Analysis on the progress of the second week of war in Ukraine (first part)

(To Andrea Gaspardo)

As a continuation ofanalysis produced last week, let us now continue our effort to monitor the current war in Ukraine by evaluating what has happened in the last few days, always keeping in mind past events and at the same time trying to make predictions about what may happen in the near future.

Also in this case we will proceed by analyzing the developments passing from "front" to "front". In the dimension concerning air and missile warfare, there has been a dramatic increase in activity by the Russians in both strategic and tactical operations.

From a strategic point of view, the modus operandi of the Moscow forces is now clear. Every day the satellites of the Space Forces and the reconnaissance aircraft ELINT Ilyushin Il-20M, Ilyushin Il-22, Ilyushin Il-22M, Ilyushin Il-22PP and Tupolev Tu-214R of the Air Forces carry out patrols of the Ukrainian territory in all its extension remaining in the Russian airspace, in the Belarusian one and on the Black Sea. This allows the Headquarters of the Russian Armed Forces to evaluate the effectiveness of the air campaign on both military and civil infrastructures of the enemy country and prepare the list of objectives that, during the night and the first light of the morning, they are repeatedly hit by the strategic bombers Tupolev Tu-95MS, Tupolev Tu-22M and Tupolev Tu-160 and by the Sukhoi Su-34 tactical bombers.

The Russian strategic bombers, to date, hit targets located in Ukraine solely by means of cruise missiles and strictly remaining within Russian airspace, while the Sukhoi Su-34 attack often and willingly even flying "directly over the targets" .

The number of ballistic missiles, between 9K79 OTR-21 Tochka and 9K720 Iskander, launched by the Russians against targets located in Ukrainian territory has now reached a thousand units and does not seem destined to stop; the Russians use these missiles equipped with powerful warheads to hit high-paying and well-protected targets. On the other hand, it is impossible to quantify the number of cruise missiles of all types launched by the Russians from aerial, naval and land platforms, but even in this case the bombing continues unabated.

Certainly the intensity of these actions depends on the quantity and importance of the objectives to be hit and, obviously, only the Headquarters decides what the priorities are (airports, fuel depots, motorway sections of strategic value, etc ...) therefore based on the length of these lists we can expect a more or less violent bombing depending on the night in question. For example, in the night between 7 and 8 March, Russian strategic bombers launched no less than 908 Kh-101 cruise missiles, a modernized variant with partially stealth characteristics of the famous Kh-55, against targets mainly located in western Ukraine. Once the "fanning" is over, during the day the reconnaissance flights by the aforementioned V-VS aircraft resume, which estimate the damage, transmit the information to the Headquarters, and the carousel continues night after night. .

The support missions of fighter-bombers as well as helicopters take place at all hours of the day and night (subject to the presence of acceptable weather conditions) and their intensity depends on the development of events in the single theater of operations. Here, too, by way of example, while these sentences are being written, for several days the V-VS has always maintained a formation of at least 7-8 aircraft above the city of Kharkhov, always ready to attack both pre-selected targets and targets of opportunity, but the same situation is recorded above Chernigov, Mariupol, etc ...

The armament used by aircraft with the red star for bombing and tactical support missions is both precision and non-precision, but with a clear prevalence of the second. The reason for the widespread use of unguided free-fall bombs is due to the fact that Moscow still has huge stocks of bombs belonging to the so-called "1954 series" and 1962 "series, the most common of which are the FAB-100, the FAB -250, the FAB-500, the FAB-750 and the FAB-1500, where the Russian term “FAB” stands for (“Фугасная Авиационная Бомба / Fugasnaya Aviatsionnaya Bomba” - High Explosive Air Bomb). However, starting from 1999, Russia embarked on an ambitious plan to modernize its air component by equipping the aircraft in service with the navigation and bombing system called SVP-24 Gefest, which also allowed Russian aircraft to increase exponentially their accuracy during attack and bombing missions.

