Failure in the southeast
The hostilities that began in April of this year on the territory of the Donetsk and Lugansk republics take place with the active participation of the air forces of Ukraine. But there is still no intelligible information about the successes achieved by the Kiev “falcons” and what losses they actually suffered.
To get a full picture of what is happening in the airspace of a punitive operation, and even more so to evaluate the effectiveness of the Ukrainian aviation very difficult. Official Kiev speakers recognize losses only if they don’t get out at all, and give absolutely implausible explanations. A striking example is the destruction of the An-30 reconnaissance aircraft, which carried out specific reconnaissance of militia positions over Slavyansk. But according to the statement of Kiev, the transport An-26, carrying humanitarian aid for residents of the southeast, was shot down.
There are questions about the effectiveness of the Ukrainian bomb assault strikes (BSHU). The version that mainly houses are subjected to air attacks in order to punish the civilian population for supporting the “separatists” is confirmed by the pilots themselves with their combat work. In particular, 2 June they launched an unprovoked rocket attack on an administrative building in Lugansk. A spokesman for the punishers later claimed that this MANPADS of the militiamen had aimed at the air conditioner.
Forces, means, losses
The combat work of aviation during the so-called anti-terrorist operation (ATO) is characterized by relatively rare sorties — a little over 450 in four months. This includes not only the BSHU, but also flights in the interests of supplying troops, for evacuating the wounded, search and rescue, etc. For comparison: during the conflict with Georgia in August 2008 was flown by Russian aviation before 50 departures per day, the peak moments of the fighting in Chechnya in 1999 – 2001, this figure exceeded 100.
“The attacks from the air are mainly on residential buildings and infrastructure. This is confirmed by the Ukrainian pilots themselves. ”
In mid-April, when the punitive operation in the southeast was just beginning, the first 3 – 5 days were before 18 – 20 departures per day, but by the end of May their number dropped three to four times. A sharp surge occurred in early June. And then complete calm until the beginning of July, when the number of daily departures began to grow and reached its maximum in the middle of the month. In early August, another decline. In the first days of the month, the number of daily departures rarely exceeded 10.
In the middle of April, mainly Mi-24 and Mi-8 of army aviation worked, accompanying columns of troops blocking Slavyansk (more than 70 percent of daily departures). Also, the helicopters were used to conduct tactical assault forces with forces up to a platoon (mainly from the special units of the SBU, the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the airborne and airborne brigades) with the tasks of destroying roadblocks.
In addition to helicopters, MiG-29 and Su-27 fighters with an air-to-air armament (Р-73 and Р-27Т missiles), attack aircraft Su-25 were raised into the air to cover the troops. However, after the first unsuccessful assault on Slavyansk, the number of sorties dropped sharply.
The most effective operation in the first stage of the fighting was the helicopter landing at the aerospace club in Kramatorsk. 15 On April 4, four Mi-8, with the support of a pair of Mi-24, landed at the site special forces soldiers who took it under control.
The first loss of Ukrainian aviation is also associated with this city. 25 April on the airfield was destroyed Mi-8. According to one version - an anti-tank guided missile fired from nearby houses by militias.
During the first attempt to assault Slavyansk at the end of April, it was planned to enter the city from several directions. It was planned to disembark two, according to other sources - three helicopter assault forces with a force up to a company with special forces of the Security Service of Ukraine, the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the National Guard. It is noteworthy that the direct fire support of the actions of the punishers was carried out by the combat Mi-24, but the tasks for the artillery (several mortar batteries) were limited.
The result of the storming began was the loss of three transport-combat Mi-24 from the fire of portable air defense systems (allegedly "Needle"). Faced with the air defense weapons of the militia, the Ukrainian military pilots were not able to solve a single task.
In general, the effectiveness of aviation support should be considered unsatisfactory. Despite the statements of the Kiev media, the pilots showed a low level of professional training. In particular, cadres of some Mi-24 maneuvers at low altitude almost in the hover mode, when pilots tried to hit the C-8 rockets with unguided C-XNUMX rockets mounted by militias at the crossing, became public knowledge. The helicopter was saved from destruction only by the fact that at that time the resistance forces had a shortage of MANPADS.
Massive use of portable anti-aircraft missile systems in combination with small-arms fire weapons from the ground forced the pilots of the army aviation to start operating at extremely low altitudes and maximum possible speeds. This decision reduced losses, but sharply reduced the already low effectiveness of support for the troops. Thus, during an attack on a checkpoint near the village of Volnovakha, the arriving couple Mi-24 could not figure out what was happening on the ground, and struck a missile and cannon attack on its own.
