In September, Ukrinform started an expert discussion about the course of the current war by publishing a headline-making article "Prospects for Running a Military Campaign in 2023: Ukraine’s perspective" by Valeriy Zaluzhny and Mykhailo Zabrodskyi. We continued it with Mykhailo Zabrodskyi's notes "Partial mobilization in the Russian Federation: everything is not so simple" and the article "Ukraine needs a long ‘missile arm’ to make Russia’s aggression impossible" by solid-propellant rocket developer Leonid Shyman.
In November, Mykhailo Zabrodskyi published the article "Patriotic war. Land military prospects". And here is the continuation of Mykhailo Zabrodskyi’s analysis of how we can defeat the enemy in the sky.
The stunning events of recent months on the front of repelling Russian aggression cause quite a range of different emotions. Quite naturally, the feeling of national pride and firm belief in the bravery of the Ukrainian soldiers and the courage of our commanders are predominant among them.
The situation on front line has stabilized in the northern and northeastern sections, north of the Siverskyi Donets River. Fierce battles are taking place around Bakhmut, where the enemy does not stop trying to make a double tactical envelopment of this important administrative center of Donetsk region. The enemy left the right bank of the Dnipro River in the Kherson area. Such significant changes in the drawing of the Line of Contact, first of all - on the southern strategic flank, continue to dictate new approaches both to the assessment of the general situation and to a more detailed prediction of future events in the military confrontation.
Previously, we considered possible options for new or re-emerging threats and challenges for the country's defense on land. Now our task is to discuss the prospects for the next in order, but not in importance, domain of warfighting - Air Warfare. There is no doubt that airspace remains an integral component of the armed fighting against the Russian Federation and the key to success in repelling full-scale armed aggression. Despite the multiple superiority in combat potential, the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation were unable to implement it for several reasons. At the same time, the Ukrainian Air Forces are still unable to seize the initiative due to a critical imbalance of capabilities. A balanced and rapid build-up of both the air "shield" and the "sword" should become one of the key priorities in the development of the Armed Forces of Ukraine.
A brief history of the topic
For a better understanding of the current situation and the very subject of discussion, it is necessary to refer to the events at the front in late February and spring of the current year.
The enemy's powerful aviation and missile attack formations, which were concentrated around our borders, were to become the trump card of the invasion forces of the Russian Federation and ensure absolute superiority both in the Air and on the Ground, leveling a certain parity on land.
Despite the well-known uncertainty in the planning of any large-scale action, it would seem that the air part of the "special military operation" plan against Ukraine should not particularly concern the Russian command. Indeed, all objective indicators from numerical superiority to the localization and capabilities of the enemy's air attack means and the means of Ukrainian Air Defense precisely indicated this. After all, all the objective indicators of "military mathematics" pointed to the undeniable superiority of the Russian Air Forces, both in the quantitative and qualitative ratio in the Airspace in all the main operational directions, and in other "multiplicative" components, as in the ability of the aggressor ensure strategic envelopment of the Theater of War and its availability of a powerful and generally modern long-range missile arsenal for various carriers. If we add to them a certain strategic and operational suddenness, the technical characteristics of missiles and aircraft, and considerable experience in preparing and launching missile and air strikes, then the result of a large-scale "air invasion" seemed to leave the enemy in no doubt.
Everyone at the front and in the rear remembers the pitiful March and April. From the first days of the large-scale invasion, up to a hundred enemy aircraft and helicopters could be in the sky of Ukraine and in the surrounding areas at the same time. Considering the mass launch of missiles, the number of air targets on the screens and tablets displaying the aerial situation of the aviation and air defense CPs was measured in the hundreds. The number of cruise missiles alone used against Ukraine in the first three days quickly became comparable to their total consumption in operations in Syria. Priority targets are civilian and military objects in the rear. Terrible acquaintances - "Iskander", and not so much - "Caliber", words that Ukrainians of all professions and age groups quickly learned. Devastating group strikes by Russian Ground Attack and Rotary Wing aviation along the entire Line of Contact from Kherson region to Polissia. Bombardment from an altitude of 6,000-7,000 m, which is unreachable for the means of direct Air Defense cover of the units, even of individual platoon strongholds. A carousel of dozens of Su-24M (Fencer-D) and Su-34 (Fullback) front-line bombers over surrounded Mariupol. Unceasing air alarm sirens over Kyiv, Kharkiv, Dnipro, Odesa, and our other cities. Yes, all this and much more will not be forgotten.
According to the enemy's plans, during the first one to three days of the strategic Air Offensive Operation, the Ukrainian Air Defense should disappear, and within another week, the remnants of combat aviation. It is quite possible that this is exactly what happened. However, not in reality, but only in the victorious reports of Russian generals who were allegedly sent to Moscow in the first weeks of large-scale aggression. In reality, the Ukrainian Air Defense persevered and desperately continued to resist. Having underestimated the level of its survivability, as well as the stability, courage and stubbornness of our pilots and Air Defense crews the enemy defiantly wrote it off from the calculations. The enemy decided that he had gained dominance in the air and began to fulfill his main task - air support of ground groups. This catastrophic miscalculation for the enemy gave our Air Defense a much-needed break and time to regroup.
