Increased combat missions suggest a changing role for the Russian Air Force in Ukraine

Analysts said last week that a series of Russian fighter airstrikes in eastern Ukraine could have changed the tack after the Russian Air Force failed to achieve its aerial advantage over Ukraine. Analysts have told the Moscow Times that they are showing.

Russian pilots have taken a risk-averse approach primarily in the two-month war, with long-range missiles within Ukraine rather than vulnerable to long-range anti-aircraft missile systems flying over enemy territory. You have chosen to attack a ground target.

However, due to the depletion of precision missile inventories, the shortage of infantry, and the pressure of the Kremlin’s demand for success in eastern Ukraine, Russia appears to be heavily dependent on airstrikes in the coming weeks.

“Russia was really conservative in using tactical aviation in conflict, so I think we’re taking a different approach now,” said a senior at Rand Corporation, based in the United States. Policy researcher Dara Massicot told the Moscow Times.

Russia overwhelmed Ukraine’s much smaller Air Force, and although it was predicted that it would be able to achieve its superiority early in the war, the expected air force did not come true. This failure apparently reduced Russia’s ability to carry out sophisticated military exercises, leaving it unsupported for major ground operations and causing great losses.

At the beginning of the war, the fleet of Russian fixed-wing fighters was 15 times larger than Ukraine, but Ukrainian aircraft are still in sortie.

Russian Su-25 used for ground support operations.
Ministry of Defense of Russia

“Fighters, bombers, assault planes [Ukrainian] The Air Force continues to carry out its mission in Ukrainian airspace, “said the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense. statement last week.

According to analysts, Russia’s inability to cripple Ukraine’s air power may be due to lack of organization and operational level incompetence.

“At the individual pilot level, Russians aren’t as good as we thought,” said Robert Bell, a former NATO staff member and professor at Georgia Institute of Technology.

According to analysts, the Air Force needs to be able to launch complex air force operations, including many planes, in order to destroy enemy assets and establish the Air Force’s dominance. Instead, Russian jets are commonly found in groups of two or less and fly at low altitudes and at night.

Russian troops withdrawing from northern Ukraine after attempting to occupy Kyiv last month were concentrated on the 300-mile front in eastern Ukraine.

Fighting along one forward axis usually makes it easier to coordinate your air operations.

Houses destroyed by air strikes in Borodianka in the Kyiv region. Oleksandr Ratushniak / UNDP Ukraine (CC BY-ND 2.0)
Houses destroyed by air strikes in Borodianka in the Kyiv region.
Oleksandr Ratushniak / UNDP Ukraine (CC BY-ND 2.0)

Russia’s aerial sorties have increased by more than 150% to about 300 per day since the shift to the east, according to Sam Crannie Evans, a think-tank military analyst at the Royal United Services Institute in the United Kingdom.

Signs of Russia’s strengthening of air operations include: Air raid A severely damaged Mariupol port city and recently attack It is located in the northeastern city of Kharkov.Footage release On Tuesday by the Russian Defense Ministry, a low-flying SU-24m bomber will drop an unguided missile (also known as a “dam bomb” due to lack of accuracy) into unspecified areas, perhaps eastern Ukraine. showed that.

lots of video Recorded by locals appeared online on Russian jets operating at low altitudes in the Donbus region of eastern Ukraine.

However, these operations are still far more rare than many expected and remain confined to areas close to Russia-controlled airspace.

One explanation for Russia’s attention may be the large number of short-range air defense missiles that have been supplied to Ukrainian troops by Western nations since the invasion began.

“Russians may remember their experience in Afghanistan, where Stinger is. [missile] James Lewis, an analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, told the Moscow Times.

According to intelligence agency Orix, Ukrainians have destroyed at least 26 Russian fighters and 39 helicopters since the invasion began. blog It uses open source analysis to track Russia’s military losses.

Shooting down Russian aircraft may be important for Ukrainian morale, but these losses actually rarely reduce Russia’s capabilities.

In addition to hundreds of fighters, including the new Sukhoi SU-57 stealth fighter, Russia has more than 122 SU-34 bombers and 360 attack helicopters capable of carrying anti-aircraft and anti-tank missiles. Report According to the Navy Analysis Center.

Helicopter providing aerial cover to Ukrainian Russian convoys .. Russian Ministry of Defense
A helicopter that provides aerial cover to the Russian convoy of Ukraine.
Ministry of Defense of Russia

“The Russian Air Force is one of the most powerful, high-tech and mobile components of the modern Russian army,” said Russian President Vladimir Putin. Proud Last November, at a meeting between military commanders and defense industry executives.

It is not clear why Russia holds much of its air power as a reserve. Some analysts have suggested protecting the aircraft in the event of a broader escalation with NATO.

U.S. defense officials Explained Russia’s attack on Donbus on Monday was “very lukewarm,” suggesting that Russia was “risk-averse” to minimize losses.

However, as Russia’s inventory of precision ammunition declines, its air force will need to adopt more aggressive tactics and use more unguided missiles. This requires pilots to approach their targets and take more risks in Ukraine’s anti-aircraft defense system.

Alexandre Dvornikov, the new commander of Russian military operations in Ukraine reported, Such an approach In the private territory of the Middle Eastern country during Russia’s military intervention to support the Bashar Assad regime.

“The approach you’re trying to see is the one you’ve seen in Syria, where most of the weapons are unguided,” analyst Machikot predicted.

This could mean not only increased civilian deaths, but also increased turnover rates for the Russian Air Force and increased destruction on the ground.

“There will be more cities that look like Mariupol,” said Macicot. Increased combat missions suggest a changing role for the Russian Air Force in Ukraine

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