Well, it seems that the United States have decided enough was enough and shot down the intruding Chinese surveillance balloon that I wrote about previously. An F-22 apparently used an AIM-9 Sidewinder to knock the intruder down after it crossed over the coast of South Carolina and into the Atlantic Ocean, where it was evidently considered safe to shoot down.
Whatever the reasons for the balloon’s mission, it has firmly soured relations between the US and China, and the visit by Secretary of State Blinken has been cancelled as a result. But politics aside, the shoot down of the balloon throws up a couple of interesting details that will go down in the history books.
Firstly, this is the first acknowledged shoot down by the F-22, and apparently the pilot’s used the callsign FRANK for the mission, a salute to Frank Luke Jnr. who was an American pilot in World War One who was credited with shooting down fourteen German observation balloons.
Another interesting note is that this may be the highest “aggressive” air-to-air kill in history, as in on a notionally hostile craft. The balloon is reported to have been flying at between 60,000 to 65,000 feet, and though surface to air missiles have achieved kills at higher altitudes, and indeed anti-satellite missiles have been launched from aircraft and killed vehicles in orbit in testing, this is quite likely the highest “active” kill – somewhat relative, but I’m sure you get the point.
Oh, but just to take the wind out of Raptor pilots wings a bit, this still means your aircraft has as many air-to-air kills as the F-111…and that was against a dangerous enemy fighter.
But excitement over South Carolina notwithstanding, there have been a couple of other engagements involving aircraft in the last week or so that haven’t really made the news but again are rather remarkable.
It certainly has been a bad time for Sukhoi Su-25s. On 2nd of February, Ukrainian National Guardsmen claimed to have shot down a Russian Su-25 near Bakhmut. According to Ukrainian news, the men shot down the aircraft with 9K38 Igla MANPADS – NATO designation SA-18 – but there is no independent confirmation of this.
There is more evidence on another event though. On January 24 a Su-25 of the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo was hit by a MANPADS while flying over the Congolese city of Goma, which borders with neighboring Rwanda. According to the Rwandans, who’s forces apparently fired the missile, the aircraft had violated their air space multiple times.
#RDC/#Rwanda: une autre vidéo filmée vers la maison de passage #Twitter à #Gisenyi montre une ogive lancée depuis le Rwanda (sur les hauteurs du mont #Rubavu) touché le Sukhoi-25 des @FARDC_off, qui n'a pas crashé mais a poursuivi de voler vers l'aéroport de #Goma https://t.co/z9InimKsPF pic.twitter.com/3z8Pdon7FE
— 𝐅𝐢𝐬𝐭𝐨𝐧 𝐌𝐚𝐡𝐚𝐦𝐛𝐚 𝐖𝐚 𝐁𝐢𝐨𝐧𝐝𝐢 (@FMLarousse) January 24, 2023
Congo and Rwanda have a…fraught relationship, to put it mildly, but fortunately the pilot was able to get the aircraft down at Goma airport, where despite the Sukhoi leaking burning fuel, it was apparently largely saved from further damage by the quick actions of the airport’s firefighters.
Indeed, looking at the damage sustained it looks like the Su-25 lived up to the types reputation for toughness.
But in addition to all this excitement in the Americas, Europe and Africa, Asia also has had a reported aircraft shootdown, though this one sounds more like something from a video game.
According to the NUG Ministry of Defence, which represents the democratically elected government of Myanmar in exile, local People’s Defence Forces Khanti District Battalion (1) on the 3rd of February shot down a helicopter belonging to the military junta that seized power in a coup two years ago.
But as anti-aircraft weapons are effectively nonexistent with the Myanmar resistance, the reports are that the PDF achieved this with…an M79 grenade launcher.
Now I should point out I can’t independently confirm all this, but seems an odd detail to put in. But I guess that when push comes to shove, you just have to use what you have on hand.