Why is the Russian Air Force so ineffective?

“Technical reasons may also be contributing to the relatively clear skies. The Russian air force has much less experience of operating with precision-guided munitions (PGM), according to Justin Bronk, an air power specialist at the Royal United Services Institute.

In a new paper, The Mysterious Case of the Missing Russian Air Force, Mr Bronk wrote: “During combat operations over Syria, only the Su-34 fleet has regularly made use of PGMs, and even these specialist strike aircraft have regularly resorted to unguided bomb and rocket attacks.

“This not only indicates a very limited familiarity with PGMs among most Russian fighter crews but also reinforces the widely accepted theory that the Russian air-delivered PGM stockpile is very limited.”

Russian Su-34 bombers, little sighted in the war up to now, were seen in action over Kharkiv on Monday in a move described by experts as a more aggressive use of the air force.

Russian aerial surveillance of targets has been patchy throughout the current campaign. 

Satellite imagery from commercial satellite company Planet showed that multiple rockets landed at the Ozerne air base, 100km west of Kyiv, between Feb 22 and Feb 27. However, although at least six strike points can be seen, none are on the main runway or likely to have degraded the ability of the Ukrainian air force to continue using the site.

Russian jets are also thought to lack targeting pods used to spot and identify targets, meaning the ability to correctly identify and support ground forces when they are fighting Ukrainian units is limited. Firing unguided munitions in such situations would increase the risk of hitting their own troops as well as making civilian casualties far more likely.

That means the air force leadership may be “reluctant to commit the bulk of their potential striking power against Ukrainian troops before political approval is granted to employ unguided munitions to bombard Ukrainian-held urban areas”, Mr Bronk said.” Telegraph

Comment: More ineptitude. “It ain’t over ’til the fat lady sings.”


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32 Responses to Why is the Russian Air Force so ineffective?

  1. Racan says:

    The Russians rely on their Iskander ballistic missiles instead for precision strikes.

  2. Sean says:

    I dunno, the Russians took a handful a jets and a 5,000 person expeditionary force into Syria and actually won a war in the Middle East with it. Not at all what I was used to watching the Americans in Iraq and Afghanistan. So I would be wary of using articles from the Western press claiming Russian incompetence, during the single greatest period of anti-Russian sentiment in the West in any of our lifetimes. I see a lot of hopium and copium out there.

    IMO Russia’s main problem will come after the war, just like America in Iraq. I personally don’t expect a significant insurgency, but I do expect massive never ending protests that the Russians won’t know what to do with. If there’s one thing Ukrainians have been good at over the past 10+ years, it’s protesting.

    • Pat Lang says:


      They have no troop units in Syria, never did have. They have airunits operating in a permissive environment, what the call “military police? (Not conscripts) trainers and advisers. We saw the best on the ranch in Syria.

    • zmajcek says:

      If the Russians can crack down on corruption and improve Ukrainian lives then the protests might not be an issue. They, like most people just want to live a peaceful and prosperous life.
      The EU membership will not magically enable them to do so, but I fear neither the Russians will. Tough times ahead for everyone.

    • Polish Janitor says:

      I’m surprised that you don’t know that the Iran-backed ‘resistance front’ (Zainabiyoon, Lebanese Hezballah, Fatemiyoon, and the IRGC’s QF) provided the major part of the ‘boots on the ground’, irregular warfare ops, counter-terrorism etc. in Syria all under the leadership and guidance of Putin. If I remember correctly, several months ago there was this story of scandalous ‘leaked recording’ of Iranian foreign minister Zarif telling one of his aides that Iran’s IRGC under the leadership of general Soleimani was basically operated under the orders of Putin and that the Russian leader had ‘summoned’ him personally to Moscow to prompt the Iranian leader to send IRGC QF in carry out the ground combat role in Syria. Interestingly enough, Mahmud Ahmadinejad was against sending Iranian troops to Syria and so it created bitter animosity between him and Soleimani.

    • Muralidhar Rao says:

      I don’t understand, even Kiev Post is not showing this attack on 17 mile Russian Tank column, I have been watching the MSM news, Yahoo News also there is no mention of the strike drone or otherwise. Very strange

  3. Jimmy_W says:

    The Ruskies sure do love their rockets. Watching Su-30 and Su-35 flying with rocket pods is such a jarring experience for Westerners used to low-drag bombs. (For that matter Su’s and Mig’s lugging high-drag WW2 bombs, too.)

    The article author, and his sources, are making a big mistake thinking that Russian pilots can’t do CAS without PGMs. Rocket fire is accurate enough for CAS. The accuracy limiting factor is more the MANPAD threat the pilots feel.

  4. Patrick Armstrong says:

    The author should spend some time learning how Russia turned dumb bombs into smart bombs.