As a result, the number of interceptions of air targets turned out to be unexpectedly high for the enemy, although at the time it was disappointing for us in absolute numbers. It turned out that the "state-of-the-art" Russian Fullback and Su-35 (Flanker-Е+), modernized MiGs, Mi and Ka of various indexes, "Iskanders" (SS-26 Stone), "Calibers" (SS-N-27 Sizzler) and "Kha-shkis", which, according to Putin, are "unique", are perfectly defined, engaged and fall burning to the ground. The experience of the Russian decorated aces, which they gained by bombing the defenseless cities and towns of Syria, turned out to be completely useless for the War in Ukraine, and the number of "those who did not return from a combat mission" of Russian pilots increased rapidly.
Everything that happened and is happening in the air war on the Russian side is now dictated not by design, but exclusively by reaction to the development of events. The transition to missile terror tactics, an increase in the share of fate in the missile strikes of the "not new" Kh-22 (AS-4 Kitchen) and Kh-59 (AS-13 Kingbolt) air-based cruise missiles, the use of the S-300 (SA-10 Grumble) Air Defense system against ground targets, the humiliating purchase of kamikaze drones from Iran and their widespread use by the "superpower" against civilian infrastructure is far from a complete list of the Russian Federation's desperate attempts to change the course of events and intercept the strategic air initiative. The decision of the Russian Command regarding the use of air attack means, depending on the orientation of the experts, can be called "flexible", "adaptive», or "creative". However, in essence, and this is the most important thing, they are situational. The planned Russian Strategic Air Offensive, which was supposed to clear the way for the land operational groups of the invading troops and quickly force the population of Ukraine to stop resisting, failed.
At the same time, the relative parity with the enemy in the Air, achieved at a heavy price, is shaky and unstable, and the situation with countering missile terror of the Russian Federation, unfortunately, is far from controlled. The enemy's airstrikes on energy supply facilities have devastating consequences for millions of our compatriots and the national economy. Civilians continue to die from aerial attacks and the Armed Forces of Ukraine suffer losses. The enemy's group bombing airstrikes are becoming a thing of the past, but the use of cruise missiles and attack UAVs still pose a mortal danger. At the same time, we must understand that what is happening is significantly different from what should have happened, according to the plans of the Russian Command, even more than six months ago.
Search for probable causes
Let us consider the objectively probable reasons for the failure of the Russian Air Offensive. More precisely, the question can be narrowed down to a more professional one: what are the reasons for the enemy's non-realization of its combat potential and quantitative and qualitative superiority in the means of warfighting in the Airspace? Advantage can be considered as a double category – objective-physical (capabilities available at a certain moment) and subjective-mental (ability to use/implement them with maximum efficiency).
It is necessary to start with the well-known quantitative and qualitative component of the Air Forces of the Russian Federation, which, obviously, turned out to be somewhat overestimated. The number of Russian combat aircraft in the air group of the invasion, indicated in the estimates of past years, traditionally impressed all experts with three-digit figures and led to a catastrophic calculation ratio for Ukraine [Numerical indicators of the initial quantitative and qualitative ratio of the parties' forces currently remain a subject of debate. Depending on the "age" and "nationality" of the calculation method used, ratios from 1:7 to 1:30 or more in favor of the enemy are noted.]
According to experts, the Russian Federation was and, in principle, remains one of the few countries in the world that has offensive capabilities in airspace. Only the aviation component along our borders, created on the eve of the invasion, consisted of almost half a thousand combat aircraft and several hundred helicopters. It is quite possible that the data were completely adequate if we take as a basis the List of the Numerical Composition of aircraft and helicopters. It should be added that as of February of this year, only the mentioned powerful formation of the Air Force of the Russian Federation in terms of the number of combat aircraft outnumbered the listed aviation fleet of the Armed Forces of Ukraine by approximately four times.
At the same time, the basis of the Russian formation was precisely modern models of aviation equipment, such as the Flanker-Е+, Fullback, Su-30 (Flanker-C), Ka-52 (Hokum B), Mi-28 (Havoc), etc. Aircraft and helicopters of early modifications began to be used only later, after incurring irreparable losses in modern models. At the same time, the Air Force of the Armed Forces of Ukraine was armed with physically and morally obsolete samples of aviation equipment and anti-aircraft missile systems of Soviet production, which had long since exhausted their intended resource and had not undergone any significant modernization.
However, the course of the first days of the invasion demonstrated that the "mathematical equations" of war have too many unknown members that can radically change the outcome. This "known unknowns" include such factors as: the narrow specialization of the aviation fleet of the Air Force of the Russian Federation preserved from Soviet practice, the unsatisfactory organization of the overall support of aviation combat operations, the technical imperfection of the critical nomenclature of aviation means of engagement, gaps in the combat, moral and psychological training of the flight crews, unsatisfactory level of the operational Command and Control.
The imperfections of Russian aviation equipment and weapon need an explanation. Soviet and Russian schools of military aircraft construction occupied leading positions in the world until the last years of the previous century. The appearance of MiG-29 (Fulcrum) and Su-27 (Flanker-B) combat aircraft with their innovative technical solutions caused deep concern in NATO countries. However, the decade of stagnation of Russian industry after the collapse of the USSR and the rapid development of the aviation industry in the West quickly changed the situation to the opposite. The West followed the path of creating multifunctional aviation platforms, while the tradition of the generic division of aviation continued to be preserved in the Russian Air Force. Even their most modern aircraft, pathetically called "multi-functional", keep the division according to the main and auxiliary functionality. In military language, they are called the primarily and secondary missions. So, the Fullback is still a front-line bomber with limited air combat capabilities, while the Flanker-C remains primarily a fighter.
