Russia's defence ministry signed a deal for 92 Sukhoi Su-34 "Fullback" strike aircraft on 1 March, marking the biggest deal for a single aircraft type for the nation's air force in more than 20 years.

To cover deliveries until 2020, the deal was signed by defence minister Anatoly Serdyukov and Sukhoi general director Igor Ozar. The Su-34s will replace all the Su-24 bombers in service, Serdyukov said. A source quoted by Russia’s Interfax news agency put the value of the deal at around 100 billion roubles ($3 billion).

The defence ministry had previously said 70 Su-34s would be delivered by 2015. Six aircraft are in service at Russia's test and evaluation centre at Lipetsk, with a further 10 due to be delivered this year.

 Su-34 - Sukhoi

© Sukhoi

The Russian air force will eventually field a total of about 120 Su-34s in five squadrons of 24 aircraft each, its commander Col Gen Alexander Zelin said at last year's MAKS air show near Moscow.

Powered by two AL-31MF turbofan engines, the twin-seat Su-34 is designed to conduct precision strikes on heavily defended targets under all weather conditions, day or night. It is armed with a GSh-301 30mm cannon and a wide variety of air-to-air and air-to-surface missiles and bombs.

Noting that the Su-34 is entering service more than a decade behind original plans, Douglas Barrie, an air warfare analyst with the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies, said: "The Su-34 will, with the appropriate avionic and weapons systems, provide the air force with a capable long-range strike platform, with considerably more punch than the Su-24."

The defence ministry has said the air force will procure more than 1,500 new aircraft by 2020. Moscow's Su-34 order was signed only two days after the Russian navy confirmed an order for 24 RAC MiG-29K/KUB carrier-based fighters.

Report by Howard Gethin in Moscow

Source: Flight International