Why the Ukrainian Air Defences Haven’t Been Destroyed Yet

NEW – July 13, 2022

A discussion unfolded online about the actions of the domestic Aerospace Forces to suppress Ukrainian air defences and why the Ukrainian air defence still retains part of its combat capabilities.

Before proceeding to the presentation of my position, I will allow myself to state a few basic points.

Now there will be a piece of scientific text from the collection “Tactics of the Air Force radio engineering troops. Fundamentals of the combat use of forces and means of aerospace attack”, developed by the teaching staff of the Military Engineering Institute of the Siberian Federal University. It is very important to read it for a better understanding of the issue. The topic of discussion almost entirely fits into the concept of the main forms of the use of aerospace attack forces in offensive actions. These are:

  • air campaign;
  • air offensive operation (AOO);
  • systematic combat operations;
  • air space operation (ASO).

At the same time, air campaigns and operations are the main forms of operational and strategic use of large groups of aerospace attack weapons, and systematic combat operations are the main form of their operational and tactical use. The air campaign is a combination of the first and subsequent air offensive operations, united by a common plan and aimed at achieving the most important military-strategic goals in the theatre of operations.

The duration of an air campaign in the theatre of operations, including air offensive operations and systematic combat operations of air attack forces, can be up to 30 days. The air campaign as a form of combat use of the Air Force was defined for the first time during the war of coalition forces against Iraq. An air offensive operation (AOO) is the main form of the use of air attack means (AAM) in a war using only conventional weapons.

An air offensive operation is understood as a set of combat operations interrelated and coordinated by purpose, place and time conducted at the theatre of operations by tactical forces using only conventional weapons and a limited number of strategic aircraft according to a single plan and scheme. The AOO is carried out with the aim of gaining air superiority by destroying enemy aircraft on the ground and in the air, suppressing its air defence systems and disorganising the operation of control, communication and support systems.

The duration of the operation is from three to five days. After the first air offensive operation, the combined NATO Air Forces, as a rule, move on to systematic combat operations, completing particular tasks. One of them is the provision of constant fire impact on the enemy in order to disorganise management and demoralise personnel. The conduct of the second and subsequent air operations is determined by the degree of achievement of the goals of the first AOO and was coordinated with the actions of land and sea groups of troops.

The main method of using aviation and cruise missiles in defeating the enemy and gaining air superiority is the implementation of massive air and missile strikes (MAMS) on airfields, centres and points of radar detection, guidance and control, communications. If you want to study the issue in more detail, I advise you to read here.

Everything is according to the rules

And now about the actions of our Aerospace Forces. During the first three days, we carried out massive strikes on the main and reserve airfields, on radar posts, on the air force–air defence control points of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, communication nodes – and this fully fits into the strategy of the AOO outlined above.

In the first strike, our Aerospace Forces destroyed the radar network, violating the unified radar field of Ukraine, thereby creating an information vacuum about the situation in the sky. These strikes decentralised the air defence system of Ukraine, deprived it of the ability to act as a single combat system and adequately respond to threats. At the same time, airstrikes were carried out on airfields. The runway, taxiways, armament depots and fuel were put out of order. Aviation was destroyed in parking lots. There were also strikes on strategic stocks of fuel and lubricants, warehouses of aviation weapons. At least four waves of such impacts can be distinguished. At the same time, massive strikes were inflicted on the scouted positions of the SAM.

How can we evaluate the effectiveness of this stage? Our Aerospace Forces were able to disorganise the Ukrainian air force–air defence, destroy most of the radar and air defence command posts, disable most of the airfields and suppress up to 50% of the Ukrainian air defence systems. The air force–air defence of Ukraine could not resist our actions as a whole, carry out organised air defence of their military and industrial facilities, and from the third day switched to single sorties of the surviving combat aircraft and ambush actions of their air defence systems.

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So far, the actions of the Ukrainian Air Force have been episodic, without having any significant impact on the course of hostilities.

Until mid-March, we were moving towards gaining complete air supremacy. There are three points associated with this term – more precisely, three states. The first is “air superiority”, in which the side that has achieved it has the initiative, suppresses the activity of the enemy and, as is said, dictates its conditions. The enemy only “snaps” and defends itself, retaining certain opportunities to respond to blows and, in turn, also to deliver episodic blows, with great risk to the forces involved in this.

The second is air supremacy in a certain area, when in a certain area where this or that operation is being carried out, superiority is created first, and then air supremacy after the destruction of enemy aircraft operating here, the disabling of airfields and the suppression of ground air defences. The enemy’s air defences can maintain separate systems, most often MANPADS, it is possible to preserve the SAM, but deprived of means of controlling the air situation, with the threat of immediate destruction when activated, they can no longer provide any effective counteraction to the work of aviation. We achieved such air supremacy over Mariupol by the end of April.

