|ATTACK||Virtual Aircraft Museum / USSR / Russia / Sukhoi|
A Russian requirement for an attack aircraft in the A-10 Thunderbolt II class materialized in the Sukhoi Su-25, which was selected in preference to a rival design, the Ilyushin IL-102. In fact, it is true to say that the IL-102 was the true equivalent of the A-10, the Su-25 - allocated the NATO reporting name 'Frogfoot' - approximating more closely to the Dassault-Dornier Alpha Jet or the British Aerospace Hawk.
Deployment of the single-seat close-support Su-25K began in 1978, and it saw considerable operational service during the former Soviet Union's involvement in Afghanistan (the first machines to be deployed being pre-production aircraft, designated T-8) and the ruggedness of the design was revealed in dramatic fashion on numerous occasions. One particular aircraft, flown by Colonel Alexander V. Rutskoi, was actually heavily damaged on two occasions, once by anti-aircraft fire, then by Sidewinder air-to-air missiles launched by Pakistani Air Force F-16s. On each occasion the pilot managed to return to his base. The aircraft was repaired, repainted and returned to service. Rutskoi was less lucky - while flying a second Su-25 on a combat mission, his aircraft was hit by anti-aircraft fire and a Blowpipe shoulder-launched missile, which exploded in the starboard engine. The aircraft still flew, but another burst of AA brought it down. Rutskoi ejected and spent some time as a prisoner of the Pakistani authorities before being repatriated. However, operations in Afghanistan also revealed a number of serious shortcomings. For example, the close positioning of the Su-25's engines meant that if one took a hit and caught fire, the other was likely to catch fire, too. When the 'Frogfoot' first encountered the Stinger shoulder-launched missile, four aircraft were shot down in two days, with the loss of two pilots; it was found that missile fragments shredded the rear fuselage fuel tank, which was situated directly above the jet exhaust.
As a result of lessons learned during the Afghan conflict an upgraded version known as the Su-25T was produced, with improved defensive systems to counter weapons such as the Stinger. The improvements included the insertion of steel plates several millimetres thick between the engine bays and below the fuel cell. Following this modification no further Su-25s were lost to shoulder-launched missiles. In total, 22 Su-25s and eight pilots were lost in the nine years of the Afghan conflict.
The Su-25UBK is a two-seat export variant, while the Su-25UBT is a navalized version with a strengthened undercarriage and arrester gear. The Su-25UT (Su-28) was a trainer version, lacking the weapons pylons and combat capability of the standard Su-25UBK, but retaining the original aircraft's rough field capability and endurance. It was planned as a replacement for the huge numbers of Aero L-29 and L-39 trainers in service with the former Soviet Air Force, but only one aircraft was flown in August 1985, appearing in the colours of DOSAAF, the Soviet Union's paramilitary 'private flying' organization, which provided students with basic flight training. The aircraft, which actually outperformed the L-39, appeared in many aerobatic displays.
During its service with the Soviet Air Force, the Su-25 gained the nickname of 'Grach' (Rook), and most aircraft deployed to Afghanistan featured a cartoon rook design. Russian infantrymen called the aircraft 'Rascheska' (The Comb) because of its 10 weapon pylons, which gave it a comb-like appearance when it was viewed from below.
Robert Jackson "The Encyclopedia of Aircraft", 2004