In a bizarre incident that happened over the Russian skies on Tuesday, a Russian Su-35S fighter jet reportedly shot-down Su-30SM aircraft during Dissimilar Air Combat Training Exercise (DACT).
Reported by local media sources and the Russian Armed Forces’ Western Military District, the downed Su-30SM was indeed hit by cannon fire from another aircraft- the Su-35, which was targeting it via the gun camera.
“Preliminarily, the cause of the emergency is the accidental hit of a shell on the Su-30 during the exercise,” sources told the Russian news agency TASS. “The shot was fired by another aircraft,” it confirmed.
How & Why
While various media reports have confirmed the “blue-on-blue” incident, the possible explanations could vary since there has been no official statement.
During the close combat dogfighting simulation, the Su-35S fired live 30mm rounds from its Gsh-30-1 cannon, which hit the aircraft it was chasing – the Su-30SM, which then crashed in a forest situated northwest of Russia’s Tver region.
Generally, during exercises, weapons are unloaded by the ground crew before the sortie is conducted. Only training rounds of missiles are carried, and cannons are kept empty – and during training, it only has to achieve a lock on the target to claim a “kill”, which the Su-35S was attempting to.
In this case, too, both the aircraft were not loaded with live missiles and only simulating a close-range gun battle, which is common during dogfighting drills.
However, reportedly, when the Su-35S pilot marked the target and pressed the trigger to achieve his “kill,” he, not being aware that the aircraft’s cannon had live rounds, opened a barrage of 30mm cannon shells on the friendly Su-30SM, damaging it to the extent that it crashed.
The two pilots successfully ejected and were picked up by Russian rescue helicopters.
The question that why the Su-35S was carrying live ammunition still prevails and the human factor, the negligence of the pilot to see the indication on the “scoreboard,” where it is indicated that the cannon is live and working was also put up by the experienced pilot Vladimir Popov.
According to The War Zone, an unconfirmed account posted on a Russian military aviation forum said that the Su-35S had previously been on quick reaction alert (QRA) duty and so it had live 30mm ammunition loaded in its GSh-301 cannon. Su-35s can carry 150 rounds of ammunition for this weapon, mounted in the starboard wing root.
Due to some human error, the “deactivation” of the onboard cannon was not performed on the Su-35S, which then flew a training mission with its ill-fated counterpart.
According to another account on the Russian Telegram social media site, “the Su-35S pilot pressed the trigger to record a simulated kill against the Su-30 — presumably using the gun camera — and, as a result, inadvertently fired a volley from the cannon,” The War Zone reported.
Being the latest and most advanced operational member of the Flanker family, this twin-engine fighter was originally developed as an upgraded variant of Su-27 named the Su-27M – whose name was changed to Su-35 in order to attract export orders.
The Su-35S has been further combat tested in the battlefields of Syria, where it was deployed to support the Russian military intervention to support the Syrian Democratic Forces loyal to Bashar Al-Assad. The combat deployment helped refine the avionics onboard the plane, which provided air dominance and escort cover to the Su-30SMs and other Russian aircraft undertaking bombing missions.
The aircraft has also proved to be vital in repelling Israeli and Turkish airstrikes on Syrian soil, intercepting the Israeli Air Force F-16s, and preventing them from carrying out bombing missions. The Su-35S has been an important factor in maintaining air superiority involving Russian and its allied forces in the region.
Being a predecessor to the Su-35, this upgraded variant of the Su-30 is no less in performance than its elder brother. The SM variant was developed after seeing the success of the MKI variant with the Indian Air Force, which prompted the Russian designers to make their own MKI iteration with Russian avionics.
Also deployed in Syria, this plane, along with the Su-35, has been carrying out air superiority missions along with combat air patrols – performing multirole missions. It has been vital in supporting ground troops by conducting airstrikes and repelling Israeli and Turkish airstrikes on friendly militias and SDF.
The Su-30, with the Indian Air Force as the MKI variant, too has seen combat sorties against western fighters especially during the recent Balakot Airstrikes and following air combat, when it managed to dodge a volley of AIM-120 AMRAAMs fired at it by the Pakistani F-16 fighters.
The Russians are also reportedly developing a newer variant of the Su-30SM, named the SM-2, which would carry newer radar carried by the Su-35, and better engines, and an arsenal upgrade.
Analysis By Ayush Jain