Ukranian Air Force is vastly outnumbered by Russian Air Force in terms of numbers and firepower. However, the employment of air power in context of the Russian Air Force has been highly intriguing so far.
|The Author has served as Assistant Chief of Air Staff Offensive Operations and Assistant Chief of Integrated Defence Staff Tech Intelligence. Held appointments related to offensive operations at Air HQ and ISR matters at HQ IDS.|
Before launching offensive on Ukraine, Russian forces had amassed close to 200,000 troops on Ukraine’s borders. Initially Russia kept denying any plans to invade, however, on February 24, 2022, President Vladimir Putin ordered his troops to enter Ukraine for a ‘special military operation’.
Since then, Russian and Ukrainian troops have continued to engage, leaving behind a trail of destruction across Ukraine.Russian ground forces have continued to press towards Ukraine's two largest cities - Kharkiv, and the capital, Kyiv.
The U.S. Department of Defense estimates that about two-thirds of the combat power that Russia had ammased around Ukraine's borders have now been committed inside Ukraine.
Ukraine has been wanting to discuss peace measures with their Russian counterparts. The first meeting on February 28, 2022, did not yield any result. Ukraine has also been vehemently requesting the European Union (EU) nations for granting it the membership.
Ukraine’s State Emergency Service said that more than 2,000 civilians have died. The UN refugee agency has estimated that 1.3 million Ukrainians have fled to neighbouring countries since the beginning of the invasion.The claims of casualties from both sides have been varying.
The ongoing conflict was taken up in the UN.Russia exercised its veto in the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) vote and the resolution fell. India, along with China and UAE abstained, condemning the invasion.Later, at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) voted 141-5 (35 abstentions) to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, calling on Russia to unconditionally withdraw its troops. India once again abstained and called for an immediate ceasefire and humanitarian access to conflict areas, the Indian representative to the UN, mentioned that India hopedthe talks between Russia and Ukraine would yield positive results.
India is diplomatically trapped with the West expecting India to condemn Russian aggression and Russia hoping that India will stay neutral. India is in an uncomfortable position as it attempts to balance its interests with both.India had very valid reasons for abstaining from the two resolutions.
West has been united in its response and has surprised the world. Economic sanctions imposed by the West has so far already had a devastating impact on Russian economy. Russia's currency, the ruble fell about 30 per cent against the US dollar on February 28, 2022, after the U.S., European Union (EU) and United Kingdom (UK) announced moves to block some Russian banks from the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunications (SWIFT) international payment system and to restrict Russia's use of its massive foreign currency reserves. SWIFT system is used to undertake trade in billions of dollars by more than 11,000 banks and other financial institutions around the world.
It later slightly recovered after Russia's central bank sharply raised its key interest rate, but it was trading at a record low 105.27 per US dollar, down from about 84 per US dollar.
There are also reports that within Russia, financial transactions are also impacted as services from GooglePay and other western Apps are not working and common citizens are facing lots of hardship. Russian economy is no doubt isolated.
Russian aviation too is impacted by various no-fly bans by EU and the UK. The US too is contemplating a similar ban. Besides, the Boeing and Airbus have halted the supply of components for Russian inventory of 332 Boeing and 304 Airbus jets, which constitutes about two thirds of Russia's fleet. Depending upon the stores available, Russia would have to resort to mass cannibalisation to keep its fleet atleast partially air worthy.
Ukranian cities including Kharkiv, and the capital, Kyiv have been facing the brunt of various rocket attacks and embargoes. Notwithstanding the last week of regular pounding, the resolve and fighting sprirt of Ukranian nationals has been drawing lots of praise from all quarters. The role of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in these difficult circumstanceshas been a source of motivation for the common citizens.
The Ukrainians are putting up a very stiff and brave and heroic resistance, fighting for freedom, democracy, fighting for their homes. And the Russians were certainly not prepared for it.
Indian Air Force in coordination with Ministry of External Affairs has deployed three C-17 aircraft for round the clock evacuation efforts from Hungary, Poland and Romania. These would also be utilised to meet the commitment towards delivering essential humanitarian aid.
A safe and uninterrupted evacuation of Indian nationals, especially studentshas always been India’s foremost priority. Before the impending operations, the Indian Embassy in Kyiv had advised Indian nationals to move away from conflict zones towards the Western region. However, at the start of offensive operations by Russia, only around 4000 of the estimated total of 15,000 Indian citizens could be evacuated. Ukraine had closed its airspace on the morning of February 24, 2022 itself. India from day one had launched an initiative code named ‘Operation Ganga’ to bring back Indian citizens stranded in Ukraine.Air India and Indigo Airlines lead the efforts in initial days.
Since March 01, 2022, to augment the effort, the Indian Air Force (IAF) in coordination with Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) has deployed three C-17 aircraft for round the clock evacuation efforts from Hungary, Poland and Romania. These would also be utilised to meet the commitment towards delivering essential humanitarian aid.
Ukraine is a non-nuclear weapon state. President Putin of Russian, soon after commencement of operations warned the West that Russiais one of the most powerful nuclear states andordered its nuclear forces on a ‘special regime of combat duty alert’, thereby putting the triad of nuclear forces on preparedness to be employed at short notice.
Russia has ordered its nuclear forces on a ‘special regime of combat duty alert’, thereby putting the triad of nuclear forces on preparedness to be employed at short notice
This sabre rattling is obviously aimed at warning the NATO forces not to interfere in its operations. Russia on its part seems to be aiming for a sharp, swift and small-sized operations that would need to be kept limited in time and space.
The West has termed the nuclear alert as dangerous and irresponsible, the US has accused the Russian President of "manufacturing threats" by sounding the nuclear alarm.
During the build up to the invasion, various thinkers had predicted a fast paced employment of vast Russian air power dominating the Ukraine’s skies. Ukranian Air Force (UrAF) is vastly outnumbered by Russian Air Force (RuAF) in terms of numbers and firepower. However, the employment of air power in context of the RuAF has been highly intriguing so far.
Ukrainian Air Force fighter aircraft are still carrying out low level ground attacks and defensive counter air sorties. Russian Air Force is known to be still encountering a strong air defence set-up.
In the opening days, a preponderance of counter air operations on various military targets and destruction of UrAF and its air defence was expected. Instead, the UrAF fighter aircraft are still carrying out low level ground attacks and defensive counter air sorties. RuAF is known to be still encountering a strong air defence set-up. This is obviously rendering the Russian ground forces vulnerable.
This could either be due to certain apprehension on part of the RuAf to commit air effort towards the objective or possibly a lack of joint approach towards achieving the objective and coordinating air and land operations. This could also be with the aim of force preservation in face of NATO’s future likely conflict. Or maybe to avoid collateral civilian casualties.
The UrAF seems to be exceeding the expectations. There are tales of individual excellence that are doing the rounds, viz. that purportedly downed six Russian aircraft and dubbed online as ‘The Ghost of Kyiv’.At the same time there is a presence of huge Russian convoy comprising of tanks and fighting vehicles, spread across 40-50 kms on the road, about 30 kms north of Kyiv that constitutes a lucrative target for Ukraine air force, however, that does not seem to be contested at all.Is it because of shortages of fuel, ammunition or pilots or anything else is not clear. The underlying reasons for such aberrations would come out much later once the fog of war actually settles down.
The West has promised lots of surface to air missiles to Ukraine which are yet to reach. Also, Turkey is claiming to have supplied Bayraktar Unmanned combat aerial vehicles. These are also likely to be fielded in the near future. Next few days would be of immense interest and importance for practitioners of air power studying the conduct of air operations in the present scenario.