Over the past two days, Ukraine has claimed to have shot down multiple Russian Su-34 fighter-bombers conducting operations in southern Ukraine. The losses come amidst intensified fighting in the region and highlight the vulnerabilities Russia faces even with some of its most advanced warplanes.
Ukraine Downs Three Su-34s in Single Day
On December 23rd, Ukraine announced its forces had downed three Russian Su-34 fighter-bombers over the Kherson region. The Russian jets were participating in airstrikes against Ukrainian ground targets when they were apparently ambushed by Ukrainian air defenses.
According to a statement from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, “Three Russian Su-34 planes were downed in one day in the skies over Ukraine. This is a very good result for our fighters from the South.”
The Su-34 is considered one of Russia’s premier fighter-bombers, able to conduct precision ground attacks at supersonic speeds. Losing three in one day represents a major setback for Russia’s battered air force.
Ukraine May Have Used Patriot Missiles in Attack
Analysts believe Ukraine likely utilized new Patriot air defense missiles provided by the United States to shoot down the Russian jets.
The advanced Patriot system offers extended range and high-altitude engagement capabilities that Ukraine’s previous air defenses lacked. This allows Ukrainian forces to target Russian aircraft from greater distances and altitudes.
By employing the Patriot’s powerful radar and missiles, Ukraine can now threaten Russian aerial operations across a much wider area, including over Russian-occupied territories.
Another Su-34 Downed in Apparent Friendly Fire Incident
In addition to the three Su-34s destroyed on December 23rd, Ukraine claims another Russian Su-34 was shot down by Russian air defenses in an apparent friendly fire incident the next day.
According to Ukraine’s Air Force Command spokesperson, Yuriy Ihnat, the confused Russian air defense forces failed to properly identify the warplane as friendly before engaging it. Ihnat stated that it is, “another example of absolutely incompetent actions of the Russian army.”
The loss highlights the ongoing command and control issues plaguing Russian forces. Poor coordination and identification procedures have resulted in several costly friendly fire losses over the course of Russia’s flailing invasion.
Intensified Bombing Campaign Met with Stiffer Resistance
The downed Su-34s had been participating in an elevated bombing campaign aimed at halting recent Ukrainian advances in southern regions.
For weeks Russia has intensified airstrikes across Ukrainian-controlled territory in the south as its ground troops retreated. However, the campaign has so far failed to slow Ukraine’s push to recapture lost lands.
|Russian Su-34s Shot Down
With strengthened air defenses like the Patriot system now bolstering Ukrainian forces, Russia is suffering increased aircraft losses. At the same time, its bombardments have become less effective against Ukrainian troops better equipped to withstand them.
Su-34 Downings Part of Broader Attrition Trend
The recent destruction of multiple Su-34s represents just the latest airpower losses suffered by Russia. Conservative estimates indicate Russia has lost over 200 fixed-wing aircraft in the war so far, including dozens of prized Su-34 fighter-bombers.
The downed Su-34s highlight Russia’s failure to secure air superiority nearly a full year after launching its misguided invasion. Despite possessing a numerically larger air force on paper, Russian aerial operations have become increasingly untenable in the face of hardened Ukrainian resistance.
With combat attrition and sanctions cutting into aircraft replacement capabilities, Russia could lack the pilot corps or manufacturing capacity to sustain an extended air campaign. As a result, the Kremlin’s floundering invasion may become even more militarily hazardous in the months ahead.
Outlook: Russia to Face Mounting Air War Challenges
The recent downing of four Su-34 fighter-bombers over two days signals intensifying challenges for Russia’s air offensive in Ukraine. Stiffening Ukrainian air defenses are taking an increasing toll on Russian aerial operations.
At the same time, Western equipment contributions like the Patriot missile system are providing Ukraine new capabilities to contest Russia’s control of the skies. With Russia losing the capability to reliably use airpower in support of ground offensives, its faltering invasion faces additional obstacles going forward.
Sapped by sanctions and reliant on depleted Soviet-era munition stockpiles, Russia will struggle to sustain intensive bombing campaigns against well-defended Ukrainian targets. These aerial setbacks promise to further undermine the viability of Russia’s war effort as Ukraine presses on with its successful counteroffensive into Russian-occupied territory.
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