Graphic video out of Ukraine shows Su-25 Frogfoot attack near Kherson back with a tragic outcome.
If journalists have learned one thing from the Ukrainian war, it is not to trust the social media feeds. Everything from well-crafted deep fakes that included convincing video of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy telling Ukrainian soldiers to surrender, to regurgitated old video from other conflicts re-captioned to seem current, has been foisted on media outlets hungry for the next viral scoop. Many have fallen for it. Some media outlets, including the BBC World News, have been successful in exposing deep fakes and also in verifying the authenticity of some remarkable video using geo-location and other image analysis technologies.
This latest clip has passed all the validation tests we have done and appears to be real to us. If we are right, the video represents a terrifying insight into the lethal, low-level air combat environment over a battlefield laced with hundreds (and soon to be thousands) of portable air defense systems.
Like most of the clips recorded with smartphones or handheld cameras, it’s shaky. There is non-descript (at least to the western analyst) language heard during a portion of the 00:37 second video. Then, it is easy to make out a lone Sukhoi Su-25, NATO reporting name “Frogfoot”, enter the frame from the left and pass over the cameraman as the camera platform shakes wildly. It looks like one of the ubiquitous yellow Ukrainian tractors makes a cameo appearance in the early seconds of the video as the cameraman seems to be ducking for cover from the very low Frogfoot flyover.
Then, there is a bloom of bright flame and the muffled thuds of explosions. Depending on the version of the video narrative you’ve seen, this could be the first Su-25 crashing into the ground and exploding, or it could be ordinance delivered by the first aircraft in the frame or some other aircraft.
If you examine the first few seconds of the video carefully, you notice the Su-25 that initially passes low over the cameraman appears to be wearing what may be bort number (the number on the nose of the aircraft) “30”. The colors and camouflage clearly seem to confirm the aircraft as being a Ukrainian Air Force Frogfoot (that is quite different from the Russian Su-25s).
If you freeze the clip just as the first Su-25 passes overhead, it appears to be armed with two S-5, 55mm (2.2 in) unguided rocket pods on two stations under left wing. These rockets launch from the ubiquitous 57mm launch tube seen on a number of Russian attack aircraft, including helicopters. They could also be the larger S-8, 80mm (3.1 in) unguided ground attack rockets used by some Russian attack aircraft. The two outboard stations look empty on this aircraft. The inboard station appears to have either the commonly seen PTB-1500 external fuel tank often used on the Su-25, or some type of unguided air-to-ground weapon, possibly a fuel air explosive tank.
This load-out is important when we think about the very large explosion seen a couple seconds later in the video (most probably ordinance exploding on the ground).
Just to the right of the fireball you see a very small, low, dark shape, wider than it is tall and roughly cigar-shaped, travel in the frame from right to left, crossing by the fireball, gaining height, and then turning roughly two-thirds on to the camera. This takes on the distinctive forward silhouette of the Su-25 Frogfoot.
Now the camera pans back to the right. A pole comes into view along with the planform silhouette of another apparent Su-25. The aircraft appears to be at a high bank angle, turning in toward the cameraman at a distance. As the aircraft continues in knife-edge flight, it predictably begins to lose altitude quickly with its wings oriented vertically.
Suddenly the pilot appears to eject. He may be out of the survivable escape envelope of the Svezda K-36 ejection seat. This is the ejection seat made famous by celebrated Russian pilot Anatoly Kvochur at the Paris Air Show in 1989 when he ejected from a MiG-29 after a bird was ingested into one of his engines causing a low altitude, low speed, high angle of attack flameout and subsequent low altitude ejection. The pilot in the Su-25 in this video does not appear to have been as fortunate as Kvochur was in Paris in ’89. The aircraft in this video erupts into a spread of fire just after the ejection seat appears to fire, but no visible parachute is seen.
There are more questions than answers about this video. Are there three aircraft, or two? Do two aircraft collide with the ground, or one?
As already said, the video appears to be genuine to us. And this is also being confirmed by several other sources, some of those have also been able to provide additional context to the clip:
During this incident, the Ukrainian Air Force lost two aircraft at once. One of them was a Su-25M1K “19 blue”. Based on this video, the second one was most likely a Su-25M1 “30 blue”. pic.twitter.com/lkYveP9i6u
— 🇺🇦 Ukraine Weapons Tracker (@UAWeapons) March 17, 2022
We have also asked our Pierre Ishikawa, manager of a large DCS Group on FB, who is used to this exercise and has done fact-checking on many doubtful videos or pictures before, whether the latest footage was real or not. Here’s his response:
“It is quite possible. It is very blurred to very hard to establish if the models are taken for the game. The su-25 is quite smoky in DCS, which doesn’t seems to be the case. The ejection and plane fireball is not any flight simulator – it really reminds me of Ramstein AFB airshow disaster, I suspect it could be legit.”
That being said, while early consensus seems to trend toward authenticity of the clip, until more documentation about the incident claimed to be in the video surfaces, it is very difficult to verify the authenticity of all the accompanying details. Some say one Su-25 crashed, others say two Frogfoot attack aircraft were lost. The first casualty of war is always the truth.