Georgia Strikes Back With Air Defenses


If the land war in Georgia so far seems to be going decidedly in favor of the Russian army and navy, the Georgians seem to be racking up a lopsided score with their air defenses.

Over the weekend, the Russians made a successful advance on land through South Ossetia to the outskirts of the Georgian east-west transportation hub of Gori. There also was a one-sided naval battle - that resulted in the sinking of a Georgian gunboat - in the Black Sea off the coast of the second breakaway enclave of Abkhazia.

However, Georgian air defenses appear to be taking a steady toll on Russian aircraft. Russia has admitted to losing a total of four aircraft (the Georgians claim 10) in the conflict. So far they've admitted to the destruction of three Su-25 Frogfoot strike aircraft and a Tu-22M3 Backfire bomber that was flying a reconnaissance mission.

Photos from the combat area show the wreck of the Tu-22 and a Frogfoot as well as a picture of the Backfire pilot in a Georgian hospital. The pilot was Col. Igor Zinov, a 50 year-old Tu-22M3 instructor pilot stationed at the Russian Flight Test Center at Akhtubinsk. (See Aviation Week's defense photo gallery for photos.)

"Ergo, the Russians are using their A-Team, as expected," a U.S. analyst says.

Other analysts say the Georgians are probably operating the SA-11 Buk-M1 (low-to-high altitude) and the (low-to-medium altitude) Tor-1M mobile air defense missile systems.

"The Russians have gone to great lengths to try and implicate the Ukraine in the Russian Air Force losses, even going as far as to suggest that an SA-5 sold to the Georgians by the Ukraine was responsible for the Backfire loss," a second U.S. analyst says. "That's clearly not the case, but shows the Russian attempt to bring the Ukraine into the periphery of this event by implication, and to attempt to explain how one of their premier long-range attack assets could have been shot down so easily.

"The Russian press has been making lots of noise about the BUK and TOR systems, and I would say that the BUK is the most likely culprit for all of these aircraft losses," the analyst says. "If so, it points out a major flaw in the Russian plan - not gaining [and] maintaining pure air superiority [and] dominance over the battlespace by taking out the Georgian air defenses and air defense network before they went into the conflict."

Russian-built and designed air defenses are apparently exploitable, as was shown in the Israeli Air Force's total shut down of Syrian air defenses prior to bombing a suspected nuclear site. But Russia apparently has yet to apply the digital keys to unlock the Georgians' network.

During the months before the conflict, the Russians claimed to have shot down several Hermes 450 UAVs (made by Israeli-based Elbit) with fighter aircraft stationed at least temporarily in South Ossetia.

The Russians say they shot down a Georgian Frogfoot outside the town of Eredvi in South Ossetia today. The Russians - in a stunning piece of irony - have twice bombed the Su-25 Frogfoot manufacturing plant on the outskirts of the Georgian capital of Tbilisi.

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-- Aviation Week

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