This is one of the greatest mysteries of war Ukraine.
More than three weeks after the invasion began on February 24, despite being one of the largest air forces in the world, Russia has been unable to control the skies of neighboring countries.
This went against all odds: as Kremlin troops have been encircling Ukraine in recent months, Western intelligence and experts everywhere have acknowledged that Russian warplanes are a matter of two or three days to consolidate their dominance in neighboring airspace.
“This is a confusing fact from the point of view of military strategy,” he told BBC Mundo Walter DornProfessor of Defense Studies at the Royal Military College (RMC) in Canada.
“Despite the fact that the Air Force has more equipment and firepower than Russia, the Ukrainians are still flying and their air defense is still considered viable,” he added.
Moreover, according to the expert, air control is one of the basic bases of all modern wars because it guarantees the advance of troops through the ground and severely restricts the movement of enemy forces.
In a statement released last week, The Royal United Services Company (RUSI), the UK’s leading defense and security think tank, has called the destruction of Ukraine’s air defenses after the invasion “the next logical and widely expected step, as has been seen in almost every military conflict since 1938.”
However, this did not happen and the Ukrainian military announced that it had shot down numerous Russian planes throughout the fighting, despite the heavy casualties.
In fact, numerous videos on social media, confirmed by military experts, show how Russian warplanes and helicopters have sunk into flames.
The aerial resistance of the Ukrainians was so astonishing that it led to the creation of urban myths, the so-called “Ghost of Kiev” pilot who allegedly shot down numerous Russian planes.
But how is this situation explained?
According to Thorne, air dominance refers to “complete control of the sky,” including the ability to fly anywhere, at any time, without risk of being shot down.
“Air domination offers the benefit of a third dimension of space, and it denies that advantage to the enemy,” he explains.
Military experts acknowledge that Russia had the military capability to quickly control the skies over Ukraine.
According to data from Global Firefighter, The VKS – Russia’s Air Force – The third largest in the world, second only to the United States and China.
At the beginning of the conflict, there were 1,391 warplanes in Moscow (compared to 132 for Ukraine) and 948 helicopters (there were only 55 for the Ukrainians).
Meanwhile, Russia’s overall defense budget is $ 45.8 billion, 10 times that of its neighbor.
Jennifer Cabrella, chief executive of the Institute for War Research, explains to BBC Mundo that the Russians used and trained their air forces for war, as they did during the Syrian war.
“The key contribution made by the Russians at the beginning of the intervention in Syria was the introduction of their air force, which was decisive in activating the pro-Assad militant group, including Syrian fighters and foreign war groups provided by Iran.” , It says. .
“The Russian air force was strong enough to allow these groups to achieve a major victory on the battlefield,” he added.
However, military analysts and intelligence reports say that the Kremlin has decided not to establish a large air force outpost in Ukraine for vague reasons.
“Now it is very clear that Russia believes they can take Ukraine very lightly and they are not going to face the opposition they have,” Dorn says.
“This assumption is not explicitly ready to send air forces, although there are reports that Russian generals have some fear of causing great damage to their expensive aircraft,” it added.
According to Dorn, another possible factor is that there is evidence that Russian troops are not clear about the task at hand.
“Everything indicates that the Russians told their troops that they were going to do exercises, and then they were surprised by the direct fire. This has a psychological and tactical impact because the forces are not fully prepared to do this kind of thing.”
In this sense, Kafarella believes that a decisive factor on the battlefield is that the moral factor can play differently on both sides.
“We see in Ukraine as an unknown factor what will happen when two countries and two military forces go to war,” he says.
“The Russians seem to have a very serious moral problem because their forces are not looking forward to this war and they are not mentally prepared for the war they are going to face. Says.
Although a section of the Russian Air Force gained experience while fighting in Syria, the RUSI report points out that there may be another major reason.
“VKS’s initial failure to maintain air superiority can be explained by a lack of early warning, coordination skills and adequate planning time, indicating a very significant outcome of continuous operation: VKS does not have the organizational capability to plan, report and fly complex large-scale aircraft operations“, Indicates.
Beyond the strategic mistakes made by Russian forces, military experts acknowledge that one fundamental factor that allowed the Ukrainians to maintain control over their airspace was the implementation of a constructive tactic adapted to limitations and circumstances.
Having a small air force, they focus on timely attacks, not on large-scale deployments, which helped to send their resources.
“Although very small, the Ukrainian military is highly professional and well-armed. They have received training from NATO forces, including Canada and the United States,” Dorn said.
Another fundamental factor, the military analyst points out, is that before the conflict began, the Allies began sending military aid to Ukraine, which helped prevent Russia from gaining air dominance, including ground-to-air missiles.
The beginning of the Ukraine invasion led many Western countries to send military support to Kiev, including countries that had maintained neutrality for many years, such as Germany.
Military analysis shows that the Ukrainians used Turkish TB-2 drones and Raven spy drones strategically, which served not only against attacks on enemy ships, but also on ground forces.
Last Wednesday, US President Joe Biden announced $ 800 million in military aid to Ukraine, including anti-aircraft weapons that could turn flying bombs into drones and helicopters.
However, airspace control is a tense point between Ukraine and the West.
Since the start of the invasion, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zhelensky has repeatedly called on his Western allies to establish a no-fly zone over his country, indicating that NATO should shoot down Russian aircraft. Your airspace.
Poland’s attempt to supply MiG-29 jets to Ukraine has provoked friction between the United States and the European Union, which fears Russia’s donating aircraft to the West.
Analysts agree The fact that Russia has not yet achieved air dominance against Ukraine does not mean that it will not be able to do so in the coming days Or weeks.
The RUSI report warns that “VKS may suddenly launch complex, large-scale air operations comparable to those routinely conducted by other modern air forces, such as NATO countries and Israel.”
However, analysts such as Thorne are increasingly concerned that the lack of progress on the battlefield could lead Putin to make more hopeless decisions, including the use of previously unused weapons.
“At the beginning of the campaign Russia used a number of smart bombs (precision guided missiles), but now it mainly uses ‘dumb bombs’, which are less accurate, thus drastically increasing civilian casualties (so-called ‘parallel damage’),” he says.
“As well [su fuerza aérea] It flies high in the air to protect itself from ground fire, which means its missiles and bombs are less accurate. “
But for academics, one of the biggest dangers is the use of Russian drones with autonomous capabilities not only on these components, but also on military statements and videos and photos (i.e., they are designed to determine their own targets).
“The world has never seen autonomous weapons systems used on the battlefield This is a technological breakthrough, but a moral setback“, He thinks.
“Giving machines (drones) the ability to select targets is like introducing killer robots in the air, something that needs to be stopped. If we allow computers and robots to make decisions about life and death, humanity within its team will take a step back.”
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