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War started with strikes on early warning radars, but Russian fighters never took off

Russian Su-30 fighter jets taxi before take off for a training mission in Krasnodar Region, Russia on Jan. 19, 2022.
FPI / March 11, 2022

While Russia began its invasion by attempting to ground Ukraine’s air force by bombing early warning radars, Vladimir Putin has yet to risk his country’s air force, military analysts say.

Retired Air Force Lt. Gen. David Deptula, a veteran of U.S. air wars, said Moscow’s failure so far to control the skies in Ukraine prior to ground operations “is surprising.”

A report by Britain’s Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) said the absence of Russia’s vast combat air power in the conflict may be linked to a shortage of precision-guided munitions, or poor pilot training.

Retired U.S. Navy Capt. Jim Fanell has another theory: The lack of air power is part of Russian psychological warfare by Putin.

“My assessment is that Putin is waiting to drop the hammer,” Fanell said.

The delays in large-scale assaults on Kyiv and other major cities could be part of a strategic pause on the part of the Russian military.

“And given that NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg went to Poland to tell them to not provide [MiG fighter jets] to Ukraine, Putin knows that his forces will have no threat from the air,” Fanell added. “NATO is not going to fight; America is not going to fight — despite a handful who have called for a no-fly zone over Ukraine.”

When the invasion began on Feb. 24, Russia targeted several Ukrainian S-300 surface-to-air missile batteries.

The RUSI said the expected next move, tracking the U.S. military model in recent conflicts, was large-scale airstrikes by the Russian Aerospace Forces, known by the acronym VKS. But the expected large-scale strikes by Russian Su-35, Su-34 and Su-30s fighters so far haven’t materialized.

“If present in significant numbers, escorting Su-35 and Su-30 fighters would have overwhelmed the Ukrainian fighters, even if they did manage to take off for sorties conducted at very low altitudes with limited situational awareness. This did not happen,” the RUSI report states.

The report said among the likely explanations for the lack of air power is the limited numbers of precision-guided bombs in Russian air force stocks.

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FPI, Free Press International
su30s by Vitaliy Timkiv is licensed under AP

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