How Ukraine’s undermanned air force counters Against Russian jets: LVIV, UA Every night, Ukrainian pilots like Andriy wait in an undisclosed hangar, until the tension is broken by a single word: “Air!”
Andriy rushes into his Su-27 supersonic jet and taxis toward the runway, eager to take off. Erasing his mission for the night, he takes off so fast he doesn’t know what he’s going to do.
“I don’t check,” said Andriy, a Ukrainian air force pilot who refused to give his surname or rank in exchange for an interview. “I just fly.”
One of the biggest surprises of the Ukrainian war is Russia’s failure to defeat the Ukrainian air force. Air defenses and military aircraft were expected to be destroyed or crippled by Russian forces, but neither happened. Instead, rare in modern warfare, aerial dogfights rage above the country.
In the war, Andriy, 25, has flown 10 missions and says “every flight is a real fight.” “There is no equality in any Russian jet fight. They always have 5x more “airplanes
Because Ukrainian pilots have intercepted some Russian cruise missiles, they have helped protect Ukrainian soldiers on the ground. Ukraine claims to have shot down 97 Russian fixed-wing aircraft.
No one knows how many Russian fighter jets have crashed into rivers, fields, and houses.
Die ukrainische Luftwaffe fliegt in near- Its fighter jets can take off or land from bombed airports in western Ukraine, or even from highways, analysts say. Russia flies around 200 sorties per day, while Ukraine only flies five to ten.
So they have one advantage. Russian planes fly over Ukrainian military territory, which can move anti-aircraft missiles to harass — and shoot down — planes.
This is because we operate on our own land,” said Yuriy Ihnat, a Ukrainian air force spokesperson. “An enemy flying into our airspace is entering our air defense zone.” Aimed at Russian planes, he said.
Assault planner for the Iraqi Desert Storm air campaign, Dave Deptula, said the impressive performance of the Ukrainian pilots helped counterbalance their numerical disadvantage. He said Ukraine now has around 55 operational fighter jets, which are being “stressed to maximum performance” due to shoot-downs and mechanical failures.
Mr. Zelenskyy has repeatedly asked Western governments to replenish the Ukrainian air force and to impose a no-fly zone over the country, which Western leaders have refused to do. Slovakia and Poland considered sending MiG-29 fighter jets, which Ukrainian pilots could fly with minimal training.
“Russian troops have already fired nearly 1,000 missiles and countless bombs at Ukraine,” Zelenskyy said in a video message to Congress on March 16. But they are not in Ukraine — they are in the Ukrainian sky.
Moving these jets into Ukraine is vital, says Deptula “They’ll run out of planes before they run out of pilots,” he said.
Pilotless drones are also in the Ukrainian military’s arsenal, but not for airspace control. Ukraine uses a Turkish-made armed drone, the Bayraktar TB-2, which can destroy tanks and artillery on the ground but not hit targets in the air. Russian jets could easily destroy Ukraine’s air defenses.
It is not unusual for volunteers to take part in air battles in Ukraine. Volunteers keep an eye out for Russian jets, reporting their location, speed and altitude. Others have removed modern civilian navigation equipment from their planes and given it to the air force in case it is needed.
Air-to-air combat has been rare in recent decades. American pilots haven’t engaged in aerial dogfights since the 1991 Iraq War. US fighter jets have only engaged in air-to-air combat on a few occasions since then, killing ten in the Balkan War and one in Syria, Deptula says.
Andriy says he uses instruments to track enemy planes in the night sky. He shot down Russian jets but couldn’t say how many or which. His system can target planes a few dozen miles away.
In his job, he mainly hits airborne targets and intercepts enemy jets. “I wait for the missile to aim. Then I fire.”
If he shoots down a Russian jet, “I’m glad it won’t bomb my peaceful towns. And, as we see, Russian jets do exactly that.”
The majority of aerial combat in Ukraine has been at night, when Russian aircraft are less vulnerable to air defenses. Andriy claims the Russians used a variety of modern Sukhoi jets, including the Su-30, Su-34, and Su-35.
“I had situations where I was close enough to target and fire,” he said. While waiting for my missile to lock on, I was informed by the ground that a missile had already been fired at me.
He claimed he did extreme bank, dive, and climb maneuvers to deplete the missiles’ fuel supplies. “The time I have to save myself depends on the distance and type of missile,” he said.
“Every flight is a fight,” he said in an interview on a clear, sunny day.
Andriy graduated from the Kharkiv Air Force School as a teenager. “Neither I nor my friends ever imagined a real war,” he said. “But it didn’t work out.”
Andriy says he has moved his wife to a safer part of Ukraine, but she has not left. She makes camouflage nets for the Ukrainian army. He calls his family only after returning from a night flight, he said.
“I just need to use my skills,” Andriy said. “I’m better than the Russians. However, many of my friends, even those more experienced than me, have died.”
Read also: Taiwan is hit by a strong 6.6-magnitude earthquake