Russian Su-35 Heavyweight Fighter Shot Down Over Ukraine - Reports

On April 3 multiple images emerged appearing to show the wreckage of a Russian Air Force Su-35S heavyweight fighter in Ukraine, a class of fighter which as been operating very extensively in Ukrainian airspace for over five weeks from bases in both Russia itself and in neighbouring Belarus. The fate of the pilot remains unknown. 

The Su-35 is Russia’s most expensive class of fighter fielded at squadron level strength, and has been tasked with both air to air missions and air defence suppression over Ukraine. Su-35s are thought to have shot down at least five Ukrainian jets, four of them Su-27 air superiority fighters which are the Ukrainian Air Force’s finest. They are considered highly survivable assets with triple radars, two of them AESA radars ideal for electronic warfare, as well as the Khibny-M electronic warfare suite and a very high flight performance which among other attributes making the aircraft difficult to target. Ukraine has claimed very large numbers of kills against Russian fighters, although many if not the majority of these have appeared implausible. 

Perhaps the most notable was the claim in the war’s first week that an ageing Ukrainian Air Force MiG-29A had shot down six Russian fighters including a Su-35 within hours, which was officially endorsed by Ukrainian government sources but widely considered ludicrous internationally. Russian fighters have nevertheless not been immune to attack, with the most notable prior confirmed loss being a Su-34 strike fighter which was shot down on March 5. 

Open hostilities between Russia and Ukraine began on February 24, and the application of Russian air power has provided a means to reduce casualties among its forces on the ground against Ukraine's highly numerous armoured, infantry and artillery forces. While Ukraine's air force is one of the largest in Eastern Europe, and fields fighters which were formally considered the most capable on the continent, its failure to meaningfully modernise its arsenal since the collapse of the Soviet Union has left it effectively obsolete. 

Ukraine has relied heavily on using ground-based handheld anti aircraft systems such as the Soviet Igla and U.S.-supplied Javelin, the former which was reportedly responsible for the Su-34 kill in early March. These are difficult to suppress since have no radar signatures, relying on infrared guidance, and can be concealed within any infantry formation. With the Su-35 designed primarily for air to air combat, where the primary threats come from radar guided weapons, its countermeasures against infrared guided missiles may well have been worn down by the sheer numbers of Javelin and Igla missiles fired at it, much as was expected to be the case for the Su-34.

 It remains possible that Russian forces will seek to secure or destroy the remains of the crashed Su-35 airframe to prevent it from falling into Ukrainian hands - where it would almost certainly be passed on to NATO member states for study. The fighter forms the backbone of the Russian air superiority fleet, and sensitive information on its capabilities remain a highly valued potential asset. 

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