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.
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.
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.
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Photo credit: Polish Ministry of National Defence