A frontline Sukhoi Su-24M attack aircraft (NATO reporting name: “Fencer”) has crashed in Khabarovsk Krai in the Russian far east, killing two pilots.
According to a Russian Ministry of Defence statement obtained by Interfax, a non-governmental Moscow-based news agency, “The plane crashed on take-off to perform a routine training flight in the Khurba area (Khabarovsk territory). Based on the report from the scene, both pilots were killed.”
“The plane crashed in an unpopulated area. There is no destruction on the ground,” the release continued.
The crash occurred at approximately 14:35 Moscow time.
The Su-24M incident is the latest in a string of serious accidents involving Russian combat aircraft, and the fifth in the past month, prompting concerns that the Kremlin might be demanding too much of the country’s armed forces in an effort to showcase military might.
Last week, the Russian Air Force grounded its fleet of MiG-29 “Fulcrum” multirole fighters for the second time in a month following a crash on July 3.
According to Jane’s Defence Weekly, Russia’s entire fleet of approximately 280 single- and twin-seat variants of the MiG-29 are subject to the order, which was implemented after the pilot, Major-General Alexander Berzan, Head of Aviation Safety for the Russian Armed Forces, was forced to eject from his aircraft after one of the two engines caught fire near Rostov-on-Don in southwest Russia.
Major-General Berzan was reported to have suffered minor injuries in the crash.
Almost exactly one month earlier on June 4, another MiG-29, a two-seat MiG-29KUB operational trainer aircraft, caught fire and exploded in mid-air over the Ashuluk training range near the Caspian Sea. Both crew members were reported to have ejected safely.
Separately, but also on June 4, a Sukhoi Su-34 “Fullback” strike aircraft was damaged after veering off the runway at the western Russian airport of Voronezh. And, four days later, on June 8, a Tupolev Tu-95 “Bear” strategic bomber overshot the runway at Ukrainka airfield in Russia’s far eastern Amur region.
“While leaving the aircraft, several crew members received injuries of various severity and were hospitalized,” state media reported at the time.
The increasing frequency of non-fatal and fatal incidents involving Russian combat aircraft could be a sign that the Kremlin’s recent sabre-rattling is taking its toll on the country’s ageing military apparatus, according to Dr. Igor Sutyagin, an expert in US-Russian relations at the UK’s Royal United Services Institute (RUSI).
Speaking to Newsweek’s Damien Sharkov, Dr. Sutyagin said: “This could be an interesting sign of the overstretching of Russian armed capabilities, because the maintenance template for these vehicles does not take into account the much higher operational tempo they have been operating under lately.”
“The Bear bombers, for example, are designed for a single strike on missions not for extended training flights.”
Commenting in Jane’s Defence Weekly on the Tu-95 crash, aviation reporter Gareth Jennings said: “While the VVS [Russian Air Force] is currently engaged in an extensive modernization program, its biggest challenge relates to the replacement of the Tu-95 […] platforms given that Russia currently does not possess an appropriate equivalent in its inventory and has little realistic prospect of introducing one into the service in the medium term.”