Ukrainian forces destroyed three Russian Ka-52 attack helicopters this week alone.
One video circulating around social media shows the moment a helicopter gets shot down.
A former US general told Insider that the incident highlights the inexperience of Moscow’s pilots.
A new video shared by multiple open-source intelligence accounts appears to show the moment a Russian Ka-52 attack helicopter was shot down over Ukraine on Thursday. It is one of several aircraft Kyiv’s forces have taken credit for destroying this week.
Russian forces have benefitted from its Ka-52s for much of the ongoing Ukrainian counteroffensive, using them to inflict damage on enemy ground forces lacking adequate protection. But the recent incident captured on video, which shows the helicopter flying at an altitude that leaves it vulnerable to ground-launched missiles, seems to hint at the inexperience, incompetence, and inability to learn critical lessons plaguing Moscow’s pilots, a retired US Army general said, telling Insider he “couldn’t believe” the way they were flying.
Ukrainian forces have found success this week in downing the formidable Ka-52, which is Russia calls the “Alligator” and NATO calls the “Hokum-B.” Ukraine’s defense ministry said on Monday that an anti-aircraft missile unit downed a Ka-52 in the eastern Donetsk region, and then the military said on Thursday that it eliminated two of the helicopters during separate engagements in the occupied Zaporizhzhia and Donetsk regions.
After the two Ka-52s were shot down on Thursday, a video of one of the incidents surfaced on social media.
Shaky footage shows two helicopters in flight just before one of them appears to take a hit from an unclear projectile. The aircraft, identified as a Ka-52, then plummets down into the ground, presumably bursting into flame and filling the sky with smoke, while the other one — which couldn’t immediately be identified — quickly flees the scene.
Some observers suggested that the helicopter was downed by surface-to-air missiles known as Man-Portable Air Defense Systems, or MANPADS.
Ben Hodges, a former lieutenant general who headed US Army Europe, told Insider that when helicopters are up against effective short-range air-defense systems, they “are going to get killed” if they’re not operating either very low to the ground or flying at a high enough altitude to evade the threat.
It’s not immediately clear exactly what weapon was used to down the Ka-52 in the video. Several countries have outfitted Ukraine with short-range MANPADS, including the US, which has committed over 2,000 Stingers to Kyiv’s military. These weapons boast an impressive range of 15,000 feet and use an infrared seeker warhead to threaten nearly any aircraft that operates below 12,000 feet. They were also used by Afghan guerrillas to defend against invading Soviet forces in the 1980s.
Ukraine also operates the laser-guided Swedish RBS 70, which are resistant to jamming tactics.
After watching the recent footage of the downing of the Ka-52, Hodges said he “couldn’t believe it” that after nearly 18 months of full-scale war in Ukraine, Russian “pilots would be flying around at that altitude in broad daylight — it’s not surprising that one of them would have been shot down.” He said that while it’s unclear what sort of tactical decisions the pilots may have been making, it seems as though “they still have not internalized the hard lessons learned, that you fly like that — you’re going to be shot down.”
“I think it’s probably more of a matter not of arrogance, but of inexperience, that they are still not internalizing what they should have learned by now,” Hodges said. “And I think that’s probably a little bit of a culture thing, as well as the fact that Russians have lost a lot of pilots,” potentially indicating that more experienced pilots are in short supply.
The exact number of pilots lost over the course of the war is unclear, as Russia works tirelessly to conceal and downplay its battlefield casualties in Ukraine.
An independent analysis by the BBC Russian Service and Mediazona estimates that 176 Russian military pilots had been killed as of late July. Insider was unable to verify the figure, but the exact death toll may be higher. According to open-source intelligence site Oryx, Moscow has lost nearly 200 crewed aircraft — including over 100 helicopters — and over 280 unmanned drones.
Among Russia’s helicopter losses are at least 41 Ka-52s — praised as formidable gunships armed with 30 millimeter cannons and anti-tank guided missiles. Though Russia previously kept them away from the front, these aircraft became much more active along the forward lines in parts of southern Ukraine earlier this summer and has used them to threaten Ukrainian ground forces throughout the counteroffensive.
Britain’s defense ministry said in late July that Russia’s Ka-52s were “one of the single most influential Russian weapon systems” in the southern Zaporizhzhia region, which is one sector where Ukrainian forces have been conducting offensive operations. It said these aircraft had “imposed a heavy cost on Ukraine.”
But Ukraine’s front-line forces have notched several victories against these capable helicopters, downing three in the past week alone. And while the losses seem to hint at Russian weaknesses, they also speak to the Ukrainian military’s ability to adapt its tactics.
Andriy Yermak, the head of Ukraine’s presidential office, argued on Thursday that while it can shoot down these aircraft, Russia shouldn’t even be able to produce the aircraft because they rely on foreign components from unspecified countries in the West and in Asia. He wrote in a Telegram post that there needs to be tougher sanctions against Moscow so it can’t access the parts it needs to build the helicopters.
“Shooting down the Ka-52 is great,” he said. “But it is much better to deprive Russia of the ability to produce it.”
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