In a message posted on the Telegram social network, the Ministry of Defense of Belarus presented a video saying that its military pilots of Su-25s have completed additional training under the supervision of instructors from the Russian Federation in order to be able to use armaments of a “special designation”.
The video does not say precisely what kind of weapons they had in mind, but defense experts unanimously agree that “special designation” explicitly means nuclear weapon.
This course of action was expected since the meeting of Belarusian and Russian presidents in August 2022. Then, Belarusian President Aleksander Lukashenko disclosed that Russia has upgraded a certain number of jets from his country’s military fleet to enable them to carry tactical nuclear weapons.
The only serious technical issue is that the Su-25 attack aircraft is just a subsonic vehicle with velocities that are sub-optimal for the use of nuclear weapons.
Theoretically, Su-25 could deliver free-falling bombs from their maximum flight altitude, but with a substantial risk that the aircraft together with the pilot would be destroyed during the attack.
Previously, both Russian and Belarusian media assumed that this attack capability was reserved for the Su-24 bomber plane which was specially designed for this kind of tasks. But after the latest announcement, it became obvious that these will be Su-25s, not Su-24s.
The Su-25 was developed in the former USSR and even then it was out of the question that this aircraft could become a nuclear-capable carrier.
The method for using nuclear munitions requires that the plane flies at a relatively low altitude at its maximum possible speed, drops the bomb, and withdraws in the opposite direction as fast as possible, to avoid being hit by a nuclear explosion.
For this purpose, the Soviet Union built Yak-28 bomber in the 1950s which had a maximum speed of 1830 km/h. Later it was replaced by Su-24 which could reach 1700 km/h, and even at low altitudes, it could fly at velocities up to 1400 km/h. Currently, the Russian Federation has Su-34 reaching 1400-1900 km/h depending on the flight altitude.
Meanwhile, the top speed of the Su-25 is does not exceed 1000 km/h.
From the structural perspective, Su-25 could take off the ground with a nuclear bomb onboard, such as 30-kiloton PH-40. But would it be able to escape safely after dropping it?
Defense Express notes that Su-25 which appeared in the Belarusian video was not covered in special light-colored “anti-atomic” coating which should protect the aircraft from light radiation during a nuclear explosion.