Russia has amassed hundreds of planes and helicopters at air bases in western Russia but a mass air assault on Kyiv is “unlikely,” Ukrainian military intelligence has told Kyiv Post.
Andriy Yusov, a representative of the Main Intelligence Directorate of the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine, said: “We have information about the presence of approximately 450 tactical aircraft (not strategic bombers) and about 300 helicopters, half of them attack helicopters.”
“They are placed mainly on the territory of the Russian Federation at least 200 kilometers from the border, concentrated in different locations but outside our fire range,” Yusov said.
The U.S.-delivered HIMARS precision-guided missile system now in the hands of the Armed Forces of Ukraine (AF) is a serious threat to Russian airfields and aircraft parked on them. Russian airfields and air assets are deliberately placed 200 kilometers or more away from the border to stay well out of the potential strike envelope of a HIMARS’ 80-kilometer maximum range salvo, he said.
Yusov said Ukraine’s latest military security threat assessments do not indicate Russia plans to use these aircraft all at once in a mass aerial attack, but they could be used to support the Kremlin’s objectives in eastern Ukraine.
“These forces can primarily be used in the Donbas,” he said. “An [aerial] attack on Kyiv is unlikely.
“Russia's offensive in the east is continuing, and this is the implementation of [Russian President Vladimir] Putin’s plan to seize the territories of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions by the end of March.”
Pointing to past, misplaced Kremlin confidence its forces would take Kyiv in three days when Russia launched its full-scale invasion almost a year ago, Yusov predicted Moscow’s present attempt to conquer Ukraine’s eastern regions will fail, aircraft or no aircraft.
“Russia will not succeed in implementing this plan,” he said.
“[But] to defend Ukraine, we need not only to strengthen our air defense but also aviation including [U.S.-manufactured fourth generation fighter jet] F-16s that Ukraine is negotiating with our foreign partners,” Yusov added.
Media reports on Feb. 13, some in major international publications, warned that Russia was amassing aircraft on or close to Ukraine’s borders in preparation for a series of devastating air strikes. If actually carried out, the attacks would be a paradigm shift in the Kremlin’s year-long assault on Ukraine, switching from grinding ground assaults against Ukrainian forces, in favor of a full-fledged, relatively high tech “air war.”
On Feb. 15, Yuriy Ignat, spokesperson for the Air Force Command of Ukraine’s Armed Forces, told Kyiv Post that Moscow’s recent concentration of military aircraft in Russia’s western districts was relatively distant from the Russo-Ukraine frontier, deployed conventionally, and inconsistent with preparations for a major air war campaign.
“No one keeps aviation on the border, like tanks or other equipment. Russia maintains a large aviation [presence] at 40 airfields around the Ukrainian border, but that doesn't mean it's at the border,” Ihnat said.
A Feb.16 situation update from the British Ministry of Defense said: ”Russian air power continues to significantly underperform in the war, constrained by a continued high threat from Ukrainian air defenses and dispersed basing due to the threat of strikes against Russian airfields.”
“Across Russia, it [the Russian Air Force] likely maintains a largely intact fleet of 1,500 crewed military aircraft, despite losing over 130 since the start of the invasion…However, it is unlikely that the VKS [Russian Air Force] is currently preparing for a dramatically expanded air campaign as under the current battlefield circumstances it would likely suffer unsustainable aircraft losses,” the statement said in part.
Yusov told Kyiv Post that Russian capacity to launch major missile strikes, a key component of modern air raid tactics, has eroded dramatically over a year of fighting due to shrinking guided missile inventories and extremely limited capacity to manufacture more.
“Russia claims to have reserves for a long-term war, but this is not true…“The fact that they are in a hurry and some things are happening chaotically in the east shows the problems the Russian army is facing in Ukraine,” Yusov said.
The Kremlin still can, nonetheless, launch limited missile attacks, Yusov warned.
“Russia’s stockpile of precision weapons has been significantly reduced…However, if we are talking about outdated models, such as the S-300 missile, Russia's stockpile of such missiles is significant…That is why, first of all, Ukrainian front-line cities are under threat,” he said.
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For the time being, instead of their very old heliocopters with rocket pods, I'm not sure why Super Tucano's wouldn't suffice as very low-flying ground support. Now that Bolsanaro is out of power in Brazil, I don't understand the reluctance.
I believe that the US was to send Hawk antiaircraft missiles to Ukraine; I had hoped that they would send enough to defend populated Ukrainian cities and essential infrastructure. These missiles should be effective against most Russian aircraft and cruise missiles. While there is a delay in sending F-16s, a more immediate response should be a couple of squadrons of ground support aircraft such as Super Tucano and A-10 that can operated on unpaved runways. Drones work well with artillery, but with mobile offense operations, having eyes in the sky that can immediately take out moving targets is essential. Ask for these aircraft and others like "Puff the Magic Dragon" gunship (which could be very effective in taking out static infantry trench defenses).