How Ukraine’s Outgun Air Force Is Fighting Back Against Russian Jets
“Ukraine has been dominant in the skies as we operate on our land,” said Ukrainian Air Force spokesman Yuri Ihnat. “An enemy flying in our airspace is flying over the area of our air defense systems.” He described the tactic as trapping Russian aircraft in an air defense net.
Dave Deptula, a senior scholar at the US Air Force Academy and chief attack planner for the Desert Storm air campaign in Iraq, said the impressive performance of Ukrainian pilots had helped counter their loss in numbers. He said Ukraine now has about 55 operational fighter jets, a number that is declining from shoot-downs and mechanical failures, as Ukrainian pilots are “thrusting them for maximum performance.”
Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky has repeatedly appealed to Western governments to replenish the Ukrainian air force and asked NATO to impose a no-fly zone on the country, a move Western leaders have so far refused to take. Have given. Slovakia and Poland have considered sending MiG-29 fighter jets, which Ukrainian pilots could fly with minimal additional training, but no transfers have yet been made.
“Russian troops have already fired about 1,000 missiles at Ukraine, countless bombs,” Zelensky said in a video address to Congress on March 16, appealing for more planes. “And you know they exist, and you have them, but they are on Earth, not in Ukraine – in the Ukrainian sky.”
Mr. Deptula said it was important to transfer these jets to Ukraine. “Without re-supply,” he said, “the pilots would exit the airplane before they could run out.”
Pilotless drones are also a tool in the Ukrainian military’s arsenal, but not in the fight for control of airspace. Ukraine flies a Turkish-made armed drone, the Bayraktar TB-2, a plodding, propeller aircraft that is lethally effective at destroying tanks or artillery pieces on the ground but cannot hit targets in the air. If Ukraine’s air defenses fail, Russian jets can easily pick them up.
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