Ukraine Situation Report: Russia’s Ka-52 Attack Helicopter Fleet Has Been Massacred
Ka-52s have taken the brunt of rotary-wing losses during the invasion and their relevance is waning as Ukraine’s air defenses improve.
In the eight months since launching its all-out invasion of Ukraine, Russia has lost more than a quarter of its total in-service fleet of Ka-52 Alligator attack helicopters sent to Ukraine for the war, according to the most recent intelligence assessment of the war from the U.K. Ministry of Defense.
At least 23 of Russia’s Ka-52 Alligator helicopters have been shot down or lost since the Feb. 24 invasion, the U.K. MoD assesses. British officials say that represents more than 25 percent of the Russian Air Force’s in-service fleet of 90 Ka-52s and “nearly half of Russia’s total helicopter losses in Ukraine.” Prior to the war, the Russian Air Force had a total fleet of about 120 Ka-52s, so the loss to the total fleet is still significant.
“Russian attack helicopters have likely suffered particular attrition from Ukrainian man-portable air defense systems (MANPADS), while the helicopters frequently operate with less consistent top-cover from combat jets than they would expect under Russian military doctrine,” the U.K. MoD said. “Russia is still failing to maintain adequate air superiority in order to reliably carry out effective fixed-wing close air support near the front line, and its artillery ammunition is running low. Russian commanders are likely increasingly resorting to conducting high-risk attack helicopter missions as one of the few options available to provide close support for troops in combat.”
Those numbers line up with Oryx, an independent researcher that tracks visually confirmed equipment losses of the war. The site counts a total of 54 Russian helicopter losses since February. Of those, 23 are Ka-52s. Also on the list are 12 Mi-8 Hip transport helicopters, three Mi-24 and five Mi-35 Hind attack helicopters, six Mi-28 Havoc attack helicopters, and five unknown rotorcraft. By comparison, Oryx counts just 15 Ukrainian helicopters visually confirmed lost during the conflict, of which eight were Mi-8s. Once again, these are confirmed losses, there are likely more that cannot be visually confirmed and this does not account for battle-damaged machines that are no longer combat-viable.
Several videos of shootdowns of Ka-52s and other Russian helicopters have been published online. The most recent was the Ka-52 in the video below, downed by Ukrainian air defense systems on Oct. 22, when at least two Russian Alligators were shot out of the sky.
These helicopters have also been worked severely over eight months of perpetual combat operations. What concessions Russia has made in terms of deferred maintenance is also an unknown, but regardless, more will likely be lost to mechanical failure alone as the war grinds on. Also, full mission-capable rates are likely to be impacted more severely over time due to sanctions that have limited Russia's access to high-tech components.
As always, news of the war continues to pour out from all manner of sources daily. Before we get into the details of the last 24 hours, catch up on our previous rolling coverage here.
Author's note: There is conflicting information if the U.K. Ministry of Defense's stated number of Ka-52s in service represents the total helicopters deployed for operations in Ukraine, or if this is an absolute total in-service figure or represents how many helicopters are available for combat operations. Regardless, the difference is quite small, but it is worth noting.
A group of 30 Democrat lawmakers is retracting a letter they collectively sent to President Joe Biden on Monday asking that his administration reduce military aid for Ukraine with “proactive diplomacy for a realistic ceasefire framework.”
Rep. Pramila Jayapal, a Democrat from Washington who leads the Progressive Caucus, released a statement on Oct. 25 saying the letter was drafted months ago and published by mistake.
“The Congressional Progressive Caucus hereby withdraws its recent letter to the White House regarding Ukraine,” Jayapal said in the statement, which can be seen below in its entirety.
“The letter sent yesterday, although restating that basic principle, has been conflated with GOP opposition to support for the Ukrainians’ just defense of their national sovereignty. As such, it is a distraction at this time, and we withdraw the letter,” Jayapal said. “Every war ends with diplomacy, and this one will too after Ukrainian victory.”
Another letter, sent by Russian officials to the U.N. Security Council, also is drawing condemnation. In the letter obtained by the Washington Post, Russia claims Ukraine is attempting to construct a “dirty bomb” using spent fuel at its own nuclear power plants. We explored Russia's dirty bomb threat narrative in detail in this post.
Defense Department spokesman Air Force Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder addressed the issue from the Pentagon podium on Tuesday.
