The Russian Air Force just experienced – at least – its second-worst week of the entire war. If high-end damaged and destroyed aircraft estimates are proved accurate, it will have been the worst so far.

Until the week starting Oct. 14, 2023, the most punishing seven days suffered by the  Russian Federation’s air force, by all accounts, came at the outset of the Kremlin’s invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022.

Estimates still vary, but by any measure, losses suffered by the air component of the Kremlin plan at the time, to defeat Ukraine by regime change and blitzkrieg, was devastating.

Over the first week of the war Russian military planners used air forces to hit military bases across Ukraine with the objectives of destroying Ukrainian military capacity and decapitating the civilian government.

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A key feature of the Russian massed air assault was the launch of cargo aircraft and assault helicopters loaded with paratroopers and special forces infantry at a pair of air bases outside the Ukrainian capital Kyiv.

It seems that Kremlin planners expected no serious resistance. But the Ukrainians were waiting and armed with plenty of anti-aircraft missiles.

According to conservative counts, based on confirmed downed aircraft counts, the Russian air force lost at least six combat jets, two cargo jets carrying troops, and eight helicopters of various types in the first week of the war.

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"A Black Day for the Russian Air Force”

Recent combat reports, most, independently confirmed, clearly show that during the last week, from Friday Oct. 14 through Friday Oct. 20, 2023, the Russian Air Force and its airmen have suffered at least as severely.

The worst single day for the Russian Air Force, not just for last week but for the entire war so far, took place last Tuesday, on Oct. 17, following the (for the Kremlin) surprise Ukrainian deployment of US-made ATACMS ballistic missiles tipped with warheads specifically designed to saturate an airfield with cluster munitions.

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ATACMS missiles struck an airfield near the Russia-occupied city of Berdyansk destroying at least nine attack and transport helicopters. Another ATACMS salvo hit an airbase near the Russia-occupied city of Luhansk ruining another five helicopters. Ukrainian military bloggers and open-source satellite imagery widely confirmed the Russian losses.

Russian military bloggers have called the ATACMS strikes “a black day for the Russian Air Force” and “the worst aircraft losses of the war.”

According to some Ukrainian estimates, the actual Russian losses might be as much as double the independently confirmed losses because the cluster munitions carried by the American ATACMS are so numerous, that any aircraft parked on an airfield under an ATACMS strike would almost certainly be hit by multiple bomblets and put out of action.

 

The authoritative Defence Express analytical platform reported, most likely, in that day of Ukrainian missile strikes, at least 20 military helicopters, or about six percent of the rotary wing aircraft in the entire Russian Air Force, were rendered long-term unflyable or damaged too badly to be worth trying to repair.

At the same time, Russian ground forces in the Donbas and Zaporizhzhia sectors have kicked off a new wave of armored assaults, backed by air strikes against Ukrainian positions.

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Aside from punishing ground losses – Kyiv estimated Russian forces lost 55 tanks on Thursday alone – Russian combat jet losses have spiked over the past week, with official Ukrainian sources reporting the shootdown of five Su-25 ground support jets in engagements across the front.

Multiple reliable Ukrainian military sources including official ones have reported the Russian Su-25 losses.

Ukrainian military information platforms in those sectors are reporting a drop-off of Russian air attacks in those sectors, but independent evidence of shot down Russian Su-25 jets so far is thin.

The most compelling is a video of only one aircraft with a similar silhouette falling from the sky reportedly in the Donbas’ Avdiivka sector, following a shot by a US-made Stinger hand-held missile.

But that the Russian Air Force lost at least 14 airplanes each costing probably between $3 and $5 million over the last week is an established fact confirmed by multiple sources. Kyiv Post researchers believe the actual count is likely between 20 and 25 jets and helicopters.

Until the war ends, the actual number of aircraft lost by the Kremlin in the first week of the war, from Feb. 24, 2022, through Mar. 2, 2022, will remain a Russian military secret and guesswork for analysts. 

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But based on information available so far, the losses suffered by the Russian Air Force during the week Oct. 14-Oct.-20, 2023, were clearly at least as bad – and may have been worse.

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