Asia Crisis

Friendly fire downed Russia jets in Georgia-report

* Russia lost six planes in war, not four, report says

* "Friendly fire" accounts for three of downed planes

* Russia was unsure of its air superiority until war ended

MOSCOW, July 8 (Reuters) - Russia lost six planes in its war with Georgia last August, not four as was officially announced, and at least three were downed by "friendly fire", a Russian military journal reported.

Russia defeated neighbouring Georgia and briefly seized large chunks of its land in a five-day war after the U.S. ally tried to retake the pro-Moscow rebel region of South Ossetia.

But the war uncovered serious deficiencies in the Russian armed forces, prompting doubts among some analysts as to whether Moscow would be able to defeat a bigger enemy and spurring the Kremlin to accelerate long-delayed military reforms.

The authoritative Moscow Defense Brief said Russia lost six planes, not four as the government announced at the time, in a report citing military sources and media reports that is to be published on Thursday in its quarterly edition.

"The absence of cooperation between the Russian Army and Air Force led them to conduct completely separate campaigns," said the journal, published by the independent Moscow-based think tank, the Centre for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies.

"Pilots were not fully apprised of the situation on the ground, received inexact and late intelligence, and at the start of hostilities ... they did not even have exact information on the structure and strength of the Georgian Air Defense Forces." Official data provided by deputy chief of the General Staff Colonel-General Anatoly Nogovitsyn showed Russia lost three Su-25 ground attack aircraft and one Tu-22M3 long-range bomber.

But providing crew names, exact times, locations and types of aircraft, the Moscow Defense Brief argued that Russia in fact had lost six aircraft in combat during the five-day war.

The two aircraft that were lost but not mentioned in official reports were Su-24M front-line bombers, the report said.


"Of these (six), two aircraft were certainly downed by enemy fire, three were probably hit by 'friendly fire' and it remains difficult to determine who shot down the last one," it said. Five aircraft fell in South Ossetia and one in Georgia, it said. Contacted by Reuters, Russia's Defence Ministry declined immediate comment. A Georgian Defence Ministry official told Reuters that Georgia had shot down 15 Russian aircraft.

Aside from the downed aircraft, several other Su-25 ground attack aircraft were seriously damaged, though they managed to return to base, the journal said. All of these jets had been hit by shoulder-launched surface-to-air missiles, it said. The worst day of the campaign for Russian aviation was the war's second day, Aug. 9, with a total loss of four planes. A transport helicopter was destroyed in South Ossetia a few days after the end of combat when it collided with and badly damaged a helicopter gunship on landing.

"Russian Ground Forces ... were not sure until the end of combat whether Russia's aviation had achieved air superiority," the Moscow Defense Brief said.

"Russian aircraft were frequently taken by Russian and Ossetian forces for Georgian aircraft, and they were fired upon without identification and in the absence of any aggressive action on their part." (Additional reporting by Margarita Antidze in Tbilisi)

Reporting by Dmitry Solovyov; Editing by Elizabeth Fullerton