Russian Air Force Struggling in Ukraine Because of Combat Losses: U.K.

Russia's air force is struggling to support Vladimir Putin's invasion of Ukraine because of combat losses, the U.K. Ministry of Defence said Friday.

In its daily intelligence update, the ministry said Russia is being forced to deploy retired pilots to operate warplanes because of high casualty numbers.

Russia has moved to using retired personnel who are now working as contractors for Wagner, a Russian private military company, to conduct close air support missions, the ministry said.

"Ukrainian forces have announced that the pilot of a Russian Su-25 Frogfoot ground attack aircraft shot down on 17 June was captured shortly afterwards," its latest update said.

"The pilot has confessed to being a former Russian air force Major, who had taken employment as a Wagner military contractor and had flown several missions during the conflict."

The ministry said that the use of retired personnel, now working as Wagner contractors, indicates that the Russian air force likely is struggling to support the invasion of Ukraine with sufficient aircrew, and that this is likely due to a combination of Russia's insufficient numbers of suitably trained personnel and its combat losses.

"Whilst conducting his missions, the Russian pilot reportedly used commercial GPS devices rather than Russian military navigation equipment," the update said. "This likely indicates that Wagner aircraft are older models of the Su-25 and that the Russian air force is not providing Wagner with up-to-date avionics equipment."

Russian Su-25 assault aircraft
Russian Su-25 aircraft fly above Moscow on May 5, 2015 during a rehearsal for that year's Victory Day parade. Russia’s air force is struggling to support Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine because of combat losses, British intelligence said Friday. VASILY MAXIMOV/AFP/Getty Images

The U.K.'s defense ministry said days earlier that Russia's air force has consistently underperformed throughout the Ukraine war.

Russia's failure to consistently deliver air power is likely one of the most important factors behind the Kremlin's "very limited campaign success" in the conflict, which began 120 days ago, the ministry's Monday update said.

Putin's air force has so far operated in a "risk [averse] style," meaning it has rarely penetrated deep behind Ukrainian lines and has not been able so far to "gain full air superiority," the ministry said.

Monday's update said that Russia's air combat training has for years been "heavily scripted and designed to impress senior officials, rather than to develop dynamic initiative amongst air crews."

Russia, therefore, has developed "an impressive roster of relatively modern and capable combat jets" within its air force but has failed to develop the "institutional culture and skill-sets required for its personnel to meet Russia's aspiration of delivering a more Western-style modern air campaign," the British defense ministry said.

"This has led to a greater than planned weight of effort falling to ground troops, who are becoming exhausted; and on advanced cruise missiles, stocks of which are likely running low," it said.

Newsweek contacted Russia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs for comment.