This is the second of three articles on DCS World aircraft, and the first written by me. The first overall, on the A-10C, can be found here.
I come bearing counterpoints. John wrote quite a bit on the A-10 and the DCS model of the C variant, and it would be silly of me to say that it isn’t the premier single-seat attack aircraft in the world today. It’s the whole package; the only thing it could really use is a radar, and that would take another MFD to use well (A-10D, anyone?). I’m here to talk about an older aircraft, a simpler weapon from a simpler time, a time when the only thing Soviet designers had to worry about was taking on NATO armor in the Fulda Gap. I speak, of course, of the legendary Su-25.
“The what?” you say. Yes, okay, fine. It’s not actually iconic over here in the west. It is, however, the first thing anyone from the former Soviet bloc thinks of when someone says ‘single-seat dedicated close-support aircraft’. See the picture in the spoiler tag below.
I don’t think it’s arguable that it’s orders of magnitude prettier than the A-10. NATO calls it the Frogfoot, which is clearly an attempt to drag it down to the A-10’s level. In Russian, it’s nicknamed the Grach, which translates to ‘rook’, of the bird-of-prey variety. I like that name better. It’s pushed through the sky by a pair of Soyuz/Gavrilov turbojets producing about 10,000 pounds of thrust a piece at sea-level speeds of up to 975 kilometers per hour. My handy-dandy unit converter says that’s about 530 knots. Quick, for a ground attack plane, but speed brakes and maneuvering flaps keep it controllable down to 350 or 400 kilometers per hour. The turbojets are thirsty, but external tanks can be carried on four of the eleven hardpoints (ten under the wings, one under the fuselage, capacity about four and a half thousand kilograms), and in any event, it’s not a deep strike aircraft by any stretch of the imagination. It mounts a 30mm cannon internally, the GSh-30-2 two-barreled autocannon, which fires a smaller round than the A-10’s cannon and carries a smaller ammo load. On the other hand, the Su-25 is a meter or two shorter and narrower than the Warthog.
The variant modeled in DCS World is the Su-25T, a dedicated anti-tank upgrade of the basic Su-25 which never entered high-rate production; there are only ten or twelve of them out there in the real world. Which is a shame: the T model keeps all of the features of the base model, and gives some serious (and deserved) attention to the avionics suite. The Su-25T has a proper HUD in place of the original Frogfoot’s electro-optical drop-computing sight, along with a Shkval TV targeting system and laser designator mounted in the nose, and, as seems to be standard on Russian single-seat attack aircraft, it has a serious autopilot. Capable of simple things like route-following and level flight, it can also hold a radar or barometric altitude, an altitude and a bank angle for automatic orbiting, an attitude for hands-off pointing, and an automatic-ingress-to-target mode that makes accurate release of unguided bombs almost trivial. The Shkval can be augmented by a variety of targeting pods: a low-light TV pod for nighttime operations, a FLIR pod for better target acquisition (opinions are divided on whether the FLIR pod actually can be mounted to the Su-25, and it’s actually labeled as the LLTV pod in DCS, but I’m definitely not complaining), or an electronic intelligence pod. The ELINT pod, which can provide ranging and localization for two sorts of anti-radiation missiles.
That’ll do as a segue to weapons. The Su-25T can mount quite an array of them: the aforementioned anti-radiation missiles represent the major capability gain over the Warthog, enabling the Rook to take on air defense suppression missions. Also on the list of armaments is the SPPU-22 gun pod, a dual-barreled 23mm autocannon on a mount that can swivel in the vertical. Combined with the Rook’s imaging sensors, laser rangefinder, and autopilot, the SPPU-22 can be flown on target and deliver tens of seconds of highly accurate cannon fire with very little pilot input. The BeTAB-500 and BeTAB-500 ShP concrete-piercing bombs also make an appearance, both 500-kilogram weapons; the latter has a rocket booster that fires once it’s gone vertical, which serves to launch it through a runway and crater the ground beneath it. The most notable deficiency in the weapons list is a limited capacity for fire-and-forget weapons: TV-guided weapons, either the KAB-500Kr bomb or the Kh-29T missile (picture a Maverick, but with three times the warhead) can only be carried on the two innermost hardpoints. Although Kh-25 laser-guided missiles (Maverickskis, really) can be carried on the next two sets of hardpoints out, the poor field of view on the Su-25T’s sensors requires that the aircraft be flown more or less straight at the target until the missiles hit. The Vikhr missile, which is also the primary armament of the Ka-50 attack helicopter, can be carried in two launchers of eight missiles each; the A-10 can’t even come close to that number of precision munitions. The rest of the weapons list is less exciting: rockets in a variety of sizes, including the S-25 340mm rocket and the S-25L laser-guided 340mm rocket, unguided bombs from 100 to 500 kilograms in size, including a rack of four 100-kilo bombs, and a few sizes of cluster bombs and submunitions dispensers. On the whole, it can carry weapons that make it suitable for nearly any mission the A-10 can be used for (with the exclusion of lots of precision bombing; on the other hand, though, let’s see the A-10 do SEAD). The avionics are more primitive (particularly when it comes to targeting and maps), but the autopilot is better, and putting an IR jammer in the tail was an inspired move. And, to quote my A-10-flying buddy, “Your plane handles so much better than mine.”
Is that really an important quality for a ground-attack airplane? Yes, yes it is. The Su-25 has a better thrust-to-weight ratio than the A-10 empty, and a better TWR fully loaded. It turns better to get back onto the attack after making a pass, accelerates better, and goes faster, which makes, say, tossing a guided bomb a little easier to pull off. Now, nobody I fly with is going to win any medals for Best Simulated Ground Attack Pilot, and John does seem to hit on more of his attack runs, but with those caveats in mind, I found myself getting in one and a half or two attacks to John’s one A-10 run. Better handling leads directly to an increased violence of action, and while I think I’d probably choose the A-10 for precision and its capability to loiter in low-intensity conflicts, I also think the Su-25T is at least as good as the Warthog in a hypothetical Third World War scenario.
It’s not all roses. Visibility out the back is abysmal, and the takeoff roll at full load is nearer two miles than one. It has a drag parachute for use on landing, not as a luxury but because it doesn’t have any other way to slow down. For compactness reasons, it uses turbojets instead of turbofans, and sans external tanks it doesn’t have much loiter capacity (the A-10 can, I believe, shut down an engine to save on fuel and extend its time on call). On the other hand, it’s durable, agile, well-armed, and easy to employ. It’s a great little package, and although I haven’t flown the A-10 yet, I don’t think it could win me over.