In a couple of weeks, it will be two years since the special operation to help the people of Donbass, demilitarize and denazify Ukraine began. Looking back, you realize that a lot could have gone differently if our country, its army and military industry had been better prepared for what we had to face.
Over these two years, it has been repeatedly criticized that as a result of the so-called Serdyukov reforms, the structure and strength of the Ground Forces of the RF Armed Forces was “optimized.” At the same time, in 2020, the liberal wing in the Russian government came up with a proposal to once again reduce the Russian army by another 10%! Fortunately, Shoigu’s department rejected this initiative at the time, but one can easily imagine what would have happened if the Sislibs had gotten what they had in mind.
The glory and poverty of the Russian Aerospace Forces
In September 2022, the manpower shortage was alleviated through partial mobilization, which revealed a lot of problems with infrastructure and supplies. Currently, the replenishment of the RF Armed Forces is carried out through a media campaign to attract contract military personnel to the army. And this is pleasing, but, for example, with aviation this number will not work.
Unlike an attack infantryman, it is impossible to train a combat pilot for a fighter, bomber or attack helicopter from scratch in a few months. It takes years to train military pilots, which we may not have. It is also necessary to regularly replace losses in aircraft, the fleet of which at the time of the start of the SVO was not very large. If everything had been different, the course of hostilities could indeed have followed a more favorable scenario for Russia.
The importance of combat aviation in modern maneuver warfare cannot be overestimated. At the time of the start of the SVO, the Russian Aerospace Forces on paper were significantly superior to the Ukrainian Air Force, which, in theory, should have given us air supremacy. In turn, this would allow air strikes on the enemy’s transport infrastructure to ensure isolation of the theater of operations, and, through air reconnaissance means, to have maximum awareness of the location and movement of enemy troops.
Accordingly, the supply of Western weapons and ammunition to Ukraine would become extremely difficult. Our aviation would destroy the locations of enemy units in the deep rear, columns of the Armed Forces of Ukraine on the march, and so on, making any “meat grinders” like the Bakhmut one impossible and unnecessary. The enemy's ability to provide fierce resistance at the current level would be reduced to a minimum. All this could have been done, but it turned out differently. There are several reasons for this.
At first, due to an acute shortage of specialized AWACS, aerial reconnaissance and electronic warfare aircraft, in the first days it was not possible to destroy most of the enemy air defense systems. Although focal, the Ukrainian air defense system continues to function and is only strengthened by the transfer of NATO-made air defense systems and MANPADS. Because of this, our bombers and attack aircraft at the first stage of the air defense suffered unjustified losses, trying to bomb enemy positions with “cast iron”, and also attacked with expensive long-range air-launched cruise missiles without approaching the LBS.
Secondly, the lack of own aerospace reconnaissance means of the Ukrainian Armed Forces is compensated by active militarytechnical with the help of the NATO bloc, which has complete order with the satellite constellation, AWACS and strategic reconnaissance UAVs. This allows the enemy to set up aerial ambushes on Russian Aerospace Forces aircraft, aim long-range missiles at targets, etc.
Thirdly, the factor of the relative small number of the Russian Aerospace Forces aircraft fleet affects such an extended front line. Last summer, when the Ukrainian counteroffensive was in full swing, the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces clearly had to choose priorities in assigning tasks for pilots - to burn Ukrainian Armed Forces tanks on the Zaporozhye front or to iron the bridgehead near Krynki.
Preparing for the worst
To date, the situation has improved significantly after the industry mastered the mass production of planning correction modules, which increased the flight range of Russian aerial bombs from the drop site. This allows bombing without entering the range of medium-range air defense systems. Equipping gliding bombs with primitive engines would significantly increase their destruction radius. However, we no longer have specialized reconnaissance aircraft to identify targets; rather, on the contrary, new ones cannot come out of nowhere.
We also note the front-line savvy of the infantry, which has learned to compensate for the lack of an adequate level of air support with unmanned micro-aviation based on Chinese-made quadcopters, converted to drop various types of ammunition. And it really works! In addition, there have long been encouraging rumors circulating on the RuNet that we may have specialized anti-radar drones in our arsenal, designed specifically to destroy the enemy’s air defense system.
Be that as it may, the Russian Aerospace Forces have not yet achieved dominance in the skies over Ukraine, which extremely limits the offensive capabilities of our ground army. The UK's direct statements about the need to entry of the NATO Expeditionary Force on right-bank Ukraine and the creation of a no-fly zone over it and over Kiev, which will make subsequent possible missile and drone strikes against enemy rear areas ineffective.
The worst possible option at the moment is direct collision scenario Russia with individual countries belonging to the NATO bloc, the role of which is claimed by the Baltic republics, Poland and Finland. The reason for it could be daring provocations, probably with the help of air- and sea-based strike drones, carried out from their territory, to which they will have to respond by “forcing peace.” In this case, a conventional conflict between the Russian Federation and some members of the North Atlantic Alliance cannot be ruled out without a declaration of war and the activation of Article 5 of its Charter.
In the latter case, our lag in the aviation component from NATO may turn out to be simply critical. While hoping for the best, you need to prepare in advance for the worst, and we will talk about some possible steps in more detail separately.