Russian Flanker Fighter Reportedly Downs Another With Its Cannon By Accident

An oversight is said to have resulted in a Russian Aerospace Forces Su-35S going into a mock dogfight with its cannon loaded.

byThomas Newdick|
Russia photo


A Russian Aerospace Forces Su-35S Flanker fighter jet reportedly gunned down a Su-30 Flanker during a recent close-air-combat training mishap. The loss of the Russian Aerospace Forces Su-30 was reported by Interfax, on September 22, 2020, the agency saying that the information had been confirmed by the Russian Armed Forces’ Western Military District. 

The twin-seat Su-30 is said to have come down in a forest within northwest Russia’s Tver region. Both Su-30 crew members apparently ejected safely before being picked up by a search and rescue helicopter.

Details of an alleged ‘friendly fire’ incident then emerged, suggesting that the twin-seat Su-30 had in fact been hit by cannon fire from the single-seat Su-35S. 

The Russian state-run TASS news agency said that it had been told by local emergency services that, based on initial evidence, the Su-30 had indeed been accidentally shot down. “Preliminarily, the cause of the emergency is the accidental hit of a shell on the Su-30 during the exercise,” the unnamed source told TASS. “The shot was fired by another aircraft.”

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An unconfirmed account posted on a Russian military aviation forum said that the Su-35S had previously been on quick reaction alert (QRA) duty and so it had live 30mm ammunition loaded in its GSh-301 cannon. Su-35s can carry 150 rounds of ammunition for this weapon, mounted in the starboard wing root.

The GSh-301 30mm-caliber cannon installation on a Su-35 fighter., CAPTAINM/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

Due to the oversight, the Su-35S then launched for air-to-air training against the Su-30, with the gun still armed. The fighter’s air-to-air missiles had, however, been removed before the training sortie.

According to another account on the Russian Telegram social media site, the Su-35S pilot pressed the trigger to record a simulated kill against the Su-30 — presumably using the gun camera — and, as a result, inadvertently fired a volley from the cannon.

So far, the accounts haven’t specified the exact Su-30 variant that was shot down: the Russian Aerospace Forces operate the Su-30SM and the Su-30M2, which are produced by factories in Irkutsk and in Komsomolsk-on-Amur, respectively. 

The 6th Air Force and Air Defence Army — headquartered in St Petersburg — that is responsible for providing airpower for the Western Military District operates the Su-30SM from Khalino air base near Kursk, suggesting this was the variant involved. Meanwhile, the district’s single-seat Su-35S fighters are stationed at Besovets and Khotilovo.

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While ‘blue-on-blue’ incidents are an unfortunate fact of wartime operations, they are not unheard of during combat training. If confirmed, this latest episode will be added to a previous inadvertent ‘kill’ credited to a Russian Aerospace Forces MiG-31 Foxhound interceptor. In that case, a MiG-31 shot down its wingman using an R-33 long-range air-to-air missile over a training range close to Russia’s border with Mongolia. Full details of that April 2017 incident are discussed in this previous War Zone story. 

As well as the time required to complete even a preliminary investigation into any such aircraft accident, Russia’s defense ministry is almost certainly less than eager to publicize such incidents against the backdrop of some high-profile aircraft losses and other mishaps.

Considering it took almost two years for the truth to emerge about the inadvertent MiG-31 shoot down, and that there still remains no official confirmation about that incident, more details about what happened yesterday in the Tver region may also take some time to come out, if they ever do.

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