The downing of a Russian Su-25 aircraft this week marks the second aircraft lost to MANPADS surface-to-air missiles in six weeks. At the end of December, militants shot down a Syrian L-39 aircraft near Hama.
Russia’s response has been swift and severe, conducting multiple airstrikes in areas controlled by the Islamist group who shot down the plane. Having announced a military withdrawal in December, and with a presidential election in March, Vladimir Putin could never countenance anything other than an increased punitive bombardment of the rebels.
There will be further repercussions as a result of this, of course. Russian officials will be trying to determine the source of the missile that downed its aircraft, in order to plug any new supply lines into Syria. There are also reports that the safe-flying height will be increased, which will impair the accuracy of airstrikes in the future.
But the pilot’s defiant last stand highlights a small but militarily interesting point. Roman Filipov, who appears to have survived the ejection, fought against the jihadis with his pistol before detonating a grenade in preference to being captured. This account appears to tally with this video purporting to show the point at which he detonates the grenade. The rock looks like the only available cover the pilot could have sought, and it features in another video (not shown here) that shows Filipov’s body with his right hand missing.
One question that sprang to my mind was how the downed pilot was able to access the hand grenade he used, given it’s not something one normally associates with a pilot’s survival kit. With the prospect of being captured by jihadis on the ground in mind, Dutch pilots have recently forsaken the 9mm pistol for the MP9 sub-machine gun. Still, carrying explosive ordnances, such as grenades, in the cockpit seems a strange thing to do.
But someone referred me to this video taken by a Russian news crew covering life at the Russian Khmeimim Air Base in Syria. Lo and behold, one pilot takes the reporter through his survival vest, showing him his 9mm pistol and magazines and then pulling out … two hand grenades.