Russia Limiting Its Advanced Combat Jets to Russian Airspace: UK Intel

  • Russia is using its most advanced combat jets against Ukraine, British intelligence said Monday.
  • But the jets are only firing missiles into Ukraine from Russian territory, the brief added.
  • Russia is keeping them back over worries about “reputational damage” if they’re shot down, it said.

Russia is holding back on using its most advanced fighter jets over Ukrainian airspace because it’s scared they will get shot down, British intelligence said on Monday.

In its latest intelligence update, the UK’s Ministry of Defence said Moscow has “almost certainly” used Su-57 Felon fighter jets to conduct missions against Ukraine since at least June 2022. 

“These missions have likely been limited to flying over Russian territory, launching long-range air-to-surface or air-to-air missiles into Ukraine,” the brief said. 

Russia is keeping its jets on home soil because it is “avoiding the reputational damage, reduced export prospects, and the compromise of sensitive technology which would come from any loss of Felon over Ukraine,” the brief added. 

The twin-engine and single-seat aircraft is Russia’s most advanced fifth-generation supersonic combat jet.

For an aircraft to be considered fifth-generation, it must possess specific technical characteristics, such as the ability to fly at supersonic speeds without afterburners.

Five of the jets are currently housed at the only known Felon air base in Russia, which is located in the southern region of Akhtubinsk, according to a satellite image taken on December 25, 2022, and cited by the MoD.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said in August last year that the Felon had already been used “brilliantly” in combat since Russia’s invasion, although there was little evidence at the time that this was the case. 

Russia’s wary tactic is indicative of its continued risk-averse approach to employing its air force in the war against Ukraine, given the risk of significant losses.

Russia has lost more than 280 airplanes since the beginning of its full-scale invasion of Ukraine, according to an update from the General Staff of Ukraine’s Armed Forces on January 9.