Russia took delivery on a handful of advanced Su-34M fighter bombers late last month, and one has already been shot down over Ukraine. It wasn’t Ukrainian forces who managed to down the twin-seat jet, however… It was Russia’s own air defenses.
Over the weekend, video emerged of Russian forces downing a jet operating over Eastern Ukraine, though at the time, it was unclear exactly what type of aircraft they had intercepted. The footage was uploaded to Telegram by a Russian war correspondent with a history of being sanctioned by foreign nations for spreading disinformation and propaganda on behalf of Moscow.
“Last night, the air-defense crew of the allied forces destroyed a target in the sky over Alchevsk,” Yevgeny Poddubny, a Russian war correspondent and known propagandist, wrote with the video he uploaded.
“The nature of the target is not clear. The burning ball fell to the ground for more than a minute.”
Related: That time a Russian fighter shot down one of its own in a mock dogfight
The one-minute video shared on July 17 shows a bright light emanating from above the clouds, accompanied by a thundering crash. Shortly thereafter, a fireball can be seen falling from the sky.
It wasn’t long before the wreckage of the aircraft was located, and upon inspection, it soon became apparent that it was actually one of just ten or fewer Su-34Ms in existence, with a registration number of RF-95890.
These jets, which Russian media refers to as 4++ generation fighters-bombers, were just delivered to the Russian air force late last month, fulfilling the beginning of an order placed in May of 2020.
The only nation that operates these fighter-bombers, of course, is Russia themselves.
Related: Zapad 2017: When a Russian helicopter opened fire on the press
Russia received its first Su-34Ms only weeks ago and has fewer than 10 total
In June of 2021, Russian media outlet Tass reported that the nation would receive eight updated Su-34M fighter bombers by the end of the year. It wasn’t until July 8 of this year that Russia inducted the first operational Su-34Ms into service.
To date, it appears Russian Aerospace Forces have received no more than ten total aircraft.
The Sukhoi Su-34, NATO reporting name Fullback, has been under development for literally decades, with the design concept first floated as a replacement for the Su-24 Fencer as far back as 1977. Like many modern Russian fighters, the Su-34 was based on the Su-27 Flanker—an air superiority fighter designed to compete with the likes of America’s 4th-generation dogfighters like the F-14 Tomcat and F-15 Eagle. It first flew 32 years ago, in April of 1990, but didn’t enter service until as late as March of 2014.
The Su-34 may have air superiority roots, but its design was changed dramatically to better suit an attack role. It can carry up to 17,630 pounds of ordnance across 12 hardpoints located underwing and beneath the fuselage, alongside a 30mm GSh-30-1 internal cannon. A pair of Russian AL-31FM1 engines provide 30,000 pounds of thrust each under afterburner, giving the aircraft a top speed of Mach 1.8 and a service ceiling of around 56,000 feet. The Su-34M is said to improve upon these figures while integrating a synthetic aperture radar, camera pod, and UKR-RT electronic intelligence (ELINT) pod for improved situational awareness.
In some ways, the Su-34 could be compared to America’s F-15E Strike Eagle, as an air-superiority fighter turned fighter-bomber, though in practice, its design takes a different approach.
The Su-34 diverged most dramatically from its Su-27 predecessor in the nose, with a new forward fuselage designed to allow the aircraft’s two-person crew to sit side-by-side, rather than one in front of the other. The resulting design was so unique it earned the aircraft nicknames like “Hellduck” and the “Platypus.” A pair of canards sourced from the Su-30 mounted toward the rear of the cockpit further adds to the Hellduck’s unusual aesthetic.
In 2020, the Russian Aerospace Forces placed an order for 76 updated Su-34Ms at a rate of 14 aircraft per year through 2027. Each of these modernized fighter-bombers sets Moscow back about $50 million, thanks in no small part to upgraded avionics, radar, and communications systems and electronic warfare capabilities. Considering the Russian Defense budget is less than a tenth the size of America’s, losing such an expensive aircraft to friendly fire is a serious setback.
