Research article
Issue: № 6 (96), 2020


Научная статья

Гагин В.В.¹, Поталуй В.В.², Ширшикова Е.А.³*

1 ORCID: 0000-0003-4903-5418;

2 ORCID: 0000-0002-2076-3967;

3 ORCID: 0000-0003-0542-1464;

1, 2, 3 ВВА им. проф. Н.Е. Жуковского и Ю.А. Гагарина, Воронеж, Россия

* Корреспондирующий автор (ekaterinaaleksandr[at]


В статье проведен анализ боевого опыта ВВС СССР в период войны в Афганистане в 1979-1989 гг., а также сравнение некоторых основных способов ведения боевых действий в Афганистане и в Сирии. Целью исследования является анализ боевого опыта, приобретенного тогда Военно-воздушными силами и его применение в современных конфликтах. Особое внимание уделяется изучению вопросов взаимодействия и управления. В статье сделаны выводы о необходимости выбора эффективных решений выявленных проблем, что подразумевает планомерную работу на всех уровнях на базе анализа боевого опыта.

Ключевые слова: ВВС, тепловые ловушки, поисково-спасательные операции, поддержка с воздуха, военный опыт, боевые потери.


Research article

Gagin V.V.¹, Potaluy V.V.², Shirshikova E.A.³*

1 ORCID: 0000-0003-4903-5418;

2 ORCID: 0000-0002-2076-3967;

3 ORCID: 0000-0003-0542-1464;

1, 2, 3 N.E. Zhukovsky and Y.A. Gagarin Air Force Academy, Voronezh, Russia

* Corresponding author (ekaterinaaleksandr[at]


The article analyses the combat experience of the USSR Air Force during the war in Afghanistan in 1979-1989, and the comparison of some methods of conducting military operations in Afghanistan and Syria is made. The aim of the study is to analyze the combat experience acquired by the Air Force and its application in modern conflicts. The special attention is paid to studying the issues of interaction and management. The conclusion about the necessity of choice of effective solutions to the revealed problems is made, which implies coordinated interaction at all levels using the analysis of combat experience.

Keywords: Air Force, decoy flares, search and rescue operations, air support, military experience, combat losses.

In this paper, we will mainly consider recommendations and suggestions related to the combat experience of army and front-line aviation. These suggestions refer to some innovations, caused by the analysis of losses during conflicts. Innovations included the crew protective equipment, air vehicles design and armament. Also due to the experience of the conflict in Afghanistan certain warfare methods were worked out.

In terms of tactics for the use of helicopters based on the experience of large-scale combat use of rotary-wing aircraft in the Air Force 40A (the 40th Army) and 73AF (the 73rd Air Force) in Afghanistan, conclusions and suggestions for its improvement were made.

Analysis of losses in Afghanistan confirmed that, first of all, it is necessary to protect the crew and the vehicle. Installation of the inside lateral armored glass was unsuccessful: the visibility deteriorated and the useful volume of the cabin decreased. Proposed in 1980 the helicopter pilot's protective kit, real steel armor, was also rejected for cumbersome and exorbitant weight. Crews only occasionally used bulletproof vests and protective helmets ZSh-3B, criticizing them for their heavy weight, during the maneuver, this three-kilogram sphere simply turned their heads to one side (later more convenient titanium ZSh-5B appeared). Previously popular light blue coveralls were removed from the equipment. In case of fire on board the synthetics melted in their fabric and tightly stuck to the skin. In 1984, instead of them helicopter pilots were the first in the Air Force to receive camouflage suits, which provided extra protection in case of an emergency landing. In this case, in order to survive until the arrival of the search group, a machine gun was taken into flight (the most prudent pilots fastened it with straps to the thigh or hung under the arm, so as not to lose when jumping with a parachute), and PM pistols were substituted with more reliable and powerful TT pistols and APS (Stechkin automatic pistol). A set of wearable emergency stock was sorted out, leaving a couple of bars of chocolate and a flask of water out of the entire ration, the empty space was occupied by magazines and 4 RGD-5 grenades.

For protection against MANPADS (Man-Portable Air Defense System), using heat seeking warheads, ejectors (release mechanism) appeared on the nozzles of engines (the rear part of an engine), which became mandatory only since 1983, when the threat of MANPADS became tangible. Since 1987, ASO-2V infrared decoy flares, designed to mislead heat-seeking missiles, have been installed in blocks of three in the fuselage behind the wing in different directions to create a wide plume of decoy targets behind the helicopter [9].

During the combat missions in Afghanistan, experience in preventing losses was gained. A wide range of recommendations was developed, the need to follow which remains obvious today, 30 years after the end of the war in Afghanistan. This complex includes the selection of possible safe routes for reaching the target from directions not covered by air defense systems, and conducting an attack for a minimum time. Flight to the target and back is carried out on different routes at an altitude of not less than 2000 m above sea level considering the terrain. In hazardous areas, pilots need to monitor possible launches of MANPADS, going towards the sun or dense clouds. During takeoff and landing, when the aircraft have low speed and lack of maneuverability, they should be covered by helicopters patrolling the area around the airfield. All strikes are delivered at the first attempt, without repeated attacks. In addition, since the Soviet forces were supposed to counteract the aircraft of the Western powers and neighboring China, Iran and Pakistan, fighter aircraft were sent there. Among other combat missions, they were involved in the destruction of foreign aircraft and helicopters if they crossed the state border of Afghanistan and covered the sides of the attack and bomber aircraft of the 40th Army and the Air Defense Forces.

