Ukraine War: Improved Tactics Help Russian Aerospace Forces To Dominate Airspace, Strike Hard & Avoid Losses

Based on recent performance, it is evident that the Russian Aerospace Forces (RuAF) are shouldering their responsibility for air dominance and supply and troop interdiction much more effectively than in the past.

There have been no recent reports of losses of frontline Russian fighters such as the Su-35S and Su-30SM.

In November, the Russian Ministry of Defense (RuMoD) announced several shootdowns of Ukrainian fighters and painful interdictory strikes that have killed hundreds of Ukrainian nationalists and mercenary soldiers staging to the frontline.

Painful Interdictory Strikes

On November 27, 2022, the RuMoD announced that the RuAF had destroyed up to 100 foreign mercenaries belonging to the Foreign Legion and six armored vehicles near Chasov Yar (Donetsk People’s Republic).

On November 25, 2022, the RuMoD said it struck three temporary Polish mercenary units using high-precision weapons near Velikiye Hutora (Kharkiv region), eliminating up to 200 militants.

On the same day, RuAF eliminated over a hundred mercenaries of the so-called Foreign Legion, one tank, two armored combat vehicles, and eight motor vehicles using high-precision weapons near Seversk and Slovyansk (Donetsk People’s Republic).

The weapon of choice for RuAF interdictory strikes appears to be the Kh-29 air-to-surface (ASM) missile, and the platform of choice is the Su-34 or Su-30SM.

Air Dominance & Strike Missions

According to the RuMoD, RuAF fighters patrolled the airspace over battlefronts 24×7. They cover Russian bombers (Su-34), fighters (Su-30SM, Su-25), and attack helicopters. (Mi-28, Mi-35, Ka-52) striking AFU military facilities and equipment.

The RuAF has adopted tactics that facilitate air dominance without harming the aircraft.

In the air dominance role, Russian fighters like the MiG-31 BM and Su-35S fly at medium altitudes armed with air-to-air (A2A) missiles or a combination of A2A and anti-radiation missiles (ARM). The ARM is used to strike any AD radar that starts to radiate to track RuAF aircraft.

On air dominance missions, typically:

  1. MiG-31BM is equipped with 2xRVV-BD long-range A2A missiles under the fuselage and 2xRVV-SD medium-range A2A missile underwings.

  2. Su-35S is equipped with 2xRVV-BD, 2xRVV-SD, and 1xKh-31 ARM.

On November 25, 2022, a RuAF Su-35S providing top cover downed a Ukrainian fighter in a look-down shootdown attack from medium altitudes.

On November 6, 2022, Izvestia reported that the crew of Russian multipurpose fighters, Su-30SM and Su-35S, identified and destroyed a Ukrainian military aircraft while the Su-30SM was executing an attack mission.

Ground Forces Support Missions

RuAF Su-25 fighters provide support to ground forces as and when required. Typically they operate in pairs flying nap-of-earth (NOE) profiles to avoid early detection and to minimize their exposure to MANPADs.

The aircraft is armed with unguided rockets, which the pilots launch using cues on the head-up display provided by the onboard ballistic computer. The inertial platform for improved accuracy senses the computer factors in flight parameters and wind-related drift.

To maximize the stand-off range from the target, the Su-25 pilot pulls up short of launch to give the rockets an upward trajectory. The pair launch their weapons, one at a time, releasing a two-rocket salvo. Following the launch, they break away sharply from their approach to the target and release flares to spoof MANPADS.

Professionally Executed Missions

Footage released routinely by RuMoD suggests that the conduct of operations by the RuAF is now very professional.

RuAF is now fighting for its strengths, not coping with its weaknesses. They are using weapon systems as they were conceived to be used, fighting in a manner they trained to fight in.

No more are we seeing Russian Su-35S fighters flying NOE to support ground forces trapped by rapid adversary maneuvering on the ground. Russia has now boldly stabilized and shortened its frontline by ceding territory along the Southern front.

No more do we see jaw-dropping video footage of Russian fighters descending to within the MANPAD envelope while supporting ground forces, armed with dumb bombs, striving for accuracy of release by dangerously flying at treetop levels!

File Image: A pair of Russian Air Force Su-35 jets during a training mission

Russian fighters and bombers, like the Su-30SM and Su-34, respectively, now strike adversary targets from stand-off distances without descending to the MANPAD envelope while operating under cover of Su-35S and MiG-31 BM fighters, using the very accurate and destructive Kh-29 missiles.

Spreading Ukraine’s AD Resources Wafer Thin

Since October 10, RuAF has struck Ukraine’s energy and communication infrastructure, spanning the entire country five times using cruise missiles. Besides severely degrading Ukraine’s power generation capacity, the attacks on October 10, 17, 31, and November 15 and 23 have forced Ukraine to spread its AD gun and missile resources thin.

Even as the West keeps augmenting Ukraine’s AD capability with different types of AD systems, the RuAF continues to maraud UAF along the front line where it matters.

Russian strategy is well thought out, and Ukraine’s inability to mount an offensive despite overwhelming numerical superiority suggests the strategy is working well.

  • Vijainder K Thakur is a retired IAF Jaguar pilot. He is also an author, software architect, entrepreneur, and military analyst. VIEWS PERSONAL
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