Why is this important? Everything is quite simple. Despite all the dynamics of the Air Warfare, it is linear in the order of execution of combat missions. First - the struggle for superiority in the Air, the destruction of the Command and Control, reconnaissance of the airspace, air defense systems, and combat aviation of the enemy. Then - the execution of missions of airborne landings, isolation of the areas from the air, direct air support of the troops. And finally, launching missile-bomb strikes at strategic depth to disrupt the mobilization of the troops and the economy.
In practice, if the "narrow" specialization of aviation equipment is preserved, while fighters are fighting fierce battles for Air Superiority, ground attack aircraft and bombers will stand idle on airfields, waiting for their time, and vice versa. At the same time, if you are armed with truly multifunctional equipment, you can provide the same capabilities with much smaller forces, changing only the configuration of the air weapon depending on the tasks of the flight mission. That is, despite the significant quantitative indicators of the Russian invasion aviation group, the Ukrainian Air Defense had to deal with only about a third of its number at the same time.
Similarly, the philosophy of technical solutions embedded in Russian aviation assets of engagement had a negative effect on the course of combat in the Air for the Russian Air Force. For example, anti-radiation missile missiles are the main means of air defense suppression [An anti-radiation missile (ARM) is a missile designed to detect and home in on an enemy radio emission source. It has been widely used, in particular against SAMs, since the sixties of the 20th century.]
Russian ARM of the X-58 (AS-11 Kilter) type (and others) have quite complex tactics of use. To successfully guide the missile to the target, the pilot must engage in a duel with the anti-aircraft missile system operators and for a long time, in fact, in “kamikaze” style, conduct a "frontal attack" on the SA missile launcher position. To increase their chances, the enemy engages entire units of "hunter planes" with a clear division of functions in the "flock". But all of this requires pilots to be highly professional, organized, willing to take risks, and self-sacrificing. Everything that Russian pilots lack so much, judging by the fact that there are very few cases of effective suppression of our Ukrainian SAMs, and Russian pilots preferred to kill the civilian population of our cities. At the same time, the AGM-88 HARM ARM (and other modern world aviation weapons), which the Ukrainian aviation has successfully adapted, has a completely different philosophy. An aircraft is often just a carrier platform. Although the pilot can independently select and attack the target, his main task is only to bring the missile to the launch point. The missile can independently search for a target in a defined area, or it can be targeted by another aircraft or a combat control post. Therefore, the numerous modern, or rather "new", Russian aviation equipment and means of engagement adhere to the outdated philosophy of air warfare and proved unable to defeat the few, technically outdated, but mentally innovative Ukrainian Air Defense and aviation, supported by Western partners.
Another likely factor in the failures of Russian aviation is the weak level of comprehensive support for aviation combat operations. Numerous Russian experiments in previous years regarding the transfer of aviation groups to the system of air bases and again to regiments and divisions obviously had a negative impact on the general level of combat readiness and the ability to conduct long-term combat operations away from the home air bases. It is indicative of the fact that at 5-7 main air bases and a dozen operational airfields located around the Ukrainian borders, as well as in Crimea and on the territory of the Republic of Belarus, and which are used by the Russian Air Force to carry out airstrikes, already in the spring it was difficult to notice cases of basing on one airfield more than 14...18 attack aircraft. We can also mention the alleged heart-breaking plan of the Russian Aviation Commanders with the aim of misleading and dispersing the efforts of the Ukrainian Air Defense and any other higher meaning. The explanation of these two features is quite simple. It sounds so familiar - technical serviceability.
In military practice, the mentioned looks approximately as follows. On the eve of the invasion, the mixed aviation regiment from the 2nd Mixed Aviation Division of the 14th Army of the Air Force and Air Defense, which is stationed in the Chelyabinsk region and is armed with 24 Fullbacks, receives a task to be involved in a "special military operation" in Ukraine. After overcoming all the accompanying difficulties, 18 fighter-bombers appeared at the Belarusian airfield in February this year. The number 18 in this case is magical and indicative. This is not a squadron, and not two squadrons, and not four or five flight-size units. This is a reality in terms of technical condition, or rather 75% of the total number of bombers in the regiment. The indicator is on the verge of limited combat capability. The hostilities have not yet begun, and a quarter of the aircraft are already missing. A full-size mixed aviation regiment continues to appear in Russian staff estimates. And this applies to the most modern (more precisely, the newest) Russian fighter-bombers of the 4++ generation, which were adopted only in 2014. It is unlikely that the general situation of technical serviceability for aircraft of much earlier types and series looks better.
The missile component of the Air Offensive turned out to be quite successful. It would seem that the Russian group and massive missile strikes of the first weeks should quickly lead to the destruction of Ukrainian military stocks and defensive objects. The massiveness and systematicity of missile attacks, in addition to significant material damage, led to the disorganization of everyday life, partial panic, and the appearance of a certain number of our compatriots with a sense of the inevitability of disaster.
