Russia’s helicopter shortages getting bad to worse each day, thanks to RBS-70 and ATACMS

Russian President Vladimir Putin operates a Mi-171A2 helicopter flight simulator in the east Siberian city of Ulan-Ude on March 14, 2023. Ukraine said Tuesday that it carried out nighttime attacks on two Russian military airfields in Russia-occupied regions, destroying nine Russian military helicopters. Getty Images/Mikhail Metzel/Sputnik/AFP

Kyiv said Tuesday that it carried out nighttime attacks on two of Moscow’s military airfields in Russian-occupied regions of Ukraine, destroying nine helicopters.

The strikes on Russian targets in eastern and southern Ukraine—which used longer-range ballistic missiles fired from Army Tactical Missile Systems (ATACMS) donated by the U.S., according to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky—deal a blow to Moscow’s air assets.

According to British intelligence, Moscow had 899 helicopters at the beginning of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. According to the latest figures from the General Staff of Ukraine’s Armed Forces, since the war began, Moscow has lost 423 helicopters.

According to experts at Global Defense Corp, most of Russia’s helicopter losses are attributed to the use of Swedish-made RBS-70 and now US-made ATACMS.

Estimates of military casualties in the conflict vary widely, with figures provided by Kyiv usually outstripping those given by its Western allies. Russia rarely releases figures on its own troop losses, but when it does, its estimates are far lower than those of Ukraine.

Dutch open-source intelligence defense analysis website Oryx has visually confirmed that Russia has lost 423 helicopters since the start of the conflict in Ukraine. It said that 391 have been destroyed, 13 have been damaged, and two have been captured.

According to data compiled by Newsweek in August, more than a fifth of Russia’s known manned aircraft losses since Moscow launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine have not been due to enemy action.

Between February 24, 2022, and August 17, 2023, 48 percent of Russia’s verified manned aircraft losses, which includes jets, helicopters and transport aircraft, were blamed on system malfunctions, pilot errors, friendly fire or other incidents not related to direct combat against Ukraine.

Air Chief Marshal Sir Rich Knighton, the head of the RAF, assessed in July that Moscow’s air force “remains largely intact.”

The Institute for the Study of War, a U.S.-based think tank, said in its latest analysis of the conflict on Tuesday that the Ukrainian ATACMS strikes on Moscow’s airfields in Ukraine’s Luhansk region and the port city of Berdyansk will likely prompt the Russian command to disperse aviation assets and withdraw some aircraft to airfields further from the front line.

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