WASHINGTON – Russian warplanes sent to Syria to back the regime of Bashar Assad are breaking down at a rapid rate that appears to be affecting their ability to strike targets, according to a senior Defense official.
Nearly one-third of Russian attack planes and half of its
transport aircraft are grounded at any time as the harsh, desert
conditions take a toll on equipment and crews, said the official who
was not authorized to speak publicly about sensitive intelligence
The Russians appear to be having difficulty adapting to the dusty
conditions, and the number of airstrikes they have conducted seems to
have dipped slightly.
"For deployed forces, that's a hideous rate," said
Richard Aboulafia, an aviation analyst at the Teal Group, an
aerospace consulting firm.
Russian President Vladimir Putin deployed warplanes, including
Russia's advanced Fullback ground-attack jet, helicopters and troops
to a base near Latakia, Syria, in September. In addition, at least a
dozen transport planes have been stationed there.
"They could have bad operating procedures, inadequate
supplies of spare parts and support crews," Aboulafia said.
Russia's inexperience deploying forces at some distance, unlike
their military actions in bordering countries such as Ukraine and
Georgia, could also account for problems keeping planes in the air,
"An awful lot of expeditionary warfare revolves around
logistics," Aboulafia said. "A lot of it comes down to
experience. They don't have that much of it."
For U.S. warplanes, readiness rates of less than 80% would attract
attention from top brass, said a senior Air Force commander with
multiple combat deployments in the Middle East. The officer was not
authorized to speak publicly about the matter.
However, the officer
noted that planes break, especially in austere, deployed conditions.
He characterized mission-readiness rates of less than 80% as a matter
of concern, not alarm.
David Deptula, a retired three-star Air Force general who led
planning for the air war in Operation Desert Storm, said the rates
for American fighters in combat zones has been above 90%.
readiness rate of 70% for Russian fighters isn't surprising, he said,
because they lack experience being deployed and have been flying
their jets hard.
He called their rates for cargo planes, "pretty
"If those rates are accurate, it indicates that their
deployed logistics function requires some attention," Deptula
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