Losses and Aviation Safety

Former US Navy Operations Specialist explains why Russian Air Force pilots have the capability to defeat Ukrainian air defenses but they’re not good at it

In April an Su-35 was shot down by an Air Defense missile while on a SEAD (Suppression of Enemy Air Defense) mission.

As already reported, a sample of the highly advanced and capable Russian Air-Space Force Sukhoi Su-35 (NATO reporting name: Flanker-E) was shot down by Ukrainian defense forces on Apr. 3, 2022.

Photos showing the burning wreckage of the downed aircraft went viral on the internet.

Most probably the Su-35 was shot down while performing a SEAD mission against Ukrainian air defenses.

At this point one may ask if the Russian Air-Space Force (RuASF or VKS) has the capability to defeat the surface to air missile (SAM) systems deployed by Ukraine during the conflict.

‘Yes, they do, but the problem for Russia is they’re not very good at it,’ Eric Wicklund, Former Operations Specialist at United States Navy (USN) (1984–1992), explains on Quora.

‘Just recently an Su-35 was shot down by an Air Defense missile while on a SEAD (Suppression of Enemy Air Defense) mission. It still had a ARM missile (Anti-Radiation Missile) under the wings, that it obviously hadn’t fired.

‘This wasn’t really the best pick of an aircraft to send on a SEAD mission. The Su-35 “can” do this, but it isn’t specifically designed for it. It’s really an air superiority fighter. Below is a Kh-31 Krypton missile, specifically designed for attacking air defense sites. Probably the missile the above Su-35 carried.

‘Not many countries outside the USA and Israel are any good at this. It is extremely dangerous work, even if you have ARMs, even if you have trained hard for it. It’s probably the very best use for the F-35 which can get in much closer than other aircraft before being fired upon. The Russian Su-35 was probably picked up by radar before it could fire.

‘The problem for Russia when it comes to SEAD missions isn’t so much the hardware, it’s the amount of training the pilots get. Estimates are that Russian pilots fly just under 100 hours per year. That’s not enough to stay proficient at BFM, and certainly not enough for specialized missions. By comparison, American pilots fly up to 240 hours per year. So, it isn’t the fault of Russia’s planes, nor it’s pilots for that matter, that they struggle up against their own S-300. SEAD simply hasn’t been the focus of Russia.’

Wicklund concludes;

‘Additionally, the US has purpose built aircraft for flying SEAD missions like this one, the EA-18G Growler. You’re going to be better at a mission when you specifically build a platform for it. Russia doesn’t have one.

‘Additionally, some American squadrons specialize in the SEAD mission. This is what they train at most, so naturally, they will be better at it than other units. Russia doesn’t do this. They aren’t built that way, and that is why they will struggle. It isn’t easy even for experts.’

Photo credit: Reuters and Panther (МАКС-2003) via Wikipedia

This model is available in multiple sizes from AirModels – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS.
Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

View Comments

  • i dont think comment at quora us honest.. also the 240hrs vs 100hrs us deception on advice.. the problem seems to be picking twin engine jet for SEAD its like a bon fire or a lighthouse for SAMs.. some F15s in yemen i bet got bruised for same reasons.. Lack of F16 like single engine fighter to keep the blowtorch signature min is whats lacking on russian side cuz of their seeming illogical fanfare/craze for speed or power/weight ratio and poor economics to pour in very expensive powerplants r&d. dread that day when F16 will acquire F22's cold afterburn on top of already eye-watering single engine performance. On russian side after ancient mig21; just yesterday's su57 is single engine n either they r not enough or not being decided to put deep inside in foe's space to keep its secrets protected for another day as last of dire measures..

  • just yesterday’s su57 is single engine n either they r not enough or not being decided to put deep inside in foe’s space to keep its secrets protected for another day as last of dire measures..

    There are only 5 of them were built.

  • We don't use F15 or 16s for SEAD missions and why would we when a Growler was built for exactly that and yes practice makes perfect I don't know if you have ever been in a live fire situation but God damnit it's vital training kicks in you don't freeze up so yes 240 hours minimum is far better than 100

Recent Posts

Dragon Lady retirement moves forward: USAF retires U-2 Tail 80-1085 as her pilot conducts their 1,085 solo flight

Beale retires U-2 Tail 80-1085 as her pilot conducts their 1,085 solo flight On Apr.… Read More

12 hours ago

USAF Avionics Technician explains why Scaled Composites ARES was like a mini A-10 Warthog

The Scaled Composites ARES Agile Responsive Effective Support (ARES) is a full-scale proof-of-concept demonstrator that… Read More

2 days ago

An Omega KDC-10 is the first commercial tanker to refuel USAF B-52, MC-130J over Pacific Ocean

Omega KDC-10 commercial tanker refuels USAF B-52, MC-130J over Pacific Ocean As Pacific Air Forces… Read More

2 days ago

The night Chinese scrambled 12 MiGs to intercept a lone CIA B-17 Spy Plane. They failed, and two of them crashed.

The MiG-17 The Soviet MiG-17 (NATO code-name "Fresco") was designed to replace the famous MiG-15… Read More

3 days ago