Basically, the SVP-24 Gefest is a navigation system that works at the same time as a computerized bombing viewer; the on-board computer selects the target and the route to follow with all the associated data (altitude, speed, angle of attack, etc ...) and the pilot only has to be careful to follow the invisible path that has been "traced to he ”to the optimal point where the same computer automatically releases bombs that hit the target with a high degree of precision. While the West emphasized the process of making the bombs "smart", the Russians instead made the bombing process "smart." However, this does not mean that things always go well, especially considering the fact that the bombs of Soviet / Russian production are fragmentation and high potential, and when they impact a target they can devastate a much larger area than bombs to free fall of Western origin precisely to ensure its destruction in the light of lesser accuracy.

There have been several air fights between fighters of the opposing nations which inevitably ended with the shooting down or retreat of the Ukrainians. The most serious loss was that of 4 Sukhoi Su-27P fighters that fell under the blows of as many Sukhoi Su-30SM in the skies of Zhytomir on March 5, which then allowed various Su-34 formations to bomb and demolish the "Zhytomir Armor Works ”last major factory of tanks and armored vehicles still available to the Armed Forces of Ukraine at the beginning of the war.

The loss of 4 Su-27s in a single engagement with no counterparts between the opposing forces testifies to the alarm I raised in the past in the analysis entitled "Swarm of Fire". Ukrainians pay the duty to have less trained pilots than Russian ones and to fly on planes that, despite being powerful on paper, are equipped with sensors that are not updated to modern standards, as opposed to Russian ones.

In the coming days and weeks we will most likely see on the strategic side a progressive shift of the center of gravity of Russian air operations towards the western part of Ukraine to complete the destruction of the country's infrastructure as well as to prohibit the arrival of arms supplies from the countries of the BORN.

From the point of view of tactical support operations, the pace of the attacks is progressively increasing, even if it has not yet reached the record we have seen in Syria, but we will probably get there in the next two weeks.

Meanwhile, observers on the ground have already noticed an increase in the use of Su-27 and Su-35 (aircraft usually destined for air supremacy tasks - photo opening) in ground attack missions using unguided rockets. Overall, the "volume of fire" released by the Russian Air Force is substantially comparable to that of the International Coalition at the time of the Operation Desert Storm.

A small note concerns the suppression of the Ukrainian anti-aircraft defenses which we talked about before the conflict. As the days pass, more and more photos of destroyed Ukrainian radar and missile systems are coming to light as well as information about the tactics used by the Russians to degrade the enemy's control of the airspace. Inspired by the tactics used by the International Coalition during the Operation Desert Storm Collectively referred to as the "Party of Puba", during the first night of operations the Russians first hit the communication centers using cruise missiles launched by their bombers, thereby preventing Ukrainian commands from communicating with their units. At that point the anti-aircraft defenses went into full alert with the men at the battle stations, eager to start the battle. The Russians then sent "attack" a swarm of small target drones of the E95M type that the Ukrainians confused for the first attack wave, which instead proceeded at a short distance, consisting of Sukhoi Su-24M, Sukhoi Su- 27SM, Sukhoi Su-25, Sukhoi Su-34 and Sukhoi Su-35 armed with anti-radar missiles, in particular the Kh-31P.

As correctly anticipated, the Ukrainian anti-aircraft batteries opened fire on the "target drones" mistaken for large aircraft, thus revealing their position and being subsequently annihilated by a broadside of hundreds of anti-radar missiles. The fact that, on the first night of fighting, Ukraine claimed responsibility for the shooting down of only 6 Russian aircraft speaks volumes about the devastating effectiveness of that first "hammer blow" as well as the subsequent complete disruption of Ukrainian air defense in the first four. days of conflict.

But be careful, what has been said so far is not all roses! As tactical support operations increase, the Russian Air Forces are suffering increasing losses from short-range anti-aircraft missiles, especially backed ones, supplied to the Ukrainians. Even before the conflict, the Kiev military was equipped with a wide range of Soviet-made anti-aircraft backed missiles such as the 9K32 Strela-2, 9K34 Strela-3, 9K310 Igla-1 and 9K38 Igla and, already in the previous months the beginning of hostilities, their arsenals were further enriched with the arrival of the famous FIM-92 Stinger of American origin and their Polish counterparts, the Pirouns. The latter immediately proved to be much loved by the Ukrainians and obtained some very important tactical successes, including the killing of a Mi-24 which soon became viral on the Internet.

