In one of the first steps of the Russian invasion on February 24, 2022, Russian forces attacked Ukraine’s airfields with long-range missile systems. The Russian Defense Ministry announced later that day that all Ukrainian airfields had been disabled, essentially disabling the Ukrainian Air Force.
It soon became clear that the quick takeover of control of the airspace was not successful, Helicopters of Russian paratroopers that landed on the outskirts of Kiev in the morning were fired upon by Ukrainian MANPADS systems, and Ukrainian interceptor fighters targeted fighter-bombers supporting ground operations. Russian mechanized infantry units advancing from the north had to face repeated attacks by Su-25 Grach fighters.
It’s been more than a year and a month since the invasion: Russian forces still do not dominate Ukraine’s airspace, and the Ukrainian air defense and air force are still active.
Although it is clear that the activity of the Ukrainian Air Force has seriously decreased compared to the beginning of the war, it is still far from complete destruction.
A big question is what exactly will be left of the Ukrainian Air Force by March 2023So Russian forces have been under constant attack on Ukrainian air bases for more than a year, and Ukrainian military aircraft have taken to the air on a daily basis to fight the invading Russians.
Even in peacetime, it is difficult to say exactly how much military equipment a given country has, and even more difficult in war due to constantly changing losses and (foreign) supplies.
The Flight Global Every year it publishes a summary of the air force capabilities of various countries, and the 2023 list is now available, including Russian and Ukrainian aircraft.
According to the magazine, the Russian Air Force now outnumbers the Ukrainian Air Force by ten times – they have 4,182 military aircraft, while Ukraine has only 312.
According to the paper, Russia still has the second largest air force in the world – surpassed only by the United States.
The paper acknowledges: Their list does not accurately reflect war losses. It is simply impossible to verify the claims of both sides about the losses of the other party and to identify the damage created as a result of the conflict in each case.
When it comes to losses, it’s still the best public source Oryx Specialist PortalRussian and Ukrainian property losses are recognized with a photo and date stamp, not just a “notification” as Moscow and Kiev do.
Rated by Oryx Russia has the most losses in terms of numbers Compared to FlightGlobal’s list, in both fixed-wing aircraft (e.g. fighter jets) and rotary-wing aircraft (e.g. combat helicopters) sectors, it can be said that:
Proportionately, Ukraine’s losses are more serious because their air force is significantly smaller.
Of course, it doesn’t make sense to subtract Oryx’s losses from FlightGlobal’s 2023 data because it compares two different years, but it would be more interesting to compare the 2022 list.
Flight Global 2022 list Compared to the losses reported by the 2023 list and Oryx, it can be said that FlightGlobal greatly underestimated the property losses of both parties. Of course, for example, Ukraine has acquired significant combat (Mi-24) and medium multipurpose (Mi-8/17) helicopters since the beginning of the war, and Russia has put several new aircraft into service in 2022. , however According to Flight Global, Ukraine only lost a net of 33 military aircraft, while Russia’s air force increased further: a total of 10 aircraft.
This assessment may even be realistic as Russia uses its air force more carefully in Ukraine and new military aircraft (e.g. Su-57s) continue to enter service. There are a few things that don’t add up to FlightGlobal’s numbers.
For example, according to Flight Global, Ukraine has lost a net of 31 fighter-bombers / fighter jets / interceptors, while Oryx has already documented the destruction of 57 fixed-wing aircraft.
There is no confirmed news that Ukraine has received a significant number of fixed-wing aircraft from its Western backers (in principle, only Macedonia and Bulgaria have sent fixed-wing aircraft so far, 4 Su-25s each, but only this was published long after the list was published.)
And the list of Oryx’s losses should be considered a kind of “minimum known loss” because not all military property losses were truly recorded – the actual losses were much higher on both sides.
It is very important to note: a military aircraft cannot be disabled only by being attacked by the enemy. There are a thousand reasons why a military aircraft can no longer take off:
- Problems with supply of parts,
- pilot shortage,
- shortage of ammunition,
- fuel shortage,
- technical errors,
- Damage to the airport or airport infrastructure.