And there is the concept of complete air supremacy when the enemy’s air defence system is completely disorganised and destroyed at all its levels – from the air force to object and military air defences. Individual MANPADS-type systems may remain, but this is no longer a factor affecting the course of hostilities.

An example of air supremacy is the two Iraqi wars, during which the backward air defence of Iraq was completely suppressed and ceased its organised existence. In Afghanistan and Libya, air supremacy was simply a factor – due to the complete absence of air defence equipment from the enemy. But already during the war in Yugoslavia (1999), the allied air forces were able to achieve only air superiority, but they did not gain air supremacy – up to the last day of the war, the Yugoslav air defence retained its strength and combat capabilities, barked, which forced the Americans and their allies to work from heights of 6000 meters and above.

Ukrainian-American air defences

What is the situation in the sky today? Let me remind you: after the first three days of the operation to actively destroy the air defence infrastructure, we destroyed most of the radar stations, disabled most of the military airfields, destroyed at least half of the Ukrainian aviation on the ground and in the air and defeated the main air defence command posts and the main combat control centres, guidance points and other objects. Accordingly, the hunt for anti-aircraft missile systems began and was constantly conducted. In the first few days, most of the air defence systems were destroyed, at least more than half.

At first, the Ukrainian Armed Forces still tried to cover their military, rear, industrial and political facilities and daily lost anti-aircraft missile systems, lost aircraft, because the predictable appearance of Ukrainian aircraft in the areas of the covered objects, the work of their air defence systems in the conditions of our full control of the air situation made them quite achievable targets. But two months later, the UAF changed tactics and moved to a qualitatively different level of confrontation. This was due to the fact that the NATO coalition led by the United States joined the military operation.

Instead of the destroyed radar stations, communication centres and command posts of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, American means of airspace control took over their role – AWACS aircraft, which are on combat duty around the clock in the air along the border with Ukraine, heavy reconnaissance drones, reconnaissance satellites, radio interception tools with which the Americans opened our air defence system, the actions of our aviation, and this data, after processing, were transmitted in real time to command UAF points.

In fact, Ukraine received a stable and powerful air defence information system from the Americans. It was enough for our plane to retract its landing gear, as American AWACS, American drones, American satellites were already transmitting information to US command centres about the take-off of Russian aircraft, from where they immediately appeared via automated systems for the Ukrainians. Today, this unity of NATO information capabilities and Ukrainian command centres is the basis of the combat work of the Ukrainian air defences.

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I must say that Ukraine was carefully preparing for war. This training was facilitated by the fact that the Ukrainian air defences were armed with the same weapon complexes and detection means as the Russian one and had the same algorithms of combat work, the same tactics. The same military school of conducting anti-aircraft warfare. Therefore, the Ukrainian command knew both the strengths and weaknesses of the Russian Aerospace Forces. They were supplemented by US military advisers who had been preparing for a confrontation with our Aerospace Forces for many years.

As part of preparations for war, the UAF secretly transferred part of its aircraft to the territory of other countries – to Bulgaria, Romania and Poland. In total, up to 100 planes and helicopters were deployed there, ensuring that they were out of the way of strikes.

In addition, Ukraine has conducted an audit of its extensive fleet (more than 1000 pieces) of expired and faulty aircraft in storage. During November–February, the most maintainable aircraft were secretly transported to aircraft repair plants in Poland and Bulgaria, where local flight specialists engaged in their repair and restoration with the help of Soviet aircraft repair kits available there, left over from the Warsaw Pact. In total, up to 30 MiG-29 and Su-25 aircraft and the same number of helicopters were restored.

New tactics of Ukraine

Anti-aircraft missile systems of Ukraine, after heavy losses in the first weeks, went into ambush mode. Let me explain right away: ambush actions and guerrilla actions are completely different concepts. Guerrilla actions differ from ambush actions in that during guerrilla actions, SAMs that are in ambushes or simply disguised in positions do not have proactive information about the appearance of the enemy. And the enemy is detected either by visual means, when it is reported by air surveillance, warning and communications observers who simply observe the sky with the help of optics, or receive information from radio interception means and even agents that, say, some plane is flying from point A to point B, and in this case the calculations of the SAM are trying to turn on and to catch this target at the moment of approach, after which they immediately pack up and change their dislocation. This is guerilla.

In 1999, in Yugoslavia, at the last stage, when most of the radar stations were disabled, information about the flights of NATO aircraft was received from air surveillance posts and agents, in the role of which the Russian military intelligence deployed there also acted.