Quantitative indicators again played a significant role in this. During the first two, the most difficult, months of the large-scale invasion, the average number of enemy missile strikes alone was about 8-10 per day, with an average daily expenditure of up to 15 cruise and ballistic missiles. In addition, the consumption of SS-26 on the first day of the invasion reached a level that later became unattainable for the enemy. More than 80% of the means of air attack consisted of Russian SS-26 and SS-N-27 - ground and sea-based missiles. Even without considering the Russian bet on the rapid advance of ground troops, such devastating air attacks by SS-26 and SS-N-27 should quickly suppress any will of the Armed Forces of Ukraine and the civilian population to organized resistance. Skillful use by the Air Forces of the Armed Forces of Ukraine of the significantly limited number of available SAMs and fighter aircraft, combined with measures to disperse, camouflage, and direct Air Defense cover objects and troops, did not allow the enemy to achieve what he intended. Despite the technical imperfection and the minimal experience of using the means of Ukrainian Air Defense before the start of a large-scale invasion, its actions quite surprised the Russian theoreticians who support missile terror and self-sufficiency of the Air Offensive. One of the clear confirmations of this is the subsequent transfer of airstrikes by the enemy specifically to the infrastructure facilities of Ukraine with the aim of creating an extremely complicated economic situation in the country, in particular - in the energy sector, and with the expectation of a long-lasting destructive effect.
Undoubtedly, the human factor is extremely important, if not decisive. We can mention the inability of the Russian Air Force to ensure the safety of the use of aviation from operational airfields. Dozens of charred remains of helicopters and airplanes at the airfields in Chornobayivka or Saki can only be explained by the recklessness and neglect of basic safety rules by the relevant officials. We are also talking about the crews of aircrafts, ships, and missile complexes. We will immediately exclude from the scope of consideration that category of personnel who do not personally expose themselves to danger when using their weapons system. These are the crews of the Tu-22M3 (Backfire) long-range bombers, which strike with impunity from the airspace of the Republic of Belarus or the Russian Federation, the missile-carrying ships of the Russian Black Sea Fleet and the Caspian Flotilla, and the crews of the SS-26 mobile short-range ballistic missile system, which conduct launches from extreme ranges. A completely separate set of professional qualities is needed by pilots of fighter, bomber, and attack aircraft, not to mention the crews of rotary wing aviation.
Obviously, the enemy had and continues to have the biggest problems with this category of personnel. The conditions for carrying out tasks on training airfields and in the skies of Syria or the Caucasus were significantly different from Ukrainian realities. And where personal training and fighting qualities should have been most fully manifested, difficulties began there. Charged flight hours and unwillingness to risk one's own life, self-confidence and unpaid housing mortgages, ignorance of the theater of war and the degree of real threat from the Ukrainian Air Defense - everything can be found in the interrogation protocols of Russian pilots who were lucky enough to be captured.
The assignment of combat tasks to only a narrow circle of the most experienced pilots from the number of pilots released into the reserve or the command staff of aviation units turned out to be a temporary solution. However, the ratio of one "trained" to twenty-thirty "inexperienced" was clearly not in favor of solving the problem. At the beginning of the large-scale invasion, it was also common to send various types of "operational groups" of pilots from aviation units and formations, on average up to 30% of the flight crew, to carry out "special military operation" tasks. Regardless of the name, such groups of pilots were essentially appointed "from all those who are capable of something." In addition, pilot training takes years, not weeks.
This cannot be considered absolutely typical. The enemy continues to have enough conditionally trained flight personnel, learns in this war together with us and gains combat experience. The level of professional training of its individual "specialists" is much higher than we would like. However, we are talking about the realization of the potential, about mass and quantitative indicators, and in this sense, the situation with the enemy's aviators can hardly be called satisfactory.
Also, judging by the development of the situation, the "human factor" was most fully revealed in the work of the C2 bodies of the air component of the aggressor. The very operational construction of an aviation group on the eve of the invasion did not contribute to ensuring controllability. The "collective hodgepodge" of aviation units and units from different military districts, their location on several dozen airfields, unresolved problems of interaction and coordination - all these added problems in the organization of combat employment. And most importantly, strategic miscalculations at the planning stage, lack of understanding of the enemy and the development of the situation, and the inability to quickly adapt to these changes led to the failure of the Russian strategic offensive air operation.
But, let us be honest, despite all the above, the Russian Federation had and still maintains a significant advantage in terms of potential over the Ukrainian Air Defense and aviation. The “math of war” still demonstrates that we should have lost the battle for our airspace. And in fact, the only reason, apart from the courage and heroism of our soldiers, thanks to which we managed to withstand past airstrikes and eliminate this advantage is the absolute superiority over the enemy in the work of our C2 bodies.
Objectively about what has been known for a long time
The review will remain incomplete without indicating the factors that significantly contributed and continue to contribute to the enemy's performance of the Air Warfare tasks. They can be conditionally divided into two groups: situational and those that operate constantly.
Absolute similarity and good familiarity of the enemy with the fleet of aircraft and anti-aircraft means of the domestic Air Force have a significant negative impact. Long-term operation and use of practically identical models provides an opportunity to thoroughly study all the features of their combat use and "weak spots" in technical characteristics. This allows the enemy to build tactics of using their own air attack means, using the well-known weaknesses of our air defense system, and, if possible, to neutralize the strong ones. This is manifested in the construction of air and missile strikes, selected routes, and flight profiles on various segments of the trajectory to increase the probability of a breakthrough of the Air Defense. In turn, this forces our air defense and combat aviation to constant maneuvers, changes in work modes and extensive use of the remaining resource of air defense systems.
