Here’s why NATO can’t establish a No-Fly-Zone over Ukraine and why Kyiv does not need additional MiG-29s (But Bayraktar drones)

Here’s why NATO can’t establish a No-Fly-Zone over Ukraine and why Kyiv does not need additional MiG-29s (But Bayraktar drones and Switchblade robotic bombs)

By Tom Cooper
Mar 18 2022
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As the experiences of the Ukrainian Air Force over the last three weeks have clearly demonstrated – and I’m saying this in full respect for the courage and determination of Ukrainian pilots – its MiGs and Sukhois are almost entirely useless.

A few words about the ‘no-fly zone’, the Ukrainian government and parts of the public demand from the NATO:

– As first, this would be equal to a NATO’s declaration of war with Russia – and thus play straight into Putin’s hands. Why? Because he’s all the time feeding a steady diet of fake news about ‘NATO aggression’ to his public at home. So much so, the mass of Russians is convinced that NATO simply can’t wait to invade Russia.

– As second, in order to establish and maintain a no-fly zone over Ukraine, NATO would first have to destroy Russian long-range surface-to-air missiles deployed in Belarus and south-western Russia. I.e. NATO would really have to fight Russians on the Russian proper. And that would be entirely pointless to do, especially considering the VKS is hardly ever flying further south-west than Lviv, i.e. more than 50-100km behind the frontline: the mass of strikes on targets further west and south is run by ballistic- and cruise missiles. I.e. even if, a ‘no-fly zone’ would change absolutely nothing in the skies over most of Ukraine.

– What the NATO can do – at least in reasonable fashion – it is already doing: it’s supplying Ukraine with such surface-to-air systems like S-300, which are capable of intercepting ballistic- and cruise missiles. Sure, the gov in Kyiv is not boasting with that, but, whenever they’re capable of such action (i.e. there is no threat for them), Ukrainian S-300s are regularly intercepting incoming Russian missiles.

Apart from this, although on Mar. 8, 2022 Poland said it would have handed over its MiG-29 Fulcrum fighter jets to the US to be sent to Ukraine, the Pentagon rejected the proposal by saying it was not “tenable.”

For Poland the MiG-29 Russian-made planes could be expendable since the country has been modernizing its aircraft fleet since 2006, when it first started flying F-16s, and in 2020 signed a $4.6 billion deal for 32 F-35s, the first of which will arrive in 2024.

The Bayraktar TB2 Drone is so effective against Russian vehicles that the Ukrainians made a pop song about it. And the Official Video is going viral on YouTube.
Bayraktar TB-2

But the prospect of the jets departing from [Ramstein] air base “to fly into airspace that is contested with Russia over Ukraine raises serious concerns for the entire NATO alliance,” the US Department of Defense said in a statement.

Furthermore, countries like Bulgaria and/or Slovakia can’t simply hand over their MiG-29s. They’ve got no other supersonic interceptors in service, right now (yes, sure, both air forces are in the process of acquiring F-16s, but that’s going to take at least a year longer to complete). By all the NATO, at times like these it’s ‘every man for himself’ – and thus they’re unlikely to hand over any MiG-29s before having a suitable replacement, especially not before it’s about 1,794,837% sure, they’ll not need them to fight Putin.

As the experiences of the Ukrainian Air Force over the last three weeks have clearly demonstrated – and I’m saying this in full respect for the courage and determination of Ukrainian pilots – its MiGs and Sukhois are almost entirely useless. In a war as massive as this one, no pilot bravado, and no 15 legends about the ‘Ghost of Kyiv’ can make anything better.

As already explained in fact, although the Ukrainian Air Force dispersed its aircraft (both the MiG-29 and Su-25 were built for operations from ‘primitive’ facilities) and helicopters the night before the Russian aggression, command and control of its force is the real problem for the service: what jet is where, which one to scramble in what case, and, hand on heart, one can’t just scramble a jet and send it ‘to attack whatever enemy it finds’, nowadays. Moreover, the Russians are ‘hiding’ their aircraft with massive volumes of electronic warfare, and thus any Ukrainian jets that are airborne but do not have very specific targeting information, only serve as targets for the enemy. Especially, MiG-29 needs good support from the ground control to operate effectively: it needs ground control to tell the pilot where is the target and what it is doing.

