Attrition: Russians Went Blind Into Georgia



September 22, 2008: More information is coming out of Russia describing the problems troops encountered when they invaded Georgia last month. It turns out that the Russians lost eight aircraft (four Su-25s, two Su-24s, one Tu-22 and one Mi-24 helicopter.) The Russian pilots were not prepared to deal with the three batteries of SA-11 anti-aircraft missile systems the Georgians had bought from Ukraine last year. There is now more work being done on countermeasures, and training pilots to cope.

Another unanticipated problem was the unreliability of the Russian navigation satellites. Russia's answer to GPS, GLONASS, was at full strength (24 satellites) shortly after the Cold War ended (1995). But the end of the Cold War meant the end of the regular financing for GLONASS. Maintaining the system meant launching replacement satellites every 5-7 years. By the end of 2002, only seven GLONASS birds were still operational. However, a series of launches in 2003 increased the number of active satellites to twelve, and that went to 18 by the end of 2007. Russia plans to put eight more GLONASS satellites in orbit this year. That would expand the system to 24 navigation satellites. Russia plans to have the system fully operational next year. Right now, it is active for most of Russia, but not, it turned out, in Georgia. Aircraft and ground forces got lost, and that led to more losses. The GLONASS problems also prevented use of Russian smart bombs with much effectiveness. The government is already planning to replace the current GLONASS satellites with 30 second generation birds by 2011.