- The first six days of invasion have confounded expectations that Russia would try to immediately destroy Ukraine’s air force.
- Russia is still flying through contested airspace.
- Military experts have seen evidence of a lack of Russian air force coordination with ground troop formations, with multiple Russian columns of troops sent forward beyond the reach of their own air defence cover.
Prior to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, US intelligence had expected a ferocious assault by the Russian military, which would immediately mobilise the large Russian air force assembled to dominate Ukraine’s skies as reported by Aljazeera.
Destroying air force
But the first six days have confounded those expectations and instead seen Moscow act far more delicately with its airpower, so much so that US officials cannot exactly explain what is driving Russia’s apparent risk-averse behaviour.
“They’re not necessarily willing to take high risks with their own aircraft and their own pilots,” a senior US defence official told Reuters news agency, speaking on condition of anonymity.
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.
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.
Any real reason
Ukrainian troops with surface-to-air rockets are able to threaten Russian aircraft and create risks for Russian pilots trying to support ground forces.
“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 real reason.”
“The Russians are discovering that coordinating multi-domain operations is not easy,” Deptula told Reuters.
“And that they are not as good as they presumed they were.”
By contrast, Russia’s forces received combat experience in Syria, where they intervened on the side of President Bashar al-Assad, and demonstrated some ability to synchronise ground manoeuvres with air and drone attacks.
Ukraine’s ability to keep flying air force jets is a visible demonstration of the country’s resilience in the face of attack and has been a morale booster, both to its own military and Ukraine’s people, experts say.
“Instead he met a wall of strength he never imagined.
He met the Ukrainian people,” Biden said.
However, the senior US official on Tuesday declined to estimate how much Russian combat aircraft, including attack helicopters, might still be available outside Ukraine.
“The airspace is actively contested every day.”
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