Ukrainian air defenses are largely denying the Russian military access to Ukrainian airspace, a US official said Wednesday, but cautioned Russia’s superior combat power still has the capability to overwhelm the country's defenses.
Russia’s air force is largely avoiding Ukrainian airspace because of an array of anti-aircraft systems that have denied Russia air superiority, according to the US official.
Russia is flying 150-200 sorties per day, but they’re virtually all over Russian territory, the official said. Russian pilots have not ventured far into Ukrainian airspace because of the effective use of surface-to-air missiles, including portable Stingers provided by the US and larger systems.
Although some Russian aircraft have entered Ukrainian airspace quickly for an attack, they don’t loiter or provide significant cover for Russian ground forces.
Ukrainian air defenses have denied Russia the freedom to maneuver in the skies, underscoring what Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said earlier Wednesday about the “limited” effectiveness of Russian air operations
Air defense is from anti-aircraft systems: In addition, Ukraine has operational jets, but they are not flying a significant number of combat missions, the official said. The air defense is coming primarily from their anti-aircraft systems, which is why it’s more effective to provide Ukraine with the weapons that have proven most problematic for the Russians: anti-armor missiles and anti-aircraft missiles.
Russian losses: Russia has lost approximately 20-25 helicopters and 15-20 other aircraft, the official said, while also losing hundreds of vehicles, including tanks and armored equipment. CNN previously reported that Russia has lost 8-10% of its military assets in the invasion.
Some context: The official’s comments come after the Pentagon said it did not support the transfer of Polish MiG-29 fighter jets to Ukraine through the US. Kirby said Wednesday the proposal would offer little benefit to the Ukrainian military, which already has operational aircraft, but entails a high risk of escalation with Russia.
Ukrainians effectively fighting back: Despite the massive Russian advantage in combat power, they have not been able to bring that force to bear at a decisive place and time, the official said. Ukraine has fought back very effectively, using small teams composed of light infantry to attack large Russian convoys which generally travel by road.
The Ukrainians are fighting on their home turf, giving them an advantage in knowing the terrain and allowing them to use the local population as their eyes and ears. The US also has anecdotal evidence of dissension in the Russian ranks.