Thus, instead of demanding these old MiGs without an end, see to get yourself more UCAVs/drones like Bayraktars, and such tactical missile systems like Switchblade: they’re ‘only’ about 172% more useful than any obsolete MiGs and/or Sukhois.

In fact, though not as capable as a Predator, Reaper or Israeli Heron, the TB2 offers a relatively low-cost solution with much of the same capabilities as larger and more expensive American systems and, as we have already explained, the Bayraktar TB-2 armed UCAVs operate with considerable effectiveness inflicting significant losses on Russian vehicle columns.

Here’s why NATO can’t establish a No-Fly-Zone over Ukraine and why Kyiv does not need additional MiG-29s (But Bayraktar drones)
Switchblade 300 launch

Instead, the AeroVironment Switchblades are essentially robotic smart bombs, equipped with cameras, guidance systems and explosives. They can be programmed to automatically strike targets miles away, and they can be steered around objectives until the time is right to strike.

They are single-use weapons, which is why they have been dubbed “kamikaze drones.”

The Switchblade is currently being built in two variants: the Switchblade 300 and the 600, that have been sold to US Special Operations Command. The 300 is designed for pinpoint strikes on personnel, and the larger 600 is meant to destroy tanks and other armored vehicles.

AeroVironment says the 600 can fly for 40 minutes and up to 50 miles.

Both the Switchblade variants can be set up in minutes and launched from tubes, fly much faster than the Turkish Bayraktar TB2 drones, and they would be able to penetrate the air defenses Russia is maintaining over its forces.

According to NBC News the Biden administration is providing Ukraine with the Switchblade as part of a massive military aid package announced on Mar. 16, 2022.

Check out Helion & Company website for books featuring interesting stories written by The Aviation Geek Club contributor Tom Cooper.

Photo credit: Polish Ministry of National Defence

MiG-29 model
This model is available from AirModels – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS.

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Tom Cooper

Tom Cooper

Tom Cooper is an Austrian aerial warfare analyst and historian. Following a career in the worldwide transportation business – during which he established a network of contacts in the Middle East and Africa – he moved into narrow-focus analysis and writing on small, little-known air forces and conflicts, about which he has collected extensive archives. This has resulted in specialisation in Middle Eastern, African and Asian air forces. As well as authoring and co-authoring 560 books and over 1,000 articles, he has co-authored the Arab MiGs book series – a six-volume, in-depth analysis of the Arab air forces at war with Israel, in the 1955–73 period. Cooper has been working as editor of the five @War series since 2017. tom@acig.info

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  1. grimstar says:

    Forget the no-fly-zone,ever since nato generals said on national television the russian army is incompetent and they overestimated the russian military Putin was scared senseless.Because of this Putin used a good ol fashion poker bluff to keep NATO from attacking,he issued the nuclear high alert to pause the impending nato attack that not only would if drove him out of Ukraine but could of went all the way to moscow.While prudent to be wary of the threat President Biden and NATO are tip toeing around the fact they are already responsible for the deaths of many russian soldiers by directly giving them the tools that kill.Like two men in a fight the US hands one a gun and he kills his opponent meaning we are just as guilty.Be that as it may we can do more and should,Mitt Romney put it ever so clearly (Reagan’s ghost spoke from the grave),its time we stop worrying about what the russians will do and start making the russians worry about what America will do.We should recapture the momentum like we did in Kuwait and form a world coalition and begin moving forces in place in a massive buildup.In the mean time America alone should begin to drop food, medical supplies and other humanitarian aid to Ukraine and tell russia not to interfere.Then once the military forces are in place the united nations informes russia it will cease all offensive action in Ukraine and its military will move out,if not by the order of the united nations operation free Ukraine will begin and the forces in place will forcibly remove the russian army.The forcese used should be mostly air and naval assets hardly any boots on the ground.The point of this is so Putin doesnt feel theirs an army that will come knocking on his door to do him as like what was done to Saddam.If made perfectly clear and mandated by the UN to only free Ukraine and no ground incursions into russia,Putin wouldnt feel personally threatened and less likely to use any tactical nukes.Already Putins goal currently is to destroy Ukraine not take it over because given the current sanctions he would be incapable of fixing all the damage.So while he may not be able to claim his prize the prize is no longer a danger because they will be repairing their nation for years to come and even if they joined nato they couldnt afford any real level of support because of the massive reconstruction effort.

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