Ukrainian forces have destroyed 77 Russian fixed-wing aircraft. Independent observers have confirmed 12 of those kills. Russian aircraft losses include five SU-25’s, two SU-30, four SU-34 fighters and a AN-26. The majority of Russian aircraft have been destroyed by Ukrainian infrared guided MANPADS (Strela, Igla and Stinger) along with Ukraine’s longer-ranged air-defense systems such as the Tunguska, Osa, Tor or S-300.
The VKS is not like the US Air Force. VKS aircraft are merely an extension of the Russian army. They fly in, drop “dumb” bombs at specific targets at low altitudes, then fly out. They don’t aim to control the entire airspace like the US Air Force. The VKS doesn’t use guided missiles. This strategy makes VKS aircraft vulnerable to MANPAD targeting.
The VKS only ever armed it’s two-seat SU-34s with precision-guided munitions in its air campaign over Syria. “Even these specialist strike aircraft have regularly resorted to unguided bomb and rocket attacks,” Justin Bronk noted in a recent analysis for the Royal United Services Institute.
Bronk continued, “This not only indicates a very limited familiarity with PGMs among most Russian fighter crews, but also reinforces the widely accepted theory that the Russian air-delivered PGM stockpile is very limited. “Years of combat operations in Syria will have further depleted that stockpile, and may mean that the bulk of the 300 VKS fixed wing combat aircraft massed around Ukraine have only unguided bombs and rockets to draw on for ground-attack sorties.”
VKS air assets have to slow down and get low beneath the clouds to have any chance of hitting their coordinates with rockets or dumb bombs. They have to expose themselves to MANPAD systems in order to hit their targets.
Tom Cooper, an expert on the Russian air force, blamed the loss of a Russian fighter on Sunday or Monday claiming “It was once again the practice of descending below the cloud cover that proved fatal,”. Cooper specifically stated “However, it’s something the VKS’ crews have to do if it wants to bomb precisely, because its jets simply can’t ‘see’ through the clouds and lack PGMs,” Cooper added.
This paradigm works to Ukraine’s advantage in powerful ways as VKS remains exposed at the hands of portable, light, cheap and untraceable MANPADS. The only thing Russia can do to stop Ukrainian MANPADS is by sending in their inadequately trained infantry to flush out MANPADS.
This gets better for Ukraine and worse for the Russians. Latvia, Poland, Germany and the United States are sending in more Stingers. Germany is sending in old Strelas. The United Kingdom is sending in Starstreaks. Ukraine is about to become completely saturated with MANPADS. In the coming weeks, The VKS will be playing “Russian-roulette” with their air operations in Ukraine.