The main technical means of protecting aircraft were infrared decoy flares. Since 1985 all types of aircraft and helicopters used in Afghanistan were equipped with them. In the area of the enemy air defense, as well as during take-off and landing, the pilot ejected decoy flares that distracted different types of MANPAD missiles (including those of the Soviet Strela-2 family) [10]. Combat sorties of planes and helicopters not equipped with such protection were not allowed.

In Syria, these rules were violated in at least four cases, resulting in the military losses of the Russian Air Force. On November 24, 2015, the Russian Su-24M front-line bomber was shot down by an AIM-9X Sidewinder air-to-air missile launched by the Turkish F-16C fighter on the border with Turkey [6]. Russian bombers took off without fighter cover. In fact, the Russian crew hardly knew that the armament of the Turkish F-16 was aimed at their plane. Given the fact that the Russian bomber was supposed to fly near the border with Turkey (which had already made claims about the similar actions of the Russian Air Force and warned of its intention to react harshly to them in the future), its escort must have taken place [3]. Similarly, in the airspace of the DRA near the border of Pakistan on August 4, 1988, the Su-25 attack aircraft piloted by A. Rutskoy was shot down by the F-16 of the Pakistani Air Force.

The same mistake was made just a few hours after the incident with the Russian Su-24M. Mi-8 helicopters sent for a search and rescue operation to the alleged location of the co-pilot flew there also without a combat air patrol. According to Afghan experience, Mi-8 multipurpose helicopters should be accompanied by Mi-24 attack helicopters, whose task is to suppress enemy fire. It can be assumed that it was precisely due to the lack of necessary support that the enemy was able to take advantage of the ATGM installation and shoot down one of the Mi-8 helicopters, which resulted in the death of another Russian military [3].

Another example is the combat mission of the Russian Su-25SM attack aircraft, shot down on February 3, 2018 over the Syrian province of Idlib, whose pilot major R. Filipov heroically died on the ground, surrounded by the militants [1]. Close air support aircraft was used to perform reconnaissance mission instead [5]. Moreover, judging by the video recording, the flight was carried out at a low altitude and without using decoy flares. By the way, in the footage of the July 8, 2016 of shooting down the Mi-35M attack helicopter with a MANPAD missile launched by militants in the Syrian province of Homs, it is also not visible that Russian aircraft activated decoy flares [7].

In both incidents with Russian aircraft, the fact that their catapulted crews were not supported by emergency search and rescue services attracts attention. As a rule, in such cases in Afghanistan, the pilots of a pair of aircraft tried to cover the downed pilots until they were evacuated by search and rescue helicopters. Typically, these helicopters should be permanently located outside the affected area near the combat operations area, keep in constant contact with the command and control center and take measures to minimize flight time. In the case of the crash of major Filipov’s plane, the pilot of the second aircraft (as reported in the Russian media) did everything in his power, but the rescuers did not manage to get in time. According to the explanations of one of the experts of the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation, they had to move by land transport rather than use helicopters, which in the area with the enemy’s active groups was extremely dangerous [4].

Another measure worked out in Afghanistan in order to prevent losses from enemy MANPADs was the obligatory take-off and landing according to the "shortened scheme". At take-off an aircraft climbed using afterburner (allowing it to get maximum power) in a spiral, while constantly remaining within the patrol zone around the airfield until it reached a safe flight level. When approaching, a rapid descent ("gradient landing") should have been used with the obligatory (as on take-off) use of decoy flares. However, this "gradient landing", also called the "Afghan approach", was quite complicated and required highly qualified piloting [8]. Nevertheless, this maneuver was practiced in other branches of aviation, including military transport aviation. Apparently, the "Afghan approach", the implementation of which is unusual for most pilots and requires special training, is used in the Russian AF and during the current Syrian campaign. It is possible that the accident that occurred on March 6, 2018 at the Khmeimim air base during the landing of An-26, which killed 39 people, is connected with its implementation. According to some experts, the pilot could incorrectly calculate the vertical landing speed, and the engine power was not enough to provide the necessary deceleration close to the ground [2].

To sum up, a professional approach to choosing effective directions for solving a long-overdue problem implies coordinated and systematic work at all levels based on a comprehensive analysis of the invaluable combat experience of Afghanistan and Syria. That experience resulted in creating certain safety rules in order to minimize human and material losses. However, in practice these rules were not always followed and even violated, which led to deaths of the personnel.

Конфликт интересов Не указан. Conflict of Interest None declared.

Список литературы / References

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