Analysis of Ukrainian Air Force Losses in eastern Ukraine clashes

Dec 02 2014 - 11 Comments
By Jacek Siminski

It’s hard to say how many aircraft the Ukrainian Air Force has lost.

Some reports, especially those on the pro-separatists side seem to be a bit exaggerated but, as Ainonline website reported, on the basis of Ukrainian and British sources, the Ukrainian Air Force has lost 22 aircraft throughout the crisis.

Ukrainian military aviation had not been in a very good shape before the hybrid-conflict with the separatists started, and any losses may be considered to be severe.

The total loss count includes 9 combat planes, 3 cargo planes and 10 helicopters, most of which have been shot down with MANPADS (Man Portable Air Defense Systems) and, in case of some of the lost helicopters, with rocket propelled grenades.

In total, the UAF conducted 740 sorties during the operation, which is dubbed by the Kiev government to have an “anti-terrorist” character.

Starting from losses within the group of combat planes, one Su-24 Fencer, six Su-25 Frogfoots and two MiG-29 Fulcrums have been lost, where one of the Fulcrums was reportedly shot down by a Russian MiG-29.

The cargo planes which have been lost include single examples of An-26 Curl, An-30 Clank and Il-76 Candid. The Curl was reportedly hit by a Buk missile system; the same type of anti-aircraft system behind the downing of MH17 flight (according to most analysts). The Il-76 mentioned above was shot down in Luhansk, and it was a Candid in a flight of three such planes landing at Luhansk at the time. The first Candid made a safe landing, while the crew of the last one aborted landing.

The British sources state that lack of proper flight experience and intelligence data was the main reason for the incurred losses. The ECM systems on the Ukrainian jets have been made in Russia, which means that they were easy to overcome. According to the Polish outlet altair.com.pl, the Western countries were asked to supply new electronic countermeasures, however in fear of these being intercepted by the Russians, they were never delivered.

In the light of the analysis of the potential of the Ukrainian Air Force conducted by Dr Sean Wilson, which has been published in the Polish “Lotnictwo” magazine last year, the above losses may be considered to be significant.

According to Wilson, Ukraine, back in 1992, inherited 3,600 aircraft, including 850 helicopters, out of which 285 assault choppers and 2,750 aircraft, out of which 1,650 were combat planes. Back in 2013 the estimated data suggested that out of these numbers only 200 combat aircraft were in active service and about 70 were combat capable.

At that time, the fleet consisted of 15-20 MiG-29 Fulcrums, 10-12 Su-24M/MR Fencers, 14-18 Su-25 Frogfoots and 16 Su-27 Flankers. 16 MiG-29’s, 4 Su-24’s and 15 Su-25 were to be withdrawn by 2015.

Reports claim that 80 Frogfoots remain in active service and at least 14 are combat-capable. Which may be a significant notion, as the number is almost as high as the number of Frogfoots which were to be withdrawn.

Ukraine also had 66 examples of Su-27 Flankers, respectively 40 Su-27S Flanker-B’s (which are capable of conducting air-to-ground sorties), and 26 Su-27P Flanker-B’s (interceptor variant) and Su-27UB Flanker-C’s (two-seater). 36 of these were to remain in active service, while 16 were to be fully operational.

All of the Flankers are being currently used as interceptors. Modernization of these has been planned, and some examples have been updated before the conflict started.

When it comes to cargo planes, Ukrainians inherited 180 Candid-B transport aircraft, however, not many of these remained active. Two examples of An-30 Clanks were said to be still flying within the Open Skies program. About 20 Il-78 air tankers have been also a part of the post-Soviet inheritance; nonetheless the refueling equipment on these has been removed and maximally 8 of them remained active back in 2013 in a cargo role.

When it comes to the qualitative side of the analysis, the Ukrainian AF undertook several modernization programs for both fighters and attack aircraft. The modernizations included new avionics and navigational systems based on both GPS, as well as on its Russian counterpart – GLONASS.

Still, the Ukrainian Air Force suffered considerable losses during such a limited conflict a sign that the weapons in the hands of the separatists have been extremely effective against Kiev’s combat planes and helicopters so far.

Image credit: Wiki

  • Excellent article! This has been a very confusing conflict and with the mass of propaganda it’s hard to know to decipher a lot, especially with regards to aircraft losses. Thank you for the summary!

  • Roland Lawrence

    So that’s the air force of the popular uprising shooting at the breakaway uprising. Seems fair. I doubt weather the frogfoots are in serviceable condition though. Even the far more modern Mig 29s had to get one hell of a referb to get back into action (reported on this site). Kiev has a habit of not always being strictly honest with the facts.

    • tjohn6041

      Yah, so far, I am pretty sure they have said that almost every loss was to Russian fighters violating their airspace. They were even claiming that for a few hours when that Su-25 crashed on final.

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    If the Ukraine makes it through this, it looks like they’ll have to transition to Western aircraft. I doubt the Russians will be willing to sell them spares, or upgrade their aircraft. If they don’t immediately join NATO, the JAS-39 would be a good match. An excellent aircraft, affordable, and with Sweden still being officially ‘neutral’, much less offensive then if they started operating F-16s. I would be very impressed if the Ukranians made an effort for Antonov to design a fighter for the Ukraine, or if they reverse engineered Mig and Su parts to keep their airforce flying and to reconstitute the hanger queens they have on hand. But that would only buy them another decade or so.

  • BernardP

    Since the Ukranian Air Force is using Russian equipment, I wonder what is their ability to have the required spare parts delivered by Russia.

  • Marco

    Among the losses, Ukrainian authorities clearly claimed that it was
    a Su-25 (not a MiG-29) the one shot down by a Russian MiG-29 (with a R-27T
    missile) fired from Russian airspace …Then they also claimed many other jet fighters were downed by missiles coming from Russian territory not specifying if they were air-to-air or surface-to-air.

  • Foxy

    Any proofs? No? Then cut the NATO propaganda bullshit. The official “inquiry” will deep-6 the incident, as it would be too damaging to the ukies. A BUK warhead can’t “surgically” hit just the cockpit area from below.

    • patofeo

      Except for the overwhelming evidence. Next time, don’t be rude and you won’t look like an idiot.

    • Murf

      Four months later the Dutch have confirmed what any one can think already knew the Rebels shot it down and the Russia was complicit.

  • Jupiter

    How was that airliner (MH17) brought down again?

    The above pic, certainly shows that Kiev-Ukraine had the means…

    And unlike the never recorded footage (as none exists) of a separatist BUK missile launch, the Su-27 (with its formidable R-27 missiles) is clearly… Very real!

  • JanMan

    The folly and stupidity of the Ukrainian people is undeniable to say the least. Whilst they fought and killed their own fellow Ukrainians as well as causing millions of the rest of the population to suffer miserably, the neo-cons in Pentagon and White House are celebrating themselves with fine champagne.