Authored By Dan Alex (Updated: 5/6/2016):
The Su-34 began life under the Sukhoi "T-10V" product designation, an initiative brought about by a 1980s Soviet Air Force requirement for a new, long endurance, high-speed tactical bomber intended to supersede the outgoing Sukhoi Su-24 "Fencer" series in the same role. The Sukhoi concern looked to its new Su-27 airframe as a possible starting point, the aircraft now beginning to take hold in useful numbers across the Soviet air inventory. The airframe was a excellent commodity and flexible enough to modify for the requirement, as proven through the promising - though ultimately abandoned - twin-seat T-10KM-2 navalized training aircraft once intended for the Soviet Navy. Sukhoi engineers felt comfortable with retaining much of the Su-27 arrangement with only a new forward fuselage added to the mix. As the Su-27 family of aircraft relied on a single-seat configuration, the fuselage was allowed a nice cylindrical design shape. However, for the new fighter-bomber endeavor, this would be modified through a new approach in which two pilots - seated side-by-side - would be added to a widened cockpit. To this, engineers then installed forward wing canards ahead of the main wing elements intended to improved stability and increase maneuverability. The Su-27's Lyulka series turbofan engines were uprated for greater power in the new Sukhoi initiative. The ultimate goal for the program was to develop a competent strike platform while retaining the excellent fighter qualities (handling and performance) of the Su-27 family. The Sukhoi program ultimately yielded the first T-10V-1 prototype form (born from an existing Su-27UB) which went airborne for the first time on April 13th, 1990. The T-10V designator was then dropped in favor of "Su-27IB" to indicate the type's new fighter-bomber role ("Istrebeetel'-bombardirovschchik"). The Su-27IB was first formally unveiled in 1992 and a second prototype followed, taking to the air on December 18th, 1993. By this time, the series was assigned the officially Russian Air Force designation of "Su-34" and further codenamed "Fullback" by NATO.
The most obvious design departure of the Su-34 when compared to the Su-27 was its larger cockpit cabin and forward fuselage assembly. The cockpit was deliberately designed as a large, comfortable operating space for the two crew and applicable systems. The area aft of the cockpit would feature a full in-flight galley and lavatory to help offset the fatigue and physical stresses undertaken by the crew over long sorties - the crew can stand or lay down as needed. The crew was made up of a primary pilot and his weapons operator, seated in a side-by-side arrangement (as in the American General Dynamics F-111 Aardvark fighter-bomber). The use of two crew allowed the mission workload to be spread about, lessening crew fatigue (and inherent mistakes) while a consistently pressurized cockpit allowed for a working environment not requiring cumbersome oxygen masks to be worn. The resulting Sukhoi aircraft retained the wings, tail unit, fixed intake engine nacelles and aft-fuselage of the original Su-27, incorporating the new forward fuselage and a modified rear "stinger" housing a rear-facing/scanning radar array. The Su-34 makes use of the prominent rearward-looking radar system housed in a "stinger" at the rear of the fuselage to counter any approaching enemy threats in pursuit of the aircraft. The undercarriage consists of two main landing gear legs and a nose leg, the former outfitted with a pair of inline wheels to offset the added weight of the new design while the latter makes use of a dual-wheel, side-by-side arrangement. These were different from the simpler configuration of the Su-27.
The Su-34's cockpit is a modern, all-glass effort dominated by CRT displays and sporting the latest in Russian avionics technology as well as digital processing systems. Views from within the cockpit are relatively good thanks to the large clear canopy with only a forward frame splitting the frontal view - though the raised fuselage spine (required for larger internal volume) defeats any rearward visibility for the crew. The cockpit's noticeable duck-bill type design approach features a pronounced "nose-down" appearance which aids the crew in taxiing actions and landing of the aircraft. Onboard systems propel the Su-34 (and the Russian Air Force for that matter) into the modern age and feature real-time digital battlefield management systems, advanced targeting and tracking options and a vastly improved navigation suite over previous Russian attempts. Onboard automation extends the overall value of the aircraft by allowing the crew to concentrate on other facets of the mission at hand - engine status, crew health and scanning/incoming threats can all be handled by the aircraft - autopilot is truly autonomous requiring only directional input, the aircraft capable of guiding itself to a point. The crew (as well as engine intakes and internal fuselage fuel cells) are armored for protection against enemy ground fire when in the low-level attack role. Each operator is also afforded the typical Russian helmet-mounted sight and ejection seating. HUD (Head-Up Display) is present and stealth features have been subtly incorporated throughout the airframe (including use of a radar-absorbing skin coat) - though the Su-34 remains a largely conventional Fourth Generation aircraft design and not a true stealth design (as in the now-retired F-117 Nighthawk).