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Russian Su-24 Shot Down Over Black Sea Points To Tactical Shift

The Ukrainian Air Force claims to have shot down a Russian Su-24M Fencer swing-wing attack jet flying over the western end of the Black Sea near the famed Snake Island. There is unconfirmed speculation that a U.S.-made Patriot surface-to-air missile might have brought the Su-24M down. If true, that could point to a new effort on Ukraine’s part to disrupt Russian strikes on targets in the western portion of the country.

Posts across the Ukrainian Air Force’s social media accounts announced the shootdown of the Russian Su-24M earlier today, adding that the Fencer had been flying with a Su-30SM Flanker fighter as its escort at the time. An unspecified surface-to-air missile was said to have been used to knock out the Su-24M.

A statement attributed to Commander of the Air Force of the Armed Forces of Ukraine-Lieutenant General Nikolai Oleshchuk further quipped that the Russian cruiser Moskva, which sunk in the same general area of the Black Sea last year after being struck by multiple Ukrainian Neptune anti-ship cruise missiles, “will soon become an aircraft carrier!”

A screenshot of the machine translation of the Ukrainian Air Force’s Facebook post about the claimed Su-24M shootdown. Ukrainian Air Force via Facebook

Though the Su-24M was reportedly brought down near Snake Island, the Ukrainian Air Force says it was attempting to launch “rocket-bomb” strikes – something we will come back to later – on or around the country’s strategic western port city of Odesa.

The War Zone cannot independently verify these claims and, at the time of writing, Russian authorities do not appear to have confirmed the loss of the Su-24M. However, Russian-language social media channels have posted about the Fencer being shot down over the Black Sea. This includes the Fighterbomber Telegram channel, which is understood to have close links to the Russian Air Force. At least one other Telegram channel has claimed that Ukrainian forces employed Patriot surface-to-air missiles against the Fencer.

There are further unconfirmed claims from both Russian and Ukrainian sources that a search and rescue effort to try to recover the Fencer’s crew was subsequently mounted.

What the “rocket-bomb” munitions that Ukraine claims the Su-24M was armed with may have been is unclear, but this could be a reference to Russian ‘dumb’ bombs fitted with stand-off glide bomb kits. These weapons first began to appear in the conflict earlier this year and have been seen under the wings of Russian Su-24Ms, as well as Su-34 Fullback combat jets. You can read more about these wing kits here.

Russian Su-24Ms have also employed Kh-31 stand-off missiles in the course of the conflict in Ukraine.

For any strike on Odesa, or other targets along Ukraine’s western Black Sea coastline, stand-off munitions would be essential for keeping the launching platform as far out to sea, and away from enemy defenses, as possible. This, in turn, gets back to the claims about a Patriot surface-to-air missile having taken out the Su-24M.

If Ukrainian forces did indeed use a Patriot to shoot down the Su-24M over the Black Sea, this would mean that at least one of these systems has been deployed in the southwestern end of the country. Though The War Zone cannot confirm whether or not this is true, there is something of a precedent for this with the deployment of Patriots in eastern Ukraine very close to the Russian border. That challenged the ability of Russian aircraft to launch stand-off strikes from the safety of their country’s airspace. The Ukrainian Air Force says it used Patriots to destroy five Russian aircraft, three Mi-8s, a Su-34, and a Su-35 Flanker-E fighter, while they were flying over Russia’s western Bryansk region during one particular flurry of air and counter-air activity back in May.

A screen capture from a previously released Ukrainian Air Force video showing kill markings on a portion of a Ukrainian Patriot air defense system. Silhouettes of three Russian helicopters and two Russian combat jets all show the date May 13, 2023 (130523). Ukrainian authorities have subsequently said all of those aircraft and helicopters were shot down inside Russian airspace. <em>Ukrainian Armed Forces</em>

The Ukrainians could have employed another type of surface-to-air missile besides Patriot to bring down the Su-24M. A shorter-range system could potentially have been employed, too. Snake Island is now back under Ukrainian control and the country claimed earlier this year to have retaken a number of offshore oil and gas drilling platforms that could potentially host air defense assets. Surveillance capabilities to help spot and track incoming aircraft could also be positioned on Snake Island or these platforms.

The claim that a Su-30SM was escorting the Su-24M when it was brought down, if accurate, would be an indication that the Russians already have concerns about Ukrainian air defense threats in that part of the Black Sea.

In the past few months, Russian air and naval forces have been regularly targeting Odesa, as well as other crucial ports in western Ukraine, in a clear attempt to cut off crucial trade links. Commercial shipping remains an essential method for exporting grain and other goods from Ukraine. Cargo ships in the Black Sea have been caught in the crossfire more than once since Russia launched its all-out invasion in 2022.

With long-range missiles running low and Shahed-136s making up much of Russia’s current standoff strike capability, turning to fixed-wing airstrikes against coastal targets using glide bombs or missiles, such as anti-ship missiles, in an ‘off label’ form against ground targets, would not be that surprising. Ukraine looking to deny them that ability and giving them a bloody nose in the process would make sense here to deter future strikes.

It remains to be seen whether or not more information will emerge that substantiates the claim that Patriot surface-to-air missiles were used in the apparent shootdown of the Russian Su-24M over the Western Black Sea earlier today. At the same time, it would not be surprising to learn that this incident reflects Ukrainian forces taking new steps to challenge Russia in this crucial corridor.

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