Early in the morning of February 24, Russian troops invaded Ukraine along almost the entire border. Initially, they fired cruise missiles at Ukrainian airfields and other military targets in the air. Soon it will be a month of constant fighting. Russia continues to fire missiles at Ukraine, destroying peaceful cities: Chernihiv, Kharkiv, Volnovakha, Kyiv, Mykolaiv, Severodonetsk. The missiles reached Ivano-Frankivsk, Lviv region, Rivne, Vinnytsia and other cities far from the front line. According to the Pentagon, in 20 days the Russian occupiers fired nearly a thousand missiles at Ukraine. In addition, the Russians are bombing Ukrainian cities with unguided aerial bombs. Despite the inequality in the number of weapons, the Ukrainian military is destroying Russian planes and helicopters, and the Air Defense Forces are trying to shoot down Russian missiles to protect the lives of Ukrainians.
Babel.ua correspondent Oksana Kovalenko spoke with Yuri Ignat, spokeswoman for the Air Force Command of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, about the current situation in the air. We publish his translated story in the form of a monologue.
What weapons do the Russians have
Prior to the start of hostilities, intelligence and foreign powers informed Ukraine that in the sky the enemy outnumbered it by about 1 to 6. There was data that stated that Russia had about 700 aircraft on the border with Ukraine: 450 aircraft and 250 helicopters. In addition, the enemy began to use the airfields of Belarus. This made it difficult for Ukraine to defend itself.
In the first days, the enemy struck at radar facilities located throughout Ukraine, as well as at anti-aircraft missile units and airfields. Of course, Ukraine was waiting for such a step and therefore was ready – its aircraft almost enitrely moved from base to other airfields. But the enemy continues to destroy the airport infrastructure.
Every day Russia fires missiles and bombs at the territory of Ukraine. Among the missiles there are winged Calibers and ballistic Iskanders, which are launched from installations. The Russians launch such missiles not only from the ground – they also use ships based in the Black Sea, Tu-95 and Tu-160 strategic aircraft. So they can hit targets for several thousand kilometers. Ukrainians can detect them, sound the air raid to get people to hide, and try to shoot them down with air defenses. There were cases when such missiles were shot down even by a fighter. You can bring them down with MANPADS (Man-Portable Air Defense System), but the goal is very difficult: it flies low on the terrain at a speed of 800 kilometers per hour.
In addition to the Calibers and Iskanders, the Russian occupiers are also launching high-precision X-101 missiles. Extremely expensive. They used them to strike at Vinnytsia, and on March 14 they fired on the Yavoriv firing range in the Lviv region. According to preliminary information, the Russians launched missiles at Yavoriv from TU-160 aircraft from the territory of the Russian Federation. In total, on the night of March 14, they launched 72 missiles of various classes across Ukraine.
However, these missiles are very expensive, and the occupiers will sooner or later run out of supplies. Therefore, the Russians are saving them and using unguided aircraft bombs such as FAB-100, FAB-250 and FAB-500 and larger calibers. Planes drop them, and they fly in free fall, so their accuracy is very low. And while the Russians say they are trying to hit military targets, these bombs fly into kindergartens and apartment blocks.
Ukrainians are fighting back on the ground, but this fight is not in their favour. The sheer number of bombs is overwhelming.
How Ukraine defends itself
Ukraine’s anti-aircraft missile forces are fighting positionaly. This allows Ukraine to survive in such conditions, when the enemy outnumbers and places its air defences on its territory. But Ukraine counteracts, and effectively: every day there are downed enemy aircraft. Infantry and the Navy work well, shooting down anti-aircraft missile systems.
Shock aircraft provide extremely important support to units of the Land Forces. They are the ones who attack the enemy’s convoys, destroy the logistics supplies for the occupying forces so that they do not receive fuel.
But there are areas where Ukraine actually lost control of the sky. The enemy has already brought forces to Ukraine’s territory and surpassed it in both air defense and aviation. Near Kharkiv and above Kyiv the Russian aircraft feel at home. They destroyed air defenses there and deployed in the area of Kharkiv, Chernihiv, and Sumy. This means that Ukraine definitely need a closed sky. Of course, there is very little chance that its partners partners will close it. Therefore, Ukraine asks the West to provide it with modern air defense systems, fighters that could work effectively and strengthen the army. Ukraine needs modern missile defense systems. If the West is not ready to provide Ukraine with air defense systems, it should sell them. People’s lives are at stake. No price is too high.
Ukraine fights effectively, its forces know the territory and use various manoeuvres. They are ready to resist the enemy on the land, but if they don’t control the sky, it all will be in vain.
During of March 16 the Air Force of #Ukraine destroyed:
– 3 #Russian Su-30SM fighters
– 1 Su-34 fighter-bomber
– 1 unidentified aircraft
– 2 helicopters
– 1 UAV
In addition Air defense shot downed a Su-34 and a Ka-52 helicopter.#UkraineRussiaWar #UkraineInvasion #UkrainianArmy pic.twitter.com/EV4oE5J6ZU
— Root Nation EN (@RootNationEN) March 17, 2022
That’s why Ukraine needs modern fighters and anti-aircraft missile systems. Stingers are good, and Ukraine has their own similar weapons like Igla and Strila. But that’s not enough to shoot down planes, because they drop missiles and bombs without entering the Stingers’ hit zone.
— Root Nation EN (@RootNationEN) March 16, 2022
Nor can Ukraine do without fighter jets to repel bombers flying to bomb peaceful cities. They have experienced pilots, the main thing is that they should have something to fly on. The pilots, both those who are currently in service and those who are ready to come from reserve tomorrow, as well as foreigners, are ready to strengthen the Air Force. They will easily retrain in a few weeks on the combat aircraft of partners, say, F-15 or F16, whose weapons will allow them to fight on equal terms in the sky with more modern fighters of the occupiers.
— Root Nation EN (@RootNationEN) March 16, 2022
The enemy claims that it has destroyed 90% of Ukraine’s airfield infrastructure, all combat aircraft and air defense, but for some reason Ukrainians continue to destroy them, day and night. There are losses, of course. But they are disproportionate to those experienced by the Russians.