F-35, Su-35 and S-400 All Had Their First Ever Anti Aircraft Kills Reported This Week

The first week of March 2022 has seen three of the most prominent 21st-century weapons systems for high and aerial warfare have their first engagements against enemy aircraft reported - namely the American F-35A stealth fighter, the Russian Su-35 heavyweight air superiority fighter and Russia’s S-400 long range air defence system. 

These entered service in 2015, 2014 and 2007 respectively, and are all deployed in considerable numbers beyond their producing countries’ borders both in foreign bases and in the hands of export clients leaving the potential for them being involved in conflict in multiple theatres from East Asia to the Middle East. The weapons systems are all high end aerial warfare assets meaning that short of a great power war the chances of them being used against high end enemy assets remained minimal.

 Where the S-400, for example, has been used to track Western and Israeli attacks on Syrian territory when deployed to a Russian airbase in the country, and Russian Su-35s deployed to the same base have frequently intercepted illegal Israeli and Turkish incursions into Syrian airspace, actual firing of weapons by either of these two assets remained unlikely. 

The Su-35 is thought to have seen its first air to air engagement over Ukraine as part of the Russian military intervention there, and while the exact Russian assets responsible for downing multiple Ukrainian aircraft remains uncertain Russian reports have indicated that on March 5 Russian fighters were responsible for downing four Ukrainian Air Force Su-27s. 

This took place in an air battle over the city of Zhytomir in Ukraine’s western regions, with the circumstances of the engagement strongly pointing to Su-35s being responsible for at least some of those kills. 

This marked the first ever losses of Su-27s in air to air combat, and the first reported engagement between heavyweight post-third generation fighters. Russia’s S-400 gained its first kill and reportedly set a world record for the longest range ever for an aircraft shootdown when it neutralised a Ukrainian Air Force Su-27 fighter near the country’s capital Kiev on February 25. This was only reported the following week. 

The S-400 was reportedly not deployed to Ukrainian soil, but neutralised its target from Belarusian territory killing renowned display pilot Colonel Oleksandr Oksanchenko.

The Su-35’s primary Western rival, and the aircraft which the S-400 was partly developed with engagements against in mind, the F-35 was reported on March 7 to have gained two air to air kills against unarmed Iranian drones which were reportedly carrying armaments into the Gaza Strip to support militias based there. 

The kills reportedly took place in early 2021. The F-35’s suitability for air to air combat has long been in question, with the aircraft suffering from over 800 flaws and restricted to a limited initial operating capability meaning it is not suitable for medium intensity engagements. 

The fighter has not been approved for full scale production by the Pentagon as a result, although against unarmed subsonic drones which were likely engaged within visual range the F-35 would likely have been capable of neutralising its target. 

The F-35 has been exported widely primary to Western countries, and is expected to form the backbone of NATO manned tactical combat aviation for decades to come making its first kill, even against unarmed and unmanned targets, an important milestone. 

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