10 RuAF Su-34 bombers lost in 12-day ‘Patriot’ blitz – Ukraine

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The Ukrainian Air Force has released a statement indicating that three Su-34 frontline bombers of the Russian military were destroyed today, February 29, with one being downed in the early morning and the others later in the day. This information was made public on the official Facebook page of the UAF command of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. The Russian Federation’s Ministry of Defense has yet to confirm these claims. 

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The Ukrainian forces have been reporting on the loss of Russian combat aircraft for over twelve days since Avdiivka fell under Russian control and part of the Ukrainian troops managed to retreat. Ukraine asserts that a total of ten Russian Su-34s have been lost from February 17 to today. There are also claims about two Su-35s getting shot down within the same timeline. As BulgarianMilitary.com recalls, a Beriev A-50 radar plane was confirmed as downed by Russia during this period. 

Both warring parties are speculating about the weapon system responsible for taking down the A-50 – whether it was the S-200 or perhaps the Russian S-300/S-400. For the ten Su-34 frontline bombers said to be brought down, the primary suspect seems to be the iconic American-made Patriot anti-aircraft system that was delivered to Ukraine. 

The ‘Patriot’, much like the ‘Spirit of Kyiv’ which made waves in 2022 before being debunked as nothing more than a myth, is now gaining notoriety in both pro-Russian and pro-Ukrainian circles as the ‘wandering Patriot’

There is still no definitive evidence regarding whether it was one or multiple Patriots that shot down the ten Su-34s. However, if we were to tackle this as a mathematical problem with variables of missile, distance, and capabilities, the GEM-T anti-aircraft missiles with a 160 km range frequently come up as the prime suspect responsible for downing these Su-34 fighters.  

Assuming that this missile could indeed be responsible for the loss of Russian aircraft, let’s delve into its features. Developed to function optimally, regardless of weather conditions, the GEM-T or Guidance Enhanced Missile–Tactical is specially designed to counter tactical ballistic missiles, advanced aircraft, and cruise missiles. 

Photo credit: Wikipedia

The GEM-T is essentially an improved version of the first missile ever made for the Patriot – the MIM-104. As per publicly available information, the enhancement comes in the form of an upgraded targeting system. Further strengthening its range and interception capabilities is the missile’s high traveling speed which sits around approximately 160 kilometers or 100 miles. 

Inside the missile is a Track-via-Missile [TVM] guidance system. This system works by projecting a radar beam to the target and then reflecting it back to the missile. The onboard computer in the missile takes this reflected information, processes it, and ascertains the target’s location and trajectory. Control fins steer the missile toward its target. The TVM system of the GEM-T missile can make in-flight corrections, thereby significantly raising its target interception accuracy and effectiveness. 

That being said, it’s crucial not to simply focus on one perspective. The Su-34, a contemporary Russian fighter bomber, is generally understood to have the potential to counter the GEM-T. But how is this accomplished?

Photo credit: Wikipedia

The first line of defense at the Su-34’s disposal is its inbuilt electronic warfare suite. This system’s role is to confound the radar of an incoming missile, making it trickier for the missile to latch onto the aircraft. Included within the Su-34’s electronic warfare suite are radar warning receivers, a missile approach warning system, and a dynamic jammer. 

In addition to this, the Su-34 can deploy decoys as another means of deflecting the threat of the GEM-T missile. Decoys are mechanisms that the aircraft releases to confound the missile’s radar. Evasion skills are also of paramount importance when it comes to dodging a GEM-T missile. The Su-34 exhibits impressive agility, with the ability to carry out swift, elusive maneuvers that challenge a missile’s ability to secure a lock.

Unraveling the truth remains a mystery. Did Ukraine indeed down 10 Su-34 fighter-bombers and a pair of Su-35s? And was the Patriot the driving force behind the majority of these “downed aircraft”? Both conflicting sides masterfully wield propaganda, embellishing their battlefield victories in vibrant hues. However, over time, the true picture of losses will gradually reveal itself. Only then can we definitively conclude who obtained what gains and losses in this so-called “special military operation,” a term Russia uses to describe the war in Ukraine.

Photo credit: UAC

2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine

On February 21, 2022, Russia stated that its border facility was attacked by Ukrainian forces, resulting in the deaths of five Ukrainian fighters. However, Ukraine quickly dismissed these allegations, labeling them as ‘false flags’.

In a notable move on the same day, Russia announced it officially recognized the self-proclaimed areas of DPR and LPR. Interestingly, according to Russian President Putin, this recognition covered all the Ukrainian regions. Following this declaration, Putin sent a battalion of Russia’s military forces, tanks included, into these areas.

Fast forward to February 24, 2022, global headlines were dominated by a significant incident. Putin commanded a forceful military assault on Ukraine. Led by Russia’s impressive Armed Forces positioned at the Ukrainian border, this assault wasn’t spontaneous but a premeditated action. Despite the circumstances resembling a war, the Russian government refrains from using this term. They’d rather refer to it as a “special military operation”.

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