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Ukraine conflict: Russia arms Su-35S for SEAD operations over Ukraine

A file photo of a VKS Su-35S multirole combat aircraft. The type has been seen fitted for the suppression of enemy air defences role over Ukraine. (Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation)

Russian Aerospace Forces (VKS) Sukhoi Su-35S ‘Flanker-E' combat aircraft have begun flying suppression of enemy air defences (SEAD) missions over Ukraine in a bid to neutralise the country's ground-based air defence network.

Video imagery showing Su-35s loaded with Zvezda/Tactical Missile Corporation Kh-31PM anti-radiation missiles was released by the Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation on 7 March. According to an accompanying report by the ministry's Zvezda news agency, the jets were flying combat missions over Ukraine.

The imagery shows a pair of Su-35S departing for a combat air patrol, with one jet armed with two Kh-31P weapons, as well as R-77 and R-73 air-to-air missiles. The other jet was configured just for counter-air operations. Footage later showed an Su-35S returning to base with only one Kh-31PM on board.

Zvezda did not identify the base or the VKS unit involved, but analysis of the imagery indicates it was filmed at Baranovichi airbase in Belarus, where the 23rd Fighter Aviation Regiment deployed in January for Exercise Allied Resolve 2022 in February.

Kh-31P remains have been identified in images from Ukraine posted on social media, including in the centre of Kiev on 24 February and near the eastern city of Kramatorsk on 6 March.

On 6 March Zvezda published two further reports on Russian air operations from an unidentified airbase close to Ukraine, which showed Sukhoi Su-24SM ‘Fencer', Su-34 ‘Fullback', Su-25 ‘Frogfoot', and MiG-31 ‘Foxhound' aircraft operating as part of a combined air wing.

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