Frogfoot in Action
This attack aircraft was used in recent conflicts: to force Georgia into peace, as well as in the combat zones of Ukraine and Iraq. Moreover, according to the Iraqi Ministry of Defence, only timely supply of 15 Su-25 could change the course of events in the confrontation with terrorist groups of the Islamic state.
The Frogfoot saw extensive service during the eight-year war in Afghanistan, flying over 60,000 sorties. Rugged, survivable and maneuverable, the Frogfoot is well suited to low and medium altitude operations in close cooperation with ground forces. The primary advantage of the Frogfoot for operations in urban terrain is survivability. Low flying helicopters proved extremely vulnerable to anti-aircraft guns, man-portable missiles and rocket-propelled grenades.
The faster and heavily armored Frogfoot attacked with less warning and quickly exited the lethal envelopes of the short-range air defense systems. Russian commanders in Chechnya favored the Frogfoot over attack helicopters for close air support in urban terrain.
Frogfoot in Chechnya
During the Second Chechen War [1999-200?], Frogfoot pilots normally attacked from 16,000 to 20,000 feet after visually acquiring the target. Unlike the Fencer, the Frogfoot lacks a sophisticated bombing and navigation system and locating targets in poor weather is very difficult. Frogfoot pilots may fly at lower altitudes, close to the target area, in order to identify the target and features that will help them identify it from medium altitude. During subsequent passes, the Frogfoot pilot uses these visual cues to locate previously the identified targets and deliver his ordnance.
Frogfoot pilots used unguided rockets and bombs for most targets. For point targets, such as mortar positions and bunkers, the Frogfoot pilots employed laser-guided Kh-25ML (NATO AS-10 Karen) missiles, similar to the U.S. AGM-65E Maverick. This missile requires the pilot to identify the target in his display before launching the weapon. The Kayra automatic tracking system then keeps the laser designator on the target. Frogfoot pilots also launched the larger TV and laser-guided Kh-29TE/L (NATO AS-14 Kedge) missiles against high-value targets.
Precision-guided weapons and medium altitude tactics allowed the Frogfoot to operate effectively in areas too dangerous for attack helicopters. Although the Frogfoot proved highly effective at close air support, it was even more deadly in the “free hunt” mission. Operating in pairs, the Frogfoot pilots searched broad areas, often in front of advancing Russian troops, for targets of opportunity. Once the pilots detected a target, they employed cooperative tactics to destroy it while protecting each other from ground fire. Russian Frogfoot pilots destroyed numerous rebels targets during these missions and more importantly, they reduced the rebels freedom to maneuver.
Surprisingly, Russian pilots did not use this tactic during the First Chechen War. However, “free-hunt” missions were not without risk. Chechen rebels shot down a Frogfoot on an armed reconnaissance mission over the village of Tolstoy-Yurt on 3 October 1999. Visually searching for targets was not only risky, it was sometimes futile.
Frogfoot in South Ossetia
When the Russian Air Force was using Su-25 in South Ossetia to prevent the march of the Georgian army equipped with Soviet air defence systems, transferred to Georgia by Ukraine, it lost three attack aircraft, according to official figures. The Chief Designer of Sukhoi, Vladimir Babak, said that after the missile attack on air defence systems during the combat mission three Su-25SM returned to the airport base and will be repaired.
Frogfoot in Ukraine
In the ongoing conflict between Kiev and the unrecognised republics of New Russia, whose armed forces are equipped with various air defence systems, mainly MANPADS of twentieth century production, about 11 Su-25 were reported to be destroyed and 12 disabled.
