Ukrainian S-300s Gain First Ever Kills: Shoot Down Two NATO Aircraft Accidentally Over Romania - Reports

Amid ongoing hostilities between Russian and Ukrainian forces, the latter’s most potent air defence system the S-300 has gained its first kills. Following reports on March 3 that eight Romanian military personnel had been killed, with a single MiG-21 fighter and IAR 330-Puma helicopter crashing killing both the pilot of the first and seven crew of the second, it was reported that Ukrainian S-300 batteries were responsible for shooting down one and possibly NATO aircraft in an incident of friendly fire. This was hardly the first incident where Romania inadvertently became involved in the Ukrainian conflict, with a Ukrainian Su-27 pilot fleeing to the country on the first day of the war with his fighter and being intercepted by Romanian Air Force F-16s. Questionable training in the Ukrainian Air Force, with a recent history of multiple accidents including reported friendly fire downing a Su-27 over Kiev in the war’s opening hours, have made the possible downing of two Romanian aircraft far from an isolated incident. Perhaps the most notable precedent was the downing by an older Ukrainian S-200 system of Siberia Airlines Flight 1812 over the Black Sea in October 2001, which killed all 78 civilians onboard. 

Although widely deployed by over 15 countries, and still in production in Russia today as the advanced S-300V4 variant, the S-300 has seldom seen combat. The Russian military intervention in Ukraine is only its second war after the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh conflict where both Armenia and Azerbaijan had deployed the system. Ukraine’s S-300s came under concerted attack in the opening hours of the Russian military intervention in the country, and their destruction left Ukrainian forces dependent on handheld surface to air missile launchers to threaten Russian aircraft asymmetrically. While the S-300 is considered one of the most advanced air defence systems in the world, the S-300P/PS/PT medium range systems from the 1980s relied on by Ukraine have much lower mobility and situational awareness, were not designed for defence of large areas, and lack a multi-layered defence capability. Although S-300s were developed with combat against NATO in mind, and have been deployed very widely as a shield against possible Western air attacks from Algeria and Syria to China and Venezuela, it was hardly envisaged that their first kills against NATO aircraft would occur over Ukraine or come under such circumstances. A number of Western aligned states including Ukraine, Bulgaria, Greece and Slovakia deploy the S-300, while NATO member Turkey has acquired the system’s advanced derivative the S-400.

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