U.S. intelligence analysts say they are suspicious of a new analysis claiming that Russian aviation losses were twice as high – about eight including a fratricide – as reported by the Russian Federation Air Force. The report was written by the editors of Moscow Defense Brief and published by the Center for Analysis of Strategy and Technology (CAST).
A Washington-based rebuttal by those who studied the conflict for the U.S. government puts credence in only one, unreported loss – an Su-24 Fencer.
Analysts on both sides agree that the Russians lost four aircraft: three Su-25 Frogfoot attack aircraft and a supersonic Tu-22M3 Backfire of the Black Sea Fleet. Two Russian airmen were captured and exchanged, and another five were killed (one by fratricide), according to CAST. The Moscow-based group also claim to have identified four additional losses – a Su-24MR Fencer E recce aircraft, another Su-25, a Su-24M strike aircraft and a Mi-24 attack helicopter. Another three Su-25s were damaged but returned to base. Pictures of the last appeared on the internet while the war was still underway.
“I place no faith in the CAST analysis; facts show different,” says a long-time U.S. intelligence official who closely analyzed the Russia/Georgia conflict. “I would add one [aircraft] to the official RFAF stats – a Fencer – but nothing else. We studied this very thoroughly for months after the conflict. The best part of the CAST analysis is the last paragraph – it has at least re-opened the discussion in the RFAF about how to learn from the conflict.”
Russia’s Interfax news agency and British Broadcasting Corp. quoted deputy chief of the General Staff, Col. Gen. (cq.) Anatoly Nogovitsyn, as saying Russia has already provided full disclosure of their losses during the conflict and has nothing new to add. He also denies that “Russian air force planes were shot down by our own air defenses” or that there was a “total absence of co-operation between the Russian army and air force” which led to them conducting separate, uncoordinated campaigns.
The report also refers to a sale by Israel’s Rafael missile company to Georgia of a Spyder short-range SAM that uses Israel’s advanced Python 5 and Derby air-to-air missiles in a surface-to-air role, much as the U.S. exports ground-fired versions of its Aim-120 AMRAAM.
Again, U.S. analysts say CAST has scrambled the facts.
“The version of the Spyder they are discussing is the one sold to India, not the version bought by Georgia,” says the intelligence official. “The Georgian Spyder does not have the Derby or Python V missiles, but rather Python IV. Israel was smart enough to realize the risk of selling a full-up Derby/Python V version to a country that posed a very real risk of losing the system to the Russians [who would capture and reverse engineer the system]. They wisely sold them a dumbed down version of the system.”
Early analyses of the air war between Georgia and Russia made it obvious that Russian forces had not planned or training for a coordinated attack against Georgia’s relatively modern air defenses.
It signaled a new era in that it was the first time that the Russian Air Force, or for that matter anyone else, has battled a modern air-defense system illustrated by use of the Buk M1, a product of the 1980s. Through the invasion of Iraq in 2003, forces around the world have been pitted against weapons designed in the 1950-60s, although often upgraded with digital components. The exception may be new-generation Manpads like the SA-16 which has been used against U.S. helicopters in Iraq and the SA-18. The latter is supposed to be confined to use by Russian Forces, but a number of them have already found their way into U.S. test laboratories via the black market.
After their initial losses, the Russians regrouped and destroyed both of Georgia’s S-125 Neva-M low-to-high altitude (SA-3) SAM battalions, most of the military and civilian radars, and the Buk-M1 and Osa-AK/AKM (SA-8B) low-altitude SAMs.