Russia’s Su-34 Fighter-bomber Fly-in Syria Using American GPS

The crews of the Su-34 fighter-bombers of the Russian Aerospace Forces fly in Syria and Ukraine with Garmin StreetPilot hand-held GPS navigator. Source JPost.

The crews of the Su-34 fighter-bombers of the Russian Aerospace Forces (VKS) fly in Syria and carry out combat missions using the American GPS navigation system, additionally installed in the cockpits, learned GDC citing Israeli newspaper Israeli Defense.

British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace claimed in May 2022 that downed Russian Su-34s in Ukraine were found with primary GPS receivers taped to the dashboards, suggesting the poor quality of their in-built navigation systems.

Russian GLONASS has accuracy problem

The Global Positioning System (GPS) is the oldest such constellation. It was developed by the US military and became operational in 1995. It’s called Global because you can receive the signals from this constellation anywhere in the world. The satellites broadcast signals to Earth, and by calculating the difference in timing of the received signals from various satellites, a receiver can figure out where it is located. The position of the satellites is known and provided in the signals that they broadcast.

Garmin GPS in Su-34’s Cockpit

Let’s compare GPS with the Russian GLONASS system. For GPS, the US has committed to maintaining at least 24 operational GPS satellites, 95% of the time. In the past few years, 31 satellites have been steadily operational. The GLONASS constellation was also completed in 1995, but at the end of the 1990s became incomplete with the loss of satellites.

Under Vladimir Putin’s presidency, the GLONASS project was made a priority and received a substantial increase in funding. By October 2011, the entire constellation of 24 satellites was restored, giving full coverage in far north or south where Russia needs GLONASS most. In terms of positional accuracy, GPS is much better than GLONASS. Still, due to the different positioning of the GLONASS satellites, GLONASS has less accuracy at lower latitudes.

Most of the 24 satellites that make up the Glonass constellation began broadcasting erroneous data about their locations. The ability of satellite positioning receivers to provide an accurate fix is tied to the accuracy of the signal from space, so the problem immediately affected users.

GPS-guided Bombs

On July 31, the Russian politician, Aviation Colonel Viktor Alksnis announced this with surprise on his Twitter account. He drew attention to a photo that appeared on the Web, which shows that the products of the American company Garmin Ltd., a manufacturer of GPS navigation equipment, are in the cockpit of a Russian aircraft.

Garmin GPS tapped with cockpit of Su-34. An exact model of Garmin GPS is on the right side of the photo.

Something in this photo alarmed me. I looked closer and saw a device in the upper part of the photo, which can in no way be attributed to aircraft equipment. Moreover, it is attached to the dashboard with a red clamp. In 25 years of service in the Air Force, I have never seen such a method of attachment on an aircraft. Well, this is an ordinary tourist satellite navigator sold in any electronics store, said Aviation Colonel Viktor Alksnis.

Experts have confirmed that this is indeed a regular GPS navigator from Garmin and that the Russians may have installed them in their planes in case their navigation systems malfunctioned. Garmin said its GPS navigators provide the pilot with accurate position data even in heavy clouds or in deep canyons, the media concluded.

GLONASS constellation is effective in the north and south poles. GLONASS is known to produce erroneous tracking in Equator making GLONASS guided bombs ineffective in Middle East, Africa and Southeast Asia.

Note that in the presented image, allegedly taken in 2016 over Raqqa at the time of the KAB-500Kr application across the bridge over the Euphrates, in the cockpit of a Russian aircraft, the use of the American GPS navigation system simultaneously with Russian equipment was recorded. In this case, American pilots do the same. Where there is a likelihood of falling under the operation of the electronic warfare / electronic warfare systems of the “probable partners”, they use the navigation systems of Russia and China as insurance. Moreover, no one is satisfied with the information noise; this is usual practice because pilots’ lives matter.

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