Russia gets first new fighters for 15 years as Sukhoi Su-34 debuts

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First two jets delivered for combat training centre Moscow plans to buy 200 in total

Sukhoi's Novosibirsk Aviation Industrial Association (NAPO) has delivered the first two production Su-34s to the Russian air force, marking the service's first induction of new fighters since 1992.

The multi-role fighter-bombers will initially be based in Lipetsk at the air force's combat training centre, where Su-34 tactics and weapons delivery techniques will be developed.

Together with six more Su-34s due to be delivered in 2007 and 10 in 2008, the aircraft will join Russia's front-line bomber force and be declared operational in 2010. The Russian air force plans to operate 57 aircraft by 2015 and eventually a total of 200, says commander-in-chief Gen Vladimir Mikhailov.

The NAPO plant has built eight Su-27IB/Su-32/Su-34 prototypes and last year aircraft No 8 was accepted by the air force as a specimen for series production.

Mikhailov says the service will transition smoothly from the Su-24 to the Su-34, with the former being phased out "some time in the 2020s". Some of the Su-24s are being upgraded to the Su-24M2 standard at NAPO and other Russian air force repair stations. NAPO delivered four Su-24M2s in 2006.

Sukhoi general director Mikhail Pogosyan says the potential export market for the Su-34 is estimated at 100-200 aircraft, raising the potential production run to 300-400 units. The type is expected to stay in production at NAPO for over 20 years, well after the fifth-generation PAK FA fighter is due to enter service. Pogosyan says more than 350 Sukhoi fighters have been delivered in the past decade and he expects 100 aircraft to be assembled each year from 2010, although more than half of these will be civil aircraft types.

In its current production configuration, the Su-34 is equipped with standard NPO Saturn AL-31F engines and the Leninets passive phased-array radar. "Although this aircraft was designed with higher-thrust engines in mind, the current production AL-31F appeared sufficient to meet the Russian air force specification," says Sukhoi. "In future we will replace them with a more powerful model, either MMPP Salyut AL-31F-M2/3s or NPO Saturn 117Ss."

The manufacturer says the Leninets radar will later receive an active array antenna, adding: "Although the radar already has very high performance, we are planning a further increase in its capabilities."