Even in peacetime, these problems can significantly reduce the readiness of the Air Force. In combat aside, for example, it is impossible to guess from the numbers provided by Flight Global how many MiG-29s are unflyable because there are no spare parts for them.
In reality, the Russian and Ukrainian air forces are probably in much worse shape than these numbers reveal, but at the same time, the reserves of the Russian Air Force are significantly higher no matter how you look at it.
Finally, we come to the question that has been on everyone’s mind since the beginning of the war.
How is it that, with significantly larger reserves, hundreds of long-range missile systems, and significant strategic offensive capabilities, the Russian military has yet to achieve the total destruction of the Ukrainian Air Force?
It is difficult to give a single good answer to this question, and the solution may lie in a combination of these factors:
- For some reason, the Russian military uses the Russian Air Force very carefully. If you read reports from Western press/intelligence agencies, lack of guided missiles, lack of spares, shortage of pilots, Russian estimates, this is due only to high-tech military aircraft. Reserved by Russia for possible war against NATO.
- Russia’s long-range missile systems are significantly less effective and/or available to the Russian military in smaller numbers than assumed before the war. Of course, there is also the argument that Moscow is reserving this for a major war, but at least the Russians have plenty of Cold War long-range missiles.
- What’s true: NATO has continued to provide air defense equipment to Ukraine since the beginning of the war, and the most modern and effective systems are used by the Kiev government to protect major cities and airports. These systems can neutralize not only aircraft, but also long-range missiles, so it is more difficult for Russian forces to target airports in the first place than other targets near the front line.
- In addition to weapons, NATO provides significant logistical, technical and intelligence support to Ukraine. For example, it is a well-known fact that US intelligence helps Ukraine predict which air bases Russia is going to attack, and that the Ukrainians move planes away from vulnerable bases in response. In addition, thanks to technical support from the United States and other NATO countries, Ukraine’s military and civilian infrastructure, including power plants and airports, continue to be repaired.
- In recent months, the fighting has clearly focused on the Donbass, and both sides have deployed significant ground forces out of fear of the enemy’s advanced air defense capabilities. Ukrainian and Russian air losses were lower than in the first days of the war.
- The territory of Ukraine is very important: The Russian Air Force has to provide 600,000 square kilometers of airspace, so that a significant part of the area is forested and wooded – the Russian Air Force could be attacked at any time by a Stinger or Ikla manpad from a small forest or tree line, or a stealthy group of air defense vehicles.
The above data shows that if Russia really wanted to, it could send even 1,000 military aircraft to Ukraine, but due to significant air defense activity, there would be very serious losses in Russian air combat capabilities, so the country does not. Any reserves to protect it for years to come. Of course, it is not known to what extent the quality of equipment, the lack of pilots, the lack of ammunition really played a role in this decision – if you listen to Western organizations, if you read Moscow, Russia has already left everything twice. Reports suggest that Russian forces used 10% of their strength to defeat the entire NATO force in Donbass.
If more missiles, more aircraft, more paratroopers had been used against Ukraine at the start of the war, when Ukrainian armed forces were initially present, Russia could have inflicted significantly more damage on Ukrainian air force and air defense capabilities. Shocked by the invasion and modern, the country lacked any NATO air defense equipment. However, this did not happen, because Ukraine is not only Russia Even his own allies underestimated him.
However, based on the current situation, the decision of the Russian military leadership to preserve the Russian military aviation capabilities, which are less valuable and easier to replace ground vehicles and infantry in military operations, cannot be called unreasonable. At the same time, Russian front-fighters must therefore constantly fear being targeted by an errant Su-25 or soft-tuning strike drone, and the war may drag on until the Ukrainian lobby finally catches up with Ukrainian aircraft. Equipping it with F-16s creates an even more dangerous situation for Russia.
Since Russia has significantly larger reserves in almost everything than Ukraine, the Russian military leadership should time the situation in their favor, but this assessment will not hold if NATO continues to pump weapons into the Ukrainian front. Especially if some NATO countries even decide that they are willing to help Ukraine against Russian aggression at the cost of their own defense capabilities.
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