Related: How Russia’s warfare doctrine is failing in Ukraine
Russia has lost at least 35 fixed-wing aircraft over Ukraine, but likely more than 200
Conservative estimates of Russian losses of fixed-wing aircraft throughout their invasion of Ukraine are as low as 35, with sites like Oryx tallying confirmed photographic losses of identifiable platforms to determine that figure. Ukrainian officials, however, offer a significantly higher count, soon to exceed 220. While this may sound like a wide disparity, Oryx themselves highlight the fact that actual losses are almost certainly significantly higher than they report, due to their strict requirements for photographic evidence.
“This list only includes destroyed vehicles and equipment of which photo or videographic evidence is available. Therefore, the amount of equipment destroyed is significantly higher than recorded here,” Stign Mitzer explained for Oryx.
Among the confirmed losses are at least 11 other Su-34s, though none of the previous losses were of advanced Su-34Ms. Earlier iteration Su-34s are often valued at between $35 and $40 million, making their losses similarly difficult to swallow for the increasingly cash-strapped Kremlin.
To date, Russia has failed to secure air supremacy over the embattled Eastern Ukrainian front, which may be largely attributed to Russian military doctrine placing little emphasis on air superiority. Russian forces have long based their doctrine on a potential conflict with NATO, and because Russia felt securing air dominance in such a conflict would be unlikely, they’ve shifted their approach to combat to simply attempting to control the airspace immediately around their forces and objectives and nothing more.
However, despite Russia’s setbacks, Ukraine still has a grueling fight ahead with no clear path to victory yet to materialize.
SVEN UNGLAUBE says
USA should doing USA do manufacturing reverse-engineered SUKHOI SU34 FULLBACK for UKRAINE !!!!!!!!
USA should do give to UKRAINE F-35 LIGHTNING 2, F-16 VIPER, A-10 WARTHOG, reverse-engineered SUKHOI SU34 FULLBACK for UKRAINE !!!!!!!!
Don W says
A quote from Aleksandr’s book “Foundations of Geopolatics: Dugin’s book called for Russian special services “to provoke all forms of instability and separatism within the borders of the United States (it is possible to make use of the political forces of Afro-American racists).”
“It is especially important to introduce geopolitical disorder into internal American activity, encouraging all kinds of separatism and ethnic, social and racial conflicts, actively supporting all dissident movements– extremist, racist, and sectarian groups, thus destabilizing internal political processes in the U.S. It would also make sense simultaneously to support isolationist tendencies in American politics.” This is considered the difinitive playbook of how Russia, and likely China, will take down the United States.
In short, by demonizing those opposet of your political views, you play right into their hands. When they read comments like those above, they must laugh so hard they wet their pants.
But how can you say that Russia has lost more than 200 planes? Do you really think that the Russians lose an average of 2 planes a day? But please stop with this propaganda! But do you at least realize the misinformation you are doing?
Well, at least it wasn’t a Malaysian airliner
Mike Mears says
Why on earth would you end an otherwise great article with this sentence, “However, despite Russia’s setbacks, Ukraine still has a grueling fight ahead with no clear path to victory yet to materialize.”
First it is a non sequitur and has nothing to do with the shoot down story, and secondly, it is false. The Ukraine has almost neutralized the demoralized Russian Infantry, destroyed almost 50% of Russian operational tanks, and only has to contend with formidable Russian Artillery. But look at the FIRES satellite data and you see a shift there for the first time in the war in the last two weeks with more artillery hitting the Russians than is fired from the Russian side at the Ukrainians. This is thanks to good intel along with HIMARS and other multiple launch rocket systems taking out ammunition depots and artillery systems. Many more advanced Western weapons systems will be fielded in the next 90 days, yet the article ends with “no clear path to victory” for Ukraine?
I have not followed the Ukraine thing because it is not our main problem. Our problem is here, where Republicans want to overthrow our democracy and install an autocrat who is a demonic imbecile, or one just like him.
Talk about a non sequitur. You’re either a bot, or a truly ignorant liberal (which is a redundant statement unto itself).
