Thursday, January 31, 2013

Insurgency in the North Caucasian Federal District - War Stories From the Front Lines: # 9 To Miss a Drone

This entry is the first of two debriefs from two Russian officers involved in the same action at the Kodori Gorge, Abkhazia.


From a custom-made mission edited in DCS World. 


Mayór Vitaly Studitsky, 6971st Aviation Base (temporarily operating from Mineralnye Vody,  4th Air and Air Defence Forces Command). 

My wing man and me (a two aircraft flight of Su-25Ts) were on a holding pattern at the border between Russia and Abkhazia. The original mission was to join a flight of Abkhazian Su-25s for an early morning joint exercise at the Kodori Gorge. As a part of the exercise, a  Beriev A-50 (AWACS) was flying on the Russian side of the border. The Abkhazian Su-25s were late to the rendezvous, but we could hear their intermittent radio chatter (probably masked by the mountains).

Mount Elbrus (far background) is always a great landmark for orientation in this mountainous region.
At 0521, I requested and was granted permission to enter the Kodori Gorge in order to establish radio contact with the elusive Abkhazian allies. I was asked to leave my wing man on the Russian side of the exercise area.

The Abkhazian Su-25s were nowhere to be found. 
A couple of minutes later, a tiny dot at 10 o'clock low flying along the gorge caught my attention. It was rather small and flying too slow to be an Su-25.
I closed in to obtain a visual ID, but the low speed of the bogey (green cross, using the in-game padlock view) made me overshoot in the first attempt. At this point, AWACS didn't have this bogey in its radar screens. 
I trimmed my aircraft for the slowest speed available in an attempt to shadow the bogey's flight path, but it then became obvious that it was maneuvering to avoid me. At least I could get a visual ID (US MQ-1 Predator Drone). The pass in the picture above was so close that I could even determine that the drone was not armed.
The aggressive maneuvering forced the drone to climb, and it ended up being detected by AWACS. After quickly obtaining authorization to engage, I started maneuvering against the drone, but the advantage was not to my side because these unmanned aircraft have an incredible maneuverability at low speed. In the picture above, after a futile attempt to turn into the drone's flight path, I ended up stalling and the drone escaped through a climb.
Devoid of a chance to get this drone in a turning fight, I extended out some 7 kilometers and returned to the fray from the distance. The drone dived some 2,000 meters, dragging me into an unwanted high speed frenzy (see HUD, 700 km/h) that would make the use of my guns too tricky. I quickly switched to IR-guided missiles, and got a good lock tone (see HUD, "LA" stands for launch authorization).
Two IR-guided missiles going downrange, as seen from the cockpit.

The drone (the aircraft on top) turns on  a dime and towards my direction. Both IR-guided missiles missed their target (one shown here, the other one can only be guessed by its smoke trail).
I repeatedly engaged the drone using the same tactics (zoom and boom), but was unable to achieve good firing solutions for either the missiles or the guns. I shadowed the drone until 0545, when I was ordered to clear the area.

Commentary:
-The Kodori Gorge is a true thermometer of the tensions in the Caucasus region. Whenever something is about to happen, you can be sure it will be reflected in this area of Abkhazia
-The low speed and maneuverability of the Predator drone made it difficult for pilots without extensive air-to-air combat training to keep up with the situation. The Su-25T relies on the pilot's sight to acquire airborne targets and this target acquisition always materialized too close to the lower limits of the weapons envelope.







11 comments:

smith said...

A cool and unusual encounter!

Anonymous said...

How do you make missions of your own creation unpredictable or surprising or do you deliberately plan out what what want to happen?

Anonymous said...

Hi, JC. Always wanted to ask - why are you so interested in North Caucasian district?

Michael

JC said...

Thanks for your comments, gents.

Anonymous: surprise is kind of limited. In this case I know there is a UAV out there because I edited the mission. For the narrative I just pretend I don't. To not be so on the advantage, I plotted various waypoints for the UAV and had the engine choose at random among those so I don't know the exact and precise location. It is kind of tricky in DCS World but it is doable. Beyond the story, I wanted to know how difficult is to spot and engage a UAV. Difficult, BTW.
All the events from minute one are not entirely scripted or predetermined.

Hi Michael,
Actually, I don't know. I started trying to make missions for DCS Black Shark and A10-C with a realistic background story and it turns out that in real life the region has been and it is a powder keg. In real life, just follow the news for the region in the specialized press (not CNN, for sure) as the Sochi Olympics approach. It is going to be interesting to see how the Russian government copes with the multiple radical groups that are itching for a fight. As for the blog, the story will evolve into a conventional war fueled by oil transport interests.

Cheers,

Stian Lund said...

Those are some awesome shots! I love the second one.

Stian Lund said...
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Stian Lund said...
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Stian Lund said...
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Anonymous said...

Hi JC,

Regarding Sochi - I'm much more interested in how the Russian government will deal with ubiquitous corruption in that region.

Northern Caucasus is a powder keg indeed, but the situation is somewhat under control right now. We'll see how it develops - Arab spring will surely increase the flow of terrorist recruits to the region. And any terrorist attacks during Olympics will make the front lines worldwide. Quite juicy media-wise.

BTW, can you tell me anything about COIN writer John Mackinlay? He was one of the authors for RAND report on counterinsurgency and a sole author of "Insurgent Archipelago". His works were recommended as "groundbreaking" and "paradigm-shifting" by a friend of mine. Any info?

Michael

JC said...

Hi Stian and thanks for reading!

Hi Michael,
Thanks for the heads up on John Mackinlay. I downloaded that RAND report but forgot about it ... There is so much to read. Sorry I can't comment on his work.

I think that one of the particularities of the salafists behind the Caucasus Emirate is that somehow have kept their heads down after headline events like the Beslan massacre and the Moscow subway bombings. They assasinate people with gusto, though, but as you say the region is so corrupt and the local turfs so high-stake that is very difficult to figure out insurgency from the background noise of though/corrupt politics.

Cheers,

Anonymous said...

Hi again JC,

AFAIK Islamist Caucasus Emirate is being held back by a combination of local tribe chiefs (which were bought wholesale by Kremlin), governmenal forces and financial backing of the region.

Northern Caucasus is one of the most subsidized regions in Russia. On one hand, torrent of money is beneficial to the Caucasus. New jobs, new opportunities - it's all greatly undermines salafist\wakhabist popular support. On the other hand, local corrupt system hasn't changed since mid-1990. It was simply bought with money from oil and gas export. The chiefs retained all unformal power over the tribes, and there was no effort to pull locals away from these tribes.

The local tribe chiefs are keeping most of the money that Caucasus receives from Kremlin. Apart from their relatives' vulgar buying sprees, it is obvious that a good deal of present terrorism in Caucasus is financed by these chiefs. As you can see, it's possible, that Moscow unwittingly pays the terrorists, or at least views current situation as "lesser evil".

Unfortunately, given the current state of corruption in Russia as a whole, it's highly unlikely that the Caucasus situation will dramatically improve. Personally, I have rather pessimistic view of it - after the end of Syrian conflict (one way or another) there will be many insurgents at large. And local chiefs in Caucasus will be more than willing to pay them with money stolen from Moscow.

The only hope is for government security forces ("spetssluzhby - спецслужбы"), who will try to counter the insurgents "in the egg". Unfortunately, there's no hope for productive political strategy.

Sorry for the long rant, just needed to systematize it in my head.

Michael