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Why Hasn’t Russia Unleashed Its Air Power Over Ukraine?

Su-57 Felon
Su-57 Felon. Image: Creative Commons.

Russian leaders thought their modernized air force would dominate the skies in their war with Ukraine. But the air force has executed its mission poorly, leaving Russia without the unfettered access it needs to handle military targets in the air and on the ground. 

Vladimir Putin’s air force has been hobbled by bad tactics, a poor concept of combined air practices, and a lack of realistic training. The service branch is operating as best it can, but it has not been good enough. This failure has kept Russia from deploying the full force of its aerial powers. Its air force has the numbers – almost 4,000 aircraft with various military roles – but the forces engaged have not done the job.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way. The air force was expected to eliminate Ukrainian airplanes on the ground, take out its fighters, and bomb military targets into oblivion. It was even thought that the air force could help take Kyiv early. Yet two months into the war, Russia still has no edge in aerial combat.

False Confidence From Prior Experience

Russia easily bombed targets during conflicts in Syria, Georgia, and Chechnya. But Ukraine is different. In those earlier engagements, Russian aircraft simply had to fly to a target, drop or launch ordnance, and fly back to base. In Ukraine, Russian forces were expected to use electronic warfare and land-attack missiles to remove Ukrainian surface-to-air missiles and radar installations. This has not happened enough to help Russia’s aircraft accomplish their missions.

Retired pilots, air war experts, and think tank analysts struggle to understand Russia’s difficulties in the skies over Ukraine. But Phillips Payson O’Brien and Edward Stringer took to the pages of The Atlantic to describe what successful air forces do in warfare. 

“Air forces are dependent on an array of technologies that require highly trained personnel who can quickly set up what amounts to an airborne military ecosystem: airborne radar stations to provide command and control, fighters to protect and police the skies, refueling aircraft to keep everyone full of gas, electronic-warfare planes to keep enemy defenses suppressed, and a range of intelligence-gatherers and attack aircraft to locate and destroy enemy forces,” according to the authors. Russia is certainly not checking all of those boxes.

Russian Bombers Arctic

Tu-95

Image: Creative Commons.

The Ukrainians Are Executing Well

The enemy gets a vote in any conflict, and the Ukrainian air force has risen to the challenge. Air defenses on the ground, using surface-to-air systems such as the S-300 and Stinger MANPADs, have pulverized Russian aircraft. These defenses have been so effective that Moscow’s defense command has ordered its planes to fire land-attack missiles from Russian airspace in order to avoid danger. 

Ukrainian drones are also making a difference. They provide targeting information, improve defenders’ situational awareness, and even destroy Russian helicopters as they land to deliver air-assault troops.

Su-57

Su-57. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

Su-57 Stealth Fighter

Image: Creative Commons.

Russia has a real problem to address. The air force has not done its job. It does not use combined air tactics to great effect. The concept of operations is too simple. Support personnel and aircraft don’t cooperate in a seamless manner. They were overconfident going in. Training and operations against inferior adversaries were insufficient to prepare personnel for the expertise of Ukrainian defenders. Junior pilots are not allowed to deviate from inflexible mission plans. These aviators were not well trained before the war. Now they just bomb Ukrainian cities and support troops on the ground – hardly a recipe to win the broader air war.

Now serving as 1945’s Defense and National Security Editor, Brent M. Eastwood, PhD, is the author of Humans, Machines, and Data: Future Trends in Warfare. He is an Emerging Threats expert and former U.S. Army Infantry officer. You can follow him on Twitter @BMEastwood.

Written By

Now serving as 1945s New Defense and National Security Editor, Brent M. Eastwood, PhD, is the author of Humans, Machines, and Data: Future Trends in Warfare. He is an Emerging Threats expert and former U.S. Army Infantry officer.

28 Comments

28 Comments

  1. Alex

    May 10, 2022 at 3:33 pm

    Let’s not forget the main thing: “Russia lost 75,000 soldiers, 3,000 tanks and 240 aircraft.” And also “Bandera Nazis are already near Moscow.” Clowns 🙂

    Jim Chambers (Fergie Chambers) – a journalist from NY spoke about how he SAW the attacks of Ukrainian fascists on peaceful Ukrainians. He told how he SAW what horrors the Bandera Nazis were doing to the Ukrainians. He said that food and medicine appeared when the Russian Liberators came.

