Just two months after the Russian Aerospace Force (VKS) was formed by merging the tactical air force and air defense forces, Putin announced the deployments of dozens of combat aircraft to Syria in a bid to prop up the faltering regime of strongman Bashar al-Assad.

Five years of relentless bombardment tilted the course of the war in Assad’s favor—and continues to do so today as heavy bombing paves the way for Assad’s forces to crush the last major rebel stronghold in Idlib province—if it doesn’t trigger Turkish intervention first.

However, the air campaign has cost the Russian military at least nineteen manned aircraft (eleven helicopters and eight airplanes) between 2015–2018, leading to the deaths of twenty-three crew and thirty-seven passengers.

For comparison, between 2014 and 2020, the U.S. military lost two aircraft in anti-ISIS operations in Syria: an F-16 jet in 2014 due to an accident shortly after takeoff and a V-22 tilt-rotor in a hard landing in 2017.

This piece will look case-by-case at the causes of Russian aviation losses, drawing upon Moscow’s Game of Poker: Russian Military Intervention in Syria by Tom Cooper, “The Russian Campaign in Syria” by Anton Lavrov, and additional media reports.

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