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Putin Needs to Decide: Time to Unleash the Russian Air Force in Ukraine?

Russian Tu-160 bomber. Image Credit - Creative Commons.
Russian Tu-160 bomber. Image Credit - Creative Commons.

The Russian large-scale offensive isn’t going well for Moscow in Ukraine. Despite losing thousands of troops in the last few weeks, the Russian forces have very little progress to show.

Under pressure, the Ukrainian military continues to put up a determined resistance

War Update 

On day 359 of the war, the heaviest fighting is taking place in the Donbas in the direction of Bakhmut.

According to Ukrainian officials, the Russian forces are trying to capture the town by the first anniversary of the Russian invasion (February 24).

However, the Russian forces haven’t made any significant progress, and it is unlikely that they will be able to capture Bakhmut in the seven days that remain before the anniversary.

The Russian Casualties

The Russian military continues to take heavy casualties on the ground in Ukraine, with most losses taking place around Bakhmut in the Donbas. 

Overall, the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense claimed that as of Friday, Ukrainian forces have killed approximately 141,260 Russian troops (and wounded approximately twice to thrice that number).

Equipment destroyed: 298 fighter, attack, bomber, and transport jets, 287 attack and transport helicopters, 3,298 tanks, 2,322 artillery pieces, 6,520 armored personnel carriers and infantry fighting vehicles, 467 Multiple Launch Rocket Systems (MLRS), 18 boats and cutters, 5,187 vehicles and fuel tanks, 241 anti-aircraft batteries, 2,013 tactical unmanned aerial systems, 221 special equipment platforms, such as bridging vehicles, and four mobile Iskander ballistic missile systems, and 871 cruise missiles shot down by the Ukrainian air defenses. 

The Russian Aerospace Forces in Ukraine

At the onset of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, one of the greatest mysteries of the war was the absence of the Russian Aerospace Forces from the conflict. Russian fighter, attack, and bomber jets all seem to be underused. 

But recently, the Russian Aerospace Forces have increased their sorties over Ukraine, most likely to support the ongoing large-scale offensive in the Donbas.

According to British Military Intelligence the current air activity “is now roughly line” with the average daily sorties seen in the summer.

Moscow maintains roughly the same number of aircraft over Ukraine.

“Overall, Russian air power continues to significantly underperform in the war, constrained by a continued high threat from Ukrainian air defences and dispersed basing due to the threat of strikes against Russian airfields,” the British Military Intelligence assessed in a recent estimate of the war.

The Russian military has limited its aircraft almost exclusively over Russian lines.

However, that restricts their capabilities, and they are unable to perform to the fullest. And yet the Kremlin doesn’t want to lose aircraft to the potent Ukrainian air defenses.

According to British Military Intelligence, the Russian Aerospace Forces have approximately 1,500 crewed aircraft of all types across Russia that are uncommitted to the “special military operation” in Ukraine “despite losing over 130 since the start of the invasion.”

“However, it is unlikely that the VKS is currently preparing for a dramatically expanded air campaign as under the current battlefield circumstances it would likely suffer unsustainable aircraft losses,” the British Military Intelligence added.

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Expert Biography: A 19FortyFive Defense and National Security Columnist, Stavros Atlamazoglou is a seasoned defense journalist specializing in special operations, a Hellenic Army veteran (national service with the 575th Marine Battalion and Army HQ), and a Johns Hopkins University graduate. His work has been featured in Business InsiderSandboxx, and SOFREP.

1945’s Defense and National Security Columnist, Stavros Atlamazoglou is a seasoned defense journalist with specialized expertise in special operations, a Hellenic Army veteran (national service with the 575th Marine Battalion and Army HQ), and a Johns Hopkins University graduate. His work has been featured in Business Insider, Sandboxx, and SOFREP.