    He told how he SAW Nazi paraphernalia wherever the military of Ukraine abandoned their positions (swastikas, Mein Kampf books, paintings by Hitler, Bandera, etc.).

    He SAW how opponents of the regime of the Ukrainian authorities were detained, tortured and killed. He told how the people of Ukraine are waging their struggle for existence and for peace without Bandera Nazis. He spoke about how the Russian liberators help civilians and the Ukrainians ask the Russians not to leave. The Ukrainians are upset that the Russians came late, they should have come earlier.

    He said: “Our American weapons have only exacerbated the useless bloodshed in a battle that the Ukrainian fascists can never win. I am ashamed to carry an American passport with me. The world desperately needs a Russian victory: at the end of Ukrainian Nazism and at the end of the American NATO empire. World needs victory for freedom.”

    • STEVE

      May 13, 2022 at 9:31 am

      Alex, if you are so ashamed of your American passport, why stay? It’s a free country, the door is wide open.

    • One bite at a rime

      May 14, 2022 at 2:30 pm

      Jim Chambers (Fergie Chambers), also interviewed someone who said that because Ukrainians claimed to be is Written descent, just saying that made them Nazis. So I guess that makes every portion is European descent Nazis, right?
      Just because someone says something, doesn’t mean it’s true.
      Russia invaded Ukrai e, and didn’t even have the cajones to declare war first.

    • Cerberus

      May 17, 2022 at 6:49 am

      You are embarrassing yourself again Alex.

  2. Alex

    May 10, 2022 at 3:34 pm

    Graham William Phillips is an outstanding British journalist who objectively and unbiasedly covers events in Ukraine.

    He is in a war zone and interviews all sides. He confirms the existence of Bandera Nazis who brutally torture and kill Ukrainians just because they do not want to see Bandera Nazis in their country.

    He confirms that the Ukrainians are asking the Russian liberators not to leave them anymore and not to leave.

    It is interesting to see how Graham interviews Aiden Aislin, a Briton who fought on the side of Ukraine as part of the Nazi Azov Battalion and was taken prisoner in Mariupol.

    The truth will always see the world thanks to such professionals, and not propagandists, who sometimes have never been to Ukraine and are thousands of miles away.

    No Nazism. We – free people will win.

  3. BG

    May 10, 2022 at 7:07 pm

    Be very concerned when you don’t understand what enemy is doing. This usually means that your assumptions are way off. In fact you probably should do reverse. Clear your mind of all assumptions and look at what enemy is doing and try to figure out why Russians are doing that. Don’t assume stupidity or incompetence, there is probably a very good reason. Also look at what Russians are reporting, maybe the light bulb will turn on. Also don’t expect Russians to fight like Americans because they have very different armed forces, so strategies that might work for US might not be as effective for Russia and vice versa.

    • Accuracy

      May 13, 2022 at 11:57 am

      Stupidity and incompetence are always the reason when you’re speaking of Russia. Also, alcoholism, drug addiction, malaise, and general inferiority.

  4. Him

    May 11, 2022 at 12:54 am

    Alex and the Russian trolls refuse to comment on Soviet Russia being allies with Nazi Germany at the start of WW2.

    Alex cites Bandera being allies with the Germans in WW2 — but, Alex, the total number of Bandera’s forces were so small compared to the entire Soviet Russia ALSO being allied with the SAME Nazi’s.

    Alex keeps copying and pasting the same junk, but refuses to comment on anything that shows the Russians were the ones allied with the Nazis. That’s why the Russians are doing exactly what the Nazis did.

    Alex, I know you won’t respond – but you’re spending your short life earth being a propagandist for brutal dictators. You use your life to keep your Russian people in bondage to dictators. What a waste of your life.

    • Richard

      May 12, 2022 at 12:01 am

      A men!!!!! So true life is very short ,to short for hate!!!!

    • Ted

      May 14, 2022 at 2:23 pm

      Dude, they weren’t allies. They were scared to death of Nazi Germany so they signed a nonaggression treaty (not the same as allies!) hoping it would keep them safe. And only after trying and failing to get an alliance to counter Germany with the other western powers. Remember the Nazis weren’t hiding their ideology, the Soviets knew the Nazis considered them subhuman and that there was all this wonderful “living space” in the east that the Nazis had their eye on.

