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Ukraine conflict: MANPADS threat blunts effectiveness of Russian helicopter attacks

A screenshot of a Russian MoD video of a Ka-52 targeting system, showing the helicopter firing rockets indirectly into the air rather than directly at the target as would normally be expected. (Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation)

Video evidence emerged on Twitter on 16/17 March suggesting that the presence of effective Ukrainian-operated manportable air defence systems (MANPADS) is having a detrimental effect on Russian attack helicopter operations over Ukraine.

One such video clip was apparently taken by a Russian soldier on the ground near Popasna, around 65 km west of Luhansk in eastern Ukraine, and shows firstly a Russian Ka-52 and then an Mi-28 attacking Ukrainian positions with rocket fire. Another clip bears the logo of Russian TV channel RT and shows airborne footage of multiple Ka-52s, armed with S-8 80 mm rockets, conducting an attack reported as being near Hostomel and the Irpin River on the northwest edge of Kyiv city.

In both clips the Russian attack helicopters are seen to pitch up their nose before firing their consignment of rockets. While using such a technique would allow the rockets to travel to a greater range, it would be impossible for such attacks to directly target units on the ground.

One explanation for such a tactic is that Russian forces are regularly using indiscriminate fire from multiple rocket launchers on the ground against Ukrainian positions and buildings, so it is perhaps unsurprising that Russian airborne systems are doing the same.

More crucially, however, it is unlikely Russian attack helicopters are adopting such inaccurate, stand-off tactics unless they are concerned about a significant and effective MANPADS threat.

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