Soviet SAM systems shoot down dozens of Sukhois at medium altitude
PANAGYURISHTE ($1=1.89 Bulgarian Levs) — Russia was trapped in March and has been suffering losses in the air ever since. Ukrainian experts, current military personnel from the front, and analysts from the Royal United Services Institute [RUSI] in London provide more clarity.
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At the beginning of the war, in the first hours and days, Russia launched a blitz attack against Ukraine. Not even a full 12 hours have passed when Moscow announces that 18 radar stations and 74 ground installations have been destroyed in Ukraine. In the next few days [a week or two], the Russian air and space forces [VKS] inflict a serious defeat on the Ukrainian air defense. 100 radars were destroyed, experts say, after Russian Su-24 bombers knew their positions in advance. This opens the door wide for Russian fighter jets to fly alone at altitudes of 12,000 feet. The S-300s are ineffective because their radars are out of order.
To buy time for assembly teams on the ground to repair the S-300 radars, Ukraine decided to take to the skies its own remaining limited fighters. That was the moment of the war when both Russia and Ukraine in direct air battles lost each other’s planes. But this was a trap, as it becomes clear today.
Time has been won and the first portable surface-to-air missile systems have arrived from the Allies. At the same time, while Russia is engaged in the air, ground crews manage to repair [as much as possible] the S-300 radars.
Thus, at one point, Russia realized the trap – if the planes fly at a high altitude, they will be subject to radar illumination by the S-300. If they fly at a low altitude, they enter the range of portable surface-to-air missiles. Enjoying the successes on the ground, and occupying new territories, the Russians decided to fly at medium altitudes.
The Russian armed forces are gradually losing ground air support. The time is coming for the so-called artillery war in which both warring armies shelled each other daily, intensely and mercilessly. The ratio is again in favor of Russia – 10:1. If the Ukrainians fire 6,000 artillery shells per day, the Russians fire 60,000. But they are not advancing because there is a lack of air support.
Thus comes the time of Russian fighters, which must fly at medium altitudes. Ukraine then puts in the foreground systems not used so intensively until that moment – the Soviet air defense systems of the Buk-M series.
The tactic is as follows: Ukrainian Buk-M operators engage the systems’ radars only for a short time. In this way, radar illuminates [if there are any in the sky] Russian planes. They fire a missile and immediately shut down the system. They then move the system by concealing it in a forest or fortification. But they necessarily change their location.
It is becoming clear that the Ukrainian armed forces had dozens of such teams, independent on the ground, which carried out these actions continuously. Thus, Russian fighters are now visible at medium altitudes. According to various reports, 35 fighters have been shot down by the Buk-M system using this principle of operation. There was a case, according to Ukrainian Buk M1 commander Yaroslav Melnyk, in which the system illuminated an unsuspecting Sukhoi fighter pilot, who was apparently so startled that he lost control of the aircraft and was forced to eject without the system firing a missile.
A RUSI report stated that the tactic was so successful that the Ukrainians shot down far more than the alleged 35 units of Russian aircraft using the Buk-M1 system. RUSI reports that this forces the Russians to choose the lesser risk of flying at low altitudes and falling within the range of portable surface-to-air missiles, which technologically cannot match the radar capabilities and range of air defense systems. But despite this, Russian planes continue to fall, even flying at low altitudes.
“The results were predictable, with at least eight assorted [Sukhoi] Su-25, Su-30, and Su-34 aircraft downed by MANPADS in one week,” Bronk, Reynolds, and Watling wrote in the RUSI report. In this way, the Ukrainian Armed Forces turned the Buk-M into a tool for new tactical planning.
In addition to its inventory, Ukraine received a donation from Finland of Buk-M1 systems. They have been in storage since the Cold War era, but analysts say they have been very well serviced over the years. I.e. the systems that Finland supplied to Ukraine were ready for war.
September was tough for Ukrainian Buk-M1 batteries. Six systems were destroyed by the Russian Armed Forces. Ukraine is said to currently have around 100 Buk-M1 systems. It is also claimed that Ukraine, with the help of its Western allies, has been able to modernize systems, primarily in the area of fire control. The systems were linked to tablets with digital maps of the location of Russian forces to use these systems more accurately.
Not only Ukrainians and Western experts are talking about the quality of the Buk-M1. The Russian armed forces also praise the system, claiming that with its help they managed to shoot down several missiles fired by HIMARS. For now, however, this is a controversial statement regarding the Buk-M1’s ability to shoot down MLRS missiles. But there is evidence of downed HIMARS missiles as well as unexploded ones.
Most recently, BulgarianMilitary.com published a statement by a Russian operator of the latest Buk-M3 system, who claimed that the system could locate enemy HIMARS if the HIMARS fired several missiles in succession. Then the Buk-M3 radar tracks the path of one of the many missiles fired. The data is then fed to a reconnaissance drone, which accurately transmits the location to HIMARS. This claim also remains unproven.
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