In 2008, a military conflict started between Russia and Georgia. The conflict centered on South Ossetia and Abkhazia. They are officially part of Georgia but have separate, unrecognized governments which were supported by Russia.
During the five-day conflict, 170 servicemen, 14 policemen, and 228 civilians from Georgia died and 1.747 wounded. 67 Russian servicemen died, and 283 were wounded, and 365 South Ossetian servicemen and civilians died.
The interesting part of the story is military performances. According to the reports about Georgia;
- Communication was ineffective (troops and HQ communicated by phones)
- Airforce did not fly after the first few hours of contact (substandard training of pilots)
- Navy was sunk in the harbor, and its patrol boats were hauled away
- Logistical preparations were not enough
- Exercises simulating combat against a probable enemy had never been organized
- Organisation of the delivery of 10,000 Georgian reservists was insufficient
Georgian soldiers were unprepared for combat. But beside these, Georgia’s air defense performed beyond expectation. With SA-11 Buk-1M, they shot down a Tupolev-22M bomber and contributed to the loss of some Su-25s.
On the other side, Russia was not so well:
- The Russian communication systems were outdated (some contacts with combat troops made via a journalist-owned satellite phone)
- Without the modern GLONASS (Russian GPS system), precision-guided munitions could not be used
- Russian forces lacked reliable aerial reconnaissance systems
- The use of unmanned aerial vehicles was not authorized
- Su-25 air-to-ground jets did not have radar sights and target coordinate computing
- They did not have long-range surface-to-air missiles that could be launched beyond the air defense zones of an adversary
- Russian Air Force was unable to establish air superiority almost to the end of the fifth day (despite the fact that the enemy had no fighter aircraft)
- Russian troops in South Ossetians often assessed Russian aircraft as hostile
- A total of 6 Russian aircraft were lost during the war: 3*Su-25, 2*Su-24Ms and 1*Tu-22M3 (friendly fire was the cause of the downing of 3 planes)
As a summary, Russian armed forces have emerged from years of neglect as a formidable fighting force, on the other hand, although Russia fought with an unprepared and underdeveloped army, their important deficiencies appeared. Russia fell short of its image of a world-class military power and has to speed up military transformations.
In 2013, in an address delivered on the day devoted to the “defenders of the Fatherland” the Russian president proclaimed: “Ensuring Russia has a reliable military force is the priority of our state policy. Unfortunately, the present world is far from being peaceful and safe. Long obsolete conflicts are being joined by new, but no less difficult, ones. Instability is growing in vast regions of the world.”
Russia’s Deputy Defense Minister said in April 2016 that the military had received some 1,200 ‘new and modernized aircraft’ since 2013—250 new planes, 300 new helicopters, and 700 modernized aircraft. Essentially all the new fixed-wing combat aircraft are modern derivatives of 1980s Soviet-era aircraft: the Su-27 ‘Flanker’ (Su-30; Su-35 and Su-33), Su-25 ‘Frogfoot’, MiG-29 ‘Fulcrum’ (including the forthcoming MiG-35) and the MiG-31 ‘Foxhound’. These ‘4th generation’ airframes outfitted with modern, digital avionics and sensors are commonly referred to as 4.5 generation fighters and lack the intrinsic design features of 5th generation aircraft like the F-35.
So in Syria, everything has changed….
The Russian military power in Syria began in September 2015. An official request made by the Syrian government for military help against rebel and jihadist groups. Russia became an active actor in Syria battlefield.
Russian power in Syria had mainly consisted of supplying the Syrian Army. Shortly after, Russia′s goals expanded helping the Syrian government retake territory from various anti-government groups. Besides helping Syria, the unspoken objective was to disrupt USA influence. Russia quietly declared a districted area in Syria by its military sorties and surface-to-air missiles on stage. S-400s, s-300s, SA-22s and other family members became a nightmare for the region countries and coalition.
Later than “stabilizing the legitimate power in Syria and creating the conditions for political compromise” became the new aim for Russia. Unlike the Georgia, Russian boots were not on the ground so the air power was the most important instrument for Russia to achieve goals and we saw an effective air power in Syria.
During more than 15 months operations 5 helicopters and 3 aircraft lost.
If you compare the “Georgia 2008” with the Syria operations, you will see two different Russia. As you consider, Russian Air Power is a new game changer in the region.
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