Drones

The Russians Have Lost Nearly 300 Aircraft Over Ukraine—Mostly Drones

A Russian fighter burns after being shot down over Ukraine in March 2022.

Via social media

Ukrainian troops have brought down 278 Russian aircraft in the eight months since Russia widened its war on Ukraine, Valeriy Zaluzhnyi, the commander-in-chief of the Ukrainian armed forces, said last week.

That’s almost certainly an exaggeration. But not by much. Independent analysts have confirmed, through photo and video evidence, the destruction of 184 Russian aircraft. The Ukrainians have captured another 73 aircraft from the Russians for a total of 257 confirmed Russian losses.

But here’s the catch. Most of the losses—and all of the captures—are small drones, which don’t cost very much and are easier than crewed aircraft for the Kremlin to replace.

That caveat doesn’t abrogate Zaluzhnyi’s statement, however. Russia’s aerial losses over Ukraine are steep. “During the full-scale aggression, defenders of Ukraine destroyed twice as many Russian aircraft as the Soviet Union lost during the 10-year war in Afghanistan,” Zaluzhnyi claimed.

Ukrainian fighters, ground-based air-defenses and saboteurs since February have destroyed 55 Russian fighters and 54 helicopters. Another five fighters and a transport plane have crashed while operating in or around Ukraine.

That’s just three percent of the entire active inventory of crewed aircraft belonging to the Russian air force, navy and army. But the losses are concentrated among the newest and most sophisticated front-line types. The Kremlin has written off 15% of its best Sukhoi Su-34 strike fighters and no less than a quarter of its top attack helicopters, the Kamov Ka-52s.

Foreign sanctions on the Russian aerospace industry, which have tightened since February, have squeezed the industry’s ability to replace the losses. The Kremlin wasn’t buying new aircraft very quickly even before the tighter sanctions.

Now it’s buying them even slower. “Russia’s aircraft losses likely significantly outstrip their capacity to manufacture new airframes,” the U.K. Defense Ministry explained. It could be a decade or more before flying regiments are back to full strength.

The manpower crunch might be worse. It’s unclear how many pilots have died in the shoot-downs and crashes. The reasonable assumption is: a lot. The two-man Ka-52 crews likely are dying at an especially high rate. To understand why, watch any video of a Ukrainian missile striking a hovering Ka-52.

The loss of experienced crews could be even more catastrophic to the Russian air arms than the loss of airframes is. “The time required for the training of competent pilots further reduces Russia’s ability to regenerate combat air capability,” the U.K. Defense Ministry said.

There’s growing pressure for the Russian air force, navy and army to speed new crews through flight training. But inadequate training already was a factor in Russia’s heavy aircraft losses. A training shortfall is likely to become an even bigger factor as green crews rush into combat.

At the same time, Ukrainian air-defenses are expanding with the recent arrival of U.S.-made NASAMS and Spanish-made Aspide missile-batteries. Germany meanwhile has supplied Ukraine with 50 Gepard mobile guns. The sky over Ukraine isn’t getting safer for Russian crews.

The only comfort for Russian planners and pilots, and it’s a cold one, is that Ukraine has lost a lot of aircraft, too.

True, Ukrainian losses—51 fighters, four transports, 18 helicopters and 48 drones—are half as bad as Russian losses. But the Ukrainians have fewer aircraft to spare. The Ukrainian air force began the wider war with just 125 or so active fighters and bombers and by now has written off 40% of them.

Just three things are preventing the Ukrainian air force’s extinction. The steady reduction in the Ukrainian loss-rate as Russian capabilities erode; the pipeline of spare parts from foreign donors that helps the Ukrainians keep existing planes flying; and Ukrainian technicians’ incredible ability to restore old airframes left over from the Soviet era—in particular, Sukhoi Su-24 bombers.

As the war grinds into its first full winter, both sides are losing pilots and planes at rates they can’t sustain. As a result, neither side has a clear advantage in the air. What’s striking, however, is that the Ukrainian air force with 125 combat aircraft has managed to fight to a standstill Russian air arms together operating 10 times as many front-line planes.

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That caveat doesn’t abrogate Zaluzhnyi’s statement, however. Russia’s aerial losses over Ukraine are steep. “During the full-scale aggression, defenders of Ukraine destroyed twice as many Russian aircraft as the Soviet Union lost during the 10-year war in Afghanistan,” Zaluzhnyi claimed.

Source: https://www.forbes.com/sites/davidaxe/2022/11/07/the-russians-have-lost-nearly-300-aircraft-over-ukraine-mostly-drones/

Donovan Larsen

Donovan is a columnist and associate editor at the Dark News. He has written on everything from the politics to diversity issues in the workplace.

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