The frank technical obsolescence of air defense equipment, most of which are developments of 50-60 years ago, in particular air defense systems, does not allow to effectively engage certain types of air targets. First of all, this applies to small objects, ballistic targets, and hypersonic air-launched missiles. But not only SS-26 and SS-N-27 are an undeniable threat. Missiles of the X-22 (AS-4 Kitchen) or P-800 "Onyx" (SS-N-26 Strobile) type are also extremely difficult targets for our Air Defense to intercept. Theoretically, the SA-10 anti-aircraft missile systems could engage them, but Ukraine does not have the appropriate anti-missiles for them.
For the planes of our tactical aviation, for example, the lack of an active jamming station, which should act on the main element of modern radars - the monopulse direction finder, is fatal. In addition, the planes of our tactical aviation do not have effective on-board EW complexes capable of protecting them from the enemy SA/AA missiles. Moreover, given the enemy's use of Pantsir S1 (SA-22 Greyhound) mobile air defense systems, combat flight missions in the area of the Line of Contact are always associated with significant danger, since regular airborne radiation warning stations are unable to detect the radar operations of this air defense system.
Not the last role is played by technical wear and tear, losses, damages and, as a derivative of them, the unsatisfactory level of technical readiness of air defense equipment and aircraft.
There remains a group of constantly acting factors. The most significant among them is the numerical superiority of the means of air attack, beyond which even the tactical and technical characteristics of the models cease to play a decisive role. In other words: it is the banal insufficient number of air defense systems and fighter aircraft that has an effect. This is especially critical when repelling group and massive enemy missile strikes. Let us not forget about the usual limitations in the available stocks of SA missiles for the old park's Air Defense systems.
For long-term planning, it is important to understand the currently existing disproportion between the number of cover objects and the number of Air Defense assets, taking into account losses. Former calculation methods no longer provide the possibility of estimating quantitative indicators for means of air cover. The reason for this lies in the different level of development of military technologies and the degree of branching of the infrastructure that ensures the functioning of the state and the well-being of citizens. The experience of the War, the selectivity and targeting of the enemy's use of air attack force a revision of the existing calculation norms for the number of anti-aircraft weapons and stocks of SA missiles.
The existing numerical composition of forces and means of air defense physically does not allow to create an echeloned Air Defense over the entire territory of the country. Currently, we have limited capabilities to effectively intercept ballistic missiles, cruise missiles and attack UAVs. At one time, the architecture of our Air Defense system was mainly built in Soviet times and was intended to combat aircraft at low altitudes and above. And it successfully completed this task. But most cruise missiles and attack UAVs on the route fly at extremely low altitudes of 50...150 m. In this altitude echelon, the available SA missile systems can cover a small part of the country's territory. That is why when we note the interception of 70...90% of the enemy's missiles, it should be attributed only to the skill of the personnel of our Air Force.
The drawing of state borders with the Russian Federation and Belarus, which covers the territory of our state and the coastal strategic southern flank, also refers to constantly acting factors. The use of the water area of the Black Sea, the airspace and the territory of the Republic of Belarus allows the enemy to increase the total front of the likely directions of airstrikes by almost three times. And since the summer of this year, the "emphasis" on the use of air- and sea-based cruise missiles by the Russians, in addition to being an objective indicator of their stockpiles, also has considerable operational significance.
It is impossible to deny the enemy the skillful use of two such familiar, but difficult to predict in the pre-war period, components of military confrontation in the Air Warfare.
One of them is the use of airborne early warning and control aircraft of the Beriev A-50 (Mainstay) type and its modifications. This allows the enemy to control the air situation hundreds of kilometers deep into the territory that is on our side of the Line of Contact. This is especially critical for monitoring the actions of our fighter and bomber aircraft. Individual cases of interception of our aircraft in the depths of our territory with the help of long-range missiles of the AA type by targeting from the Mainstay have already been noted. At the same time, the detection range of domestic Air Defense means is practically determined by the characteristics of the spread of radio waves in the meter and centimeter bands.
Another was the widespread use by the enemy of radio-electronic suppression of anti-aircraft weapons in view of the weak protection of our Air Defense systems from its influence. It is noteworthy that for the performance of these missions, means of not the newest Russian models are involved, and the reason for their effectiveness lies exclusively in the technical imperfection of domestic Air Defense equipment.
Why the Air again?
Russia's by no means limitless stocks of cruise missiles of the SS-26 family and the minimal possibilities for their production in the face of sanctions pressure force the Russians to look for other, more affordable means of destruction to accomplish their tasks. The first such step was the transition to the widespread use of attack UAVs of the Shahed family. The next step, which is already being observed, is the transfer of the bulk of strike tasks to air-based cruise missiles. At the same time, given the limited stocks of SS-26-type cruise missiles, their use in the medium term will become more selective and is expected to target HVTs.
