aircraft to undertake post-launch evasive maneuvers, entered production in late 2015 in order to arm Ka-52 Alligator attack helicopters. If so, the Su-25SM3 upgrade would provide the Russian Aerospace Forces with a sizable force of dedicated tank-busters ready to reprise the anti-tank Shturmovik role of the Great Patriotic War.

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  • IvanSmith

    Hello everyone. I am baffled by the incompetence of the editor responsible for the SU 25 video.
    Quote: “None of the weapons system carried by the Su 25 are dedicated anti-tank weapons.”
    ABSOLUTELY WRONG!!!!

    Even the BASIC Su 25 ‘Grach’, that is NOT equipped with the ‘Shkval’ targeting system CAN fire laser guided AT missiles. The laser beam and targeting system holstering is gyroscopically stabilized. The only thing the pilot needs to do is to find the target visually, line up the cue on the HUD, and then ‘lock’ the target. The gyroscopically stabilized targeting system build into the plane will then make sure the laser beam points at the exact same spot!!!

    The Su 25 T is even better, T stands for TV channel, it is equipped with the Shkval targeting system, that locks onto targets by placing a ‘cage’ on their high-contrast signature on the TV feed. The pilot finds the target visually or by using the Shkval, then by using the small joystick on the control lever of the plane positions the ‘cage’ on top of the target and presses the ‘lock’ button. The hkval automatically locks on the target and tracks it. When the pilot is within firing range he engages the targeting and Range-finding radar, and the ‘Vikhr’ missile can be fired.
    Vikhr missiles are perfect against modern battle tanks, it is estimated that 1 or 2 such missile is enough to disable a modern battle tank.
    Multiple missiles can be fired on a single target at the same time.

    After releasing the missile, the pilot must simply make sure the nose of the plane is pointed in the targets direction until the missile’s impact, otherwise the Shkval will lose targeting and the laser guiding beam will move away from the target.

    Just search for ‘Su 25T Vikhr ‘ on YouTube and you can see how the actual targeting and destruction of target takes place from within the cockpit.

    Editor, before epically failing next time, please make sure you understand how the specific systems work, what they do etc. etc. before attempting to create an article about stuff you have obviously no clue about.
    Many other articles on the SF website regarding Russian weapon systems are full with mistakes too.

    • IvanSmith

      Here you go: a video showing the SU 25 (non T version)using laser guided missiles:

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uGd8wdSPR2o

      Video is from DCS world flight simulator, the most accurate flight simulators of SU 25 family aircraft.

      • IvanSmith

        BTW a very good edition to the Su 25 weaponry would be the ‘Phantasmagoriya’ RADAR guided AT missile, but it would need it’s special hight resolution radar and there is probably not enough room/lift so it won’t be possible to house it in the Su 25.

        But until this very day the ‘Phantasmagoriya’ is the BEST AT guided system.

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    • Justin

      I watched this video only one time but I did hear the narrator say that SU-25T and Grach has anti tank systems! Im positive he said that! Did u listen to the entire video?

    • Nigel Maund

      Excellent commentary! Thanks!

    • Astar Roth

      Yeah, everybody knows that.

  • Barba_Papa

    It would seem that the Russians respect their flying tank buster/CAS aircraft a lot more then their American counterparts, which have tried to get rid of their A-10’s ever since the Cold War ended. Apparently providing CAS to army grunts is too lowly a task for the US Chair Force.

    • Tudor Miron

      A10 is good go CAS but is not nearly as good as F-35 in terms of sucking money out of taxpayers.

      • Barba_Papa

        True, as the A-10 already did that job half a century ago.

        Then again I’d say that the US Chair Force is simply not interested in CAS. As that would mean supporting a rival service, the Army. The US armed forces are really weird in that each branch seems to hate the other’s guts and almost has to be made to work together at gunpoint. The Army would much rather have its own CAS aircraft (which it can’t by law), the Chair Force would rather fight and win wars by air power alone, and take away all aviation assets from all the other services, and the Navy and Marines would sooner declare war on the Chair Force before that happens. In the case of the A-10 I suspect that the sole reason the Chair Force still operates them is because they are afraid that if they would retire them Congress would repeal the law that prohibits the Army from operating fixed wing aircraft and donate the A-10’s to the Army.

        Internecine US service warfare is probably about as interesting then actual warfare.

        • Tudor Miron

          Even if we convert $ of that time and current currency that would not help :) A-10 is not even close in that regard (huge expenses vs questionable performance)

  • Mikronos

    The USA is announcing the same ‘life-extension’ for the A-10. And redeploying it to put a real ‘lid’ on Afghan terrorism. One the B52’s couldn’t put.