What obstacles is the Russian Air Force facing in the sky over Ukraine?

Just over three weeks into the war, the Russian Air Force has suffered great losses, not from modern anti-aircraft weapons, but from man-portable missiles.

On March 5, the Russian Air Force suffered a “catastrophic day”. Videos and photos circulating on social media suggest that the Russian Air Force may have lost up to 10 fighters in Ukraine that day.

The question why, the Air Force, which is “favored” by the Russian Army, suffered heavy losses in the Russian-Ukrainian conflict ? When within only 26 hours of combat, the Russian Air Force lost 1 Su-30SM multirole fighter, 1 Su-34 bomber, 2 Su-25 attack aircraft, 2 Mi-24 / Mi-35 helicopters, 2 Mi-8 helicopter and an Orlan-10 UAV.

According to many information sources, the above results are corroborated by related videos or images, including the video of the process of shooting down the Su-30SM and Mi-24, photos of the wreckage of the Su-34, Su-25, Orlan-10 aircraft. , Mi-24 and other Russian military aircraft.

If compared with the combat performance of the Western Air Force in recent years and the Russian Air Force, it is clear that there is a gap that, in an all-out war like the Russian special military operation, reveals itself.

This is shown first of all by the large number of fighter aircraft that were downed by Ukrainian anti-aircraft fire , then by many captured pilots and casualties. Even when Western fighters are shot down, pilots are usually rescued just in time.

Russia has lost many types of aircraft, among them, the Su-30SM is a multirole fighter, mainly used for air superiority operations, and used for escort missions and dominate the air. Su-34 bombers are mainly used for deep interception missions, suppressing air defenses and attacking key targets; while the Su-25 is mainly used to provide direct air support for ground combat forces.

Compared with previous local wars, in which the West participated, the Russian army is facing a stronger opponent and a larger scale of operations. On the other hand, the fact that many aircraft were shot down also shows that Russia has deployed a large number of aircraft to participate in attacking ground targets, not in air combat.

Of the local wars in which the United States and other Western countries have intervened this century, the most powerful has been adversary Iraq. At the time, Iraq was going through a long blockade and sanctions, with no backup facilities, no air force, and a weak air defense force.

In recent years, Western air strikes against Syria have generally had limited goals and missions that can be accomplished mainly with missiles, launched from outside the range of Syrian air defense systems.

As for the air force, the plane’s disappearance during high-intensity operations is not surprising. Usually, it is necessary to have an overwhelming advantage in terms of weapons, equipment and techniques on the battlefield, at the expense of relatively small losses.

Specifically, the Russian fighter jet was shot down for two direct reasons. The first is the relatively low flight and attack altitude, especially for helicopters. One video shows that a Mi-24 helicopter was attacked just more than ten meters above the ground, while other fixed-wing aircraft were also not flying high.

The maximum firing altitude of the man-portable air defense missile (MANPAD) is about 3,000m, which is enough to screw the necks of low- and ultra-low-range Russian fighters, which facilitates the use of anti-aircraft missiles by the Ukrainian military for guerrilla attacks.

In addition, when flying at extremely low altitudes, the aircraft also faces many threats such as small anti-aircraft artillery, so it is difficult to avoid losses. During the Gulf War in 1991, the US military had to use a variety of medium-range bombing methods to avoid many losses.

Meanwhile, the number of Tornado bombers sent by European countries to Iraq to participate in the war still applied the super-low-range bombing method, resulting in the fact that of the aircraft shot down by Iraq, the Tornado aircraft was shot down the most.

In recent years, Saudi Arabia and other countries have also lost a number of advanced fighter jets purchased from the West in low-altitude combat against the Houthis in Syria and Yemen.

The second reason is that the Russian Army is more active during the day, instead of at night; Existing videos show that almost all Russian fighters are shot down in broad daylight.

Since man-portable anti-aircraft missiles are usually not capable of night combat, if the Russian Air Force operates at night, it will be able to significantly reduce the probability of being detected by mobile anti-aircraft missiles with the naked eye. Thus reducing the chance of being hit.

According to experts, the reason why Russian fighter jets insist on flying at low altitudes may be due to the lack of precision-guided weapons, especially those launched from outside the defense zone, and most of weapons they using are more unguided weapons, so the altitude must be lowered to increase accuracy.

In addition, it is also possible that the Russian military has not completed the complete destruction and suppression of Ukraine’s long-range air defense missile systems. Likely, Ukraine still has a certain amount of Buk, S-300 missile systems and the Russian Army has to avoid it by low-flying methods.

Regarding the fact that the Russian Air Force often performs missions during the day, but rarely at night, according to analysts, there is also a reason for the pilot’s combat ability, because night flight requires a special ability, requires extremely well trained pilots and night vision equipments.

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