      • cerberus

        May 17, 2022 at 6:53 am

        They were definitely , beyond all doubt, allies,in every sense of the word.

  5. Alex

    May 11, 2022 at 12:14 pm

    A bit of truth.

    The head of the UN monitoring mission, Matilda Bogner, said that the organization has reliable information about the torture of Russian soldiers in Ukrainian captivity:
    “Ukraine and Russia must promptly and effectively investigate all allegations of torture and ill-treatment of prisoners of war,” she said.

    The military-civilian administration of the Kherson region announced their intention to appeal to Putin with a request to include the region into Russia:
    “We intend to live as part of the Russian Federation. We fully cooperate and feel as one with the regions of Russia.”

    Pfizer, Moderna, Merck, Gilead are testing medicines in Ukraine, bypassing international safety standards, reducing the costs of research programs and gaining significant competitive advantages. Coronavirus vaccine manufacturers have been involved in US military biological activities.

    Along with American pharmaceutical companies and Pentagon contractors, Ukrainian state structures are involved in military biological activities, the main tasks of which are to conceal illegal activities, conduct field and clinical trials, and provide the necessary biomaterial.
    The American side expanded its research potential both in the field of creating biological weapons and in the field of obtaining information about antibiotic resistance and the presence of antibodies to various diseases in the population of specific regions.

    Ukraine has long become a training ground for Western countries to create biological weapons components and test new samples of pharmaceuticals.

    The United States, as part of its military biological program in Ukraine, used Mariupol as a regional center for work with the cholera pathogen.
    Evidence was obtained of the emergency destruction of documents confirming work with the US military department. A preliminary analysis of the surviving documentation indicates the use of Mariupol as a regional center for the collection and certification of the cholera pathogen.

    The selected strains were sent to the public health center in Kyiv, which is entrusted with the functions of further sending biomaterials to the United States.
    This activity has been carried out since 2014, which is confirmed by the acts of transfer of strains.

    Pentagon spokesman John Kirby on Fox News recalled that the United States supplied weapons to Ukraine long before the start of the Russian special operation.
    “The Biden administration was supplying weapons long before the invasion. The first billion dollars that the president allocated for Ukraine did indeed include assistance with lethal weapons … The United States, Canada, Britain, other allies actually helped prepare the Ukrainians, ”Kirby quoted the TV channel as saying.

    As military experts and analysts had previously assumed, Ukraine would have brought down all its military power on the Donbass in any case, but Russia was the first to come to the aid of Donyuass.

    The world is watching. The world sees. Lies are dying.

    • Jim

      May 12, 2022 at 1:39 am

      Are there any stupid conspiracy theories you don’t buy into or are you just getting paid for these posts?

      Of course they’re researching cholera, they’ve had several epidemics of it in Ukraine in the last 50 years. The World Health Organization told them to destroy research materials when they were invaded which is standard in disasters to prevent accidental release or intentional release of pathogens. The same thing happened at university biolabs effected by hurricane Katrina in 2005 and hurrican Ike in 2008.

      So we’re back to whether you are just gullible or being paid.

    • Not a PutNazi

      May 12, 2022 at 2:44 am

      Crazy that the Russian disinformation machine is even focused on putting comments on a US military journalism site’s article.

  6. C

    May 12, 2022 at 1:39 am

    I see the Russian apologist bots are alive and well.

  7. Jack H

    May 12, 2022 at 4:11 am

    It’s because Russia is planning an attack on the US and has begun the build up in north Georgia. And, yes I mean USA.

    • DisAmVet69

      May 14, 2022 at 5:06 pm

      Good luck with that.

    • DisAmVet69

      May 14, 2022 at 5:15 pm

      Also, if the Russian level of maintenance on their inexpensive to repair tanks, and logistic support trucks are any indication, then their expensive to maintain Russian nuclear weapons are probably held together with bandages. Good luck on them even launching, let alone reaching their targets.

  8. Alex

    May 12, 2022 at 10:20 am

    OK. In Ukraine, 10,000 Russian and 1,000 Russian tanks are destroyed every day. It’s not even funny to read, but it’s not interesting anymore. Let’s talk about the collapsed Russian economy:

    The Russian ruble has become the best world currency in 2022. On Thursday, May 12, Bloomberg reported.

