On September 29, 2023, a Russian Su–35 Super Flanker multi–role aircraft was shot down in Zaporizhia (Zaporizhia region) near Tokmak, located in southeastern Ukraine. The pilot on board it did not survive[1]. The incident has been reported by foreign media from around the world, including Western[2], Ukrainian[3] and Russian[4].

Since 2022, Tokmak has been in the Russian Federation’s sphere of influence as a result of its military aggression against Ukraine, and is ranked as one of the most unstable regions where numerous combat airstrikes are organized because the Russians do not want to lose control over it. For this reason, some of Russia’s most technologically advanced Su–35 Super Flanker combat aircraft are deployed there. The plane crash occurred at night, which was captured in a video made available on the Russian news channel Fighterbomber on Telegram[5].

Initial speculation indicated that the aircraft was shot down by Ukrainian air defense systems. These reports were strongly denied by the release of a statement indicating that the Su–35 Super Flanker was the victim of Identification Friend or Foe (IFF) misidentification by its own air defense systems. Suspicions fell on the malfunctioning of one of the S–300 sets, which does not correctly recognize the radar signature of Russian aircraft from Ukrainian aircraft, resulting in numerous incidents of friendly fire.

Since the beginning of the conflict in Ukraine, the Russian Federation has already lost its fifth Su–35 Super Flanker multi–role aircraft. According to data published by The Insider, solely as a result of incorrect identification by its own ground–to–air and water–to–air class air defense systems, the loss was estimated at[6]:

  • 8 Su–34 Fullback multi–role tactical bombers;
  • 8 Su–25 Frogfoot multi–role attack aircraft;
  • 5 MiG–31 Foxhound interceptor fighters;
  • 3 K–52 Hokum B attack helicopters;
  • 3 Mi–8 Hip transport helicopters;
  • 2 Su–24 Fencer frontline bombers;
  • 1 Su–30 Flanker–C multirole aircraft;
  • 1 Mi–28 Havoc attack helicopter;
  • 1 Mi–24 Hind attack helicopter;
  • 1 Aero L–39 Albatros combat–training aircraft;
  • 1 Ansat multi–role helicopter.

It is worth noting that Russia does not officially confirm its defeat suffered during hostilities in Ukraine. The authorities maintain the version that ⅕ of the above list of aircraft were losses due to IFF’s misrecognition of an air target in Russian air defense systems, while ⅘ were losses incurred in combat conditions[7]. It is therefore possible that the real losses may be higher than The Insider’s report, and that the Russian Federation is withholding information on this subject.

The Su–35 Super Flanker is derived from the Su–27 family of fighter interceptor aircraft, and has been hailed as another Russian design success story and categorized as generation 4++ in combat aviation. Its classification is mainly a marketing ploy to show that the design is more technologically advanced than aircraft categorized as Generation 4+ (mainly American–made), but not as developed as aircraft categorized as Generation 5. It should be noted that its on–board equipment, based on the N035 Irbis–E type PESA radar station and the IRST OLS–35 type optoelectronic station[8], is very far from the standard represented by multi–role aircraft such as the Eurofighter Typhoon or Dassault Rafale classified as Generation 4+. These technological shortcomings are due to the fact that Russia is modernizing obsolete Soviet designs in an attempt to adapt their operational capabilities, provided by on–board equipment, to the modern battlefield.


[1] P. Juraszek, Russian Super Flanker lost. The perpetrators are not Ukrainians, online – https://tech.wp.pl/rosyjski-super-flanker-stracony-sprawca-nie-sa-ukraincy,6946801426557792a [accessed: 3.10.2023].

[2] W. Stewart, M. Lodge, Moment Russian forces ‘shoot down their own £80million Su-35 fighter jet’ in friendly fire blunder over Ukraine, online – https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-12576353/Moment-Russian-forces-shoot-80million-SU-35-fighter-jet-friendly-fire-blunder-Ukraine.html [accessed: 3.10.2023].

[3] Ukraine Front Lines news channel on X (formerly Twitter), online – https://twitter.com/EuromaidanPR/status/1660423545594183685 [accessed: 3.10.2023].

[4] Russian user ExternalPilot’s channel on X (formerly Twitter), online – https://twitter.com/externalPilot?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw%7Ctwcamp%5Etweetembed%7Ctwterm%5E1708172910207139932%7Ctwgr%5E69017b23943642a53b08ad7699e32816aa193305%7Ctwcon%5Es1_&ref_url=https%3A%2F%2Ftech.wp.pl%2Fzestrzelony-super-flanker-znaleziony-rosjanie-moga-podziwiac-swoje-dzielo6947758742936448a [accessed: 3.10.2023].

[5] Russian news channel Fighterbomber on Telegram, online – https://t.me/s/fighter_bomber [accessed: 3.10.2023].

[6] The official website of The Insider. Reports, Analysis, Investigations, online – https://theins.ru/en [accessed: 3.10.2023].

[7] M. Szopa, Su-35 shot down by ‘friendly fire’, online – https://defence24.pl/wojna-na-ukrainie-raport-specjalny-defence24/su-35-zestrzelony-przyjacielskim-ogniem [accessed: 3.10.2023].

[8] L. Michalik, Annihilation of Russian Su-35s? Ukrainians report destruction of ‘two squadrons’, online – https://tech.wp.pl/zaglada-rosyjskich-su-35-ukraincy-donosza-o-zniszczeniu-dwoch-eskadr,6801362272655872a [accessed: 3.10.2023].

Photo: Wikimedia Commons, Vitaly V. Kuzmin, online – https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/6/67/Su-35_%281%29.jpg [accessed: 3.10.2023].


Tekst powstał w ramach realizacji zadania publicznego zleconego w ramach Rządowego Programu Rozwoju Organizacji Obywatelskich na lata 2018–2030 r. „Bezpieczna Polska jutra – rozwój działań misyjnych Alioth Foundation”.