Ukrainians ‘deep dive’ to escape Su-35 firing air-to-air R-37M

Difficulties for Ukrainian pilots in the air continue to haunt them. New revelations of Ukrainian Su-27 and MiG-29 flying aces, as well as a Ukrainian Air Force report, show that Russia has air superiority. “It is difficult to resist, even when we are sent on an attack mission,” commented two Ukrainian pilots.

Iran buys 24 Sukhoi Su-35 Flanker-E fighters produced for Egypt
Photo credit: UAC

Ukraine’s main problem is the R-37M air-to-air missiles. An Air Force report reveals just that. Because of this missile and because of the Su-35 that launches it, to avoid “meeting this deadly combination” the pilots are forced to take a deep breath. I.e. they have to fly at a very low altitude.

An Air Force report revealed that the altitude was so low that the crowns of the trees were visible. And when the Ukrainian Su-27 and MiG-29 are so low, they become vulnerable not only to Russian air defense but also to portable surface-to-air missiles. Often, when Ukrainian planes appear over the crowns of trees, they are fired upon. For them, this means aborting the mission and returning to their base.

This is one of the stories of a Ukrainian pilot quoted in the report. This pilot has the call sign Koprina [Silk in English] and flies the MiG-29. He says that these flights are the most difficult not only for him but also for his colleagues. The danger is twofold, the pilot says, because in the event they are hit by a Russian missile, “there is neither time nor space to eject safely.”

MiG-29 can't shoot anything down with its 40-year-old radar
Photo credit: Wikimedia

Kyiv’s tactic is as follows: two warplanes are sent on an attack mission. For example, hitting a Russian air defense system. Ukrainians know the location and geolocation of the system in question. But when they pair up in the air, Russia sees it too and puts a pair of its own fighters in the air. According to the report of the Air Force of Ukraine and according to the pilots’ accounts, there is always a Su-35 in the opposing pair.

This plane is dangerous, the Ukrainians say. It is armed with a R-37M missile, which has a range of 150-200 km. Ukrainian air-to-air missiles have a range of up to 50 km. You can see for yourself that to have an equal battle, the Ukrainian pilots must get closer to their Russian opponents. But the Su-35 does not allow this. The beyond-visual-range missile has already been fired from the Su-35, which is in a safe position. “But in the case of fighter jets, they are mobile. They have a good aerial picture and know when we are flying to the front lines,” said another Ukrainian pilot.

Some time ago we shared the comments of the Ukrainian soldiers trained to work with the Patriot air defense system. They wished their first target would be the Su-35. This is not an accidental desire, as is also clear from an independent report by the think tank Royal United Services Institute [RUSI]. This report also notes the superiority of the Su-35 especially when using the long-range R-77-1 missile.

Su-35 Pilot: 'My job is to cover the bombers and attack aircraft'
Video screenshot

Almost always, as we have written many times here, the Russians raise a patrol pair of two aircraft – Su-35 and MiG-31. The former aims to ensure the safe flight of the latter by taking on countermeasures with Ukrainian aircraft. As the case may be. Thus, while the Su-35 fights air-to-air beyond visual range with the Ukrainian Su-27 or MiG-29, the MiG-31 attacks Ukrainian positions and air defense systems almost without a problem.

Why does the Su-35 cause more concern among Ukrainians? Although the MiG-31M can do much more damage to Ukrainian defenses, the Su-35 is much more maneuverable, faster, and well-armed. This fighter on a patrol mission has missiles to counter in the air, against land or sea targets, to launch missiles that pierce the radar defense of the Ukrainians, and to attack troop units or bunkers and shelters. All this combined with the radar it uses does not give Ukraine’s MiG-29 and Su-27 a chance.

MiG-31K with installed Kinzhal hypersonic missile lands in Kaliningrad
Photo credit: Wikipedia

Let’s not forget that Ukraine still does not have modern weapons for its fighters. The Ukrainians cannot adequately counter the Su-35. But the Su-35 has another advantage – sub-disc systems. For example, the MiG-31 can hit an air defense system beyond its range. This plane flies so high that radars don’t pick it up.

The Su-35 does not have this advantage of the MiG-31. This means that it will have to approach the Ukrainian air defense at a shorter distance. But the Su-35 has excellent pod systems and can fire a long-range missile and counter Ukrainian radar. Experts say that when a Ukrainian air defense system is hit, there are only two possible sources of attack – either the MiG-31 or the Su-35.

According to information shared by a pilot with the call sign Juice, Ukrainian pilots have 20 times fewer flights than their Russian opponents. In reality, Russia is building air superiority not so much because of the quality of its planes [they are quality, that’s not disputed, it’s just that the situation is different], but because of the lack of quality planes and their armament by the Ukrainian Air Force. It is not known what the situation in the air will be if Ukraine receives an F-16 fighter.


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