Attrition: Another Suspicious Crash In Russia


August 13, 2010:  On August 8th, a Russian Su-25 ground attack aircraft crashed during a training exercise in Siberia. The cause of the crash was not given, but the Russian Air Force promptly grounded all 200 of its Su-25s until it could be confirmed that the crash was not because of a flaw common to all Su-25s. Normally, the Su-25 is a sturdy and problem free aircraft. One was lost 17 months ago, when an 80mm unguided rocket the aircraft had just launched, exploded prematurely, causing the aircraft to crash. That was not a flaw in the aircraft, but in the munitions. Only two Su-25s have been lost in the last three years. But other Russian aircraft have had problems. MiG-29s have been grounded several times.

The Su-25 is similar to the American A-10. The single seat, 20 ton Russian aircraft carries up to 4.4 tons of missiles and bombs, in addition to a 30mm cannon. The most recent versions are also equipped with electronic countermeasures and a fire control system that can handle the latest Russian air-to-ground missiles and smart bombs. The Su-25 entered service in 1981, and can operate over a thousand kilometers from its base, if it uses drop tanks. About a thousand were built, and the Russia still has about 200 in service. About ten other countries operate some of them as well.

The Su-25 gained considerable combat experience in Afghanistan and Chechnya. The aircraft was considered a success, and pilots liked it. But there was room for improvement. After operations in Georgia two years ago, Russia moved forward more quickly to equip all of its Su-25s to carry smart bombs. Russian aircraft manufacturers had developed such upgrades for the Su-25 a decade ago, but the air force did not want to spend the money on implementing the new features.

The Su-25 was heavily used during the 2008 Georgia fighting, and it was clear that using dumb bombs caused too many Su-25s to be lost to ground fire (missiles and guns). The fighting in Georgia showed that for these "little wars," it was critical to have reliable bombers and precision weapons. While Russia has developed a wide array of GPS and laser guided missiles and bombs, they have bought few of these for their own troops, and provided even less opportunity for the air force to even use the stuff for training. As a result, most of the bombs dropped in Georgia were of the dumb variety. If smart bombs had been used, far fewer aircraft would have been exposed to ground fire and Georgian anti-aircraft missiles. This has led to increased production of smart bombs, and training Russian pilots in their use. The Russians have the American and NATO experience with smart bombs in Iraq and Afghanistan to fall back on as well. The success there was not just an American thing, now it's a Russian thing also.






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