Further Improved Su-25SM3 Redeploys to Syria

 - March 22, 2019, 2:20 PM
When outfitted with the Vitebsk-25 electronic countermeasures suite the Su-25SM3 carries ECM pods on the outer underwing pylons. (Photo: Vladimir Karnozov)

After almost a year-long absence from the theater, caused by the combat loss on February 3, 2018 of Su-25SM registration RF-95486 and the type’s subsequent withdrawal for rework, the Sukhoi armored attack aircraft has returned to Syria to take part in the pending military operation in the rebel-held province of Idlib. Satellite images released in the past week show four such twin-jets sitting at Khmeimeem, the primary air base for the Russian expeditionary group. Reportedly, this time the type is represented by the most recent variant, the Su-25SM3 that features the Vitebsk-25 self-protection suite, a new wide-angle head-up display (HUD), and an extended weapons arsenal.

Moscow apparently wants to evaluate this improved aircraft in a combat environment, to make sure that the Su-25SM3 is lethal and sufficiently protected against contemporary shoulder-launched missiles such as the 9K38 Igla and the FIM-92 Stinger. The latter was found responsible for downing the ill-fated Su-25SM: the missile finished off the aircraft after it had been hit with 23-mm rapid-fire cannon.

Operational since 1981 and no longer in production, the “Frogfoot” has undergone numerous modernizations. The most recent version made its show debut at the ARMY’2018 International military technical forum as the Su-25SM3-9. According to the description, it is “intended for the annihilation of protected, moving targets in all weathers, day or night.”

Outwardly, the SM3-9 (RF-95482, Side 92) differs from Su-25s exhibited earlier by having two L-370-3 S-K25 ECM containers on the outer underwing pylons, which had been used earlier for carrying R-60 air-to-air missiles. The ECM pods are elements of the Vitebsk-25 self-protection suite from the Samara-based Ekran scientific research institute, built around an L-370-3S digital core that generates active jamming patterns in a wide waveband. The suite also includes “Zakhvat” ultra-violet sensors to detect incoming missiles. The Vitebsk-25 automatically detects and analyses threats, and sets jamming patterns to fool SAMs employing radar for target detection and/or missile guidance. Additionally, it issues commands to release chaff, flares, and other decoys in sequences and combinations for optimum effect. The Vitebsk-25 can also provide targeting information for Kh-58 anti-radiation missiles.

Aircraft 92 is also fitted with the SOLT-25 multi-mode electro-optical system in place of the outdated Klen-PS laser target designator of the original Su-25. It can detect and automatically track moving targets such as tanks and helicopters by day or night, and in all weathers at a distance up to 5 miles (8 km), providing pinpoint accuracy. The system has several channels, including 16x electro-optics, TV channel, thermal imager, and a laser designator/rangefinder.

Although earlier upgrades had already introduced satellite-aided navigation, the SM3 employs a state-of-the-art PPA-S/V-06 GPS/Glonass receiver with metric accuracy and enhanced functionality including waypoint reprogramming. Coupled with the SVP-24-25 trajectory computing system working in conjunction with the PrNK-25SM navigation/aiming and SUO-39M fire control systems, both hosted on digital computers, the Su-25SM3 can hit targets with precision from medium altitudes, whereas the original Su-25 was intended only for low-altitude fire passes. Improved fire control systems allow for a wider choice of air-launched munitions, including KAB-500S GPS/Glonass bombs.

Outfitted with a KSS-25 secure datalink (in place of the older radio and data exchange systems), a Su-25SM3 can act as an element in the automated battlefield management system of the Russian Armed Forces that employs various reconnaissance and strike systems under a network-centric concept.

In 2015 the VKS deployed 12 Su-25SMs to Syria and partially replaced them in 2017 with Su-25SM3s, but they were early variants lacking modern self-protection. State acceptance trials of Vitebsk-25-equipped aircraft took a longer time, resulting in the postponement of their deployment until late last year.

Compared to early SM/SM3s, the more recent variant has a newer HUD offering a wider view angle, while the only liquid-crystal multifunction display in the flight deck is now supplemented by a provisional 5-inch LCD control panel that can be attached to the HUD. In 2015-2018 the Russian defense ministry placed orders totaling 22 aircraft and is likely to keep the Aircraft Repair Plant No. 121 in Kubinka converting original Su-25s into the SM3 version at a minimal rate of four annually. Earlier, the enterprise converted 84 Frogfoots into the Su-25SM version.