Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Russian Air Force The Su-32FN Fullback Maritime Patrol/Strike Fighter

The Sukhoi Su-32FN Fullback Maritime Patrol/Strike Fighter

The Su-32FN is a unique maritime patrol, anti-submarine warfare and maritime strike derivative of the T-10V design, designed to perform littoral and coastal maritime roles. The inclusion of an ASW capability in this aircraft created much debate during the 1990s, as this role in the west has traditionally fallen on specialised airliner derived airframes. The Soviet LRMP fleet comprised variants of the Tu-142M Bear and Il-38 May, derived from the Il-18 turboprop airliner.

To understand the reasoning behind an ASW equipped strike fighter it is necessary to explore latter Cold War Soviet maritime doctrine, and the concurrent US Navy maritime strategy. During this period the Soviets envisaged their ballistic missile armed SSBN fleet operating in ‘bastions’ near to Murmansk/Polyarnyy and Vladivostok, and other fleet elements defending the Baltic and Black Sea ports.

In the event of a full scale conflict with the west, the bastions, Baltic and Black Sea, would be the hunting ground for US Navy and Royal Navy SSNs, while the airspace would be actively contested by F-14s from US carriers and land based US Air Force F-15 sweeps. This is an environment which is not conducive to the longevity of LRMP turboprops like the Bear and May. This presented the Soviets with genuine issues in performing maritime patrol and ASW tasks and a highly survivable airframe was a must.

As the bastions and approaches to Baltic and Black Sea ports were close to existing land bases, a large strike fighter could provide credible on station endurance, where the station was perhaps 30 minutes of flying time from a runway. While a four hour on station endurance may be modest compared to a turboprop LRMP airframe, proximity to relief aircraft waiting to launch still makes this a viable concept.

The result of these pressures was the Su-32FN, devised for the AV-MF to absorb the roles of the AV-MF Su-24 Fencer regiments, and include the ‘new’ ASW role. It is essentially a supersonic, highly survivable equivalent to the Lockheed S-3 Viking.

The principal deviation from the baseline Su-32MF/34 was to be the addition of the ‘Morskaya Zmyeya’ (Sea Snake) maritime patrol avionic suite, since then to be fitted in the reported to be collapsed Indian Navy Bear F avionics upgrade, and a suite of maritime strike and ASW weapons. The suite is claimed to include an electronic support measures receiver and magnetic anomaly detector.

For ‘classical’ maritime strike roles, the Su-32FN is to be armed with up to six Kh-31A or Kh-31R ASMs, six Kh-35U ASMs, up to three Kh-59M/D standoff missiles, the potent supersonic Kh-41 Moskit (Sunburn) and 3M-54 Alfa supersonic ASMs.

Photographs indicate that the centreline adaptor for the Kh-41, developed for the Su-33, would be reused, although one mid 19a90s report claimed carriage of two rounds on wing stations. Original Alfa missile mockups were also photographed on the inboard wing stations, this missile has since evolved into the 3M-54/3M-14E series.

The more interesting stores are lightweight ASW torpedoes, carried in pairs on stations eight and nine, for a total of four rounds, and a conformal centreline pod which can be loaded with up to 72 sonobuoys of various types. An ASW patrol weapons mix would probably involve a mix of these stores, drop tanks and depth charges. Like the conventional strike variants, the Su-32FN has yet to enter full scale production.


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