The Buzz

Here Comes the New Su-25: Russia's 'Flying Tank' Set for a Lethal Upgrade

The Russian air force is set to begin operational testing of its upgraded Sukhoi Su-25SM3 Frogfoot close air support aircraft this April.

Assuming the modernized jets are approved for fielding, the first operational Su-25SM3 aircraft are expected to enter service before the end of the year. The Russian air force is expected to upgrade more than forty Su-25s at the 121th Aircraft Repair Plant in Kubinka—just outside Moscow.

“Comprehensive testing of Su-25SM3 will begin in April of this year,” a Russian Aerospace Forces official told the Russian-language daily Izvestia. “We expect that the first modernized attack aircraft will arrive in troops before the end of this year.”

The modernized Su-25SM3 incorporates a host of sensor and defensive systems upgrades that the Russian military hopes will enable the flying tank to operate over the modern battlefield. Central to the modernization package is the Vitebsk defensive avionics suite, which was developed by the Samara Research Institute.

The Vitebsk incorporates a radar warning receiver, ultraviolet missile warning system and a powerful jamming suite. According to sources cited by Izvestia, the defensive countermeasures suite incorporates not only a radar jammer, but also a system to blind infrared-guided missiles—similar to the Northrop Grumman Common Infrared Countermeasures suite—in addition to flares. The system is designed to protect the Su-25SM3 from everything from man-portable Stinger missiles to Patriot missile batteries.

According to Izvestia, the Vitebsk is also designed to automatically identify and precisely geo-locate threat emitters. Those coordinates can then be passed onto a weapon system such as a Kh-58 anti-radiation missile to eliminate the threat. Potentially, that could give the modernized Frogfoot some ability to perform the suppression of enemy air defenses mission if needed.

The Su-25SM3’s offensive capabilities are also being enhanced. The Russians are equipping the warplane with a new electro-optical targeting system called the  SALT-25. The new new sensor will allow the Su-35SM3 pilot to detect and track enemy ground forces at a range of “several kilometers”—day or night even during rain and snow storms. According, to Izvestia, the Russians seem to have incorporated a real-time video downlink capability on the Su-25SM3—giving the jet capability similar to the Pentagon’s ROVER system found on most upgraded U.S. fourth-generation fighters.

The modernized jet will also carry a host of new armaments—including a new generation of Russian precision-guided weapons. Among those new weapons is the RBC SPBE 500-D—which was recently used in Syria onboard Russia’s Su-24 Fencer supersonic bombers. The weapons is a standard Russian 500Kg cluster bomb fitted with smart SPBE-D submunitions. Each submunition is an infrared-guided, anti-tank bomblet fitted with an explosively formed penetrator warhead that is capable of punching through 150-160mm of rolled homogenous armor—or enough to punch through the roof of a tank. Each RBC SPBE 500-D is fitted with six SPBE-D submunitions.

Thus, the Soviet-era Frogfoot is likely to serve well into the 21st Century even while its American counterpart, the Fairchild Republic A-10 Warthog, is phased out of U.S. Air Force service by 2022.

Dave Majumdar is the defense editor for The National Interest. You can follow him on Twitter: @davemajumdar.

Image: Creative Commons.