  5. Leith says:

    Sadly, the Ukrainian SU-27 pilot in your picture, Colonel Oleksandr Oksanchenko aka the “Grey Wolf”, has been reportedly shot down today by an S400 SAM. Zelensky and the Rada honored him with the title of ‘Hero-of-Ukraine’.

    The Russians and Soviets before them have been better with SAMs and AAA than they have been with air-to-air.



    • Eric Newhill says:

      Reports are that Oksanchenko spilled a tumbler of vodka on the control board and shorted out a circuit board in his flight simulator. If they can jerry rig the wiring he’ll be “back in the air” in a few days shooting down myriads of Russian aircraft and becoming an ace another 50 times over.

  6. Leith says:

    Patrick Armstrong may be right about Russian PGMs. The strike on the Kiev TV tower looked impressively accurate.

    On the other hand there are several old reports (with photos) out of Syria that Russian pilots were using Garmin GPS in their cockpit. After that SU-24 was shot down by the Turkish Air Force over Hatay Province there were reports it was using a Walmart-grade GPS for navigation. Are they doing the same now? Is GLONASS not working? Or is there no confidence in its accuracy? I don’t believe the US is degrading civilian GPS or GLONASS over Ukraine, too much danger to civilian air.


  7. Christian J. Chuba says:

    It looks like the Russians need some Iranian consultants. The Iranians did a pretty good job at Al Asad airbase at hitting what they wanted to hit w/missiles.

    Regarding stationary targets like air bases, Russia’s SVP-24 enhance targeting for gravity bombs should be more than good enough. Yes, it’s old fashioned, it calculates air speed, fall rate, wind direction which is WW2 tech but a modern version of it. For things that don’t move, that really should do the job.

    Moving targets, yeah you need PGM. I recall that the Russians had a doctrine of using unguided rockets that would require a direct line of site. It would be more accurate to call it ‘aimed’ rather than unguided but that would be limited in range to be effective.

    I don’t know if the RuAF has actually been ineffective or not. It depends on what Russia is trying to use them for. The best way to judge the effectiveness of the RuAF weaponry would be to see what they were shooting at and how close they got to the target. They might have a strategic reason for avoiding the use of aerial bombing.

    • Christian J. Chuba says:

      I should mention, SVP-24 is tied into GLONASS which makes it much better than anything from WW2. The pilot just has to fly over the target and the bomb will release at the correct moment. That is why I keep harping on stationary vs moving targets. If you know the GLONASS coordinates of something big that cannot move … well I made my point

  8. Condottiere says:

    Even more ineptitude. Lukashenko indiscreetly reveals the invasion of Moldova.


    • Ghost_Ship says:

      The Russian let you see what they want you to see, so Lukashenko’s “indiscretion” was what Russia wanted the world to see. They’ve even given it a name because it is so pervasive, Maskirovka.

  9. Given all the guns being poured in, is it likely there will be a drawn out civil war, that spills out into Europe? With all the encouragement and minimal actual participation, is there going to be blowback for Europe? As the old joke went, the US wants a war with Russia to the last Ukrainian, it just seems the unintended consequences will go in 360 degrees.

  10. TTG says:

    John Merryman,

    It won’t be a civil war. It will be an insurgency, at least in the temporarily occupied parts of Ukraine. If that insurgency is even half way effective, the Russians will never occupy the whole of the country, especially given the Russian military’s demonstrated logistics and rear area defense deficiencies. From unoccupied Ukraine, a conventional war will continue. This is the Ukrainian strategy of national resistance. The Ukrainian military and her Territorial Defense Forces will fight on as they are doing now. In occupied territory, those territorial defense forces and SOF will wage a resistance. That is only recently adopted Ukrainian defense policy, but it’s been in development for some time. The Baltics adopted this national resistance strategy several years ago and it is becoming NATO doctrine. I like it. It’s what NATO should be as a defensive alliance.

    • It does seem there are various groups within Ukraine that do not like each other, irrespective of the Russians. Simply arming everyone to the teeth would seem likely to inflame that, even if the larger geostrategic struggle dies down.
      Then do some of these weapons hit the black market? Do the immigrant gangs, on say, the outskirts of Paris find they can start getting RPG’s and heavy machine guns on the black market. From the police to the wealthy, it might pose serious problems.

  11. Ghost_Ship says:

    More pertinent question. Where is the Ukrainian Air Force?
    One plane flew off to into Romanian air space. Was that the last Ukrainian attack aircraft? The large number of Ukrainian Army unit concentrated just to the west of Donbass, suggests that Ukraine was about to launch an invasion of Donbas. With Ukraine having no air refuelling capability had the air force been concentrated to the east to supply air support for the invasion of Donbas?
    Perhaps the Ukrainian Airforce was destroyed on the ground but western suppliers of satellite imagery don’t want us to see that.
    Perhaps there was so little damage to air bases in the west of Ukraine, as there were no longer aircraft based there but the Russians wanted to warn off other potential users.

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