The Russian military detected a Ukrainian SU-25 fighter jet gaining height towards the MH17 Boeing on the day of the catastrophe. Kiev must explain why the military jet was tracking the passenger airplane, the Russian Defense Ministry said. “A Ukraine Air Force military jet was detected gaining height, it’s distance from the Malaysian Boeing was 3 to 5km,” said the head of the Main Operations Directorate of the HQ of Russia’s military forces, Lieutenant-General Andrey Kartopolov speaking at a media conference in Moscow on 21 July 2014. “[We] would like to get an explanation as to why the military jet was flying along a civil aviation corridor at almost the same time and at the same level as a passenger plane,” he stated. “The SU-25 fighter jet can gain an altitude of 10km, according to its specification,” he added. “It’s equipped with air-to-air R-60 missiles that can hit a target at a distance up to 12km, up to 5km for sure.”
Frogfoot in Syria
Russia's successes on the Syrian battlefield seem to have come as a surprise for those, who thought Russian Armed Forces were stuck in the 1990s. Since the beginning of the Russian Armed Forces operation in Syria, everyone’s attention has been captured by the top-of-the-line Sukhoi Su-30SM Flanker-H fighters and the Su-34 Fullback bombers, but the single most effective Russian aircraft deployed to Syria is the Su-25 SM, or as NATO calls it, the ‘Frogfoot.’ The Russian Defense Ministry released footage on 15 October 2015 of bombs being dropped on targets in Syria. A Su-30 can be seen taking off from the Hmeymim airbase in Latakia. The video then cut to a Su-25, which drops FAB-250 bombs on its targets.
The reputable Su-25SM can become the most effective means to support the Syrian government troops in the fight against the Islamic State and in the support of President Bashar al-Assad. According to one of the representatives of the US Air Force, the Su-25SM aircraft is the best for conducting air-land operations, American magazine The National Interest wrote.
The Su-25 SM, or the ‘Frogfoot,’ is an armored beast of an aircraft with an armored cockpit. The Russian air force has upgraded dozens of Su-25s to the latest SM standard, which includes a glass cockpit, a GLONASS satellite navigation system and modern avionics that would allow for the use of precision-guided weaponries.
While the Su-24 is a good long-range battlefield ‘interdiction aircraft’, it is not particularly suitable for working closely with ground troops at “danger close” distances. However, “the Su-25—like its American A-10 Warthog counterpart—was purpose-built as a close air support aircraft in the tradition of the Soviet Union’s much-venerated Ilyushin Il-2 Sturmovik from the Second World War,” The National Interest reported.
Although ‘Frogfoot’ is a reliable aircraft there is a high-risk of low-altitude missions that Su-25 pilots fly. Although ISIL does not have sophisticated air defenses, it does have anti-aircraft artillery and it is likely that Russian aircrews will have to closely coordinate with Syrian ground forces while flying at low altitudes.
The presence of Syrian ground forces to identify targets should make Russian airstrikes more effective—assuming that Assad’s forces and the Russians can properly coordinate, The National Interest noted. There is almost one hundred percent surety that the Su-25SM will be a key element in the anti-ISIL campaign, with more than a dozen of these aircraft able to provide sufficient frequency of flights to conduct continuous strikes, according to the publication.
In an attempt to predict Russia’s further moves in Syria, US diplomacy expert Robert Farley put forward what he considered“Russia’s five next big moves in Syria”, which are set to come in the nearest days or weeks. “The shootdown of the Su-24 Fencer near Turkish territory demonstrated the vulnerability of the unescorted attack aircraft to modern jet fighters,” reads Farley’s December 2015 article for The National Interest magazine.
The best way to protect the Russian air fleet in Syria, the author says, is to bring in “a tough, heavy attack plane like the Su-25 Frogfoot, which can have an immediate impact on the battlefield. ... With some indication that Russia is about to massively step up its air campaign in Syria, we can be sure that additional attack aircraft, like the Frogfoot, will soon appear in the skies over rebel held territory”.
However, Russia already had as much as 12 of the latest Su-25 ground attack planes in Syria, 12 even more powerful Su-34 (NATO reporting name Fullback) strike fighters and up to 16 Su-30 (NATO reporting name Flanker-C) supermaneuverable fighter aircraft, apart from its existing deployment of Su-24s and Su-27s. From 20 November 2015, the size of the Russian air fleet in Syria was increased to 69 aircraft.
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