Russia Ukraine War : Moscow has acted very delicately with its air power, so much so that US officials can’t exactly explain it.
Washington : Before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, US intelligence had predicted a likely blistering assault by Moscow that would quickly mobilise the vast Russian air power that its military assembled in order to dominate Ukraine’s skies.
But the first six days have confounded those expectations and instead seen Moscow act far more delicately with its air power, so much so that US officials can’t exactly explain what’s driving Russia’s apparent risk-adverse behaviour.
“They’re not necessarily willing to take high risks with their own aircraft and their own pilots,” a senior US defence official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Vastly outmatched by Russia’s military, in terms of raw numbers and firepower, Ukraine’s own air force is still flying and its air defences are still deemed to be viable — a fact that is baffling military experts.
After the opening salvos of the war on February 24, analysts expected the Russian military to try to immediately destroy Ukraine’s air force and air defences.
That would have been “the logical and widely anticipated next step, as seen in almost every military conflict since 1938,” wrote the RUSI think-tank in London, in an article called “The Mysterious Case of the Missing Russian Air Force.”
Instead, Ukrainian air force fighter jets are still carrying out low-level, defensive counter-air and ground-attack sorties. Russia is still flying through contested airspace.
Ukrainian troops with surface-to-air rockets are able to threaten Russian aircraft and create risk to Russian pilots trying to support ground forces.
“There’s a lot of stuff they’re doing that’s perplexing,” said Rob Lee, a Russian military specialist at the Foreign Policy Research Institute.
He thought the beginning of the war would be “maximum use of force.” “Because every day it goes on there’s a cost and the risk goes up. And they’re not doing that and it just is really hard to explain for any realistic reason.”
The confusion over how Russia has used its air force comes as President Joe Biden’s administration rejects calls by Kyiv for a no-fly zone that could draw the United States directly into a conflict with Russia, whose future plans for its air force are unclear.