Ukraine has seen nine of its combat aircraft, three airlifters and 10 helicopters shot down during the conflict with Russian-supported breakaway factions in the southeast of the country. Most of the aircraft were brought down by man-portable surface-to-air missile systems (Manpads), although some of the helicopters were downed by rocket-propelled grenades.
According to informed sources in Kiev and London, the Ukrainian air force has flown 740 sorties with Su-24, Su-25, Su-27 and MiG-29 combat aircraft during what it describes as “anti-terrorist operations.”
One Su-24, six Su-25s and two MiG-29s have been lost. One of the MiG-29s was shot down on Ukraine’s eastern border by an air-to-air missile fired from Russian airspace by one of that country’s MiG-29s. The downed airlifters were an An-26, an An-30 and an Il-76. The An-26 was shot down by an SA-11 a few days before the MH17 airliner, although not by the same battery. The Il-76 was the second of three transporting reinforcements to Luhansk and was shot down while landing. The first landed safely and the third aborted its approach. The helicopters were five Mi-8/17s and five Mi-24s.
One of the sources attributed the loss rate to a combination of pilots who had no previous combat experience; insufficient training, a victim of budget cutbacks; a probable failure to adopt new tactics quickly; and insufficient intelligence on the threat. He said that some Ukrainian Manpads that Russia captured during its takeover of Crimea had been moved to the southeastern region. More had been captured by rebels who took over government buildings in Donetsk and elsewhere. But most of the Manpads used in the shootdowns had come from Russia, he added.
According to reliable sources quoted by the Washington-based website The Daily Beast last July, Ukraine requested electronic warfare systems from the U.S. and NATO to defend its aircraft and helicopters. The Russian-assisted separatist forces “know exactly what [the current Russian-supplied EW equipment] can do and therefore they can use alternative frequencies and do other things to offset it,” said Philip Karber, a former strategy advisor to The Pentagon. According to the website, the Ukrainian request was not answered because of the sensitivity of the technology, and the fear that it could fall into Russian hands.
Ukraine has complained that the U.S. and NATO have been slow to respond to a long list of equipment that the country needs to fight what one source called “this hybrid war.” The Ukrainian air force continues to fly over the contested area, one of the sources said. “We need political support…the strategic aim of Russia is to control the whole of Ukraine,” he added.