The Russian Air Force, on December 29, according to its Ministry of Defence, shot down three Ukrainian aircraft, a MiG-29, and two Mi-8 helicopters, in air-to-air kills, possibly by a single Su-35S fighter.
This was followed by two more Mi-8s shot down in the Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) the next day, on December 30, by Russian fighters. Thus, Ukraine lost four helicopters and a frontline jet to Russian fighter aircraft in two days.
The claim on the lone Su-35S’s action can be concluded by updates by the Russian Ministry of Defence (MoD), publicity videos of its air combat operations, and battlefield maps it releases daily.
However, there has been no specific statement on either the Su-35S or the ‘one-versus-three’ claim, except for the MoD stating that the three were victims of Russian fighter aircraft.
This implies it could have been more than one Russian fighter shooting down the three Ukrainian aircraft. But the MoD’s own promotional videos of its routine fighter operations do not indicate this.
Interestingly, December 29 (Thursday) also saw Ukraine losing nine Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV), including one Turkish TB-2 Bayraktar in the east and south.
The Su-35S is Russia’s second-most advanced fighter after the Generation 5 Su-57 and amongst the world’s most advanced Generation 4++ multirole fighters.
An advancement above even the Su-30SM2 fighters, a section of military aviation experts believes it is the Su-35 that might have a reasonable chance of shooting down an American F-22 Raptor or an F-35 in close or beyond visual range (BVR) combat after the Su-57.
Russian MoD Statement
In the daily briefing, MoD spokesperson Lt Gen Igor Konashenkov on Friday (December 30) claimed the air-to-air kills, among other material, personnel, and territorial losses the Russian military inflicted on the Armed Forces of Ukraine (AFU).
“Fighter Aviation of Russian Aerospace Forces have shot down 1 MiG-29 of Ukrainian Air Force near Novoyelizavetovka. Also, two Ukrainian Mi-8 helicopters were shot down near Druzhkovka and Yablonovka,” Konashenkov said. All three locations are in the Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR).
That it was the lone Su-35S to claim the kills could be conjectured based on the single video of the plane the day prior on December 29 (Thursday). So far, there is nothing to suggest more than one Su-35 or Russian fighter have been on patrol at the time since otherwise, they too would have been featured in the publicity material.
Moreover, the MoD statement itself says it was the “fighter aviation of Russian aerospace forces” to have made the Ukrainian aircraft kills, meaning neither of them could have been the handiwork of Russian air defense.
The Russian military has proudly released videos of its S-300 and Pantsir units shooting down Ukrainian manned and unmanned aviation.
Su-35S Sortie Video
A few hours before the briefing, the MoD had released a video of a Su-35S sortie. The video showed the plane taxiing (possibly before take-off), cutting to the cockpit and wing-mounted go-pro camera views of the flight, and then landing back.
The video surprisingly did not show any Heads-Up Display (HUD) readings or missile firing views from the HUD, unlike previous publicity material of combat aircraft sorties.
Before the take-off, the plane is carrying a classic load-out of air-to-air missiles for air-dominance missions – including four R-77-1 beyond-visual-range (BVR) air-to-air missiles (AAMs) (two on the under-fuselage pylons and two on the under intake pylons); and two short-range R-73s AAM on under-wing pylons. Puzzlingly, shots from the camera attached to the left wing also showed a Kh-31 anti-radiation missile during the flight, but not in the bit where the jet is taxiing before taking off (discussed subsequently).
The video then only shows clips from inside the cockpit and cameras attached to the plane’s body before it lands back by opening its brake parachute.
The MoD statement attached to this video said, “Crews of Su-35S multi-purpose fighters conduct air patrol, as well as support Assault Aviation airplanes and Army Aviation helicopters while launching strikes at the military facilities and hardware of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. The Su-35S crew identified an air target within one of the flights, identified it as an enemy airplane, and destroyed it with missiles.” The information refers to only a singular target that the Su-35 identifies.
Could this be the Russian Jet That Shot Down The MiG-29 & Mi-8s?
For one, no other promotional videos of fighter aviation were released by the MoD on or before December 30. Secondly, while the Su-35S is shown landing towards the end of the clip, it is missing one R-73 short-range AAM from the right under-wing pylon and one R-77-1 BVR-AAM from the right under-intake pylon.
This, therefore, indicates that Ukrainian MiG-29 and Mi-8 helicopters claimed in the MoD briefing are the very victims of this Su-35S featured in the promotional video.
Russia TV (RT) reported within a few minutes of the MoD press release on December 30 (Friday), quoting its statement of the MiG-29 and Mi-8 loss.
“A MiG-29 aircraft of the Armed Forces of Ukraine was shot down near the village of Novoelizavetovka in the DPR. Two Ukrainian Mi-8 helicopters were shot down in the areas of the settlements of Druzhkov and Yablonovka of the DPR,” RT attributed the information to the MoD.
Moreover, maps released by the MoD show one of the Mi-8 shooting downs at Druzhkovka, just 30 km north of Yablonovka, where the other Mi-8 was hit.
Novoyelizavetovka is roughly 60 km south of Yablonovka. The Su-35S’s Irbis-E passive radar can track targets up to 350 km, while the R-77-1 and R-73 have 110 km and 40 km, respectively.
Thus, on a regular patrol, the Russian pilot must have detected and tracked the three targets and fired his R-77s and R-73s before turning back.
It is unclear whether he also used the under-fuselage/belly-mounted R-77s since they are not visible from the side view of the landing Su-35S. But that the ‘triple kill’ was the handiwork of the same Su-35S is nearly inevitable.
Missing Kh-31 Anti-Radiation Missile
The major inconsistency that stands out, nevertheless, is why was the Kh-31 ARM not seen on the Su-35S at the beginning of the video when it is taxiing and suddenly appears mid-flight.
It could simply be a different Su35S! The best explanation could be that a clip from another Su-35S preparing to take off but without a Kh-31 on a different sortie was mistakenly included in the relevant video. But these are very simplistic explanations.