What happened to the Russian Air Force? US officials, experts confused

FILE PHOTO: Russian Sukhoi Su-35 jet fighters fire missiles during the Aviadarts competition outside Ryazan
FILE PHOTO: A Russian Sukhoi Su-35 jet fighter fires a missile during the Aviadarts competition, within the framework of the 2021 International Army Games, at the Dubrovichi range outside Ryazan, Russia August 27, 2021. REUTERS / Maxim Shemetov / File Photo

March 2, 2022

By Phil Stewart and Idrees Ali

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Before Russia invaded Ukraine, U.S. intelligence had predicted a massive Moscow offensive that would quickly mobilize the massive air power of the Russian military to dominate the skies over Ukraine.

But the first six days have muddied those expectations, and Moscow has instead acted more cleverly with its air power, to the point where American officials can’t explain exactly what’s driving it. Russia’s apparent risk aversion.

“They’re not necessarily willing to take that high risk with their own planes and pilots,” said a US defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Totally superior to the Russian army, in terms of numbers and firepower, Ukraine’s air force is still flying and its air defenses are still considered viable – a fact that is causing military experts to confused.

After the opening of the war on February 24, analysts say that the Russian military will try to immediately destroy the Ukrainian air defense and air defense forces.

That would be “a logical and widely anticipated next step, as seen in almost every military conflict since 1938,” the RUSI research group in London wrote in an article called “The Case.” the mystery of the missing Russian air force”.

Instead, the fighters of the Ukrainian air force are still performing low-altitude sorties, air defense and ground attack. Russia is still flying over disputed airspace.

Ukraine’s military with surface-to-air missiles can threaten Russian aircraft and pose a risk to Russian pilots trying to support ground forces.

“There’s a lot of things they’re doing that confuse them,” said Rob Lee, a Russian military expert at the Institute for Foreign Policy Studies.

He thought that the beginning of the war would be “the maximum use of force.”

“Because every day it continues to have an increased cost and risk. And they don’t do that and it’s hard to explain for any practical reason. “

Confusion over how Russia is using its air force came as President Joe Biden’s administration rejected Kyiv’s call for a no-fly zone that could plunge the United States directly into a conflict. with Russia, whose plans for their air force are unclear.

Military experts have seen evidence of a lack of coordination between the Russian air force and ground formations, with many Russian military forces sent forward beyond the reach of their air defenses. .

That leaves Russian troops vulnerable to attack from Ukrainian forces, including new ones armed with Turkish drones and US and British anti-tank missiles. David Deptula, a retired US Air Force three-star general who once commanded the no-fly zone over northern Iraq, said he was surprised Russia didn’t work harder to establish air superiority right from the start. head.

Deptula told Reuters: “The Russians are finding out that coordinating multi-domain operations is not easy. “And that they are not as good as they imagined.”

While the Russians underperformed, the Ukrainian military has so far exceeded expectations.

Ukraine’s experience over the past eight years fighting Russian-backed separatists in the east has been largely static World War I-style trench warfare.

In contrast, Russian forces have had combat experience in Syria, where they have intervened in the side of President Bashar al-Assad, and demonstrated some ability to synchronize ground maneuvers with other forces. Aircraft and drone attacks.

Experts say Ukraine’s ability to continue flying its air planes is a clear demonstration of the country’s resilience in the face of attack and has been a morale booster for the entire military. Ukrainian team and people, experts say.

It also led to the mythologization of Ukraine’s air force, including a story about a Ukrainian jet fighter that intentionally shot down six Russian planes single-handedly, dubbed “Ghost” online. of Kyiv”.

Reuters Fact Check showed a clip ukrainian-fighter- how Jet-shooter-aircraft-russian-idUSL1N2V035G from digital combat simulation video game was fooled online into thinking it was a fighter jet Ukraine actually shot down a Russian plane.

Biden led a standing ovation in support of the Ukrainian people during his State of the Union address on Tuesday, praising their determination and mocking Putin for thinking he could only “roll into Ukraine” is not applicable.

“Instead, he was met with a wall of power he never imagined. He met the Ukrainian people,” Biden said.

The United States estimates that Russia used just over 75 aircraft in its invasion of Ukraine, the senior US official said.

Before the invasion, officials estimate that Russia likely had hundreds of thousands of aircraft ready in its air force for a Ukraine mission. However, the senior US official on Tuesday declined to estimate how many Russian warplanes, including attack helicopters, may still be in and out of Ukraine.

Both sides lost.

“We have indications that they have lost some (planes), but so have the Ukrainians,” the official said.

“Airspace is being actively contested every day.”

(Reporting by Phil Stewart and Idrees Ali; Editing by Mary Milliken, Lincoln Feast and Sandra Maler) What happened to the Russian Air Force? US officials, experts confused

Bobby Allyn

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