The combination of air and ground forces helped Ukraine shoot down hundreds of Russian missiles, but the aging warplanes or the depleted missile arsenal are reducing Kiev’s defenses.
As the Russian cruise missiles accelerated toward their target, Juice, a Ukrainian pilot flying a Soviet-era MiG-29 fighter jet, gave chase and locked the two missiles on the radar. However, he was unable to fire because they were approaching a densely populated area, shooting down the missiles was very risky at that time.
Juice said he turned over the targets to Ukraine’s ground-based air defenses, who shot them down, the same way they did with the hundreds of missiles Russia has dropped since October. 2022. This good coordination has helped Kiev reduce the damage caused by the Russian air campaign.
Russia has carried out nine large-scale air strikes, often firing more than 70 missiles at once, since October 10. These raids destroyed 50% of Ukraine’s energy infrastructure, causing a blackout of Ukraine’s electricity, running water, mobile signal, and heating system. The Pentagon said the Russian missile strikes were aimed partly at depleting supplies to Kiev’s air defenses, and then at controlling the country’s skies.
According to Reuters calculations based on Ukrainian data, Ukraine’s missile shooting rate ranges from about 50% to 85%.
Ukraine’s air defense forces are distributed quite thinly across the entire territory, which they are concentrated mainly near cities and important infrastructure. Meanwhile, fighter pilots like Juice were deployed to fill the empty areas in between.
This is clearly a very difficult task. Juice said he did not shoot down a drone or missile from his MiG-29. The MiG-29 is an aircraft built before Ukraine gained independence in 1991.
“Our jets just don’t have the capacity to do that task efficiently,” says Juice. He said that he always had to be in a state of high readiness at his assigned point in central Ukraine.
According to Juice, older radars are difficult to detect oncoming targets, especially with low-flying and slow-moving Shahed drones.
During air raids, such as December 5, Juice was unable to hit the target because he was too close to a densely populated area.
Ukrainian Air Force spokesman Yuriy Ihnat also confirmed that air defense units on the ground shot down most of the Russian missiles and drones, but not the old warplanes.
“Both the missile and the drone flew along the rivers as low as possible and disappeared from radar. If they were low enough, they would disappear,” Mr. Ihnat said.
After large-scale missile raids, Russian intelligence tends to pause for days to assess which targets they have hit or missed, and at the same time, reposition Ukrainian air defense units as well as repositioning Ukrainian air defense units. like looking for weaknesses to exploit, Ukrainian officials told Reuters.
As for Ukraine, gathering information from domestic and western intelligence agencies plays a key role in helping Ukraine prepare for further Russian airstrikes, said Denys Smazhnyi, a defense training official. not senior told Reuters. “So we usually know what targets are being attacked. Then we will organize some air defenses around that location.”
Ukraine’s director of military intelligence estimates that Russia’s number of high-precision weapons is probably only enough for them to conduct a few more major airstrikes. On the other hand, Ukrainian officials admit, their own defensive arsenals are also running out as the conflict has dragged on for 10 months.
Ihnat said that although the West provides air defense systems to Ukraine, including the sophisticated US NASAMS system and the German IRIS-T system, Soviet-era weapons remain the core of Ukraine’s air defenses.
“Our Soviet-era air defense systems, such as the S-300 and BUK, are running out. We cannot maintain them forever because all their only spare parts are manufactured. in Russia,” he added.
Western air defense systems supplied to Ukraine work well, but supply is far short of demand, according to both officials.
“Russian equipment is old, and we are also running out of missiles. I do not say that the missile stock will run out in the next few days or weeks. That depends on the intensity of the attacks from Russia,” Smazhnyi said.
By December 7, Russia is believed to have launched more than 1,000 missiles and rockets into Ukraine’s power grid, Ukraine’s national electricity company estimates.
Ihnat said that production of IRIS-T is already at full capacity and therefore Ukraine should focus on getting as many NASAMS supplies as possible.
“We’re going through a month of winter… I think we’ll survive. But now it’s better to supply rockets than to provide generators,” he said.
Juice and many of his colleagues in the Ukrainian Air Force predict that one day, Ukraine will receive Western aircraft, such as the American F-16 multirole fighter. However, there is currently no indication that the planned delivery of the F-16 is imminent or has been approved.