Russian air defense may have shot down its own Su-35 fighter jet, UK MoD claims

Dmitry Terekhov / Wikimedia Commons

Russian air defense forces are “highly likely” to have mistakenly shot down one of their own Su-35S FLANKER M multi-role combat jets, according to British Ministry of Defense (MoD) intelligence. 

The incident took place on 28 September 2023, over Tokmak, Ukraine, a location approximately 20 kilometers from the current front line.  

Russian social media channels had been posting about the takedown even before the MoD’s acknowledgment, along with videos and photos. 

The Su-35, which is one of the Kremlin’s most advanced jets, was allegedly shot down at night by an S-300 air defense system missile, social media posts indicated. No other details about the incident were revealed at that time.  

According to the British MoD, Tokmak is in fact protected “with dedicated short and medium-range air defense systems”. 

“These are almost certainly held at very high readiness, as Ukraine continues to conduct effective deep strikes against such locations,” UK intelligence wrote in an update about the situation in Ukraine released on October 4, 2023. 

While Russia has lost an estimated 90 fixed-wing aircraft since the onset of the invasion, the Su-35S losses have been minimal, with this incident likely marking only the fifth such loss, British MoD claims. 

This incident is a clear example of ‘friendly fire’, a term referring to unintentional harm caused by weapons mistakenly used against one’s own troops or allies. Such incidents, often resulting from miscommunication, lack of clear visibility or human error, can have profound consequences, both in terms of casualties and the morale of the troops involved. 

However, it’s not the first instance of ‘friendly fire’ sustained by Russia during the war in Ukraine. In July 2022, videos and pictures appeared online indicating that Russian air defenses had shot down one of their own Su-34M fighter jet over eastern Ukraine. 

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