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JUST IN: Ukraine's Success Against Russia in the Air May Not Last, Ex-Air Force General Says
Defense Dept. photo
ORLANDO, Fla. — Although Ukraine has found early success maintaining superiority in the skies as it fights Russia, experts warn of potential challenges that could shift the war's momentum in the air domain.
Since Russia invaded Ukraine last week, the country has defended the most of its cities and airports from occupation and even incapacitated some of Russia’s military equipment — including Russian fixed-wing aircraft, helicopters, tanks and more. Retired Air Force Lt. Gen. David Deptula, dean of the Mitchell Institute, said Russia’s inability to immediately secure and maintain control of Ukrainian air space was a surprise.
“What’s pretty evident is the war is not going the way [Russian President Vladimir Putin] expected,” he said during a panel at the Air Force Association’s annual Air Warfare Symposium in Orlando, Florida. “The Russians are discovering that coordinating multi-domain operations isn’t easy and that they’re not as good as they — or even we — presumed.”
Ukraine is benefiting from information sharing from a wide variety of sources and that intelligence is likely what gave Ukraine its early momentum and current ability to deny Russia air dominance, he said.
Ukraine has also been deploying the Bayraktar TB2 — a Turkish-made lightweight drone — against Russian forces to an extremely effective degree, Deptula noted. For example, the Ukrainian military claimed Tuesday that the Bayraktar drones had destroyed one Russian tank and two surface-to-air missile systems.
While these early gains are unexpected, Deptula said Moscow still has an advantage over Ukraine in a war of attrition.
“After time goes on, the Ukrainian air force can run into sustainment challenges,” he said. “Additionally, Russia has the numbers of fighters and bombers to trade them with about a ration of four-to-one with the Ukrainian air force.”
One solution Deptula offered was for nations that operate the same aircraft as Ukraine — such as the Mikoyan MiG-29 jet fighter and the Sukhoi Su-24 and Su-25 attack aircraft — to loan them to Ukrainian air force.
Responding to the invasion, members of the North American Treaty Organization began pouring military aid into Ukraine and the surrounding nations. The day after Russia’s attack, the White House approved $350 million of weapons and equipment to be sent to Ukraine.
Ukraine is not a member of NATO but has expressed a desire to join. Moscow argues that the eastern expansion of NATO — which has already admitted several Central and Eastern European countries as members since the breakup of the Soviet Union — threatens Russia’s security.
“Whether [Putin] meant to do it or not, NATO has been rebooted in a big way,” Retired Lt. Gen. Bruce “Orville” Wright, president of the Air Force Association, said during the panel.
The conflict has also prompted European nations to rethink their defense strategies. Germany, for example, announced Feb. 27 it would increase its defense spending to more than 2 percent of its economic output. President Joe Biden also authorized additional U.S. forces to deploy to Germany and Poland.
“Our forces are not and will not be engaged in the conflict with Russia in Ukraine. Our forces are not going to Europe to fight in Ukraine, but to defend our NATO allies,” he said in a White House address Feb. 24.
Last week, the Pentagon said that at least eight F-35 fighter jets with the Air Force will deploy to Eastern Europe as part of the operations. They join other U.S. fighter jets, surveillance planes and a B-52 bomber task force in Europe.
Deptula emphasized that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine should act as a wake-up call for the United States’ need to rebuild the military.
“It’s time to recognize the decline in our military capacity,” he said. “It must be reversed if we’re going to ever be able to create the conditions that secure peace and stability throughout the world.”
Topics: Global Defense Market