Russian Su-35 Fighter Adds to Long Kill Count Over Ukraine: Mi-8 Helcopter Shot Down Over Kharkiv

A Russian Air Force’s Su-35S air superiority fighter has shot down a Ukrainian MI-8 helicopter near the Russian-Ukrainian border in the Kharkiv region, according to a report from Russia’s Battlegroup West on May 15. “During combat in the Kupyansk area, a Mi-8 helicopter was downed in a missile attack by the Battlegroup West’s operational/tactical aircraft,” the battlegroup officially announced. The incident adds to a long line of aerial victories gained by the Su-35 over Ukrainian skies since the outbreak of the Russian-Ukrainian War in February 2022, with the aircraft having emerged with by far the greatest air to air kill count of any post Cold War fighter class. The kill follows the release of footage by the Russian Defence Ministry on May 3 showing a Su-35 launching a beyond visual range air to air missile at a Ukrainian aircraft which it reportedly destroyed. Su-35s have downed Mi-8s in the past, although some of their most notable victories have been against Su-27 fighters flown by the Ukrainian Air Force – some of which were achieved in major air battles in the war’s first month. The Su-27 was widely considered the world’s top fighter in air to air combat when it entered service in the waning years of the Cold War, and has been conservatively upgraded in Ukraine making it a formidable adversary. Further kills have included shootdowns of lighter MiG-29 fighters, Su-24M strike fighters and Su-25 ground attack jets. 

From October 2022 Su-35s were for the first time allocated to an aggressor training unit, which is expected to allow experience gained in air to air combat over Ukraine to be more widely shared within the Russian Air Force. The fighter class has been in service since 2014, with over 150 produced at the Komsomolsk on Amur factory in the Russian Far East – approximately one third of which have been built for export. The Russian Air Force has continued to receive new batches of the aircraft since the war began, with approximately 14 being produced per year. Reinforcing Su-35 units were redeployed from the Russian Far East to forward bases in Belarus in January 2022 shortly preceding the initiation of aerial operations on Ukraine, although the limited threat posed by Ukrainian aviation means their primary role is still considered to be deterring a Western intervention. The relatively permissive combat environment has provided extensive opportunities for combat testing, providing the Russian Air Force with more experience of 21st century air to air operations than any other country. A single Su-35 has reportedly been lost  to Ukrainian air defences – namely the Soviet S-125 system – which indicates that the fighter was flying at a low altitude likely on an air defence suppression mission in early April 2022.