Russian air-defence forces have just shot down one of the most advanced jets engaging in Russia’s larger conflict in Ukraine.
However, there is one issue. It was a Russian fighter plane. Sukhoi Su-34M fighter-bomber.
The Sunday shoot-down above the city of Alchevsk in Russian-occupied eastern Ukraine was purportedly captured on video by Russian propagandist Yevgeny Poddubny.
“Last night, the air-defence crew of the allied forces destroyed a target in the sky over Alchevsk,” Poddubny said on Monday. “The nature of the target is not clear. The burning ball fell to the ground for more than a minute.”
A video of the wreckage proved the plane’s identity: it’s a Su-34M with the registration RF-95890, one of only about ten Su-34Ms deployed to the Russian air force til now.
In May 2020, the Kremlin signed a contract with United Aircraft Corporation’s Sukhoi division to build 76 Su-34Ms at a rate of eight to fourteen planes per year through 2027, at the cost of roughly $50 million per unit.
The 76 Su-34s should be enough to outfit two regiments and finally replace Russia’s old Su-24 bombers. The 277th Bomber Aviation Regiment, the first Su-34M unit, went into service earlier this month.
Russian official media stated that a portion of the 277th has taken place near Ukraine.
The Su-34 is equipped with a 30-millimetre cannon. In addition, it is equipped with a multi-mode radar and the Khibiny electronic-countermeasures suite. The plane, which costs around $40 million, is roughly comparable to the F-15E of the United States Air Force.
The modern Su-34s are Su-34M variants that have been modified with a specialised interface for a new pod that can carry three different sensors. The UKR-RT pod is equipped with electronic search measures. A camera pod, the UKR-OE. The UKR-RL is fitted with a synthetic-aperture radar for detecting targets in inclement weather.
According to UAC Director General Yuri Slyusar, the Su-34M has twice the fighting capability of the standard Su-34. Unless and until Sukhoi completes the development of the Su-57 stealth fighter, the Su-34M is undoubtedly the most advanced warplane in Russian service.
Despite their proficiency, the Russians unintentionally shot down the Su-34M.
RF-95890 is Russia’s 11th Su-34 lost over Ukraine since the conflict began on February 23, 2022. That’s around one-tenth of all Sukhoi Su-34s built.
It is evident that Russia’s own air defences also pose a threat. The “identification friend or foe” (IFF) radio signals on modern jets alert friendly air defences to their approach.
IFF does not, however, always function. What went wrong over Alchevsk on Sunda is still a mystery. The issue could have been mechanical, such as an IFF system going bad, or it could have been due to operator error.
In any case, something or someone went wrong, causing another Su-34 to crash into the ground—this time, one of the newest and best Su-34s.