Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenko said the country’s Air Force now has aircraft capable of carrying nuclear weapons.
“Some time ago, me and Putin announced in St. Petersburg that we were going to modify Belarusian Su-24 aircraft so they could carry nuclear weapons. You think we were just shooting our mouths off? It’s all ready!” Lukashenko said, according to Ria Novosti on August 26, 2022.
It is unclear to which aircraft Lukashenko was actually referring. The Belarusian Air Force inherited 35 Sukhoi Su-24 strike aircraft after the collapse of the Soviet Union, however, according to the country’s media and defense officials the last of them were retired in 2012.
Several Su-24 airframes were stored in Baranovichi airbase. At least eight of them have been in its open storage area and can be seen in Google Maps photos of the area from 2020. However, an ImageSat photo from March 2022 shows the area as empty, and in July 2022 one Belarusian Su-24 was filmed while being transported away from the air base in a disassembled state.
There have been no official announcements on bringing the retired aircraft back into service. Meanwhile, Belarusian state news agency Belta did not mention a specific model from Lukashenko’s speech, quoting him instead as saying “Belarusian Su aircraft”.
The Sukhoi Su-24 was originally designed with the capability to carry a RN-28 tactical nuclear bomb, which was officially retired by the Soviet Air Force in 1990.
On June 25, 2022, in a meeting in St. Petersburg, Russian president Vladimir Putin said Russia could supply Belarus with nuclear weapons in response to what he described as “aggressive” policies by neighboring Lithuania and Poland.
Putin specifically mentioned that Belarus could be supplied with Iskander ballistic missiles and that Belarusian Su-25 attack aircraft could be upgraded to carry nuclear weapons, although he did not specify the exact model of such weapons.
However, the only aircraft in active Belarusian inventory which is theoretically capable of carrying nuclear weapons is the Sukhoi Su-30 fighter jet. Belarus received four of them in 2020, and while no Su-30 has ever fulfilled the role of nuclear weapons platform, Su-30MKI of the Indian Air Force were reportedly modified to carry nuclear-capable BrahMos missiles.
While there are reports that in the 1980s one of the prototypes of the Su-25 was modified to test the carriage of nuclear bombs – which included adding special shielding for the pilot and other modifications – no mass-produced variants of the aircraft were intended to deploy such weapons.
According to Flight Global World Air Forces Directory, the Belarusian Air Force operates over 60 Su-25K and Su-25UBK aircraft.