For the general public, one of the biggest mysteries of the increasingly bogged down Special Operation Z is: Why is our long-established overwhelming air superiority in Ukraine badly affecting the course of the fighting?
After all, on April 1, 2022, the Kremlin through the mouth of the press secretary of the President of Russia Dmitry Peskov very confidently stated: “Superiority in the air during the operation is an absolute fact.”
But go ahead: this superiority, as far as one can judge, for some reason a couple of weeks ago did not help us repel a five-day enemy counteroffensive in the Kharkov region. The offensive, almost completely uncovered by Kyiv itself from the air.
By and large, the Ukrainians simply had nothing to do with it. And for us to inflict massive bombing and assault strikes on attacking chains and columns, on suitable reserves and logistics vehicles – just order. But it seems that something, as they say, did not “get together” in Moscow in those days.
Judging by the experience of previous wars, primarily by the experience of the Second World War, the undividedly reclaimed sky above the front line, in theory, makes any major tank throw a completely hopeless undertaking for the enemy. But for some reason it happened near Kharkov, on the contrary. Why?
Perhaps one can try to discern the clue in what seems to be a simply amazing fact, which a well-known military expert, a retired colonel, recently shared Semyon Bagdasarov.
Semyon Arkadyevich asked himself the question: how did 232 Polish T-72M1R tanks appear in the combat zone completely unhindered from our side? After all, even to unload only one tank battalion (31 combat vehicles) from the railway platforms at the station takes a very long time. Hours, if not days. And then this battalion still needs to stretch out into a column. And along the long road outside the outskirts, rush off somewhere to the area of concentration.
Further, Bagdasarov argues as follows: “The next day, I talk to Bezsonov (Deputy Minister of Information of the DPR – “SP”). Great person, passionate about what he does. I ask: “Where is the heavy equipment unloading station?”. He names a settlement 70 kilometers from the front line. Why are they unloading so freely?
Listen: 70 kilometers from the front line – these are the near rear of the Armed Forces of Ukraine! Even some of our artillery systems, such as the Koalitsiya-SV self-propelled guns or the Tornado MLRS, are in the affected area. And for the Russian Su-25 attack aircraft or our new Su-34 front-line bombers, from the front line to that station is less than ten minutes of flight. Not even at maximum – at cruising speed!
In addition, with the means of destruction that our pilots have, it is not necessary for aircraft to even approach the unloading area. Strike at the immobile Ukrainian echelon with tanks with high-precision missiles. And the battle with the Polish armored “gifts” will end before it even starts.
No, for some reason they didn’t hit that time. The tanks donated by Poland to Kyiv went where they needed without hindrance. Chase now the Russian infantry, missilemen, artillery and helicopter pilots behind them through the fields and forests of Ukraine…
How can this even happen today in the zone of the special operation in the conditions of our superiority in the air?
In theory, there can be only two reasons for this. The first is simply the amazing short-sightedness of our military intelligence, which did not see any unloading of the echelon. And the second is the fears of the command of the special operation for the fate of attack aircraft and bombers, which otherwise would have to be sent behind the front line.
It is not given to us to know which of our assumptions is closer to the truth. However, there are good reasons to assume that, most likely, the latter.
Because it is a fact: somewhere since May, our combat aviation has actually ceased to strike in the operational depth of the enemy defenses. Russian helicopters, attack aircraft and bombers operate almost exclusively on the front lines. Air strikes are carried out daily. But only in the trenches and strongholds of the enemy, which our infantry is storming or preparing to storm.
And if it becomes necessary to hit important targets located much further away (say, like the other day – to crash along the dam on the Ingulets River in Krivoy Rog, which is just one and a half hundred kilometers from Kherson occupied by us for aviation), then only one and a half hundred kilometers are used long-range cruise missiles.
Are we protecting combat vehicles and the lives of our pilots? Naturally. And we do it right. But why, even after the long-completed gain of absolute air superiority over the Armed Forces of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, the danger of flights over the territory of Ukraine for our Aerospace Forces remains unacceptably high?
This is no longer a secret. Let’s frankly admit: over the past seven months of the special operation, we have not been able to defeat the air defense system of this country. To weaken in the first days and weeks of hostilities, yes, it worked out. But to eliminate as a noticeable factor in enemy resistance – no.
Repeatedly scorned in Russia after 2014 for its technical and organizational backwardness, Ukraine’s air defense, almost exclusively equipped with long-obsolete former Soviet weapons, still makes Moscow reckon with itself today. It is clear that not by itself. And based on the world’s best American airspace control information system, which worked around the clock long before February 2022 in the interests of Kyiv. And continues to work to this day. Although in a very unusual mode for us.
