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Forbes: Ukraine decimates Russia’s best jets with American missiles

Ukraine has used a combination of American and Soviet-era missiles to take down nine Russian fighter-bombers and one A-50 radar plane in a short span of time, while Russia struggles to replace its losses and detect Ukrainian launches.
Russia's airborne early warning and control aircraft A-50U
Russia’s airborne early warning and control aircraft A-50U (Red 41). File photo: Wikimedia Commons
Forbes: Ukraine decimates Russia’s best jets with American missiles

The success of the Ukrainian Armed Forces in shooting down Russian aircraft is due to the use of Western-supplied Patriot and NASAMS air defense systems, as well as Russian blind spots after the loss of a third of the A-50 long-range radar detection aircraft, according to Forbes.

Ukraine has managed to take down a record number of Russian military aircraft in the eastern part of the country and in southwestern part of Russia within a short period of time. It is still not entirely clear what kind of weapons the Ukrainians used to launch painful strikes on Russian aviation.

According to Ukraine’s Air Force, in just ten days Ukraine had shot down ten Russian military aircraft: nine of the best fighter-bombers of the Russian Air Force (Su-34 and Su-35 jets), as well as a rare Beriev A-50 airborne early warning and control system (AWACS).

According to Forbes, Russia is losing planes 20 times faster than it can replace them, as the Russian aerospace industry is trying to produce more than a few dozen new combat aircraft a year despite the sanctions.

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According to Forbes, Ukraine’s Air Force has allocated several Patriot air defense systems to mobile air defense teams that move quickly near the front line, ambushing Russian aircraft with 145-kilometer (90-mile) range PAC-2 missiles, and then quickly redeploy to avoid Russian airstrikes.

But the distance from which the Ukrainians shot down the A-50 AWACS radar plane on 23 February was more than 200 kilometers (120 miles), which may mean that a longer-range missile system was involved. It may have been a Soviet-era S-200 surface-to-air missile system that Ukraine pulled out of long-term storage, according to Forbes.

Two years of all-out war: weapons of Ukrainian victory

The Ukrainians have likely moved some of their two dozen NASAMS air defense batteries with a range of 40 kilometers (25 miles) closer to the front line. Consequently, on 26 February, the Russians detected and destroyed a NASAMS launcher near Zaporizhzhia in southeastern Ukraine for the first time, Forbes reported.

Ukraine may have deployed all of the above systems and others at once to create a “hot lane,” but in this case, Ukraine will soon run out of missiles for Patriot and NASAMS air defense systems, as the United States has not provided Ukraine with ammunition since the end of December 2023, according to Forbes.

The actions of Russian troops may have also contributed to the sharp increase in Russian aviation losses, as the Russian air force is flying more sorties closer to the front line, suppressing Ukrainian troops to advance its ground forces, according to Forbes.

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As explained by the Ukrainian Center for Defense Strategies, the Russians “have overcome the fear of using aviation directly over the battlefield – and although this leads to the loss of aircraft, its ground troops gain a significant advantage in firepower.”

The surge in Russian attack sorties has given Ukrainian air defenders more targets, so they are shooting down more Russian aircraft. Ukrainian efforts are aided by the fact that Russian pilots are increasingly unable to detect Ukrainian missile launches, according to Forbes.

The Russian air force once relied on 9 A-50 radar aircraft, organized into three “orbits” of three aircraft each in the south, east, and north, to extend sensor coverage across Ukraine, identify targets deep inside the Ukrainian territory and coordinate air strikes.

UK: New Russian A-50 radar plane kept distant from Ukraine after previous one downed

By damaging one Russian A-50 with a drone strike in Belarus last year and shooting down two more A-50s in January and February 2024, the Ukrainians have eliminated a third of their sensor coverage and created blind spots where Russian pilots have difficulty detecting incoming missiles, according to Forbes.

As both sides expend resources that they cannot recover – the Ukrainians their American-made missiles; the Russians their Su-34, Su-35 and A-50 – both sides in the Russia-Ukraine war are pursuing short-term campaigns that they hope will provide them with a long-term advantage, acording to Forbes.

The Ukrainian air force is apparently eager to use the latest Patriot and NASAMS missiles to deplete the Russian air force and prevent future bombing spikes, Forbes suggested. Meanwhile, the Russian Air Force aims to bomb more Ukrainian garrisons and help Russian ground forces gain a foothold before squadrons of Su fighter bombers are depleted by a lack of aircraft and experienced crews.

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According to Forbes, the way out of the impasse would be US aid provided to Ukraine with no delay. The American military aid is currently suspended and must be approved by the US House of Representatives. The US Senate has already approved over $60 billion in new aid to Ukraine.

The Speaker of the Republican-led House of Representatives has been blocking the approval of new aid funding for Ukraine, Taiwan, and Israel for several months amid disputes in the US Congress over strengthening US border security. The suspension of US military aid significantly impairs Ukraine’s ability to repel a full-scale Russian invasion.

On 13 February, US President Joe Biden urgently called on the House of Representatives to pass a bill providing assistance to Ukraine, emphasizing its crucial role in supporting America’s national security interests and aiding global efforts to uphold Ukraine’s sovereignty against Russian aggression.

The announcement came after the US Senate approved a $95.34 billion aid package for Ukraine, Israel, and Taiwan (including $61 billion for Ukraine), securing the necessary 60 votes to move the legislation forward to the House of Representatives.

On 14 February, Speaker Johnson said that the House of Representatives “will not be forced to pass a foreign aid bill that a majority of Republican senators oppose” and that contains no measures to secure the US border.

In his interview with CNN, Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said that without more US aid, Ukraine will not be ready for a possible Russian counteroffensive in the spring of 2024 and that it will be very difficult to defend itself and repel Russian attacks considering an acute shortage of ammunition and military equipment.

Putin wants to destroy American unity, Zelenskyy tells CNN

President Zelenskyy said that American citizens should trust Ukraine with their taxpayer money, which the US government donates to purchase weapons needed to help Ukraine’s Armed Forces fight against Russian aggression, as all funds are used efficiently. Zelenskyy said that the Ukrainian government is transparent and accountable to US congressmen and the Biden administration regarding US military aid.

Ukraine mostly receives military equipment, not money, and the US aid goes to American or European defense companies, not Ukraine’s budget, President Zelenskyy told CNN. He noted that Ukraine had implemented a number of anti-corruption reforms and received EU candidate status, which is not granted to countries that do not demonstrate results in the fight against corruption. Thus, all procedures for transferring US weapons to Ukraine are transparent, understandable, and subject to regular audits.

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