In the future, considering the effectiveness of missile weapons systems, which use a ballistic trajectory or a ballistic descent on the final part of the trajectory, the most probable is the expansion of the scope of their employment. In this situation, the advanced Iranian replicas of the Soviet-Chinese Fateh-110 ballistic missiles and their improved Zolfaghar version, the possibility of supplying which to the Russian Federation was noted as recently as two months ago, pose a mortal danger to facilities throughout the territory of our country. The characteristics of range and accuracy, as well as the natural technical complexity of intercepting a ballistic target and the limitations of Ukraine in the necessary means encourage the enemy to consider just such an option.
The situation with the organization of the operation of aviation equipment in the Russian Armed Forces is unlikely to improve for a few reasons, but the enemy still can maintain and expand the aviation group due to its impressive numbers. Russia continues to transfer aviation equipment from the "rear" military districts to replenish the losses incurred and still has enough resources to conduct the battle in the Airspace at the current intensity for several years to come. The fact that the number of the aviation group around Ukraine has remained almost unchanged since the beginning of the invasion, however, its qualitative composition has significantly deteriorated, as the Russian side is forced to replace modern lost aircraft and helicopters with outdated modifications, sometimes even removed from storage, is indicative.
The situation with strategic aviation, in particular with the fleet of Backfire and Tu-95MS (Bear-H) missile-carrying bombers, does not seem to worry the Russian Command, because there are no losses in the air among these aircraft. At the same time, the listed number of fighter-bombers Flanker-C, fighters Fullbacks and Flanker-Е+ - the main models of strike aircraft of the Russian Air Force, still makes it possible to easily replenish losses of aviation equipment. Considering the crucial importance of the use of air attack means, the command of the Russian Armed Forces seems to be ready to take exactly such measures, sometimes even giving in to the need to maintain the balance of the air presence in other regions.
Russian stocks of air-launched cruise missiles, especially modern ones, like any military stocks, are not unlimited. However, there is no reason for optimism in this. Simply waiting and hoping that the airstrikes will cease due to the enemy's lack of weapons is the worst thing that can be done in the current situation. To the simple question: when this can happen, there is an equally simple answer - never. It is safe to say that the Russian leadership has been busy searching for a way out of this situation for more than a month. And certain solutions are already being implemented. One of them is based on the relative availability of air and missile armaments for external supply. Monetary costs or obligations to partners can eliminate for the Russian Federation problems associated with continuing the design or increasing the production of air attack weapon. To some extent, this situation is somewhat like the Ukrainian one, when we do not have a particular choice, but must accept as help what our partners offer or can afford to offer.
The winter period to some extent complicates the rapid maneuver of air defense assets. Note that in conditions of numerical superiority of air attack means over anti-aircraft means, such a maneuver is the key to successful countermeasures.
A decrease in the dynamics of the actions of ground troops will probably lead to relative stabilization along the entire length of the Line of Contact. Under the condition of effective use of reconnaissance means, the possibility of detecting and hitting targets increases due to the decrease in their degree of mobility. The location and configuration of the air defense system are becoming more fixed and predictable. This opens certain opportunities for the enemy to plan to successfully overcome zonal air defense on the Line of Contact, which means the possibility of returning to the wide use of strike aircraft against objects in the operational rear and in the depths of the country's territory.
Focusing on air attacks makes it possible not to reduce the intensity of hostilities not only on the front, but also throughout the country, regardless of the probable maneuvers of groups of land troops. For civil infrastructure, first of all - for energy facilities, failure in the cold period of the year is more painful and requires incomparably greater efforts to restore. There is no need to talk about the fact that the country's energy system is already teetering on a dangerous edge. In addition, the critical infrastructure of our country is not limited exclusively by energy facilities.
The purely military purpose of continuing and escalating airstrikes on objects in our rear can be disruption of the planned training of troops, restoration of combat capability, supply of new types of weapons and military equipment. It means that the targets of airstrikes can again be military training areas, supply bases, storage sites, and defense industrial facilities.
And subsequently, the focus on airstrikes preserves the possibility of speculation and political pressure on the country's leadership and the international community by exploiting the reality of a regional energy disaster. To some in the leadership of the Russian Federation, the above seems to be the key to the successful completion of the "special military operation" and victory over Ukraine. Such plans are not only another reason to assert their reckless nature and lack of prospects, but also to emphasize the seriousness of the enemy's further intentions.
There will be a continuation
It should be noted once again that the enemy is also conducting a further search for ways to realize the potential of air superiority. And a number of the mentioned problematic issues, or even a wider list of them, are of no less concern to the Russian command than to us. It is only logical that we should expect to improve existing or introduce new steps and evaluate innovative approaches to Air Warfare. At least three such possibilities are seen today.
Attacks by enemy UAVs, primarily on infrastructure facilities, will continue. If we take the observation of September-November as a basis, then the available and declared for delivery under Iranian contracts may be enough for another two or three months. It is possible to build up Russian production and expand the range of UASs that will be used. During this time, with effective planning of airstrikes, it can cause severe damage to our civilian facilities and industry. In addition, the goal of massive UAV attacks will remain the exhaustion of the Air Defense system and the forcing of excessive use of SA missiles. Despite the high percentage of interception, given the cost of SA missiles and the moral and economic consequences of strikes, UAVs will remain one of the main types of Air Warfare weapons. Soon, creative options for complex UAV and cruise missile strikes or duplicating the engagement of HVTs will begin to appear.
