For many, the F-35 is the best fighter in the world, and performance-wise it certainly is. Although they are not present in combat in Ukraine, there are several European countries that have them in their air forces and are involved in protecting the skies of countries bordering Russia in missions in Eastern Europe or the Baltics.
This is the case of Italy, which sent a squadron of F-35s to Estonia from the 32nd Air Wing based in Amendola, southern Italy, to guarantee security in the region. Almost immediately after their arrival, Italian fighters began joint patrols with other allied countries to carry out aerial surveillance missions, in which, for example, Spain also participated with its Eurofighters or its F-18s.
There have been several “encounters” between Russian and Western aircraft in the region, but it is now known that a particularly serious encounter took place on 9 May. On that day, a Russian Su-30SM fighter shot down an Italian fighter over the Sea Baltic. The F-35 was intercepted by Allied aircraft that approached a Russian An-12 military transport aircraft of the Russian Aerospace Forces (VKS).
It was then that the Su-30SM, which was escorting the An-12, intercepted a fifth-generation F-35, using its Khibiny EW system. “It came almost out of nowhere. I was very confused because I didn’t expect to see it so close,” said the Italian pilot before the sudden appearance of the Russian plane, who has also said that his pilot acted defensively.
The Italian pilot explained that the US fighter jet’s detection and warning system repeatedly failed and had to be reset.
Noticing that the Russian fighter was rapidly approaching, the Italian decided to implement the standard plan for such cases: he turned his plane 30 degrees to maintain a safe distance and tried to reset the systems and avoid annoying neighbors. Tried to opt out of electronic warfare. At first it seemed helpful. Both the aircraft are flying together, performing light maneuvers but maintaining their distance and suddenly the Sukhoi-30 pitches back and is out of sight. For a minute the Italian pilot lost his detection system again and suddenly the Su-30SM was right in front, passing very close to the left wing of the F-35.
The pilot of the Allied aircraft remarked, “Suddenly I froze with fear. I did not expect such a dangerous maneuver from the Russians, not trying to provoke the aggression of the Russians, who had positioned themselves ” beneath it. The Italian turned 40°, starting to reset the detection system once again, after which, although they continued to fly closer, everything was normal and there were no more dangerous maneuvers.
The Italian pilot believes the Russian was simply testing what the American F-35 was capable of. Speaking to the Military History of Italy website, he said that he did not expect the most modern American fighter jet to behave like this, especially considering that the Su-30 is a fourth-generation machine, although it is a is better.
Khibiny EW is an electronic warfare system developed by Russia during the Soviet Union. Since then it has undergone significant improvements and is considered highly effective today. It is integrated into both the Su-34 and Su-30SM aircraft used by the Russian military in military operations. Initially, Russia decided to integrate the Khibiny into all Su-34s under the name L-175V Khibiny. Later, Moscow decided that the Su-30 should also have this system.
The system is designed to find and sound the radio direction of radiation of the signal source, which allows you to distort the parameters of the reflected signal. All of this helps the system delay the detection of the transport aircraft, as well as masking objects against false reflections. It is said that when the Khibiny is activated, enemy aircraft have difficulty finding the device, especially in speed and angular position. The Russian system downgrades the TWS support mode when scanning the antenna beam radar and increases the time and difficulty of capturing an object during an active real-time scan.