Rising Su-34 Shootdowns Put Su-35 Heavy Fighters In Action! RuMoD Pairs Super Flankers With Fullbacks

There are reports of another shootdown of a Russian Su-34 fighter bomber. However, the Russian war machine keeps marching on in Ukraine despite massive losses (multiple Su-34s & few A-50 AWACS). 

A recent publicity material from the Russian Ministry of Defense (RuMoD) mentioned one such Fullback strike on Ukrainian ground positions using glide bombs kitted with the Universal Module for Planning Correction (UMPC).

The press release, however, specifically noted that the Su-35S multirole fighter was paired with the Su-34 by acting as an “escort.”

This is a rare official admission of the two fighters working in collaboration. Defense observers had long concluded that the Russian Aerospace Forces (RuAF) often paired the two fighters. Even more interestingly, the accompanying video only featured the Su-35S and not the Su-34.

This marks a situation where both Ukraine and Russia are sustaining credible losses in their air defense platforms (Ukraine) and aircraft (Russia). Yet, both remain largely undeterred.

Ukrainian Western-origin SAMs face significant threats from Russian anti-radiation missiles and kamikaze drones, as Moscow periodically reports strikes on a Patriot battery, a German IRIS-T, or a French Italian SAMP/T.

Neither Ukraine nor Russia can afford to let its guard down, especially now that Kyiv has less than 100 planes. It is also because Russian aerial battlefield interdiction strikes have contributed immensely to its creeping incursion into the separatist Donbas, and the capture of Avdiivka is a part of this pattern.

Russia, too, has lost several Su-34s and two A-50U Airborne Warning Control System (AWACS) planes since January. Moscow needs localized air superiority to push the border as far to the West and create a buffer zone that ensures NATO and West-friendly Ukraine remains further away from internationally recognized Russian territory.

RuMoD Says Su-35S ‘Escorts’ Su-34

The RuMoD video showed a Su-35S taking off and performing an “escort” mission for Su-34 “fighter bombers” that “delivered strikes at one AFU command post and AFU manpower in Kupyansk direction.”

“The crew carried out a bombardment with high-explosive aerial bombs with a universal planning and correction module (UMPC), which made it possible to deliver accurate strikes out of the enemy’s air defenses reach,” the accompanying statement added. What is surprising is that the video did not show the Su-34.

UMPC is a kit that converts unguided simple drop bombs into guided munitions by adding wings with movable control surfaces and a satellite navigation module (SATNAV). Put differently, it is the Russian version of the Paveway guidance kit.

Nonetheless, this confirms a long-held belief that the two fighters act in tandem, where the Su-35S provides electronic warfare (EW) protection while the Su-34 carries out its strikes. The Su-35S has Khibiny EW pods on its wingtips that can detect radar emissions from ground-based AD systems or even possibly jam incoming SAMs while alerting the Su-34’s crew if it has been targeted.

As the Su-34s are not visible in the video, it can be assumed that two aircraft are taking off from separate air bases and flying considerably apart. The Su-34 is seen carrying a Kh-31P anti-radiation radar-killing missile on the middle pylon under the right wing.

The Heads Up Display (HUD) shows an engagement in the process. But the missile is not shown being fired. So, it is not clear if the Su-35S pilot destroyed a Ukrainian radar.

Russia Lost A Lot Of Planes

Only last week, the Ukrainian Air Force claimed to have downed a Su-34, which, if true, would bring the total number of Russian jets being shot down until February 21 to seven. According to UAF commander Lieutenant General Mykola Oleschuk, before that date, his forces had destroyed four Russian aircraft, including three Su-34s and one Su-35.

Following that, another announcement noted that two more fighters — a Su-34 and a Su-35S — were shot down on February 19, with another Su-34 shot down on February 20-21, bringing the total number of Russian jets shot down to seven.

Russian Su-34
Russian Su-34

Russia Views Long-Term Strategic Advantage in Fighting Now

The war is at a critical juncture, with the West in no mood to stop arming Ukraine. The US and Europe are also reviving their defense industrial bases to replenish its dwindling stockpile of weapons meant for Kyiv.

Russia’s air force remains capable. The planes it lost belonged to the Military Districts in the Far West, and there have been no reports of it transferring men and material from either of its central or far-eastern regions.

On the contrary, Ukrainian leaders have long complained about their rapidly depleting Western-origin air defense missile stocks. These are not manufactured in Ukraine and come from the American and European militaries’ armories.

With the current problems in the Western defense industrial base that will take several years to hike production, Russia possibly perceives a long-term advantage and is willing to sustain tactical losses.