“From a U.S. standpoint, the allegations that Ukraine is building a dirty bomb are false. We have not seen at this time, though, any indication that Russia has made a decision or intends to employ nuclear weapons or a dirty bomb,” Ryder said. “But again, it's something that we'll continue to watch closely. And certainly, as others have said, there would be consequences for Russia, whether it uses a nuclear weapon or a dirty bomb.”
Ryder's entire press conference, during which the issue of Ukraine and/or Russia constructing a dirty bomb arises several times, is available below.
President Biden reiterated that notion on Tuesday when asked if Russia was attempting to execute a false flag operation by accusing Ukraine of constructing a dirty bomb when Moscow was instead planning to detonate such a device as a pretext for using nuclear weapons in Ukraine.
"Russia would be making an incredibly serious mistake if it were to use a tactical nuclear weapon,” Biden said, as seen in the video below. “I’m not guaranteeing you that it’s a false flag operation yet. Don’t know. But it would be a serious, serious mistake.”
Ukraine’s state nuclear power enterprise, Energoatom, which operates all four of the country’s nuclear power plants, said Russia’s statement indicates Moscow plans an “act of nuclear terrorism.” In a statement published on its website, the company suggests Russian engineers at the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant are “carrying out unauthorized construction works on the territory of the Dry Spent Nuclear Fuel Storage Facility (DSNFSF).”
“The Russian military conduct these works by themselves, in secret. Ukrainian personnel and the IAEA representatives present at the ZNPP site are not allowed to the construction site,” Energoatom said in the statement. “174 containers are stored at the DSNFSF, each of them containing 24 assemblies of spent nuclear fuel. The destruction of these containers as a result of detonation will lead to a radiation accident and radiation contamination of several hundred square kilometers of the surrounding area.”
The international worry is that Russian President Vladimir Putin, to save face from the so-far-abysmal performance of his military in the war, could use tactical nuclear weapons to turn the tide in his favor or force Ukraine to the bargaining table.
Pentagon spokesman Ryder said on Oct. 25 that Ukraine continues to push its ongoing offensives.
“While the battlefields will continue to be very dynamic and very fluid as evidenced by what we've seen over the last eight months, it will continue to be a tough fight,” Ryder said. “So, I don't want to speculate about future operations. We do know that the Ukrainians continue to push very hard in their counter-offensive.”
Rhetoric from the Russian side of the conflict has escalated to grotesque levels, with Russian state TV pundits and now Chechen Leader Ramzan Kadyrov threatening extreme violence toward Ukrainian soldiers and civilians. In the video below, Kadyrov threatens to burn Ukrainians alive and declares war against Western "Satanists."
The map below shows the frontlines as drawn on Oct. 25.
This series of maps shows how dramatically the situation has changed in the eight months since the Russian invasion began on Feb. 24.
Still, Russia has wreaked havoc on Ukrainian infrastructure and continues to target power generation facilities. The situation is all the more dire as Ukraine’s notoriously cold winter is rapidly approaching.
President Volodymyr Zelensky recently claimed the country would need $17 billion to rebuild and “to survive,” according to the Kyiv independent news service. One would imagine that is just a down payment.
In Melitopol, a car bomb exploded outside a TV station owned by the Russian-installed leader of Zaporizhzhia Oblast. In the video below, it appears that the white car in the background explodes while parked next to the building. A passing minivan is lucky enough to escape with only its side door blown off the hinges. Car bombs have been used to target Russia's stooge government figureheads since the occupation began.
Armored vehicles and trucks, including T-72M4 tanks donated to Ukraine by the Czech military, were seen loaded on a train headed for the battlefield. Ukrainian officials have been clamoring for more tanks to continue pressing the advantage they have gained during a dual-pronged offensive in the east and south.
Although it is unclear which side developed the drone in the video below, the conflict continues to spawn all sorts of innovative offensive drone designs. This one appears capable of carrying and dropping six mortar shells at once.
While the Russian military may be on its heels now, it isn’t quite as bad off as the photo below would make it seem. The photoshopped image making the rounds on social media shows a World War II-era T-34 tank emblazoned with the infamous “Z,” with which Russian forces mark their vehicles being trucked into combat in Ukraine. While Russia has resorted to pulling aged T-62 tanks out of mothballs to equip its units in Ukraine, it hasn’t yet had to resort to the tank that made its name defeating the Nazis.
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Contact the author: Dan@thewarzone.com