Large losses of attack helicopters (reliably known about three downed and three damaged) left the Mi-8 transport practically without cover, which led to the destruction of two such vehicles from April to June. On board the Mi-8, shot down in the area of Mount Karachun, killed the head of the National Guard under combat training, Major General Sergei Kulchytsky.
As a result, at the end of June, the ATO headquarters stopped using helicopters for direct support of troops. Mi-24 departures for this purpose have not resumed to date. And the Mi-8 are quite actively used to supply the troops and evacuate the wounded, but outside the zone of clashes. The very first attempt to use the Mi-8 on the front line led 7 August to destroy it.
The only success of army aviation pilots can be considered a reflection of the assault on Donetsk 26 airport in May, when, thanks to rocket and gun strikes on the terminal building, the militia forces were held back, and the timely landing of special forces fighters from the 3 regiment strengthened the garrison.
It is noteworthy that during the entire time of the punitive operation from the Mi-24 helicopters, ATGMs were never used, only cannon-machine gun weapons and the NAR C-8 and C-5 were used.
The decision on the use of Su-24 attack aircraft and bombers was probably made by the anti-terrorist operation headquarters in mid-May, when it became apparent that helicopters were very vulnerable.
It is worth noting that the leadership of the punitive operation immediately immediately activated the forces of military transport aviation to supply the troops. In particular, even before the start of the storming of Slavyansk, the first flights of the Il-76 and An-26 were noted, having transferred several airborne companies to Donetsk and Lugansk. In late May, the share of military transport airplanes accounted for the bulk of daily departures, sometimes reaching 80 percent.
The first loss of the VTA was downed over the Slavonic An-30 during the specific reconnaissance and adjustment of artillery fire on the positions of the militia. On the night of 12 on 13 June, the military transport Il-76 became a victim of MANPADS for the militia, which was carrying out a flight to supply the security forces in Lugansk airport. In June, another transport Mi-8 was destroyed, carrying out the task of delivering the cargo to the location of the security forces on Mount Karachun.
In general, June was relatively calm for Ukrainian aviation, there were days when flights were not performed at all. Everything changed in July, when, at the request of Petro Poroshenko, the headquarters of the ATO began to implement a plan to isolate the Donetsk and Lugansk republics. In addition to massive artillery fire, Su-25 attack planes and Su-24 front-line bombers were actively used.
However, the militia increased the number of MANPADS and restored the Strela-10 anti-aircraft missile systems previously captured from the units of the Ukrainian armed forces.
In early July, the Ukrainian Air Force applied the BSHU from three to five thousand meters. It was believed that the use of infrared traps in combination with height would save planes from MANPADS militias. The Ukrainian military itself recognized that at such heights there remains a minimal opportunity to accurately hit targets. This also applies to the newly upgraded Su-25М1, which received new sighting systems based on optical-electronic systems, which, according to officials, radically increased the combat capabilities of the aircraft. But experience has shown that the Su-25М1 does not have the capabilities of an aiming complex as wonderful as it was stated earlier.
The largest number of daily departures, sometimes reaching 18 per day, was in the middle of July, when attempts were made to unblock the Cordon tactical group that had entered the southern boiler. In addition to supporting the Su-25 surroundings, they were actively used to attack infrastructure in Lugansk and Donetsk. Here, the Ukrainian Air Force achieved some success by destroying several electric substations in Lugansk in mid-July. According to some reports, one of the objects was hit by a guided bomb dropped from the Su-24 front-line bomber.
It is worth noting that the Ukrainian aviation several times attacked the increased power of the militia in the positions of the militias in the Saur-Grave region (according to one of the versions - FAB-1000 or even FAB-1500). But after the damage received by the June 2 front bomber, Su-24 became rare in the skies of the southeast, unlike the Su-24МР reconnaissance aircraft, which made several dozen missions to the southern boiler and Lisichansk projection in late July-early August. In fact, the Su-25 remained the only aircraft massively involved in hostilities.
Particular attention should be paid to the attempts to organize an air bridge to supply the Cordon tactical group blocked at the Russian border. In particular, besides An-26, for the first time after the June loss, Il-76 were involved. Although it is reliably known only about one flight of the "seventy-sixth." At the same time, An-26 performed several dozen flights, dropping more than a thousand tons of cargo. True, the Cordon’s fighters didn’t get more than a third, since, due to the threat of using MANPADS, parachute dumping occurred at an altitude of over five thousand meters, which led to considerable dispersion. The very first delivery attempt from a lower altitude 14 June turned into a loss of An-26.
In connection with the wear and tear of the material part in early August, Mig-29 fighters were involved in strikes against the militia. According to some reports, the first use of these machines took place on May 26 in repelling the storming of the Donetsk airport. August 7 was shot down while launching a missile strike at the Mig-29 militia checkpoint.