The problem is that the Ukrainian air defense systems have long since switched to semi-partisan, but which turned out to be very effective in the current conditions, methods of working on us “from ambush”. That is, their own radar antennas almost do not work on radiation. And therefore, they are practically invulnerable even to the latest Russian high-speed anti-radar missiles X-31PK created in 2009.
Those are designed to be guided by enemy radar signals. And from a long distance to beat them without a miss. But these excellent Russian missiles are simply powerless if there is no signal on the air at the time of the attack at all.
However, if the stations of the Ukrainian air defense systems are almost always turned off, then how do they detect, escort and shoot down our incoming cruise missiles, planes and helicopters?
The secret is that the air defense system of Ukraine is integrated into a single whole with the unified air defense system of the NATO bloc in Europe “Nage” and the US tactical aviation control system on the continent. The anti-aircraft gunners of the Armed Forces of Ukraine are supplied with online data by numerous reconnaissance aircraft E-3A AWACS, which, in their interests, replacing one another, continuously barrage over Poland, Romania, Bulgaria and the Black Sea.
Any departure of any Russian aircraft from the airfield bordering Ukraine is recorded by this watchful electronic “eye” of the United States, as soon as the front landing gear of our combat vehicle comes off the concrete somewhere near Millerovo or Kursk. The most detailed data on the parameters of the movement of a potential target instantly becomes the property of the calculations of the Ukrainian air defense systems. They turn on their equipment for a few minutes only when the Russian plane enters the affected area. And they turn it off, the barely launched anti-aircraft missile left the launcher.
But what about the backwardness of the air defense of Ukraine? In fact, of course, she didn’t go anywhere. And if the Americans hadn’t interfered, we would have butchered her like a god a turtle. Even though by the beginning of our special operation, the sky of the country that had become hostile to us was still guarded by 24-29 S-300PT / PS air defense divisions, up to ten Buk-M1 divisions and a small number of Tor short-range air defense systems in the basic Soviet version (about 10 kilometers firing range). The rest (ZSU “Shilka” and “Tunguska”, as well as the short-range air defense system “Osa-AKM”) could be ignored due to their low combat effectiveness.
Of course, planning in advance to deprive the skies of Ukraine of any anti-aircraft cover, we received and analyzed in advance all the necessary information about the locations of these weapons. Their fire defeat was planned and carried out. But the results of the strikes, as it soon became clear, were far from expected.
As it has now become clear, Kyiv learned in advance about the time of the start of the Russian special operation. For sure – at the suggestion of the American and British intelligence services. The anti-aircraft missile systems were removed ahead of time from the starting positions to reliable shelters prepared in advance. As well as their combat calculations.
Almost certainly for the same reason, our first, especially devastating missile strike, hit, to a large extent, the empty military airfields of the Air Force. Regular parking of combat aircraft and helicopters there also turned out to be almost empty. In any case, giving rise to doubts about the capabilities of Russian intelligence, this is how they now tell with great satisfaction in Kyiv.
In subsequent battles, we, of course, despite the American intrigues, thoroughly thinned out the military aviation and air defense system of Ukraine. However, they were not able to suppress them completely. Therefore, we ourselves fly in those parts with obvious apprehension.
Here is how he comments on the situation that has developed over Ukraine to date Michael Kaufmanleading researcher at the Center for a New American Security in Washington: “Russian aviation, having gained extensive combat experience in Syria and modern weapons, seemed to be a decisive tool in the war against an enemy that does not have such experience (and modern weapons). However, the Syrian experience was very specific – almost a training ground: the enemy did not have any high-altitude air defense (air defense) and only a small number of man-portable anti-aircraft systems capable of shooting down targets at low altitudes.
And further: “Russian aircraft could safely strike from medium altitudes, including with unguided munitions (with the help of new aiming systems). No system for countering and suppressing air defense in the Russian Aerospace Forces (VKS) was created. After the first successes of Russian aviation in the area of Kherson and Melitopol, it turned out that in other places saturated with high-altitude air defense, the advantage of the Aerospace Forces does not fully work.
“In early March, Russian aviation suffered relatively heavy losses near Chernigov, Kharkov, Sumy and Nikolaev,” continues Kofman. – After that, her actions from medium heights in the near rear of the enemy actually stopped. Since then, Russian aviation has been operating mainly from low altitudes (as well as Ukrainian) on the line of contact. As a result, the Russian army still cannot effectively resist the transfer of reserves, the supply of the Ukrainian army and the fire of its long-range artillery.
Do you also think that this pill is too bitter for us? But it will have to be swallowed. And, of course, draw the right conclusions. Because we will have to fight for the sky of Ukraine for a long time.