Downing 11 planes in 11 days, Ukraine pushes Russian air force closer to 'death spiral'

The Russian Air Force lost another Sukhoi Su-34 fighter-bomber on Thursday, the Ukrainian Air Force claimed. If confirmed, Thursday's downing would continue an unprecedented "hot" streak for Ukrainian air defenses, the magazine reports. Forbes.

The Ukrainians claim to have shot down 11 Russian jets in 11 days: eight Su-34s, two Sukhoi Su-35 fighters and a rare Beriev A-50 radar aircraft.

But those 11 losses, if confirmed to be true, are worse than they might seem for Russia's under-stressed air force.

It is not clear how exactly the Ukrainians shoot down so many planes. It is possible that the Ukrainian Air Force has assigned some of its American-made Patriot missile launchers to mobile air defense groups that are moving quickly into close proximity not far from the front line, ambushing Russian aircraft with PAC-2 missiles.

But the distance at which the Ukrainians shot down the A-50 last Friday suggests it was a longer-range missile system.

Perhaps a Cold War-era S-200 that the Ukrainian Air Force took out of storage.

It is also apparent that the Ukrainians have moved some of their NASAMS surface-to-air missile batteries closer to the front line. After all, the Russians found – and destroyed with a missile – their first such system near the southern city of Zaporozhye.

VADIM SAVITSKY/RUSSIAN DEFENSE MINISTRY PHOTO

It is possible that the Russian forces' own actions contributed to the increase in aviation losses.

After finally defeating, at incredible cost in men and equipment, the Ukrainian garrison facing a shortage of ammunition in the ruins of Avdiivka in eastern Ukraine two weeks ago, the Russian army in Ukraine is advancing against other Ukrainian garrisons that are also running out of ammunition. thanks to Russia-aligned Republicans in the US Congress, who have blocked further US aid to Ukraine since October.

Sensing an opportunity, the Russian Air Force is flying more sorties, closer to the front line, dropping aerial bombs to push back Ukrainian troops.

"The enemy has overcome the fear of using aviation directly over the battlefield," explained the Ukrainian Center for Defense Strategies, "and although this results in the loss of aircraft, their ground forces gain a significant advantage in firepower."

The Russian Air Force once counted on its nine active A-50 radar aircraft – organized into three “orbits” with three aircraft in the south, east and north – to extend intelligence coverage across Ukraine.

By damaging one A-50 in a drone attack last year and downing two more A-50s this year, the Ukrainians have eliminated a third of this radar coverage and created blind spots where Russian pilots could miss incoming missiles .

The Russian Air Force is losing warplanes much faster than the country can afford to lose.

Russia's aerospace industry, which has been stifled by sanctions, struggles to build more than a dozen new planes a year.

Mounting losses, compounded by anemic aircraft production, are almost certainly adding to the stress on surviving crews.

Russia's "air arm" is not yet in an organizational death spiral. But it's getting close to it.

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