First Ever Russian Su-34 Strike Fighter Shot Down: Pilot Captured After Crash in Ukraine

On March 5 the first ever combat loss of Russia’s prime strike fighter the Su-34 was confirmed to have taken place over Ukraine, with footage showing the aircraft with tail number 24 was brought down. The fighter’s pilot, reportedly a Major Krasnoruchev, was taken prisoner by Ukrainian forces in the aftermath. 

The Su-34 was reportedly shot down by a Soviet 9K38 Igla man-portable surface to air missile, which Ukraine inherited in considerable numbers after the USSR collapsed. While the Su-34’s electronic warfare countermeasures suite was marketed as one of the most capable in the world, against infrared guided surface to air missiles its countermeasures may well be less capable. 

It remains unknown how intense the surface fire the Su-34 encountered was, with the possibility remaining that flares and other countermeasures were expended by the sheer volume of fire allowing the final shot to bring it down. 

The aircraft is the first confirmed fixed wing loss by the Russian Air Force over Ukraine, and fell on a day when four Ukrainian Air Force Su-27 air superiority fighters were reported to have been shot down over the country’s western regions - very likely by Russian Air Force fighters.

The Su-34 joined the Russian Air Force in 2014, and is the only dedicated strike fighter to enter service anywhere in the world since the turn of the century. 

The aircraft previously saw extensive combat over Syria supporting government counterinsurgency efforts, and was long expected to spearhead any potential Russian operations in Europe. The Su-34 has its origins in the Su-27 Flanker fighter from which it was derived, and is the most extensive modification of the Flanker design of its many derivatives. It was developed primarily to replace Su-24M strike fighters in the Russian Air Force. 

The Su-34 is prized for its powerful sensor suite, high flight performance, low radar cross section and very long range comparable to that of Cold War era strategic bombers. The aircraft has been acquired in larger numbers by the Russian Air Force over the past decade than any other, with over 120 currently in service as the fleet is expected to grow to over 200 around the middle of the decade.

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