A photo surfaced online showing a Russian Su-34 fighter-bomber covered in tires.
The photo appeared just days after satellite images showed Russian bombers also covered in tires.
While it's unclear why, the strategy could be aimed at defending against drone and missile attacks.
Just days after satellite images showed Russian bombers covered in rows of car tires, a photo has emerged online of a Su-34 fighter-bomber getting the same treatment.
The theories surrounding this apparent defensive strategy are abundant, especially as it seemingly spreads to more aircraft across the Russian Air Force. The approach comes after drone strikes have bombarded Russian air bases, costing the country both bombers and airlift planes.
The photo of the Su-34 began making rounds Friday, although when and where it was taken aren't immediately clear. It appears to have been originally been published on the Russian social media VK page of the FighterBomber Telegram channel, but it has been shared on X, formerly known as Twitter, as well.
—OSINTtechnical (@Osinttechnical) September 8, 2023
In the photo, which Insider has been unable to independently verify, the Sukhoi Su-34 fighter-bomber, known to NATO as the Fullback, looks to be exposed in the open but is partially wrapped in a canopy. And its top is covered in thick car tires. The image of the Su-34 is similar to satellite images of Tu-95 bombers and Tu-160 heavy bombers shared online last week.
—Tatarigami_UA (@Tatarigami_UA) September 3, 2023
While the reasoning for the tire coverage in both cases is unclear, The War Zone first reported that close-up analysis of the Tu-95 and Tu-160 indicated the individual car tires were likely meant to break up the planes' infrared signatures, which would confuse incoming Ukrainian missiles, such as the R-360 Neptune anti-ship cruise missiles that Ukraine has modified to hit land targets.
Other theories have hinted at shielding, though not all the aircraft were intact, leading some to suspect some kind of decoy. It is unlikely the tires would provide a sufficient buffer from a missile or drone strike, but they could possibly confuse an incoming weapon depending on the targeting method. In that case, such a solution, though simple and makeshift, could be what Russia is looking for after recent attacks on its bases. Still, there are a lot of unknowns here.
In late August, a drone strike on a supersonic Tupolev Tu-22M3 Backfire bomber far from the front lines showed just how poor Russia's force protection efforts continue to be 18 months into the war. It was, as Western intelligence said, "at least the third successful attack on [Long Range Aviation] LRA airfields, again raising questions about Russia's ability to protect strategic locations deep inside the country."
—NEXTA (@nexta_tv) August 20, 2023
And just last week, Russia's Pskov airbase was hit by drones, leaving several Ilyushin Il-76s — Soviet-era airlift planes that transport cargo and personnel — damaged and destroyed.
The attack was more than 400 miles from Russia's border with Ukraine, and the chief of Ukraine's Main Directorate of Intelligence told The War Zone in an exclusive interview that the attack came from inside Russian territory, highlighting vulnerabilities in Russian domestic security.
While the exact timeline for when Russia began putting tires on its air assets isn't crystal clear, it does coincide with the strikes. This suspected defensive practice seems to be the latest jury-rigged defense response to increasingly devastating Ukrainian attacks on Russian-controlled territory.
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