Koko ,we’re not in civil war 💊
$2 a gallon gas
Lowest Black, Hispanic, and woman’s unemployment in the countries history
No Lip service from China, Russia or Iran!
Kept the Sea lanes kept open and our border secure. Less than 2% inflation
Brought Chinese to Table, Tariffs to fight cheap Chinese labor.
Restarted Hypersonic systems that were cancelled under Obama.
Affordable fuel, energy, food and housing.
Stop your false narrative Marxist BS and go back and READ what really happened. One party is crooked on the take and lining their pockets and their children’s pockets with Chinese Russian and Ukrainian Money . Open Borders and no voter ID, no baby formula, $7 diesel and $18 a lb bacon, weaponized the DOJ and politicized the FBI, 70,000 in IRS agents with 7000 M16s and millions of rounds of Ammunition to enforce what exactly? One Banana Republic Administration is CORRUPT from Rotted top on Down and will pay a price for what they have done to this country…
Here’s another war genius. I think you are living in a parallel universe where Ukraine is winning hahaha but wake up, you only wrote some very big stupid absolutely not true and without foundation!
Johnathan Galt says
Russian controller: “Sukhoi Leader, set IFF transponder 5141”
Sukhoi Lead: “Roger, IFF squawking 1514!”
Johnathan Galt says
That’s gonna leave a mark!
Brian Foley says
Stuff happens…to everybody. So the Russians shot down one of their own Su-34M’s, it’s not the end of the world (except maybe for the guy who pulled that trigger). The Russians aren’t going to pull up stakes and steal away into the night. It’s one less Su-34M’s the Ukrainians will have to shoot down, so that’s good news.
Sam McGowan says
He’s “a known propagandist”? What else is new? That’s what media is, propaganda, as are Internet sites such as this one.
Joni Pelkonen says
You really need to adjust your understanding of the difference between information and propaganda.
If everything is propaganda, where does the information that everything is propaganda come from and why do you believe that claim?
LOL!!! What a bunch of idiots. The entire Western intelligence community needs to be overhauled and its top ranks purged. How could they possibly have so vastly overstated Russia’s military capability for so long? It’s truly an epic fail. “Second best military in the world”? Right now, they wouldn’t even make the Top 10!
Second best in Ukraine lol
hilarious! quote of year!
Let’s see when the US accidentally shoots down a friendly like in the Gulf Wars they are incompetent, showing a glaring training deficit, blah blah blah. When someone else does it crickets….
I can’t remember a single instance of a US aircraft being accidentally shot down by a US air defense system.
Then you never paid attention to John McCain’s record as a US carrier pilot!
War in Iraq:
2 incidents I’m aware of:
-A U.S. Patriot missile shot down a British Panavia Tornado GR.4A of No. 13 Squadron RAF, killing the pilot and navigator. Investigations showed that the Tornado’s identification friend or foe indicator had malfunctioned and hence it was not identified as a friendly aircraft-
-U.S. Patriot missile batteries fired two missiles on a U.S. Navy F/A-18C Hornet 50 mi (80 km) from Karbala, Iraq. One missile hit the aircraft of pilot Lieutenant Nathan Dennis White of VFA-195, Carrier Air Wing Five, killing him. This was the result of the missile design flaw in identifying hostile aircraft.-
The Tornado of course, wasn’t a US air craft but rather allied air; but the 2nd F-18 incident certainly was
Besides the ones mentioned below, there are probably a few that the military lied about. They do the same thing when our soldiers on the ground are killed by friendly fire; the only reason that the truth finally came out about Tillman is because he was a “celebrity”.
Air defence system or operators on USS Vincennes couldn’t tell the difference between an airbus and a F14 so shot down the airbus…while parked under a commercial air route.
Andy Poulton says
Several blue-on-blue of air and ground though
As fun as it is seeing the Russians down one of their own aircraft I’m trying not to laugh too hard. Pretty much every nation that operates aircraft and has fought a war with them has shot down one of their own.
Kremlin is cash-strapped? Other news media says they’re afloat in money.