Most likely, it was precisely the low technical serviceability of the aviation fleet that led to the next decrease in the activity of the security forces in the air. Even the mode of relatively low intensity turned out to be disastrous for the Ukrainian Air Force.
Mi-24 helicopters operated in pairs in May-June. Typical weapons were two to four blocks NUR C-8, sometimes C-5, often with a cumulative warhead. Initially, attack helicopters operated at altitudes from 500 to 1500 meters, but with the advent of MANPADS they switched to heights from 50 to 100 meters, sometimes making a “jump” for launching missiles, while performing a maneuver at maximum speed to avoid being under fire from portable missile systems . Accordingly, the effectiveness of the use of airborne weapons has decreased several times.
Mi-8 carried out departures only singly under the cover of a pair of Mi-24. But from mid-May after the loss of attack helicopters, transport vehicles began to operate independently at altitudes from 100 to 500 meters, using the terrain as much as possible. 7 August Mi-8, despite all the maneuvers, was shot down by small arms fire.
Currently, not a single case of use on transport helicopters launchers NAR. At the same time, everyone has onboard PKK or PC (PKM) machine guns.
In May, the Su-25 also worked in pairs, but with an increase in the intensity of hostilities, single attack aircraft began to be used for the BSHU. The C-8 missiles, as well as the FAB-500 and RBC bombs, became the main aviation weapons. There are episodic cases of NAR C-13, C-24 and C-25.
Su-25 was initially struck from 3,5 – 5 thousands of meters, but after losses they went to a height of 5 – 6 thousands. There are only a few cases when attack aircraft performed a dive for maximum efficiency and accuracy of the use of TSA. Basically, strikes are applied after turning to the target from a direct flight, when just before the strike the nose of the aircraft descends on 3 – 5, in rare cases - 10 degrees. This leads to a high dispersion of the TSA, especially unguided rockets, and taking into account the fact that Su-25 is now operating at a height of 5 – 6 thousands of meters, the accuracy of hitting is generally minimal, especially when using NAR. In fact, since mid-July, bombs became the main weapon of attack aircraft. The reluctance to dive at the target can be explained not only by the weak training of pilots. It also speaks of the poor condition of the material part. Perhaps the machine simply will not withstand severe overloads. In particular, many questions are caused by the P-25 engines installed on the Su-95, many of which have not undergone the necessary repairs. Their assigned resource last year was zero.
The Su-24 front-line bombers operated at altitudes from 3,5 to 5 thousands of meters, using both the NAR and FAB-100, FAB-500 and RBC bombs, and in exceptional cases - FAB-1000 and FAB-1500. But after the damage of one of the bombers, the use of these machines was reduced to the maximum. According to some data, no more than 10 departures were made from June to August, this is largely due again to the low technical serviceability of the park. Su-24 remain the only carriers of guided weapons and, most likely, their command saves.
Separately, it is worth considering the management structure of the air units involved in the punitive operation. Their work is led by the Aviation Planning Division at the ATO headquarters. The experience of the USAF in Iraq and Afghanistan is used. In the evening, the squadrons from the headquarters receive the so-called daily orders, which indicate the planned targets and areas of search. Also set the estimated calculation of forces and means and the combat load on the aircraft and helicopters.
The search zones are variations of American killer boxes, when the terrain is divided into special squares, in which, depending on the tactical situation, ground advanced gunners or specially designated aircraft coordinate enemy air strikes. It is believed that such a system is most effective with the direct support of the troops. But the Ukrainian search zones are some squares, where pilots independently determine their targets and hit them, in fact, they are free hunting. In American terminology - free kill boxes.
Sometimes the search zone is still assigned a square, where its troops operate, but this happens quite rarely. In this case, the task of coordinating air strikes against the enemy falls on the headquarters of the battalion or brigade.
The only time that Ukrainian aviation effectively managed to directly support the troops was the fighting at the Donetsk airport.
If we estimate the number of departures for their intended purpose, then 85 – 90 percent will be hit by the planned targets, 5 – 7 percent - by actions in the search zones and only 3 – 5 percent - by direct support of the troops. In fact, by removing the helicopters, the militia deprived the Ukrainian ground units of any support from the air.
Pre-planned targets are chosen by the headquarters of the ATO or the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. Quite rarely, targets identified by ground units and subunits fall on this list. The exceptions were the battles for Saur-Grave. In general, the actions of aviation are routine, minimally satisfying the immediate needs of their troops. The level of interaction between aviation and ground forces is extremely low both at the tactical level and at the operational level. Often you can even hear the opinion that Ukrainian aviation is waging an independent war, which has little to do with what is happening on the ground.
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