Amid claims and counterclaims emerging from the Russia-Ukraine war, many spectacular videos have surfaced on social media. One video appears to be showing Ukrainian air defense fighters chasing and shooting down Russian cruise missiles.
The Ukrainian Air Force’s air defense aircraft fleet comprises the MiG-29 and Su-27 fighters. The MiGs are used for air-to-ground and air defense, and the Su-27s are primarily used for air-to-air missions.
Of these, the Su-27 is a more powerful air defense asset. However, the early loss of aircraft units has shrunk the size of the fleet, which was always smaller than the MiG-29 fleet.
A typical air defense mission for the Ukrainian MiG-29 or Su-27 pilots involves patrolling an area in search of an aerial threat and engaging it to neutralize once a threat is detected.
The Ukrainian military mainly relies on its air defense missile systems for shooting down missiles and drones, and Su-27s or MiG-29s are typically employed against Russian fighter jets.
However, Ukraine’s inventory of Surface-to-Air Missiles (SAMs) appears to be dwindling, which is why air defense aircraft also contribute to a considerable extent in countering missile threats, and of late, even unmanned aerial threats.
Ukrainian Fighter Jets Filmed While Engaging Airborne Threats
Fighter jets of various air forces worldwide have been shooting down enemy cruise missiles for years, but these are rare cases of footage where some show the launch and the explosion of a missile in the same frame.
One of the videos shared by a pro-Ukrainian Twitter handle, ‘@UkraineRussia2,’ shows a fighter jet firing a missile that turns left and explodes.
— Ukraine-Russia war (@UkraineRussia2) November 19, 2022
The video was first shared by the Ukraine Now Telegram channel on October 22 and was reportedly filmed in Chernivtsi Oblast in southwestern Ukraine. The quality of this video is insufficient to determine whether any target was struck.
However, the head of the Chernivtsi Oblast administration, Ruslan Zaparaniuk, reported on the same day this video was shared that a Ukrainian aircraft shot down a missile over the Dnistrovskyi district, and the remains of the missile fell into a lake.
Another similar video was shared by the Odesa Info Telegram channel on October 22, showing an aircraft that appears to be a Ukrainian Air Force MiG-29 fighter jet launching an air-to-air missile (AAM).
Наші пташки працюють
Збив крилату ракету! pic.twitter.com/S5aZk5ZoEM
— ✙ Дніпровець) Станіслав ✙ ?? (@TrueDonbass) October 22, 2022
The AAM is then seen carrying out a series of sharp maneuvers and exploding after allegedly hitting a cruise missile or a drone.
“Wow, [it got] shot down!” a woman is heard saying in the background.
However, even the quality of this video is not good enough to ascertain what kind of target or if any target was intercepted.
“The video doesn’t show what is being struck. It could well be that the missile destructed because of ground proximity,” squadron Leader Vijainder Thakur, a retired IAF Jaguar pilot, said when asked to comment on the veracity of the story surrounding the video.
The Twitter handle, @UkraineRussia2, posted another video on November 19 showing a Ukrainian Su-27 closely following a cruise missile.
— Ukraine-Russia war (@UkraineRussia2) November 19, 2022
The Ukraine Now Telegram channel originally shared this video on October 23, and the description accompanying the video claims it was filmed in Podilsk, a city north of Odesa.
Based on the timeline of these videos, they seem to be related to the cruise missile strike conducted by Russia on October 22, as per the statement of the General Staff of Ukraine, which reported that the strike involved 17 Kh-101 missiles launched by Tupolev Tu-160 and Tu-95 strategic bombers, as well as 16 3M-54 Kalibr missiles launched by ships stationed in the Black Sea.
Ukrainian Fighter Pilots Underwent Special Training To Shoot Down Russian Cruise Missiles
The official information agency of the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense (MoD) published a report on June 20 providing insights into the tactics employed by Ukrainian fighter pilots to engage Russian cruise missiles – in particular, the Kalibr missile – in mid-air.
According to this report, Ukrainian fighter pilots were assembled during the initial days of the Russian invasion of Ukraine for special training to shoot down cruise missiles.
As part of the training, pilots were instructed and shown on simulators what should be considered when intercepting a cruise missile. The training is said to have borne fruits within a few days when Ukrainian fighters began successfully intercepting Russian cruise missiles.
Cruise missiles usually have a small reflective surface and travel at a very low altitude, making them difficult to detect against the ground using an aircraft’s radar alone.
However, Russian missiles like Kalibr, Kh-101, Kh-59, and Kh-555 are powered by conventional two-circuit jet engines, which leave a thermal trace in the air. So, the Ukrainian fighter pilots rely on the electro-optical targeting system to detect the missile’s thermal trace.
The Ukrainian fighter pilots also began employing the same tactics against combat drones used by the Russian military.
Just like cruise missiles, drones, particularly the kamikaze drones like Iranian-made Shahed-136 or the Lancet drones used by Russia, also have a small reflective surface and usually fly at low altitudes, making them difficult to detect even by ground-based air defense radars.
On October 5, Ukrainian MiG-29s from the 204th Tactical Aviation Brigade of the Ukrainian Air Force shot down three Iran-made Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), marking the first time Ukrainian fighter jets were used against UAVs since the start of the Russian invasion.
President Zelensky commended the fighter pilots from the 204th Tactical Aviation Brigade for their precision while engaging with the enemy UAVs.
However, using fighter jets against kamikaze drones is very risky and expensive, as was witnessed in mid-October when a Ukrainian MiG-29 was allegedly brought down by a Shahed-136 drone, marking the first instance of a kamikaze drone bringing down a combat aircraft.
A video of this incident emerged on social media, showing a fighter jet using its cannon to shoot down a target. The target itself is not visible, and the aircraft is also not seen crashing.
Interesting! A Ukrainian MiG-29 shoots down a Geran-2, proximity suggests, using his cannon. The drone explodes on being hit and plummets to the ground. Apparently, the MiG-29 itself went down, likely due to shrapnel hits from the exploding Geran-2! https://t.co/2DlLwt7l1k
— Vijainder K Thakur (@vkthakur) October 12, 2022
However, the Ukrainian Air Force confirmed in a Facebook post that a fighter jet of one of the tactical aviation brigades crashed near Vinnytsia while carrying out a combat mission to destroy enemy kamikaze drones, ‘Shahed-136.’
The Air Force said that the fighter jet crashed because of an unspecified technical malfunction that led the pilot to lose control of the aircraft.
Experts suggested that while the combat aircraft might have managed to shoot the kamikaze drone, the explosion of the latter must have hit the plane itself.