In Ukraine, the situation is qualitatively different. Here the SAMs work in ambush mode. As I have already said, the entire American military machine is working for Ukraine, and first of all, a very powerful airspace control system. That is, American air surveillance means track the movements of our aircraft and drones, and as soon as these aircraft are over areas where certain Ukrainian anti-aircraft missile systems are on alert, they simply give them target designation: azimuth, altitude, speed, range to the target and almost always the type of target. And then they give the command to turn on at the moment when the target, that is, our aircraft, appears directly in the zone of reaching the air defence system. In the shortest possible time, the radar search is turned on, the target is detected and the missiles are launched, after which the crew immediately packs up and leaves the area from where the launch was made. It is almost impossible to detect such SAMs before switching on. At the same time, the positions of such “ambushes” are carefully masked and protected by cover units. All this dramatically reduced the ability to detect Ukrainian air defence systems.

There are simply no Ukrainian air defence systems, especially serious ones (such as “Buk” or the same S-300), at a range where our artillery can reach them. The Ukrainian command are not fools to substitute them for our artillery strikes. Since they have full information about our movements in the air, it is absolutely not necessary for them to all be deployed in Donbass, as some write. On the contrary, they are dispersed across the territory of Ukraine and are located in places where they can intercept our strike aircraft over their strategic facilities. More precisely, on the approaches to them: in the area of bridges, crossings, industrial facilities of the military-industrial complex and other strategically important objects, which, as they are sure, sooner or later Russia will try to hit. Directly above the battlefield, where our attack aircraft and our helicopters work, military air defence systems and portable anti-aircraft missile systems are used.

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The main reason for the protracted struggle with the Ukrainian air defence is that here we are not fighting against the brigades and battalions of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, but against the Aerospace Space of the most powerful military power – the United States, which supports the Ukrainian air force-air defence with all the resources at its disposal, realising how important their role is.

The fight against air defences is a complex task

So how do we fight the Ukrainian air defences? Someone wrote that this is the main task of the “special forces” of the GRU and Airborne Forces – the identification and destruction of such targets. Even sniper weapons were mentioned as an effective means of combating these dimensional and weakly protected targets.

Such tasks are really set before the special forces and rifles are really capable of hitting such targets, disabling equipment and even causing the detonation of missiles. But one needs to understand that in the conditions of the Ukrainian theatre of operations (thin, narrow forest belts, steppes, the density of Ukrainian defences, often disloyal population) such deep (and Ukrainian air defence systems are not exactly located in the zone of reaching our artillery) objects can easily become a one-way road for any most prepared group. Therefore, a successful fight against a SAM for special forces is from the random luck section. Of course, there are still “Uragan” and “Iskander” to fight the enemy’s air defences, but accurate targeting is also necessary for their use.

The fight against the Ukrainian, or rather against the integrated Ukrainian-American air defence, is a complex task that can only be solved by a whole set of tools: aerial reconnaissance from electronic warfare and UAV aircraft, satellite reconnaissance, intelligence (including from local residents), multiplied by very painstaking analytical work. For example, according to the analysis of statistics of launches of Ukrainian missiles, when we roughly know that, for example, two Buk-M1 or S-300 are operating in the Izyum area, and then we try to track them down and destroy them. And, of course, the highest professionalism of our pilots, missile specialists, special forces and gunners.

The combat algorithm from detecting the Ukrainian air defence system to striking it should take a few minutes, and not turn into a multi-stage information transmission system for all floors of combat control. It requires the work of an automated control system integrated with the means of reconnaissance and destruction with high-precision ammunition. Only by outpacing and anticipating the enemy will we be able to defeat it. To chase and just react to its attacks means to give it the initiative.

And lastly. Of course, this has already been written and said, I will only repeat. We have relatively compact Aerospace Forces, and our combat aircraft, which can be used as front-line aviation, are stretched along the front of 1500 km. Unfortunately, they simply cannot physically become today the defining element of the suppression of the enemy that we would like. Now this role is unconditionally performed by our artillery and missile troops.

The fight against air defences is ongoing, but we must understand that we are dealing with an enemy who is aware of our tactics, because it is fighting with the same weapons, studied according to the same textbooks, understands our vulnerabilities and our advantages. But most importantly, it relies on the huge information and technical support of our opponents in the face of the United States, Britain and others.

We are fighting the Ukrainian air defences, hunting for SAMs, planes, drones. This is a difficult task and, talking about it, it is impossible to simplify and profane the challenges we face. The special military operation is a harsh exam, and we must find accurate answers to all questions. This is the only way we can defeat the enemy. And this is by no means a clown in Kiev.


Vladislav Shurygin

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