    According to the latest data, the ruble has grown by 11 percent against the dollar since the beginning of 2022. Thus, it has become the leader among the 31 major currencies monitored by the agency’s experts.

    The strengthening of the currency came after the measures taken by the Russian government against the backdrop of Western sanctions, writes Bloomberg. It is clarified that the authorities introduced capital controls, and also obliged exporters to sell foreign exchange earnings. In particular, in March, the President of Russia announced a new procedure for paying for gas by European consumers.

    As similar examples, the authors of the article cite the Turkish lira and the Argentine peso, which failed to achieve maximum growth rates after the decisions of the governments of these countries. The Russian currency, on the contrary, responded well to the measures taken, Bloomberg experts conclude.

    Only facts, not squeals and fantasies of Bandera Nazis and Slavophobes.

    • Mike

      May 12, 2022 at 11:25 am

      Alex, or Sasha in Russian, how often do Kremlin bots get paid, weekly or bi-weekly? how do I apply? In Soviet times the rate for dollar to ruble was set at 61 koppeks , making it the strongest currency in the world, and yet if any Russian tried to buy one, they would be arrested.

  9. siempre

    May 12, 2022 at 1:57 pm

    Freedom of speech.Well, that means we get to read the propaganda from Russia…but, wow, how weak…the Naxis? Is it still 1943 in Russia?
    The Russian paid propaganda machine seems to work no better than the Russian Air force.

  10. UkieExterminator

    May 13, 2022 at 9:36 am

    Yet, Russia still continues to liquidate western weapons and the Ukies using them. I bet the CIA shills on here are kept up at night over that. Think about it this way, pretty soon there won’t be a Ukie left at the rate cities are being wiped off the map. That’s not such a bad thing. As long as white fascists are being exterminated, it’s poetic justice. Good work Russia. Even with the 300,000 losses per western sources, your methodical, consistent grinding of the Ukies is how extermination of whites 101 should be taught

    • Wtf

      May 15, 2022 at 8:54 am

      Why are you emphasizing white extermination? Are you from multi-culti “300 ethnicities” Russia, or from a country devoid of Europeans and infrastructure?

  11. Frank Kushner

    May 13, 2022 at 11:02 am

    Thank Elon Musk for free Starlink provided in your next article.
    Amazing and smartest man on earth as he took the red pill last year.

  12. Brandon

    May 14, 2022 at 8:16 am

    Here is the thing, we have no idea what is actually going on in Ukraine. Clearly we aren’t being told the entire story. If you honestly believe, one of the world’s military superpowers is being held at bay by a bunch of farmers your sorely mistaken. The government has tons of secrets buried in Ukraine. Which is exactly why we are even in this war. So essentially our government is using our money to keep secrets from us. And the only thing most of you people are worried about is Putian. It blows my mind that after all the lies, people still believe what the news is telling them.

    • Wtf

      May 15, 2022 at 9:00 am

      So how long before Russia fully conquers Ukraine and increases the number of NATO members on its border? Another few years until the Ukrainians run out of people and a few hundred barely-surviving Russians happen to be alive to see it?
      Skepticism of Western media does not mean bending over for TASS. If you simply contradict people who lie 50% of the time, you’ll be the liar when they tell the truth.

    • Wtf

      May 15, 2022 at 9:08 am

      Oh, and what happened to the mighty Soviet Army in Afghanistan?
      Heck, even the Russian Army in WWI didn’t do especially well, much for reason the Russians today are having problems.

      But as far as liars go, I don’t think you’ve heard of Aleksandr Dugin, “Putin’s Brain”, a Neo-Bolshevik who argued for the conquest of Ukraine for decades. God help all who oppose Bolshevism!

  13. DisAmVet69

    May 14, 2022 at 5:00 pm

    Well, if the Russians are displaying their military superiority, for all the world to see, they are doing amazingly slow job of doing it.

    Anyone that has ever been in a war, knows that the sooner its over the better. For anyone to say that that Russia is “overwhelmingly” winning the Ukraine war after this amount of time, clearly doesn’t understand military tactics or what most war planners try to do, which is to win the war quickly to reduce casualties and save equipment and resources. Even a biased observer can see that Russia is not doing very well.

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