This work is the sequel to the author’s earlier work titled, “Why the Ukrainian skies are still contested” available at www.vifindia.org. Building on the thread of the earlier analysis, this work brings forward the assessment to the current day and draws some deductions therefrom.
By Lt Gen (Dr) V K Saxena (Retd)
Revisiting the Earlier Analysis
The earlier analysis which was done a fortnight back argued that following were the main reasons which prevented a mighty air and air defence power like Russia to achieve even a Favourable Air Situation in the Ukrainian skies (leave aside air superiority) in the weeks after the commencement of war on 24 Feb 2022:-
- A sub-optimal pre-emptive strike that was unable to completely cripple the Ukrainian Air Defence Control and Reporting System (ADCRS) and hence its capability to prosecute the air and air defence war.
- Dividends accrued to Ukraine in strengthening its air and air defence control nodes right after 2014-15 Donbas conflict as not to fully capitulate to the pre-emptive air strikes and counter air operations by Russian air power on 23/24 Feb 2022.
- Sub-optimal play (taking out the misinformation war component) of the Russian’s air space and auto-de-infliction control in the initial weeks of the war that prevented some mighty and front-ranking Russian Ground Based Air Defence Weapon Systems (GBADWS) to operate below par (Kvadrat, Buk 2M later Buk 3M).
- Large proliferation of Man-portable Air Defence Systems (MANPADS) and anti-tank guided missiles (ATGMs), both indigenous as well as, from western countries in Ukrainian inventory (US FIM 92 Stinger MANPADS and Javelin Anti-tank missiles, Stugna-P Ukraine’s indigenous anti-tank missiles and UK’s Starstreak MANPADS) taking disproportionate kills on the Russian aircrafts, attack helicopters and mechanised vehicles.
- The drones like the Turkish Bayractar TB-2 taking a toll on large Russian convoys with the attackers showing a distinct absence of anti-drone specific weaponry both in the hard-kill, as well as, soft kill domain.
The Current Status
The current status is pegged to one fundamental question ‘Has Russia achieved a Favourable Air Situation in Ukraine?” One word reply – NO. This is further explained:-
- As per daily war reports pouring in from open sources, Russia has intensified air attacks in three areas; (a) in and around Kyiv (reportedly, the forces are redeployed at around 16 kms from the capital), (b) Mariupol in the South and (c) Donbask region in the East. A major offensive has just started to unfold in the East as Russian air strikes rock Lviv.
- While there is death and destruction all around two aspects are clearly visible:-
– Ukraine’s aircrafts are still able to operate, albeit sporadically.
– GBADWS, especially the MANPADS and drones are continuously claiming kills on the Russian aircrafts and attack helicopters.
- While many of the one-sided stories emanating from the war zone are to be corrected for huge (mis) information warfare content (a domain where the west-supported Ukraine has had a huge edge), all of it cannot be wished away as cut-paste jobs.
- In the ‘global war’ unfolding in the local setting in Ukraine, it is actually a duel unfolding between the mighty air and air defence power of Russia against the defending power of the ‘allied’ (US, UK, Germany, France…). There has been a continuous induction of air and ground defence weapons into Ukraine. A small sample:-
– With 1400+ Stinger MANPADS, 5500+ Javelin ATGMs, 7000+ small arms of various calibres… the US aid package has crossed 3Bn USD mark. (800mn granted on 13/4)
– Following up on the TB2 drones there are reports of US lethal drones like MQ9 Predator of General Atomics and Switchblade drones along with 11 Mi17 helicopters, 40,000 artillery rounds, 200 Armoured personal carriers, making their way into Ukraine.
– Relevant to air-air defence war the Starstreak MANPADS from UK continue to pour in.
- Russia has warned the US of ‘unpredictable consequences’ if it continues to arm Ukraine.
- Indeed lower than the Ukrainian losses, the air-air defence war is continuing to inflict heavy losses on the Russian Air Force (18 aircrafts -8xSU25, 3xSU30, 1xSU35, 5xSU 34, 1xAN 26, 17 attack helicopters – 5xMI8/17, 1xMi28, 4x Mi 24, 7X Ka 50/52.) Ukraine – 27 aircrafts 10x Mig 29, 2xSU24, 5xSU 25, 3xSU 27, 2xIL 76, 4xAN series, 4 Helicopters+ 5 unidentified aircrafts, 10 Drones). 
- While the figures from one open source may vary from the other, or the losses counted by the respective adversary for the opposite side will be higher than the actual, following facts are noteworthy:-
– Both sides continue to lose aircrafts, attack helicopters and drones by the day (Ukraine – 15 Apr 1xMi8, 12 Apr 1xTU 143, 10 Apr 1xSU 24) ( Russia -15 Apr 1xKa 52,10 Apr 1xMi24,8 Apr 1x Orion drone…)
- What does one say of present and future of the air and air defence war? May be the following:-
– So long as ADCRS system and the Air Space Control (ASC) mechanism of Ukraine continues to be alive, its ability to conduct the air and air defence battle will remain alive , no matter what is the might of the attacking air power.
-So long as there is a continuous induction of deadly MANPADS and ATGMs on the Ukrainian side from multiple western countries, its capability to play havoc and score sporadic kills on the Russian aircrafts, attack helicopters and armoured fighting vehicles in the tactical battle area (TBA) will remain alive.
– So long as the Russian air power continues to use lesser and lesser number of precision guided munitions (PGMs) the collaterals (implying casualties not intended) will continue to pile up. All the live footage of civilian death/destruction /displacements/rubble duly corrected for the misinformation warfare component, still leaves a huge mass.
– So long as the drone power of Ukraine (Bayrackter TB 2, in future MQ9, Switchblade and more) continues to operate in the Ukrainian skies and continues to confront a not-so-visible anti-drone specific Russian weaponry, it will continue to claim disproportionate kills. This tally is likely to go up as the drones in the class of MQ9 will take the threshold to a higher level.
- The air and air defence battle has reached such a stage today that it will be highly unlikely for the Russian air power to achieve a favourable air situation anytime into the future.
- Increased quantum of air attacks will only result in greater casualties and collaterals but it is unlikely to obliterate the MANPAD capability for which there is a perennial supply line. It is no wonder therefore that Russia has warned the US of ‘unpredictable consequences’ of arming Ukraine and there are also reports from Russia of expanding the range of conflict in putting the arm supply convoys from western countries in the harm’s way.
- There is also some loose talk by the Ukrainian President of Russia’ plan to use tactical nuclear weapons! (further discussion on this subject is beyond the scope of this brief analysis).
Thus continues the bloody war where a mighty air and air defence power is prosecuting a fierce air threat that is scaling up on quantum and lethality by the day on a comparatively much weaker adversary. The total pulverisation and capitulation of Ukraine in the first few days of ‘air-fury’ as was expected by the attacker did not come about. Some crunch issues are recapitulated:-
- Irrespective of the might of an air power, if the defender manages to keep alive its capability of conduct air and air defence battle, it will never let the attacker achieve a favourable air situation.
- MANPADS are great force multipliers. If the defender continues to proliferate the TBA with these weapons then it will continue to continue to claim kills against a far superior air power.
- Drones require specific anti-drone weaponry; period. Mighty GBADWS even if the world’s best will fall short.
That brings the reader to 55th day of war and counting.
This article first appeared in www.vifindia.org and it belongs to them.