The Russian air force reportedly has had a very bad day. The Ukrainian defense ministry on Saturday claimed its forces shot down four Russian warplanes in 24 hours. An Su-34, two Su-30s and an Su-25.
The aerial losses come nearly a month after the Ukrainian army launched twin counteroffensives in the south and east. The eastern counteroffensive broke through Russian lines outside Kharkiv and triggered a rapid collapse in the Russian army in the area.
The southern counteroffensive apparently has been slower, but still successful.
The Russian air force was nowhere to be found in the first week of the counteroffensives. Ukrainian units had close air support. Russian units … didn’t.
Analysts chalked up the Russian air force’s absence to the enduring strength of Ukrainian air-defenses, as well as to Russian air-warfare doctrine that assigns warplanes to bomb preplanned targets. The Russian air force doesn’t train its pilots to think and act independently—prerequisites for tracking down moving targets.
When the enemy is on the move, Russian air power struggles to keep up.
Once the Russians retreated from Kharkiv Oblast, the Ukrainian assault in the area slowed—and the Russian air force returned to the battlefield, bombing positions Russian troops recently had vacated as Ukrainian troops advanced.
On Sept. 15, a pair of Russian fighter-bombers—at least one of them a two-seat Su-34—bombed Ukrainian positions outside the town of Spirne in eastern Ukraine’s Donbas region.
No one shot back, perhaps indicating that Ukraine’s air-defenses had lagged behind the front-line battalions advancing into Spirne.
The alternative explanation—that the Russian air force had suppressed Ukraine’s surface-to-air guns and missiles—seems unlikely. While the Ukrainians have relentlessly attacked Russian air-defenses using a combination of Soviet-vintage fighters and newer, American-made anti-radiation missiles, the Russians haven’t been able to sustain attacks on Ukrainian air-defenses.
So it perhaps was a matter of time before Ukrainian guns and missiles caught up to the maneuver battalions—and caught Russian warplanes as they angled in to drop their bombs.
On Friday, a video appeared online depicting a Ukrainian Strela surface-to-air missile vehicle, reportedly belonging to the 25th Airborne Brigade, rolling into Yatskivka, 40 miles northwest of Spirne in Donbas. The next day, the Russians reportedly lost two jets—a single-seat Su-25 and a two-seat Su-30—in the same area.
“Crap day,” lamented one popular social media account focusing on Russian aviation.
Four warplane losses in a single day is catastrophic for the Russian air force. The entire air arm, which initially deployed around 300 jets in and around Ukraine in order to support Russia’s wider war, as of a few days ago had written off just 53 jets that analysts can confirm.
Those losses may have just gotten a lot steeper. As high as 57.