Britain’s Type 45 Destroyer vs. Russia’s Su-24M Strike Fighter: Head to Head in the Black Sea

Amid high tensions between Russia and Britain, and the latter leading calls among Western European states for a harder line to be drawn against Moscow, a clash between both countries in the Black Sea on June 23rd brought this longstanding conflict to the headlines. 

The British Royal Navy deployed one of its six destroyers, the Type 45 Class ship HMS Defender, to conduct manoeuvres in Russian claimed waters. The British Ministry of Defence claimed HMS Defender was “conducting innocent passage through Ukrainian territorial waters in accordance with international law,” while the Russian Ministry of Defence claims that the warship had violated its maritime border near Cape Fiolent and close to the Crimean capital of Sevastopol.

Maritime tracking data supports the Russian claim and shows HMS Defender approaching around 10 nautical miles off the Crimean coast, which placed it inside Russian’s claimed territorial waters which extend 12 nautical miles out to sea. 

The primary issue of contention, however, remains the status of Crimea, which Russia annexed in 2014 from Ukraine. Crimea is recognised by the United Nations and the large majority of countries as part of Ukraine, although Russian sources claim that the demographically Russian territory was at serious risk due to the extreme anti-Russian policies pursued by the post-2014 Ukrainian government which came to power in a Western-backed coup that year, providing a humanitarian pretext for the annexation. The territory was considered a part of Russia until 1954.

British Type 45 Destroyer

Crimea is one of the most heavily militarized territories in Russia and deploys a range of advanced weapons including Iskander hypersonic ballistic missiles, multiple S-400 air defence systems, and modern Su-27 and Su-30 heavyweight fighter jets. 

In response to the violation of Crimean waters, Russia deployed a Su-24M heavyweight strike fighter which dropped four OFAB-250 bombs as a warning to the British warship. According to the Russian account, HMS Defender left  Russian waters four minutes later. Footage released by the Russian Ministry of Defence showed the destroyer being shadowed by a Su-30SM fighter from the Russian Navy. 

Russian senator from the Crimea region, Sergei Tsekov, referred to the incursion as “a flagrant violation of international norms and standards.” “By such illiterate actions they can provoke a serious conflict,” he warned. The Russian Ministry of Defence subsequently summoned Britain’s military attaché to explain the incident.

The British Type 45 has one of the smallest armaments of any modern destroyer class, with just 48 vertical launch cells on each ship each of which are restricted to carrying surface to air missiles only. By contrast, modern AEGIS ships in South Korea, Japan and the U.S. deploy 96 missiles or more each. 

The Type 45’s sensor suite is considered its most formidable feature, however, although less powerful than sensors on rival ships such as the American Zumwalt Class, Japanese Maya Class or Chinese Type 055 Class. 

The ship’s sensor suite would allow it to monitor Russian military exercises near Crimea which were reportedly underway at the time, as well as to provide details on targets deep into the Crimean territory.

The Su-24M deployed to fire warning shots at the British ship represents the most capable strike fighter of the Soviet era, and has since been extensively modernised. The strike jets can each deploy standoff anti-ship missile classes such as the Kh-31, as well as anti-radiation missiles which can be pressed into service against warships such as the Kh-58. 

The Kh-31 travels at speeds of over Mach 3, and impacts targets fast enough to tear even large warships in half. 

With each Su-24M capable of deploying several of these missiles, and firing from a long-range at which the Type 45’s relatively short-ranged air defences would not be particularly effective against the aircraft, the Russian jets can potentially pose a serious threat to British destroyers even in limited numbers. 

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