Video Above: Ukrainian Warfare Tactics Derail Russians
The Russians have enough long-range, road-mobile Surface-to-Air Missile systems to cover almost the entire country of Ukraine, a scenario which raises significant unanswered questions as to why Russia has not been able to achieve air superiority.
Russian Surface-to-Air Missile Systems
“Almost all of Ukraine can be covered by at least one and usually more than one surface-to-air missile system. That presents a conundrum for any Air Force that would be wanting to get pilots up in the air to conduct missions,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told reporters March 9, according to a DoD transcript.
Russian S-400 air defenses, in service since 2007, have been continuously modernized with digital networking, high-speed computing and multi-frequency radar capability. This has generated an atmosphere such that state-owned Russian media reports have in recent years consistently said their air defenses could detect and destroy even stealth aircraft.
This claim, regularly repeated in the Russian media, is seriously questioned by many who are familiar with advanced stealth technologies now being built.
Detecting that an aircraft of some kind may simply “be there” in the skies above is a lot different than actually being able to target and destroy it. Nonetheless, Ukraine is not known to operate any stealth fighters or 5th-generation air assets, and Kirby was clear that the existence of overlapping Russian air defenses may well be influencing Ukraine’s willingness to fly pilots above them.
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However, despite this reality, the airspace above Ukraine is reportedly still contested.
Ukraine operates only 69 fighter jets and Russia has 772 fighter aircraft, an imbalance of sizable proportions, according to Global Firepower. At the same time, some might look at this numerical imbalance and wonder just how many of Russia’s 772 fighter aircraft are functional, high-tech, 4th-generation Su-35s, modern fighter jets which emerged only in 2014.
Ukraine operates air defenses as well, and they are weapons the Pentagon says continue to be effective against Russian air power.
The Ukrainians operate a collection of Cold War era Soviet-built SAM systems, the most recent of which is the SA-15 Gauntlet from 1986. How much have these decades old systems been maintained and upgraded?
That may be somewhat of an unknown, yet the Pentagon repeatedly says their air defenses are effective. Does this mean the Ukrainians are getting advanced air defense systems from NATO countries? The Pentagon says they are further exploring this possibility, however the Pentagon is clear not to elaborate on certain specifics for security reasons.
Kirby said the US is “working with other allies and partner nations around the world who may have additional air defense capabilities and systems at their disposal who might be willing to provide them to Ukraine.”
Kris Osborn is the defense editor for the National Interest and President of Warrior Maven - the Center for Military Modernization. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Masters Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.