One of the reasons Russia’s advance in Ukraine hasn’t been as quick at President Putin hoped is that Russia still has not achieved control of the air. Part of that is thanks to Ukraine’s anti-aircraft weapons on the ground and part is the result of pilots who fly just 5-10 missions a day but still manage to take down enough Russian aircraft to make it risky for Russian pilots. Today the NY Times published a story about the Ukrainian Air Force’s unexpected success against the numerically superior Russian force.
Nearly a month into the fighting, one of the biggest surprises of the war in Ukraine is Russia’s failure to defeat the Ukrainian Air Force. Military analysts had expected Russian forces to quickly destroy or paralyze Ukraine’s air defenses and military aircraft, yet neither have happened. Instead, Top Gun-style aerial dogfights, rare in modern warfare, are now raging above the country.
“Every time when I fly, it’s for a real fight,” said Andriy, who is 25 and has flown 10 missions in the war. “In every fight with Russian jets, there is no equality. They always have five times more” planes in the air.
Dave Deptula, a senior scholar at the U.S. Air Force Academy and the principal attack planner for the Desert Storm air campaign in Iraq, said the impressive performance of the Ukrainian pilots had helped counter their disadvantages in numbers. He said Ukraine now has roughly 55 operational fighter jets, a number that is dwindling from shoot-downs and mechanical failures, as Ukrainian pilots are “stressing them to max performance.”…
“I had situations when I was approaching a Russian plane to a close enough distance to target and fire,” he said. “I could already detect it but was waiting for my missile to lock on while at the same time from the ground they tell me that a missile was fired at me already.”
He said he maneuvered his jet through a series of extreme banks, dives and climbs in order to exhaust the fuel supplies of the missiles coming after him. “The time I have to save myself depends on how far away the missile was fired at me and what kind of missile,” he said.
Still, he said in an interview on a clear, sunny day, “I can still feel a huge rush of adrenaline in my body because every flight is a fight.”
With just 55 planes left Ukraine’s ability to fight back will gradually dwindle. President Zelensky has repeated asked the US to establish a no-fly zone over his country but President Biden and NATO have both said no, choosing to avoid escalating a direct conflict between the US and Russia.
But if a NFZ is out, the decision not to allow Poland to transfer jets to Ukraine seems a little more questionable. As Ed pointed out here, the decision whether or not to allow that transfer was nothing short of a cluster, with Sec. Blinken saying on national television that Poland had a “green light” only to have the Pentagon step in and turn it into a red light. Of course, President Biden could have sided with Blinken but decided to be more cautious and side with the Pentagon.
There’s been some pushback on that from Senators including Steve Daines and Bill Cassidy. Even the Boston Globe’s editorial board says blocking the transfer is a mistake.
But just a couple of days ago Sen. Dick Durbin argued that transferring Polish planes to Ukraine could lead to World War III. So for now it seems Ukraine is not going to get any more planes.
Sen. Dick Durbin tells @GStephanopoulos that sending Polish fighter jets risks expanding crisis into “World War III or even worse.”
“There are other ways for us to provide surface-to-air missiles and air defenses that will keep the Russians at bay.” https://t.co/eiu1Ag3BP5 pic.twitter.com/2LbuUyXNxI
— This Week (@ThisWeekABC) March 20, 2022
Update: Hadn’t seen this but Biden is going to Poland, in part to try to deal with divisions caused by his decision on transferring jets to Ukraine.
Biden will land in Brussels on Wednesday night, as the Russian invasion of Ukraine approaches the one-month mark with no sign of letting up. As the war grinds on and Ukrainian leaders plead for additional assistance, divisions are emerging between allies who want to supply offensive weapons such as fighter jets and others who are wary of escalating the confrontation with Moscow…
…the two nations engaged recently in a public disagreement after the United States essentially declined an offer from Poland to deliver MiG-29 fighter jets to an American military base for use in Ukraine. Biden administration officials raised concerns that Poland’s offer could increase tensions with Russia, which has said that any country hosting Ukraine’s military aircraft would be considered part of the ongoing conflict.
“To my knowledge, it wasn’t pre-consulted with us that they plan to give these planes to us,” Victoria Nuland, the undersecretary of state for political affairs, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee this month. She characterized Poland’s unusual public offer as a “surprise move by the Poles.”
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