Russian equipment losses underline hardy Ukrainian resistance
Under attack from Russian forces on three fronts and subjected to a heavy barrage of airstrikes and land-based fires in Europe’s largest security crisis since the Second World War, Ukraine has proven itself capable of meaningful resistance and inflicted equipment losses on invading forces that give credibility to prior forecasts suggesting a quick Russian victory would not transpire, despite the substantial asymmetric advantage held by Moscow.
One of the most widely shared social media videos that captured attention on 24 February was a Russian Ka-52 attack helicopter grounded and visibly damaged after being shot down over Vyshhorod, later confirmed by the Ukraine MoD.
The aircraft has been designed to provide target acquisition for other helicopters engaged in air-to-air and air-to-surface strike missions or to support reconnaissance and radio jamming sorties, suggesting it was part of a Russian air assault at the time of being attacked.
#Russia :ru:Ka-52 Hokum B attack helicopter in apparent forced landing after suffering damage, reportedly North West of Kiev #Ukraine :flag-ua: pic.twitter.com/e4rJQjaaCu— Joseph Dempsey (@JosephHDempsey) February 24, 2022
‘Looking at the impact point, we can say with some certainty that the Ka-52 was shot down by a short-range portable air defence missile which features a proximity fuse, triggering detonation near the target, rather than on the target,’ said Ilker Aktasoglu, Shephard Defence Insight manager.
Moscow has so far taken delivery of 103 Ka-52 rotorcraft from the Progress Arsenyev Aviation Company, according to Shephard Defence Insight, while an upgrade plan under the Ka-52M programme will lead to the integration of the Izdelie 305 non-line-of-sight (NLOS) air-to-surface guided missile.
As previously reported by Shephard, additional features of the newer aircraft include an EO/IR targeting system in an under-nose turret, an AESA radar in the port stub-wing, improved armour protection and a 2A42 30mm cannon for more accurate firing.
‘The Ka-52 is one of Russia’s top-end military helicopters. They are using and losing them in Ukraine and really haven’t got vast quantities of them to lose, so even if the Ukrainians are able to bring down half a dozen a day, the longer the conflict goes on the longer Russia will continue to lose high-valued assets,’ said Dr Richard Connelly, director of the Centre for Russian, European and Eurasian Studies at the University of Birmingham.
Images of a Russian Su-30 engulfed in flames at the Millerovo Air Base, Rostov, where Russia’s 31st Fighter Aviation Regiment is based, have also emerged on social media. They are thought to be linked to a successful Ukrainian 9K79 Tochka-U (SS-21 Scarab) tactical ballistic missile strike, though no official sources have confirmed the incident to this point.
Additional videos of the airbase ablaze have been correctly geolocated by several sources, according to the investigative journalism and open-source intelligence website Bellingcat.
Based mainly on social media coverage analysis, Connelly added that the first 24 hours of the Russian invasion featured Ukrainian Air Force MiG-29s and Sukhoi Su-27 Flankers ‘engaging’ Russian forces.
Що виробляє цей український ас
МіГ-29 Повітряних Сил ЗСУ знищує "нєімєющій аналогов" Су-35 російських окупантів ❌❌❌ pic.twitter.com/z6YVnm8ezo— Defence of Ukraine (@DefenceU) February 25, 2022
Kyiv has a fleet of 21 Mig-29s and plans to upgrade a number of them to the MiG-29MU2 standard, mainly aimed at improving ground-attack capabilities, but by August 2020 it had still to agree to a contract with Elbit Systems for the upgrade package.
A total of seven aircraft, six helicopters, more than 30 tanks and a maximum of 130 armoured vehicles belonging to Russian forces were lost in the fighting on 24 February, said Valeriy Zaluzhny, commander-in-chief of Ukraine’s armed forces, as per a Financial Times report.
Russia has disputed the accuracy of such claims, and from an airpower perspective it is undoubtedly challenging to link the high number of losses to fighter jet strikes alone, especially as Ukraine by Connelly’s estimation only has 20-30 fighters in service.
To better understand how Ukraine managed to achieve such success, the Russian equipment losses are more than likely down in no small part to surface-to-air and anti-tank missile strikes, including the Next-generation Light Anti-tank Weapon (NLAW) system, initially supplied to Kyiv by the UK MoD on 17 January 2021.
Unconfirmed reports have linked the newly acquired Ukrainian weapon to the destruction of three unidentified Russian tanks in the Pishchevyk area.
According to Shephard Defence Insight, the fire-and-forget weapon can hit heavily protected armoured vehicles at a range of 20-800m.
The much talked-about Bayraktar TB2 MALE UAV has also featured in the conflict, with the Ukrainian MoD specifically confirming that the aircraft has been deployed. Kyiv has received 20 of the aircraft, but analysts had expected it to be rendered ineffective by Russia targeting Ukrainian airbases in the early stages of the war.
‘Prior to the conflict, I think most people would have said that the Russians will annihilate launch areas and command points for the [Ukrainian] TB2 teams, and so far it looks like they haven’t chosen to do that,’ explained Connelly. ‘In the meantime, that has allowed Ukraine to inflict losses using the aircraft.’
Footage shared on social media, claiming to show a Ukrainian TB2 striking a Russian armoured vehicle, appears to add credibility to Connelly’s remark but again the incident in question has not been confirmed by official sources.
Despite the scale of resistance created by Ukraine, Russia is expected to increase its strike and EW capabilities in the coming days and weeks to devastating effect, a scenario that would put President Vladimir Putin on the threshold of victory and Europe ever more vulnerable to his menace.
‘The short-term objective for Putin still remains the same and which is the utter destruction of the Ukrainian military and make sure it ceases to exist as a threat,’ added Connelly.
‘Beyond that, it will be to install a pro-Russian leadership in Ukraine,’ he concluded. ‘I wouldn’t underestimate that possibility despite all the stuff we read about the desire to resist amongst Ukrainians. There will still be plenty of pliable elites within Ukraine who could be bribed and encouraged to do the dirty work of the Russian government.’
More from Ukraine-Russia News: Technology and Equipment Spotlight
Reporting on Russia's invasion of Ukraine (podcast)
In a new-look Shephard Defence Podcast, the news team discusses the rapidly-evolving situation in Ukraine and latest developments following Russia's unprovoked invasion.
Italy may donate 155mm howitzers to Ukraine
Ukraine could obtain more 155mm howitzers — this time from Italy — as Kyiv seeks to tip the artillery balance against Russia.
Germany mulls supplying IRIS-T to Ukraine
Will Germany decide to provide ten medium-range SAM systems to Ukraine?
Reina Isabel returns to port after partial failure to complete Ukraine delivery
The Spanish Navy support vessel Reina Isabel returned to its homeport on 13 May after a mission to deliver arms, ammunition and Ukraine — although Kyiv did not receive everything it expected.
Pitfalls remain with giving Ukraine modern fighter jets
It seems appealing to fast-track pilot training by conducting most flights on simulators and omitting certain procedures if the West were to give more modern aircraft for Ukraine’s air force, but it might prove challenging in practice.
Down, but not out (Comment)
The sinking in April of the Russian Navy’s Black Sea flagship, although not evidence of a major change in the naval domain, is a far cry from the pre-emptive scuttling of Ukraine’s own flagship. The donation of increasingly advanced materiel demonstrates increased faith in Ukraine’s ability to resist the Russian invaders.