Home Cold War Era The Story of Alexander Rutskoy the Soviet Su-25 Pilot that was Shot Down twice in Afghanistan (one By Pakistani F-16s)

The Story of Alexander Rutskoy the Soviet Su-25 Pilot that was Shot Down twice in Afghanistan (one By Pakistani F-16s)

by Dario Leone
The Story of Alexander Rutskoy the Soviet Su-25 Pilot that was Shot Down twice in Afghanistan (one By Pakistani F-16s)

Although the Su-25 pair attempted defensive manoeuvring, spiralling towards the ground after detecting that they had been ‘painted’ by the F-16’s search radar, Rutskoy’s aircraft took a hit from an AIM-9L Sidewinder AAM…

The formidably armed, armoured and very agile Sukhoi Su-25 ‘Frogfoot’ attack aircraft has served with distinction in Afghanistan.

Su-25s were in Afghanistan as a direct result of Soviet intervention in the country’s civil war in late 1979.

As told by Alexander Mladenov in his book Su-25 ‘Frogfoot’ Units in Combat, by May 1981 80th OShAP (Otdel’niy Shtunnovoy Aviatsionniy Polk — Independent Attack Aviation Regiment) had a fleet of 11 production-standard Su-25s and one experimental aircraft, the T8-6, equipping one squadron, these jets receiving consecutive serials from 01 through to 12. After the unit had completed the flight training component of the conversion-to-type course, the VVS command authorities had ordered the formation of a new squadron-size independent combat unit for permanent deployment to the Afghan war theatre. Designated 200th OShAE (Otdel’naya Shturrnovay Aviatsionnaya Eskadrilya — Independent Attack Aviation Squadron), it was staffed by trained personnel drawn from 80th OShAP and commanded by Lt Col Alexander Afanasyev. The unit also inherited the 12 Su-25s originally taken on strength by the regiment.

The newly formed independent squadron and its entire fleet of Su-25s (plus two Su-17UM3 swing-wing two-seaters intended for familiarisation and check flights) arrived at Shindand airfield on Jun.12, 1981. The unit was declared combat-ready on Jul. 9, and on that date it flew its first operational sorties in the Luarkoh area in support of a COIN operation by the Soviet Army’s 5th Motorised Rifle Division. The newly arrived Su-25s provided on-demand CAS, and also delivered air strikes against pre-planned targets.

Most of the missions flown by 200th OShAE were performed either in the southern regions of Afghanistan around Kandahar or in northern areas of the country, specifically in the notorious Pandjsher Valley, where the Soviet Army launched as many as 12 offensives but proved unable to establish effective control.

When attacking targets in mountainous areas Su-25 pilots used the tactic of surprise, operating in one or two pairs. The leader attacked first, while the wingman covered him from above — in the second attack pass they switched roles. The Su-25’s agility allowed pilots to mount each subsequent attack from a different direction, even against targets in narrow valleys.

The Story of Alexander Rutskoy the Soviet Su-25 Pilot that was Shot Down twice in Afghanistan (one By Pakistani F-16s)

Another typical mission for the Su-25 was the free-hunting (search-and-destroy or armed reconnaissance-strike) patrol, aimed at knocking out moving targets of opportunity in predetermined areas — usually Mujahedeen re-supply convoys. Su-25 pairs or four-aircraft flights involved in such missions usually flew at altitudes of between 1970 ft and 3940 ft while undertaking visual searches for enemy vehicles.

It was during one of these missions that 378th OShAP (a newer attack regiment established on Nov. 5, 1984) that the regimental CO himself, Lt Col Rutskoy was shot down. On Apr. 6, 1986, during low-level attack against the well-defended Zhawar Mujahedeen re-supply complex by a formation of four Su-25s, Rutskoy’s aircraft was gunned down during his second attack pass by the combined fire of a shoulder-launched missile (possible a General Dynamics FIM-43 Redeye or Strela-2M) and AAA. Rutskoy, who flew a camera-equipped Su-25 for post-strike reconnaissance, ejected at an altitude of 820 ft at a high angle of bank. As a result of the latter, he sustained serious back injuries and a broken arm upon landing.

Following a prolonged recovery period after being shot down Alexander Rutskoy returned to Afghanistan in April 1988, having now been promoted to the rank of colonel and appointed Deputy CO (Aviation) of the 40th Army. Despite the seniority of his position, Rutskoy continued flying and fighting the Mujahedeen in the same reckless style as he had done in 1986. In fact, his fellow Su-25 pilots claimed that he now seemed to be even more aggressive in his pursuit of the enemy, apparently seeking revenge for his downing. He was also looking forward to receiving more combat awards.

Unsurprisingly, Rutskoy was shot down for a second time on Aug. 4, 1988 while leading 1Lt Andrey Kudryavtsev in an attack on a training camp for air defence personnel that was located some six miles inside Pakistani territory. Rutskoy and his wingman were to mark the target and suppress the air defences for a subsequent strike to be mounted by four more Su-25s. Kudryavtsev was to drop illumination bombs and then the leader was to attack the air defence positions, identified by the muzzle flashes.

As Rutskoy turned towards the target shortly after twilight, his Su-25 (`03′) came under attack by a lone PAF F-16A flown by Sqn Ldr Athar Bokhari. The latter had been scrambled from Miranshah air base well in advance of the ‘Frogfoots” arrival. Although the Su-25 pair attempted defensive manoeuvring, spiralling towards the ground after detecting that they had been ‘painted’ by the F-16’s search radar, Rutskoy’s aircraft took a hit from an AIM-9L Sidewinder AAM. His wingman was able to escape thanks to his defensive manoeuvres.

Rutskoy managed to eject from the uncontrollable Su-25 and descended safely well inside Pakistani territory. Shortly afterwards he was taken prisoner of war, although he was released two weeks later thanks to diplomatic pressure exerted by both the Soviet government and its intelligence services on their Pakistani counterparts.

The Story of Alexander Rutskoy the Soviet Su-25 Pilot that was Shot Down twice in Afghanistan (one By Pakistani F-16s)

Su-25 ‘Frogfoot’ Units in Combat is published by Osprey Publishing and is available to order here.

Photo credit: A.Savin Own Work, Rob Schleiffert via Wikipedia

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