The enemy will try to get the maximum benefit from the technical complexity of intercepting ballistic targets. It is likely to increase the strikes by means of air attack that reveal themselves to be ballistic targets for our air defense, for example Zolfaghar ballistic missiles with a flight range of up to 700 km declared by the manufacturer. Further "background" use by the enemy of cruise missiles, or even outdated "Tochka-U" (SS-21 Scarab A) to complicate the construction of missile strikes and overload Ukrainian air defense, is not excluded.
The above in no way precludes the continued selective use of SS-26 and SS-N-27 cruise missiles against the most important targets in our rear. Selectivity will be determined by the number of missiles, which will remain limited due to difficulties with production, and more precisely, with the supply of components under international sanctions pressure.
Tasks for today for a successful tomorrow
Asking questions is usually much easier than offering answers to them. War in the air has always been a devastating combination of measures to cover one's own troops and objects from airstrikes while simultaneously inflicting maximum damage on the enemy. Such an exquisite dance with aerial "shield and sword" is known to everyone, and especially to military professionals, since the times of the wars of the beginning of the twentieth century.
When considering an air "shield" for Ukraine, it is necessary to start with solving the problem of acquisition air targets, because "seeing", especially in relation to cruise missiles, attack, bomber aircraft and attack UAVs, is very often much more difficult than hitting. Today, such a task is solved by the Air Force of the Armed Forces of Ukraine by skillful maneuvering of detection means to constantly put the enemy in front of a new configuration of the radar field, for which he again needs time and resources. However, this approach is more typical for covering groups of troops than rear-line objects, and it is used in a certain forced manner. The ideal option would be to build a continuous radar field covering the entire altitude echelon, including extremely low ones. It is not cheap and not soon, but such a goal should be set. And no funds should prevent the reliable protection of the lives of civilians in the rear and military personnel on the battlefield. Not to mention the fact that economic losses from airstrikes can exaggerate the specified costs by an order of magnitude.
In addition, the capabilities of detecting air targets and targeting interceptors can be provided by air situation control systems that implement the NATO standard for information exchange Link-16. The production and improvement of the domestic model of such a system - "Oreanda-PS" has been going on for more than a year. At the same time, an immediate solution may be the supply of such systems from abroad. It is important that our partners also understand the need for such a "hot" solution. In particular, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, US Army General Mark Milley, noted in October of this year that "...whatever systems will be delivered to Ukraine as a result, they will be combined into one joint structure, in which the exchange of information will be ensured".
Ahead is joint systematic work with partners to re-equip the Air Force of the Armed Forces of Ukraine with anti-aircraft missile systems. Despite the similar need for immediate decisions, since the threat of enemy airstrikes is daily, it is necessary to consider two essential factors. First, it is the presence of objective opportunities and political will of our partners. Unfortunately, anti-aircraft missile systems are not among the types of weapons that can be stored at arsenals for decades, so their "stockpiles" are extremely small. An exception can be made only by air defense systems of earlier types, or those stored as reserves. It means that any decision on the transfer of air defense systems to Ukraine is made and will be made by any country, first, to the detriment of its own security. In addition, Ukraine is currently not in a position to refuse foreign aid or to put forward its own conditions. Secondly, it is critically important to prevent the formation and accumulation in the Air Forces of the Armed Forces of Ukraine of a diverse "zoo" of heterogeneous air defense systems of foreign production. Of course, we should not forget about the standardization and interoperability of almost all types of similar weapons among NATO countries and outside the Alliance. However, we must remember that the real or potential threat of Russian airstrikes unfortunately will not disappear either tomorrow or even after the end of the War. The use and operation of heterogeneous systems of high-tech weapons such as air defense systems has always been and will remain a serious challenge for a long time. That is why the future architecture of the domestic Air Defense system, as far as air defense assets are concerned, should already be clearly formed, agreed upon and accepted for implementation by us and our partners.
Today, there is a clear need to equip the Air Force of Ukraine with air defense systems of three classes in terms of the range of hitting air targets: short range - up to 40 km; medium range - up to 100 km; long-range - more than 100 km [The classification by range is given in accordance with the one adopted by the Armed Forces of Ukraine. One of the widespread world standards for the classification of air defense systems provides for a short range - up to 40 km; average range - up to 80 km; long-range complexes - up to 150 km and more.]
Modern calculations show that the need for air defense systems of the specified classes is about two-thirds, less than a third and 8...10%, respectively. The filling of such a structure with the corresponding material parts has already begun. For example, the IRIS-T SL air defense system developed under the leadership of German specialists, the American MIM-23 Hawk family, and the Norwegian-American NASAMS 2 in their current configurations are typical representatives of the short-range air defense system class to replace the Soviet Buk-M1 (SA-17 Grizzly). Next should be the filling of the medium-range air defense system component to replace the SA-10 air defense system. Such a complex for the Ukrainian Air Force in the near future may be the French SAMP/T with a stated range of up to 100 km and the ability to intercept ballistic targets or the Israeli Barak-8 with a stated range of up to 90 km. The use of the American MIM-104 Patriot in the modification of the PAC-3 will also provide serious advantages. In the future, as a long-range air defense system, provided that the partners make appropriate decisions, it is possible to use, for example, the American THAAD.
