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Video Above: US & NATO Air Superiority

By Kris Osborn - President & Editor-In-Chief, Warrior Maven

Bombing and cruise missile attacks on children, maternity facilities and residential areas are generating a fast-growing civilian death toll and seem to only embolden Russian war planners resolve to press forward with efforts to destroy and take over Ukraine. 

While the Russian military leaders show little to no hesitation when it comes to the escalation of military force, there may be a few reasons why Putin and the Russian leadership might just think twice before confronting NATO.

While perhaps operating with little more than pure “self-preservation,” Putin may indeed be extremely reluctant to go to war with the West.

NATO Air Superiority

One key reason may simply be the apparent and likely inferiority of the Russian Air Force when compared to NATO.

Su-34

A Russian Air Force Su-34

A cursory look at force size and capability comparisons between Russia and NATO would seem to suggest that Russia simply could not compete with the US and NATO in the air. 

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Not only does Russia reportedly operate a very small number of 5th-generation stealth fighters when compared with the hundreds of F-35s operated by the West, but Russia's force of advanced Su-34 and Su-30 4th-generation fighters is not likely to pose a serious or extremely credible threat to NATO. 

Therefore, US and NATO air assets forward positioned on NATO’s Eastern flank may well be succeeding in the core mission of simple “deterrence” against any possible Russian attack on NATO.

“That's why you have seen the deployments of F-35, F-16s, B-52s to a variety of different NATO nations. There's a very strong interaction and unified set of command and control architectures that are in place to deter any thought from Putin or his Russian military from expanding this conflict outside of Ukraine that might take on NATO,” retired Lt. Gen. David Deptula, Dean of the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies, told Warrior in an interview.

A U.S. Air Force F-35A Lightning II aircraft assigned to the 34th Fighter Squadron receives fuel from a KC-10 Extender aircraft over Poland, Feb. 24, 2022. The F-35A aircraft affords NATO leaders the flexibility to project power and assert air dominance in highly contested environments. (Senior Airman Joseph Barron/Air Force)

A U.S. Air Force F-35A Lightning II aircraft assigned to the 34th Fighter Squadron receives fuel from a KC-10 Extender aircraft over Poland, Feb. 24, 2022. The F-35A aircraft affords NATO leaders the flexibility to project power and assert air dominance in highly contested environments. (Senior Airman Joseph Barron/Air Force)

While Russia has been and continues to be a substantial threat to the US and NATO, perceptions about the true extent Russian force would destroy and damage NATO may be shifting considerably due to Russia’s lack of success in the war effort.

“Putin doesn't want to take on NATO because given the incredibly poor performance of his military forces so far, evidence in Ukraine, his military forces wouldn't last very long in a NATO engagement,” Deptula said.

There is yet another factor of potential concern to Russia, the F-35. Much is now being made of Russia’s effective, road mobile S-400 air defenses which have reportedly succeeded in shutting off certain potentially vulnerable Russian targets to air attacks from Ukraine. While the relative sophistication of upgraded Russian S-400s continues to get a lot of attention, it certainly seems quite possible that these advanced Russian systems could be destroyed by US stealth in the form of F-35s or
B-2 bombers

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.

Kris Osborn, Warrior Maven President

Kris Osborn, Warrior Maven President, Center for Military Modernization