Russian Air Force Fails in Ukraine

American Analysts Review the Russia’s Military Aerospace Performance

By Mohammad Ali Salih — Washington

28 May , 2022

Jon Jackson

William Alberque

Craig Hooper

Something was missing during the recent annual military celebration in the Red Square in Moscow, the Victory Day, that commemorates Russia’s victory over Nazi Germany in 1945, as the World War II was coming to its end: The usual dominant show by the Russian Air Force.

The military planes’ flyovers were abruptly canceled in Moscow and in at least two other major cities that were due to hold parades to commemorate the national holiday.

Although a Kremlin spokesman told reporters that the cancellation was “due to the weather”, the weather forecast had said there was going to be a light rain shower and a moderate breeze.

Here in Washington, leading military and strategic analysts said they were not surprised by the cancellation, because of the poor — if not no — show by the Russian Air Force in Ukraine since the invasion.

Analysts compared that to the successes of the US air force during, both, the liberation of Kuwait in 1991, and the invasion of Iraq in 2003, where the ground troops advanced after the air force, not only dominated Iraq skies, but annihilated its air force.

Following are excerpts from three American analysts, from their respective tweets, websites and comments to the media:

First, Jon Jackson, senior reporter with “Newsweek” magazine, argued that the Russians couldn’t effectively use their 1,511 military planes since they invaded Ukraine.

Second, William Alberque, director of strategy at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, credited the Ukrainians for being able, not only to shoot-down Russian planes, but, also, to penetrate into Russian-controlled regions and bombard targets.

Third, Craig Hooper, Founder and CEO of the Themistocles Advisory Group, showed figures to prove the absence, or reduction, of air force planes at the traditional Russian Victory Parade in Moscow — a “punishment” for their poor performance in Ukraine.

JON JACKSON: “1,511 PLANES”

“When the war in Ukraine began, many experts predicted Russia’s reportedly mighty air force would play a key role in securing a quick victory for Russian President Putin. Not only did that prediction not come to fruition, but Russia’s air force has not been much of a factor in the war at all.

Russia possesses one of the largest air forces in the world with 1,511 combat aircraft to Ukraine’s 98 …

Recently, “The Economist” of London wrote of how Russia had spent billions of dollars in the past decade on warplanes that were said to be ‘as advanced as anything the rest of Europe has to offer’ …

Ukrainian President Zelensky feared the threat of Russia’s attack from above, and made multiple (unsuccessful) pleas early in the invasion for Western forces to establish a no-fly zone above his country.

Yet, Russia has not managed to establish air superiority over Ukraine and continues to lose aircraft as the result of Ukraine’s increasing air defense. There are a number of reasons why Russia’s air campaign has been ineffective:

First, the big size of Ukraine, which makes it an uneasy place to target from the air.

Second, Russia’s air force had only about a 70 percent success rate of getting planes up in the air. (By contrast, the US forces had a flying percentage rate in the 90s).

Third, Russia’s military has grappled with higher maintenance costs and higher supply costs, resulting in the inability to replace destroyed or damaged aircraft and equipment …”

WILLIAM ALBERQUE: “FROM THE BEGINNING”

“Most important point: the Ukrainians were able to effectively distribute these air defenses so it became too dangerous for Russian combat flights. And that, also, because of the Western supplies of MANPAD and other types of air defense systems that allowed them to increase and to improve their capabilities …

NATO countries have also been providing Ukraine with increasingly advanced military hardware as Russia’s war drags on. Slovakia donated its Soviet-era S-300 long-range air defense system to Ukraine.

The Russian air forces were almost crippled from the beginning, and there were a few reasons for that:

First, their lackluster weapons systems.

Second, pilots’ inability to quickly locate and engage targets on the ground.

Third, missiles often miss their targets — if they worked at all …

Actually, the problems with the missiles were not less than those with planes. Russian stocks of precision-guided munitions are significantly smaller than NATO’s. And this Russia’s lack of precision-guided munitions forced them to use dumb munitions [unguided bombs] …

But technology alone does not fully explain Russia’s failure to establish air superiority. Experts say Russia’s air doctrine has been poorly thought out and haphazardly executed from the opening days of the war.

They thought it would be all over very quickly, with a complete Ukrainian collapse at first contact, and President Zelensky either captured or ran away to Britain or France …”

CRAIG HOOPER: “VICTORY PARADE”

“As the Russians were preparing for the traditional Victory Parade, it became clear that they were not going to give their Air Force its traditional role of flying over the parade, showing its big missiles and its recent technological advances.

Because the helicopter fleet was taking a steady beating in Ukraine, and facing battlefield attrition, the parade planners used no more than 15 helicopters.

That was a humiliating reduction from a big contingent of 23 choppers just a year ago in a similar Victory Parade …

The story was no better for Russia’s fixed-wing aircrafts. “Sukhoi” Su-30, and Su-34 “Fullback” fighter-bombers, which faced heavy losses, were not shown in the Red Square parade, either.

Instead, the Moscow parade was to celebrate Russia’s creaky fleet of” Mig-29” fighter jets. After showing 4 “Mig-29s” in previous victory parades, Russia was set to use 16 “Mig-29s” — and that was scrapped …

Fuel may have been a problem too. “Mig-29s” are notorious gas-guzzlers. And with the fuel-hungry fighter set to represent more than a quarter of Moscow’s parade aircraft, any supply shortage would have been difficult to mask …

The show’s central — and most provocative — attraction was originally to be filled by the Ilyushin IL-80 “Maxdome” command and control aircraft; a “doomsday” plane that ensures Russian leaders remain in contact with their nuclear arsenal during a war.

But with only three planes still flying, the 35-year-old derivation of the IL-86 passenger aircraft had little backup in the event the designated parade aircraft broke down …

With rumors of intergovernmental tension and increasing insubordination in the mid-level officer corps, the abrupt cancellation of Russia’s Air Force fly-over — despite several successful practice-runs under far worse weather — was notable. At a minimum, the sudden ceremonial purge of Russia’s Air Force suggests that the Russian Air Force is unreliable operationally, and, potentially, politically …”

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Mohammad Ali Salih

Mohammad Ali Salih. Journalist. Since 1980, Washington. For Saudi newspapers. Since 2008, White House often vigil: “What Is Islam?” and “What Is Terrorism?”