At the same time, these medium-range and long-range air defense systems will make it possible to fill the gaps in the capabilities of the national Air Defense to combat ballistic targets. It should be noted that the traditional continuity and unification of most models of foreign armaments of Air Defense forces allow only by changing the equipment and nomenclature of SA missiles to significantly expand the capabilities of the complex itself. So, for example, the more advanced NASAMS-3, subject to the use of certain types of missiles from the AIM-120 line, is already considered a medium-range air defense system. The technical capabilities of the main Soviet medium-range SA-10 for the Ukrainian Air Force have not been fully exhausted. So, for example, when using the "long-range" SA missile 9M83M, the not new SA-10 becomes a long-range complex.
The priority tasks of aviation are and will remain ensuring superiority in the Air and improving capabilities for the air strikes. According to the assessments of domestic experts, objectively, the issue of maintaining the existing aircraft fleet does not arise before the Ukrainian Air Force as such. As is well known, our aviation "squeezes" the necessary resource from the available fleet beyond any regulations and safety margins. And if in the conditions of a full-scale war it is quite possible, then after its end, most of the aviation equipment will likely to be decommissioned. In addition, this fact also rejects the possibility of further modernization, which in the absolute majority of cases loses its meaning if the aircraft platform is physically worn out.
It remains to purchase or supply with material and technical assistance. But this is traditionally a long and financially burdensome option. As in the case of anti-aircraft missile systems, the world market for combat aircraft is quite limited. The production cycle takes months, if not years, and the queue for the purchase of basic models of modern multi-purpose fighters is drawn up for years. In addition, the issue of the sale of combat aircraft has always been politicized, and therefore requires a certain consensus between the manufacturer and the government of the country concerned. Even if you look at the used equipment market, it is just as limited. Just as there is a queue at the manufacturer's factories, there is no less a queue of people wishing to buy "second-hand" aircraft on the secondary market. Only a few countries have significant stockpiles of aviation equipment in storage, such as the United States, but given their own ambitions and the growing risks of global confrontation, they are also reluctant to consider the transfer of this important mobilization resource. In addition, all equipment on the secondary market (either from storage or from military units after rearmament) will require at least major repairs or even modernization. And this also requires time and financial costs.
However, this does not mean that work with partners should not be conducted. Already now it is necessary to conduct negotiations on aviation "lend-lease". These can be multipurpose fighters of the F-16 type Block 50/52 or even Block 40/42 from storage bases or decommissioned after the rearmament of military units (as the most likely option in the near future). And even if these are not the latest versions, they still outperform the Soviet MiGs in terms of their tactical and technical characteristics, they will help compensate for the losses suffered by our aviation and gain the necessary experience in the operation of Western aviation equipment. It must be considered that they are likely to become consumables in our war, so now it does not make sense to seek to get aircraft "off the assembly line". In the future, it is necessary to focus efforts on obtaining more modern types of aircraft: the same F-16, but already in the Block 70/72 modification, F/A-18 Super Hornet, F-15EX, Swedish JAS 39E/F Grippen, or even F -35. However, as in the case of SA missile, based on several reasons, it is desirable to preserve the maximum uniformity of the line of aviation equipment.
As with SAM, the decisions made are likely to be decisive for a sufficiently extended period. The "trial and error" method, given the criticality of the situation and limited financial resources, is unlikely to work. Practically, it means that stopping at one of the options or their combination will determine the prospects for the development and equipment of combat aviation of the Ukrainian Armed Forces for years and decades.
The aerial "sword" should be combined strikes against the stationary targets of the enemy, first against the airfields of the base of the Russian strike aircraft and the areas of the launch positions of ballistic and cruise missiles. This will enable the Air Force and the Armed Forces of Ukraine as a whole to move from repelling airstrikes to retaliatory strikes, as well as preventive targeted strikes. Based on the actual and probable placement of this type of targets, there is an urgent need for means of destruction capable of hitting targets of the specified type in the territory controlled by the enemy at least to a depth of 150...250 km. Currently, at least two ways of solving this issue are considered. The first should be the expansion of the capabilities of strike aviation due to the use of more advanced models of aviation and missile weapons. The second is to increase the range of the M-142 HIMARS complexes equipped with ATACMS missiles. Successful combined strikes at a limited depth have already entered the practice of combat work of the Air Force and missile units of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. Currently, they are limited only to the technical characteristics of certain types of weapons. The possibility to reach the airfields of the base of strike aircraft and the areas of the starting positions of the enemy's ground-based cruise missiles remains ideal. This ability to "equalize the range" immediately transforms the air war for the Russians and their satellite from an exciting adventure with combat launches into a deadly drudgery.
A brief overview of the history, current situation, and probable prospects of confrontation in the Air in the course of repelling large-scale aggression allows us to draw several main conclusions.
The bet on the air component was, is and will remain one of the main ones in the plans of Russian strategists. This approach allows the enemy to count on obtaining a significant advantage in all key areas of military conflict: from military to political.
Despite a number of significant obstacles, the search for novel approaches and the enemy's persistence in continuing the Air War by all available means is an objective reality. The likely targets of further air attacks will remain the objects of civil infrastructure, first of all - the energy sector, and the administrative centers of our country.
Continuation of the protection of the airspace and objects of the strategic rear of the state should remain a priority task of the Ukrainian Armed Forces. The successful completion of such a task is possible only on the condition of adopting and implementing a set of systemic measures to increase the capabilities of countering the enemy in the Air and from the Air.
We understand it and we can do it.