WASHINGTON – Russian warplanes sent to Syria to back the regime of Bashar Assad are breaking down at a rapid rate that appears to be affecting their ability to strike targets, according to a senior Defense official.
Nearly one-third of Russian attack planes and half of its transport aircraft are grounded at any time as the harsh, desert conditions take a toll on equipment and crews, said the official who was not authorized to speak publicly about sensitive intelligence matters.
The Russians appear to be having difficulty adapting to the dusty conditions, and the number of airstrikes they have conducted seems to have dipped slightly.
"For deployed forces, that's a hideous rate," said Richard Aboulafia, an aviation analyst at the Teal Group, an aerospace consulting firm.
Welcome to the sandbox, Ivan.
"An awful lot of expeditionary warfare revolves around logistics," Aboulafia said. "A lot of it comes down to experience. They don't have that much of it."
For U.S. warplanes, readiness rates of less than 80% would attract attention from top brass, said a senior Air Force commander with multiple combat deployments in the Middle East. The officer was not authorized to speak publicly about the matter. However, the officer noted that planes break, especially in austere, deployed conditions. He characterized mission-readiness rates of less than 80% as a matter of concern, not alarm.
It would be a matter of concern to generals. From the wing king it'd be an irritant. For the maintenance group commander, a migraine. For everyone down the chain, a Hollywood-style nuke with a convenient digital counter at 00:02.
U.S. pilots and aircraft have flown combat missions in the Middle East almost continuously since the first Gulf War. They struck Saddam Hussein's forces to push them from Kuwait, patrolled no-fly zones in Iraq for more than a decade, and fought wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Last year, they returned to strike Islamic State militants on the ground in Iraq and Syria.
Do not forget, please, that with experience also comes mileage.