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Russia shoots down its own Su-35 jet for second time within days: Reports

Russian fighters in Ukraine reportedly downed their own advanced frontline jet for the second time in eight days.

The incident took place Friday in Mariupol, according to multiple reports referenced by Ukrainian defense officials. Information remains scarce but alluded to the pilot of the Russian Su-35 multirole fighter jet surviving the attack.

“At this rate of work of our valiant air defense, we will soon be left without aviation,” reads a Telegram post by Russian military blogger Fighterbomber.

These new reports have not been confirmed by Russian authorities. Newsweek is unable to independently verify the footage or reports and reached out to the Russian and Ukrainian Defense Ministries via email for comment.

The previous friendly fire incident, which Russia still has not publicly acknowledged, occurred on September 28 near the occupied Ukrainian city of Tokmak in the southern Zaporizhzhia region.

Jordan Cohen, an arms trade expert and policy analyst at the Cato Institute, told Newsweek that if reports are accurate, Russian President Vladimir Putin “is likely pretty angry.”

“With that said, neither side has been able to establish air superiority since the very start of the war,” Cohen said. “This is because both sides have done a good job of deploying armed air defense systems. Thus, without air superiority and operating planes 12 miles from the front, this is not exactly an unpredictable occurrence.”

While Russia has declined to openly verify these reports, British officials have chimed in on their veracity. Days after the initial incident last month, the British Defense Ministry said as part of its routine Defense Intelligence update that it had 80 to 90 percent confidence that a Su-35S was destroyed in the incident.

“On 28 September 2023, Russian air defense forces highly likely shot down one of their own Su-35S FLANKER M multi-role combat jets over Tokmak, approximately 20km behind the current front line,” the ministry posted on X, formerly Twitter.

“Although Russia has lost around 90 fixed-wing aircraft since the start of the invasion, this is probably only the fifth loss of a Su-35S, Russia’s most advanced combat jet in widespread service,” the update said.

Retired U.S. Marine Corps Colonel Mark Cancian, a senior adviser for the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told Newsweek via email on Friday that the Russians have a history of friendly fire. He referenced losing three of their six aircraft during the war with Georgia in 2008.

“Friendly fire is unfortunately very common in wartime,” Cancian said. “There is a lot of confusion, and gunners are nervous. It’s particularly difficult for aircraft because air defense does not always have a clear picture of where friendly aircraft are at every moment. A key question is whether this changes Russian tactics. Do they pull back their fixed-wing aircraft?”

The cost of a Su-35, deemed a modernized version of the Su-27 fighter jet, has been disputed. Some reports say that one aircraft costs approximately $43 million, while others say the per-unit cost of a Sukhoi Su-35 is as high as $85 million based on previous transactions between Russia and China.

More than a fifth of Russia’s known manned aircraft and helicopter losses since the Russia-Ukraine war began in February 2022 have been self-inflicted, according to data compiled by Newsweek and published in August.

That equates to about 21.7 percent of jets, helicopters and transport aircraft being self-destroyed due to Russian system malfunctions, pilot errors and friendly fire.

Su-35 aircraft have also been compared to F-16 fighter jets, which some NATO allies of Ukraine have finally provided the war-torn nation to accelerate air defenses. Many U.S. military officials advocated for their sending in the first year of the war.

“Nonetheless, it should raise concerns about using the F-16 to break through Russia’s elastic defense,” Cohen said. “If Russia’s air defenses are able to accidentally shoot down their own aircraft, it does suggest threats to any aircraft flying even the slightest bit near the front from the vast air defense systems both sides are using.”

Update 10/06/23, 1:52 p.m. ET: This article was updated with comment from Mark Cancian.

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