In an air ambush according to some accounts executed with US-made Patriot missiles, Ukrainian air defenses scored a rare shootdown of a Russian Su-24M strike jet operating over international waters of the Black Sea, Wednesday news reports said.
Russian and Ukrainian sources said the intercept occurred near Zmiinyi Island, a rocky outcrop some 40 km off shore from Ukraine’s southwestern Odesa region, and a similar distance from Romania’s adjacent east-most Dobrogea region at the Danube River outlet.
Ukraine’s Army General Staff (AGS) in a Wednesday morning situation update confirmed the kill of the Su-24 (NATO reporting name: Fencer) but did not offer details on the weapons system used to hit the Russian aircraft or details of the engagement.
A Tuesday evening Ukrainian Air Force statement said that a Russian Su-30SM (NATO reporting name: Flanker-H) was escorting the bomber.
Kremlin-sanctioned Telegram channels widely confirmed the aircraft loss. Some reported that an Mi-8 rescue helicopter scrambled from the Russia-occupied Crimea region and searched for surviving flight crew but found no survivors. In winter, seawater temperatures in the Black Sea are slightly above freezing and considered lethal to an unprotected swimmer in a half hour or less.
According to the Russian Voenniy Osvedomitel military information platform, a US-made Patriot missile system scored the kill from a launch site near the Black Sea shore in Ukraine’s western Odesa region.
The Ukrainian military is chronically short of long-range anti-aircraft missile systems with radars and modern missiles capable of hitting a fast- and high-flying Su-24 reliably at ranges above 30 km.
Currently, according to Ukraine ally statements, the Armed Forces of Ukraine (AFU) only operates three fully modern, long-range anti-aircraft systems: one Patriot system donated by the US, a second Patriot system donated by Germany, and an Italian-French SAMP/T system sent by Paris.
Actual Ukrainian air defense firing locations are an Armed Forces of Ukraine (AFU) military secret. The Russian Telegram channel Voevoda Veshchaet claimed, without offering evidence, that by the evening of Dec. 5, the AFU Patriot battery had evacuated its Odesa region firing position and moved to a new hiding location.
In past months the Russian air force has targeted Odesa and inland cities with almost nightly strikes against Ukrainian civilian homes and businesses. The air raids usually combine dozens of low-cost Iran-made Shahed kamikaze drones, and one to four high-cost cruise missiles dropped by bombers, or heavy surface-to-surface missiles launched against Ukrainian cities near Russian lines.
Ukrainian military analysts have said the mixed weapon tactic attempts to distract Ukrainian air defenses into focusing on and shooting at the cheap, low-weight Iranian drones so that the Russia-made cruise missiles carrying heavy warheads can hit the real Kremlin target. Kremlin planners since the outset of Russia’s bombardment of Ukrainian cities and power grid began in Oct. 2022 have used Tu-95 and Tu-160 strategic bombers, and Su-24 tactical bombers to launch the cruise missiles.
According to Ukrainian Air Force statements, on Dec. 4 the Russian anti-city strike package was 23 Iranian drones and a single X-59 cruise missile, and on Dec. 5 Russian strike planners launched 17 Shahed drones and 6 S-300 surface-to-surface missiles, the latter fired from Russia-occupied territory in Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia region.
On Dec. 6 – the night of the Su-24 shootdown – the Russian military in a major strike sent 48 Shahed drones against Ukrainian targets, of which Ukrainian air defenses claimed 41 were shot down. Half were launched from the Russia-occupied Crimea region and half from Russia’s western Kursk Oblast’, the UNIAN news agency reported.
Some Ukrainian mil-bloggers speculated the Russian Fencer bomber was destroyed late in the evening on Dec. 5 near Zmiinyi Island had been carrying cruise missiles as part of the nightly bombardment planned by the Kremlin and along a flight route used by Russian bombers in the past. There was no independent confirmation.
A Mach 2-capable bomber, the Su-24 has been used by the Russian air force in operations in Ukraine almost exclusively to loft cruise missiles at ground targets from distances outside the engagement range of Ukrainian air defenses.
Kyiv's claims of Su-24 shootdowns are rare. In 2023 the Ukrainian military had reported it knocked down Su-24 bombers four times: on Feb. 14, March 15, May 13 and Oct. 17 in 2023. In the March engagement, reportedly, Ukrainian infantryman Alen Dudnik reportedly scored a lucky hit with a hand-held missile against a bomber flying at low level near Ukrainian lines, in air space near the eastern city of Bakhmut.
On Nov. 27, Ukrainian Air Force spokespersons confirmed persistent reports that in May 2023 Ukraine’s air defense command used a Patriot air defense system and unorthodox tactics, in May, to shoot down five Russian Air Force aircraft in a series of air ambushes over Russia’s western Bryansk region.
Russian ground commanders and aircrew were surprised by a “brilliant” Kyiv move to deploy the system – normally a relatively stationary network of heavy trailers, command vehicles, radars and launch platforms not easily moved – to territory abutting the Russian border, allowing the American missiles to cover air space the Russian air force had previously thought safe, Ukrainian Air Force spokesman Yuriy Ihnat said in an interview with the news outlet Novynarnia.
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