Two major military-related events took place on Russian territories in the last days. The first is the Storm Shadow tactical cruise missile strike at Lugansk and the second is the downing of 4 aircrafts: two search and rescue helicopters and two combat jets the helicopters followed.
Storm Shadow is a sophisticated, European tactical cruise missile, the most important feature of which is its stealth. It is intended for first, disarming strike against the enemy air-defense, command and control and other critical targets.
We now have evidence that those cruise missiles were used together with air-launched decoys, namely US-made ADM-160 MALD. Those are intended to overwhelm the enemy air-defense and allow the stand-off ammunition to get through.
The use of ADM-160 decoys strongly suggests a direct US involvement in planning and supporting this strike. I believe this is the first use of MALD in UA. Last time NATO used cruise missiles to strike another country was in Syria. That time, according to Syrian and Russian sources, they managed to intercept the vast majority of the missiles. No air decoys were used then, which suggests the attack was of symbolic nature. But many in Russia failed to understand this fact. While not having anything compatible themselves, Russian planners created a false narrative of weak NATO airpower ability to operate against an opponent with a modern air-defense.
This time the strike wasn’t symbolic. It was intended to degrade Russian military capabilities. That is why the US-made air-launched decoys were used. After overwhelming the air-defense systems, the Storm Shadow missile(s) managed to get through.
Here is another lesson, by the way. The so-much advertised and promoted “stealth” is only as good as its supporting measures. US and UK military understand its limitation very well, it seems. While I cannot say for sure if Storm Shadow is able to penetrate Russian air-defenses, it is clear the Western military planners don’t believe so. They risked to expose one of their main SEAD capabilities in order for the strike to succeed (and not be humiliated by ~$2.5M worth [according to Wikipedia] Storm Shadow missile being shot down by a ~$70K Pantsir-S missile).
The moral of this story is that Russia was totally unprepared for SEAD/DEAD (suppression of air-defense/destruction of air-defense) missions. It relied of prohibitively expensive but useless (corruption + incompetence) self-defense systems while abandoning the classical (Soviet) tactics and weapons. Now they are forced to use expensive Iranian-made suicide drones and converted cruise and other types of missiles to draw enemy air-defense fire. Up until now there is no solution to this problem seen on the horizon.
Concurrently with a lack of most basic decoys, which by the way were used in Arab-Israeli and other wars more than half a century ago, Russian military is also unable to upgrade its air-defense systems in order to discern important targets from decoys. I believe I talked about the difference between unguided and guided MLRS missiles about a year ago. The technical capability to distinguish between rockets and missiles that are guided or targeted to hit a target and the unguided rockets or decoys that are launched to hide a real threat or make enemy to exhaust its ammo — this capability is present. Radars of air defence systems, even the most basic ones like Pantsir-S, are capable of tracking the targets. The only thing which is missing is the computation capabilities and appropriate software.
Israeli Iron Dome system is able to calculate the trajectory and determine if any given rocket will hit an empty field or a city, and intercept only the threatening ones. This is nothing special even for a system which was developed for cheap intercept cost (similar to that of the Pantsir-S). Here, by “cheap” I mean “affordable” and “sustainable”. On the other hand, Russian military is perfectly happy to discriminately shot down anything that flies, and then sit on their hands after exhausting their loaded missiles, letting the real threat pass through, killing and destroying on each impact.
Meantime, Russia aviation is only able to use makeshift glide bombs against previously-known stationary targets. It is unable to do its main job of supporting the ground forces and to wreak havoc on enemy troops. This is the level of degradation current Russian leadership created.
The downing of four Russian military aircraft is another testimony to the extreme levels of incompetence Russian MoD is managing this war.
First of all, I’m almost certain those aircraft were shot down by UA’s commando units infiltrating into Russian territory with the use of shoulder-launched missiles. The reason is that while Russian air-defence units are still able to keep any enemy manned aircraft from crossing the frontlines, the territorial defenses are in a state of chaos, letting the small enemy groups infiltrate almost freely into Russia.
The second reason is my suspicion that Russian Air Force used the same air-route for its flights across the frontline. There is probably a nearby airfield that is used for combat aviation in that area, and the command cleared an air-corridor for military flights from there into UA. This is just how incompetent military commanders operate — they will not try and predict any problems until they actually happened. Only then they will point fingers and start implementing some half-backed preventive measures for that exact scenario. It is a bureaucratic approach without any forethought or initiative.
As I’ve said, it is only my speculation, a deduction if you will, based on previous events of this war.
What is really frustrating, is that it seems many lives were lost on this occasion. And much less important but still worth mentioning, is that the rate of Russian Air Force loses due to enemy actions and accidents is very significant relative to the number of aircraft Russian MIC is able to produce. We are talking at most one or two squadrons, i.e. 12-24 airframes of a mass-produced model in good year. Especially now, when the prospects of long-postponed fifth-gen fighter jet are looking even worse, the Su-35S are the mainstay of Russian fighter jet fleet. Loosing one over your own territory, especially if it was to a MANPAD ambush, is an infuriating event.
Some may say — so Russians lost one Su-35S, so what’s the big deal? The big deal is they didn’t lose it in all-out war against NATO or a country like China, but to a puppet state which was supplied expired or outdated MANPADS, while the NATO itself hasn’t lost a single aircraft to a Russian military. Russia has to consider the possibility of other countries entering the war, like Poland. The way things are going now, another few sacrificial East-European Slavic countries thrown into a war by atlantists will put Russia in a position of actually losing it, unless escalating to tactical nukes. And with Russian military deterrence being eroded to almost nothing, those scenarios are looking less and less fantastic. It may be acceptable to lose a hound when hunting wolfs or bears, but not when hunting rabbits or squirrels.
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