A video published by a Wall Street Journal reporter made headlines this week for depicting a truly extraordinary scene in the skies over Ukraine. The widely-circulated footage depicts a Ukrainian Su-27 Flanker engaging in close aerial combat with a Russian fighter jet in the Donbas region.
Matthew Luxmoore, the capturer of the scene, tweeted “A literal dogfight in the skies over Donbas tonight. Ukrainian SU-27 shooting flares toward a guided missile fired by a Russian fighter jet, not caught in this footage. The few residents remaining in Pokrovsk rushed out to gape at the spectacle and applaud.” Since fighting between Russia and Ukraine has primarily involved artillery exchanges across the front line of the conflict, this week’s aerial spectacle is a unique marker in the ongoing war.
A literal dogfight in the skies over Donbas tonight. Ukrainian SU-27 shooting flares toward a guided missile fired by a Russian fighter jet, not caught in this footage. The few residents remaining in Pokrovsk rushed out to gape at the spectacle and applaud. pic.twitter.com/GmJnO7HghR
— Matthew Luxmoore (@mjluxmoore) August 18, 2022
The accompanying text to the video written by Luxmoore suggests that a Ukrainian Air Force Su-27 Flanker fighter jet was firing infrared flares in response to a Russian jet’s infrared-guided air-to-air missile (AAM). The Su-27 is a Soviet-era twin-engine, highly maneuverable fighter that is nicknamed “Flanker” by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). The airframe was developed in the 1970s as a counter to the American-made fourth-generation Grumman F-14 Tomcat and McDonnell Douglas F-15 Eagle. The Flanker is currently in service with Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Indonesia, Uzbekistan, Vietnam, and Ukraine.
Following the fall of the Soviet Union, 72 Su-27 fighters based in Ukraine remained. According to the Smithsonian Magazine, “Many of the aircraft were from early, inferior production blocks. In 2009, amid declining relations with Russia, the Ukrainian air force began to have difficulty obtaining spare parts from Sukhoi, and maintenance became thorny. Although total aircraft numbers have declined only slightly—five Su-27s have been lost to pilot error and nine more sold abroad—many airframes have become sources of spares for the active fleet.”
The Russian Air Force primarily flies more advanced Flanker variants, including the S-50SM, Su-35, and the Su-35S. However, it is unclear in the circulated video whether the targeted Russian aircraft was in fact one of these jets, or another aircraft altogether.