Attrition: Jet Fighter Attrition in Ukraine


June 23, 2024: Since early 2022 Russia has lost 562 military aircraft, with 415 of them destroyed and 147 captured on the ground by Ukrainian troops early in the war. In addition Russia has lost over 300 helicopters, most of them early in the war. The heavy helicopter losses prompted Russia to rarely use helicopters inside Ukraine. Most of the combat aircraft lost have been the two seat 39-ton, twin engine Su-34s and single seat 34-ton, twin engine Su-35s. The more expensive Su-34s and Su-35s have been built in small numbers, about 260 aircraft altogether. These aircraft are expensive and time consuming to build. The economic sanctions imposed on Russia after the 2022 invasion, slowed but did not stop construction of Su-34’s and Su-35’s. Russia still had several hundred 15-ton, twin engine MiG-29s when the Ukraine war started in 2022. Ukraine had 70 but not all were operational. A year later Ukraine had fifty of the Soviet era fighters MiG29s operational and by 2024 it was sixty.

The MiG-29 first entered service in the 1980s and half the 1,600 built so far are still in service in 2024. Russia has about 200 of these 800 MiG-29s while Ukraine has about fifty. Ukraine is awaiting the delivery of sixty or moreF-16s from European NATO nations and intends to eventually replace all their Mig-29s with F-16s, which have superior sensor and fire control systems.

Russia, after suffering heavy losses to Ukrainian air defenses early in the war, rarely enters Ukrainian air space anymore. Russian aircraft now mostly use GPS- guided glide bombs launched from the Russian side of the Ukraine border. Early on, Ukraine received western air defense weapons from NATO countries and these were very effective against Russian warplanes. Another problem was the loss of a Russian A-50 AWACS aircraft in 2023. That removed any Russian ability to monitor aircraft activity over Ukraine. Meanwhile NATO nations operated their AWACs in the Black Sea and close to the Ukrainian border to keep the Ukrainian military informed of Russian air activity.

The increased surveillance of the growing number of NATO supplied air defense systems in Ukraine forces Russian warplanes to stay out of Ukraine, and even launching glide bombs from inside Russia is now dangerous because Ukraine uses that to justify using their surprisingly effective long-range UAVs to attack economic targets deep inside Russia. Some of these attacks take place near Moscow and the even more distant St Petersburg.

Meanwhile Russia manages to keep production of military aircraft going despite the sanctions. This is being done by establishing a smuggling network of components needed to build more Su-34, Su-35 and MiG-29 aircraft.




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