Cold War Era

The story of the Su-25 formation that simulated a single transport aircraft and performed a daring strike against Mujahedeen in Pakistan during the Soviet war in Afghanistan

This daring strike, in November 1986, was mounted at dawn so that the Su-25 pilots would have sufficient visibility to penetrate Pakistani airspace at ultra-low level and deliver their ordnance using the element of surprise.

The Sukhoi Su-25 Grach (NATO reporting name: Frogfoot) is a single-seat, twin-engine jet aircraft developed in the Soviet Union by Sukhoi. It was designed to provide close air support for the Soviet Ground Forces. The first prototype made its maiden flight on Feb. 22, 1975. After testing, the aircraft went into series production in 1978 at Tbilisi in the Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic.

Although it has been criticized in the past for its vulnerability to ground fire, the faithful ‘Frogfoot’ is now widely accepted as the true successor for the specialized ground attack aircraft that emerged during World War 2.

The Su-25 has seen combat in several conflicts during its more than 30 years in service. It was heavily involved in the Soviet war in Afghanistan, flying counter-insurgency missions against the Mujahideen.

As told by Alexander Mladenov in his book Su-25 ‘Frogfoot’ Units in Combat, one of the lesser-known operations involving Su-25s in Afghanistan was a strike mission recalled by then Capt Alexander Koshkin. In his memoirs, entitled Shturmovik, published in Russia in 2012, he revealed a previously undisclosed and clandestine mission flown by four Su-25s to deliver a surprise attack on a huge Mujahedeen training camp near the city of Peshawar, well inside Pakistan. This daring strike, in November 1986, was mounted at dawn so that the Su-25 pilots would have sufficient visibility to penetrate Pakistani airspace at ultra-low level and deliver their ordnance using the element of surprise.

To mask the location of its intended target, and thus avoid an early scramble of Pakistan Air Force (PAF) fighters held on QRA in the area, the four-aircraft Su-25 formation, led by Capt Koshkin, departed Bagram and maintained a speed of 310 mph in tight formation, thus simulating a single transport aircraft to operators of Pakistani early-warning radar. The formation simulated a landing approach to Jalalabad airfield, not far from the border with Pakistan, and a subsequent go-around. At that moment one of the Su-25s separated from the group, continuing to simulate a transport aircraft that had entered into a holding pattern over the Surubi Dam, while the remaining three jets stayed at low level, invisible to Pakistani early-warning radars, crossed the border and proceeded at 160 ft towards the target. The `Frogfoots’ managed to approach the camp undetected and attacked with complete surprise, making four passes each.

On the first two passes they dropped bombs, on the third they expended rockets and during the fourth the pilots fired their built-in 30 mm cannon. No anti-aircraft fire from the ground was encountered, and the three Su-25s returned to Afghani airspace at ultra-low level well before the PAF fighters could react.

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

Photo credit: Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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