Thursday, November 1, 2012

Insurgency in the North Caucasian Federal District - War Stories From the Front Lines: # 3 Bombing an Insurgent Roadblock at Novopavlovsk

Mayór Vitaly Studitsky, 6971st Aviation Base (temporarily operating from Mineralnye Vody,  4th Air and Air Defence Forces Command) presents a debrief of his ground attack mission against insurgent forces around Novoplavlovsk.





Our mission was to strike an insurgent roadblock over the Kura River, west of Novopavlovsk. We were explicitly instructed to avoid collateral damage on the civilian population and infrastructure, in particular the bridge over the Kura River. That day, a morning attack mission performed by attack helicopters didn't go so well and resulted in one attack helicopter crash landing after sustaining damage by portable, IR-guided Stinger missiles.

I was in command of a flight of two SU-25Ts, my wingman being one leytenánt that recently transferred to our unit and was relatively new to the airframe. Given the low risk of the mission, I hoped to perform some on-the-job training with the junior officer. Unfortunately his navigation system was not properly calibrated (we found out that early during the mission, his first steering points were off by no less than 3 kilometers). Although our SOPs rely heavily in visual identification/cues for targets and awareness of flight lead position and intentions, I didn't want to risk having my wingman flying over a hot area with non-properly aligned steerpoints. I ordered him to RTB before fencing into the objective area.

At this early stage of the operation, our airbase was still procuring ordnance, so we had to settle for free fall bombs of the FAB-100 type, which produce very little damage but would suffice for destroying soft targets around the objective area. Our targeting system was the Shkval, a TV electro optical system that can use a laser for computing distance to targets and data for the automatic release of free-fall ordnance.

Given the threat from portable IR-guided missiles, this attack was to be conducted from altitudes > 3.5 km above ground. In this image, climbing towards the next steerpoint. The combat load was not heavy and the aircraft was capable to sustain a steady climb rate at a very healthy airspeed.

The terrain in the area of operations is totally flat and it is easy to get disoriented. Since the Su-25T lacks a moving map to aid the targeting of specific positions in the operations area, I had to rely in the waypoints preset in the navigation system: orient the aircraft to the target waypoint and then slew the Shkval around the vicinity of it to identify the target area. Fortunately the Shkval targeting system has a good magnification power that allows observation and target acquisition from distances above 20 km. In the image above, the bridge over the Kuna River plus enemy installations/vehicles is in the center of the screen.

A fraction of a second before the weapons release. The distance to target (an insurgent truck, Shkval screen) is 5.4 km and my altitude was 4.5 km above ground (well outside the envelope of the insurgent's SAMs). The continuously computed release point (CCRP) mode requires that the pilot hold the pickle button until the computer releases the ordnance. Note the scale on the left of the HUD which indicates the time in seconds to the automatic release of ordnance. The pilot has to keep the top tip of the aircraft datum (wings and tail-shaped icon in the center of the HUD) on the center of the circular cue to ensure a proper weapons release.


To release the FAB-100s from this altitude, I had to overfly the target. A generous amount of flares, just in case, to cope with the enemy's portable Stingers.
The dispersal of the ordnance was enough to save the insurgent truck. No damage on the town or the bridge was visible.

After the first pass, some disorientation kicks in while gaining distance from the target. The towns of this flat area of operations look all the same from this altitude. 

During the second pass my intention was to neutralize infantry, which according to our briefing was on the other (west) side of the bridge. However, I couldn't acquire any infantry targets with the Shkval. This is probably due to my high altitude.

Cockpit view, two seconds before weapons release. In this third pass over the target area, I targeted a BRDM (see Shkval). Note also my high altitude (near 5.0 km) to avoid the enemy IR-guided missiles.

Seconds before weapons release during the third pass over the target area. Note the town of Novopavlovsk in the background. The bridge target area is also visible across the river below.

Bombs exploding during my third pass. For free-falling bombs, the dispersal was not that bad ... The targeted BRDM (behind the smoke on the left) was spared. The truck received numerous shrapnel impacts and caught fire a few seconds later.
The use of free-fall ordnance from relatively high altitude is always hampered by dispersal. In this case, the dispersal was manageable due to the peculiar position of the insurgents (i.e. not close to, or easily detachable from civilian assets). Sooner than later our missions will require the destruction of insurgent positions more intermingled with populated areas or with critical infrastructure. This will require the use of guided, precision ordnance.

Mission flown with DCS World, Su-25T (Eagle Dynamics)