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About Those Losses….

Dec 2, 2017
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Moscow’s independent Center for the Analysis of Strategy and Technology (CAST) is offering new details on Russia’s air campaign against Georgia last year.

CAST was one of the first analytical organizations to report that Russian air losses over Georgia were significantly higher than the Kremlin claimed. CAST researchers have determined that the Russian Air Force lost at least eight aircraft in fighting with the Georgians–twice the number officially reported.

In its latest assessment, CAST confirms that Russian forces lost eight aircraft to adversary air defenses and fratricide. The four additional aircraft–which the Russian Air Force has acknowledged as combat losses–include the following:

–SU-24MR Fencer E reconnaissance aircraft, shot down on 8 August
–SU-25 Frogfoot CAS aircraft, lost on 9 August
–SU-24M Fencer frontal strike aircraft, downed on 10 or 11 August
–Mi-24 Hind helicopter gunship (loss date undetermined)

CAST also reports that Georgian air defenses damaged at least three other SU-25s, which managed to return to base.

Officially, Moscow has claimed that it lost only four aircraft during the Georgian campaign, a TU-22M Backfire bomber and three SU-25s, all shot down on the first day of the war (8 August). Russian Air Force officials say the four jets were downed by Georgian SA-11 SAM batteries.

As for those “other” losses, CAST claims the Fencers fell victim to shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles while the SU-25 was downed by friendly fire–specifically, a MANPAD SAM launched by a Russian ground unit.

The think tank also repeats its assessment that Russian Air Force units were unprepared for operations against a relatively modern air defense system. We second that notion, and believe it’s worth repeating a related point, which we made last August. Moscow’s lack of preparation is largely inexcusable, since it already knew that Tiblisi had purchased the SA-11 (and other air defense systems) from Ukraine. The embarrassment is compounded by the fact that the systems which knocked down those Russian aircraft were originally designed–and built–in Russia (emphasis ours).

Moscow claims that it overcame the initial setbacks and eventually destroyed the Georgian air defense system. But we take those statements with a grain of salt. To our knowledge, the Russians have never released UAV imagery (or other evidence) that would support those assertions.

Additionally, Georgian air defense teams proved adept at concealing their locations during the war, using a combination of denial-and-deception and mobility tactics. There is every reason to believe that some Georgian SAM batteries and MANPAD crews survived the war, gaining combat experience and valuable insight into Russian tactics and employment strategies.

CAST also offers a couple of new wrinkles in its revised assessment, though we can’t confirm either one. They claim that Georgia complemented its Russian-made SAMs with an Israeli air defense system, built around the advanced Derby and Python-5 air-to-air missiles. The Israeli SAM is believed similar to ground-based versions of the U.S. AIM-120, nicknamed the SLAMRAAM.

Russian defense analysts are depicting last year’s air campaign as the first conducted against a relatively modern air defense system. And, there’s an element of truth in that. Previous air operations (Desert Storm; Allied Force; Iraqi Freedom) were largely waged against older air defense systems, which are more vulnerable to jamming, anti-radiation missiles and other counter-measures.

Still, western air forces are better prepared for advanced SAMs than their Russian counterparts. Threat emitters used on training ranges in the U.S., Europe and Israel simulate the radar signals from “double-digit” air defense systems, giving pilots a chance to practice against them, before entering combat. Modern air defenses are also replicated during major force employment exercises, including Red Flag.

Russia, on the other hand, has a ways to go in providing realistic threat training for its aircrews. Calling that ironic would be an understatement. For 50 years, Russian scientists and engineers have produced some of the world’s most lethal air defense systems. But Moscow never believed its pilots would have to fly against Russian-built SAMs. That’s one reason the Russian Air Force learned a hard lesson in Georgia last summer.

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