21 Russian Ka-52s and Mi-8s ‘run away’ after the ATACMS strike

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An aerial image has recently surfaced, revealing the sudden presence of Russian troops at their air base in Taganrog as early as October 31, 2023. The troops appear to have assembled 21 Ka-52 and Mi-8 helicopters at the base. 

These military helicopters are believed to be the same ones that were previously stationed at the airport in the temporarily occupied city of Berdyansk. Before the Ukrainian Air Force’s ATACMS strike on October 17, 2023, they were reportedly withdrawn by October 29 of that year — a timeline that calculates to less than two weeks following the attack. This information was shared by military analyst, Brady Africa, on his Twitter platform. 

While the surfaced photo clearly illustrates the abrupt gathering of the helicopters at the Taganrog base – an area formerly designated for the Su-25SM3 – it does not provide explicit knowledge of how these helicopters arrived there. The image does not indicate whether they were transported by land due to potential damage, or if they were capable of flying there on their own accord. Thus, the method of delivery for these Russian helicopters remains uncertain.

First guess

Working from the premise that the Russian VKS has strategically relocated to Taganrog with machines that are still combat-ready, and considering the matter from a geographical perspective, it seems that the Russians have tactically shifted their assault helicopters to potentially provide auxiliary support to troops in alternative directions. 

When evaluating the geographical reach from Taganrog to Volnovakha—the frontline—it spans approximately 130 kilometers. In contrast, the span from the temporarily-occupied Berdyansk to the frontline, towards Zaporizhzhia, is roughly 120 kilometers. This is noteworthy, especially in the context that the stated practical flight span of the Ka-52 is up to a significant 480 kilometers.

Photo credit: Rosoboronexport

Second guess

Simultaneously, another proposition should not be disregarded. It is believed that the Russian military now intends to leverage Taganrog not just as an additional runway for their combat helicopters, but also as a strategic “logistics hub” for the repair of their military aircraft should new ATACMS strikes by the Ukrainian Defense Forces target opposition airfields. 

However, this is a hypothetical inference, rooted in the fact that Taganrog houses an aircraft repair factory. Notably, it has been primarily known for the upkeep and restoration of A-50 and A-50U radar surveillance aircraft, to date. 

Photo credit: Dzen.ru

To arrive at more precise speculations and deductions, further observations and fresh satellite imagery are paramount, which would depict subsequent “relocations” of Russian military aviation.

How were the Ka-52s damaged in the attack?

Developments sourced from the web indicate a compromised segment of the fuselage in a Russian Ka-52 attack helicopter, was reportedly hit by an ATACMS missile. This information is alleged by Ukrainian analysts, corroborated by disseminated pictures. 

The impacted helicopter was purportedly located at an airfield outside the turbulent area of Luhansk. Species of intelligence derived from space satellites present evidence of a minimum of five enemy helicopters incurring damage. Nonetheless, sequential imagery underlines the extensive intricacies involved in ascertaining the extent of helicopter impairment via outer-space images.  

Upon initial evaluation, one can observe multiple perforations in the helicopter’s hold and exterior body. Yet, a thorough examination provides an alternative story: 

Interestingly, the depicted Russian helicopter doesn’t exhibit any visible signs of burning, disintegration, or other recognizable deformations – facets that remain elusive from a satellite account. Regardless, there are numerous of evidences of M75 cluster submunition fragment accumulation, restricted to a single zone of the cabin, approximately 1.5-by-1.5 meters. 

Photo credit: RT

An examination correspondent to this zeroes in on the cabin, given that the number of such penetrated regions around the engines and the fuel system carries increased relevance. Despite its classification as ‘armored’ in Russian parlance, the Ka-52 is fundamentally constructed from small arms, as stated by Russian aviators in the prior year’s spring. 

This and other similarly damaged enemy helicopters have been designated for factory inspection, where a detailed defect diagnosis is conducted, and faulty components can be swapped out. 

However, such restorative operations require not just additional armor and raw resources but also time. Notably, it is the weather patterns that may emerge as a more significant impediment for the Russian military, given their considerable impact on warfare progression.

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