Posted by: Christian | July 20, 2008

Reliance on air power, déjà vu or not?

Over reliance on air power in Afghanistan? That sound familiar. Or does it? Is the level of reliance on air power, as a percent of the total effort, if one could actually measure it, higher now than in all years of the Soviet War of the 1980s in Afghanistan? Yes, the Soviets did a lot of bombing from aircraft. But they were also out fighting a lot on the ground as well. That’s why I phrased it as ” a percentage of the total effort.”

I’m no air war historian. You may want to ask this guy:

Westermann, Edward B. (1997) The limits of Soviet airpower: the bear versus the Mujahideen in Afghanistan, 1979-1989. Thesis–Air University. Available here.

That thesis is not available [It is apparently, thanks Andy] so I’ll just say a few vague/ambiguous/open-ended things.

First, regarding Soviet losses of aircraft; as far as facts and figures of Soviet aircraft losses from the 1980s go, the Pakistani ISI was rather creative in counting the number of Soviet aircraft destroyed by their friends inside Afghanistan. “Keep sending us American money and weapons ’cause our boys are knocking the Soviets out the sky like flies.” Or something to that effect.

Photo via Ruswar: A destroyed Soviet aircraft on the ground in Afghanistan. BTW, the Soviets and the Afghan Communist forces abandoned a lot of equipment once it broke down and became too hard to repair. So a wrecked tank, APC or aircraft is not exactly a mujahideen score.

Pic via Ruswar: This one is probably a “score.”

The American government and cheerleaders gladly repeated the Pakistani numbers as fact. Many journalists then picked up the numbers with few questions. And some scholars cite government and media sources. So I completely distrust numbers from the 1980s (from all sides). I don’t think anybody could offer a quantitative analysis that would be acceptable.

Watch this 3 minute introduction to a documentary on the Soviet Afghan War. I can’t believe what the helo pilots’ job was in this case. Watch here.


  1. We just wrote on similar topics but in very different ways. And didn’t plan it that way. Strange.

  2. The thesis is available here.

  3. Thanks Andy. My internet skills do not usually fail in this manner. I’ve changed the entry to add a link.

  4. No worries. Unless it’s classified or otherwise restricted, pretty much anything published by the military can be found on DTIC.


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