Ukrainian forces try to weaken Russian air defence before receiving F-16 − ISW

Iryna Balachuk — Thursday, 13 June 2024, 04:50

Ukrainian forces have been making efforts to weaken Russian air defence systems. If successful, this could allow Ukraine to more effectively utilise manned aircraft in the long term, the Institute for the Study of War believes.

Source: Institute for the Study of War (ISW)

Details: ISW reported that Ukrainian forces conducted strikes on the night of 11-12 June, targeting one S-300 air defence battery and two S-400 batteries near the occupied settlements of Belbek and Sevastopol in Crimea. 

ISW also noted that geolocated images published on 12 June show damaged and destroyed Russian S-300 assets north of occupied Yevpatoriia and a destroyed Russian S-400 radar system south of occupied Dzhankoi, supporting earlier reports from the Ukraine’s General Staff on 10 June about strikes against Russian air defence assets in these areas.

Kostiantyn Nemichev, founder of the Kraken Regiment of Defence Intelligence of Ukraine (DIU), confirmed on 12 June that Ukrainian forces deployed HIMARS to destroy four Russian S-300 systems in Belgorod Oblast without specifying a date. 

As reported, this action led to the deployment of Russian air defence assets from Crimea to Belgorod Oblast in early June 2024, resulting in decreased Russian air defence coverage around Crimea. 

DIU spokesperson Andrii Yusov clarified on 12 June that Ukrainian drone strikes against Akhtubinsk air base in Astrakhan Oblast between 7 and 8 June had damaged two Russian Su-57 fighter aircraft, correcting earlier reports about only one aircraft. S-300/S-400 air defence systems and Su-57 fighters are critical Russian assets that restrict Ukrainian air operations near the front and support Russian offensive efforts in Ukraine.

Quote from ISW: "Ukrainian forces may seek to actively degrade Russian air defences before Ukraine receives a significant number of aircraft in order to set conditions for Ukraine’s future use of manned fixed-wing airpower closer to frontline areas. Ukrainian forces may be attempting to degrade Russian air defences ahead of anticipated F-16 fighter jet deliveries to Ukraine, which reportedly will begin in small quantities in summer and fall 2024."

ISW believes that Ukrainian military operations might eventually integrate fixed-wing aircraft to support ground forces if Ukraine acquires sufficient fighter jets, Western partners train enough pilots and if Ukraine successfully weakens Russian air defences.

Meanwhile, ISW reiterated that Ukrainian and Western authorities have previously stated that Ukraine needs a significant amount of time to train enough pilots and equip the country with approximately 150 F-16s, which are important to achieve air superiority for effective ground support operations.

"Ukrainian officials have also identified their envisioned use of F-16s and other fixed-wing aircraft to constrain Russian aviation operations, and Ukrainian Air Force Spokesperson Ilya Yevlash noted that only two F-16 squadrons, roughly 18 aircraft, would be enough to significantly impact the situation in the Ukrainian airspace," ISW added.

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