Boeing wins $474.5 million contract to integrate EPAWSS on F-15JSI fighter jets13 September 2023
The challenges of aerial surveillance in the age of democratizing technology13 September 2023
The planned arrival of F-16 fighter jets in the Ukraine has given rise to differing opinions on their usefulness, but one aspect that is indisputable is the impact on the Russian Air Force. The intensive use of Russian fighter jets has already led to the loss of several of them, and this trend could worsen. This article explores the consequences of this excessive use on Russia, highlighting the loss of resources and future challenges for the Russian Air Force.
The imminent arrival of F-16 fighters in Ukraine has sparked heated debate about their effectiveness in the conflict with Russia. However, there is a less discussed but equally important aspect: the impact on the Russian Air Force (VKS) due to the intensive use of its combat aircraft. As Russia continues to face losses and the depletion of its military resources, this article looks at the potential consequences of this situation.
Resource depletion in the Russian Air Force:
The VKS had around 900 tactical combat aircraft before the invasion of Ukraine in 2022. However, since the start of the invasion, it has lost between 84 and 130 of these aircraft to enemy air defenses, aerial combat and accidents. But these losses are only part of the problem. The intensive use of these aircraft over the course of the war also had a significant impact on Russia’s resources.
The impact of extra flying hours:
In wartime, the total combat power of all active platforms is crucial. However, in a protracted war, it’s the overall sustainability of the military force that counts. And that’s where the VKS currently stands.
According to calculations, the extra hours Russia has mobilized its combat aircraft since February 2022 have effectively resulted in the loss of an additional 27 to 57 aircraft in terms of accelerated wear and tear.
Aircraft service life:
Aircraft have a lifespan determined by the total number of scheduled flying hours, used approximately uniformly over the life of the aircraft, with periodic maintenance and inspection periods. However, the imputed losses mean that Russia has exhausted the life of its aircraft faster than expected. To compensate, it will have to buy more aircraft, increase maintenance, reduce operations or accept a smaller force, or a combination of these measures.
The VKS Transition: From Soviet Aircraft to Modern Flatbeds:
The VKS is transitioning from Soviet-era aircraft to more modern platforms, but almost half its fleet is still made up of updated Soviet aircraft. Newer Russian aircraft are designed for 3,500 to 4,500 flight hours, and even up to 6,000 hours, while Soviet aircraft were designed for 2,000 to 3,500 flight hours. With two years of intensive use since the start of the war, the VKS has effectively used twice its normal annual flying hours.
This over-utilization equates to the loss of around 57 VKS aircraft, taking into account the remaining life of older aircraft. However, these figures do not take into account all factors, such as the exact composition of the VKS fleet and the age of the aircraft, which means that the estimate of 57 aircraft could be understated.
Actual losses and future prospects:
Overall, actual losses could reach around 187 VKS aircraft. If this trend continues, the VKS could lose between 30 and 60 aircraft a year, whether through combat losses, accidents or imputed losses.
Mitigating potential losses:
Russia could mitigate these losses by conducting more frequent and detailed inspections, increasing maintenance, modifying flight profiles and aircraft rotation, and reducing training hours. However, these measures are costly in terms of manpower, time and resources, which are probably already under pressure due to the ongoing conflict.
The Russian Air Force faces a future Ukrainian challenge:
In addition to these losses, the VKS will soon face a different Ukrainian threat, with the arrival of F-16 fighters, reinforced air defense systems and cruise missiles. By devoting more of its weakened force to countering these threats, the VKS will have fewer aircraft to support Russian ground operations. Moreover, its fighters will be less capable after two years of intensive use, making them more vulnerable to an improved Ukrainian air threat.
The arrival of the F-16s in Ukraine raises important questions about the future of the Russian Air Force and the challenges it will face due to the excessive use of its fighter aircraft. Charged losses, excessive flying hours and the arrival of new threats are putting considerable pressure on the VKS. It remains to be seen how Russia will manage these challenges, and what the true extent of losses will be in the years to come.
Fly a jet fighter is the fighter jet experience specialist.