All in all, the Russian Air Forces have so far played a major role in the Moscow war effort and will predictably continue to do so until hostilities cease even though it is equally certain that we will see an increase in casualties in both aircraft and fixed wing and rotary wing.

On the other hand, some reports that have also appeared in important international newspapers such as theEconomist according to which "the Russian Air Forces are not having any role in the present war". First of all, this statement clashes soundly with the abundance of authentic video material (especially from the Ukrainian side) that is flooding the network and showing an extensive and unscrupulous use of the Muscovite blue weapon. Secondly, the loss rate of aircraft with the red star cannot absolutely be associated with "a limited or timid use of the same".

To date, the Ukrainian authorities have claimed responsibility for the destruction of 49 planes and 81 helicopters, equal to 130 enemy aircraft in total. This figure is certainly inflated and must be divided by 3 or even by 4, but it is equally true that on several occasions the Ukrainians have managed to inflict on the Russians some memorable and bloody lessons, such as March 5, when the loss of 9 aircraft (1 Su-30SM, 2 Su-34, 2 Su-25, 2 Mi-24 and 2 Mi-8) all absolutely confirmed.

Finally, the ridiculous notion of the "low use of the Russian air weapon" dramatically clashes with the reality of the incessant requests by the Ukrainian side to obtain from NATO the sale of ex-Soviet aircraft in service or in stock with the air forces of the ex-Warsaw Pact countries and now NATO (the Polish-American controversy on the fate of the Polish Mig-29s, but not only) as well as the appeals of the Ukrainian President Zelensky on the need for NATO to intervene in the conflict by creating a " no-fly zone over the skies of Ukraine.

On the other hand, what was interesting to note, at least until 1 March, was the total absence from the battlefield of the “made in Russia” UAVs / UCAVs. After a long and tortuous process of acceptance, even the Russian Armed Forces have finally accepted the need to obtain a robust supply of drones, developed both through national technologies and inspired by foreign projects (especially Israeli and Chinese) so that today at least twenty of different models are in service and another forty are at different stages of development and acceptance. While some of the models, such as the Kronshtadt Orion, are still in service in a few dozen units, others, such as the now famous Orlan-10, are still in service in the thousands! Sic stantibus rebus is very strange that, until now, Kiev has claimed responsibility for the killing of only 7 Russian UAVs (but there is irrefutable confirmation for only 1 Orlan-10).

The reason for the total absence of Russian UAVs / UCAVs from the skies of Ukraine is probably justified by the fact that, quite simply, the Russians "did not expect to have to use them". Having originally planned a single decisive "decapitating blow" that was supposed to eliminate the enemy leadership and collapse the country in 1-3 days, Putin did not foresee the need to use UAVs / UCAVs, as they are ideal weapons for extended operations and continue over time. However, since the conflict is turning into a long and bloody affair, the Russians have had to run for cover and, starting from early March, there has also been an increase in the use of their drones with the publication of some videos filmed by them on the Kharkhov front as well as the attack by an Orion against a command post of the "Aidar battalion" in the Mariupol area.

It is easy to predict that, in the next phase of the war, the Russians will increase the use of both reconnaissance UAVs to use as "power multipliers" of their artillery as well as more aggressively use their UCAVs, especially against highly paying targets and the supply lines. On the Ukrainian side, as was to be expected, the blue weapon of Kiev is slowly bleeding and fighting for its survival trying to keep its assets as much as possible in view of the predictable show down final.

One notable exception is drones. The outbreak of the 2014 conflict found Ukraine totally unprepared and exposed on the UAV front. Apart from a pair of Israeli-made IAI Bird-Eye 400s purchased in 2008 and never really entered into service, the only remotely piloted aircraft available to the Ukrainians were the Tupolev Tu-141 "Strizh" and the Tupolev Tu-143 "Reys. ”Of Soviet origin promptly put back into service after being withdrawn in the 90s. This allowed the Ukrainians to wait until the arrival of "reinforcements" consisting of 72 units of AeroVironment RQ-11 Raven of American production and, more recently, of as many Baykar Bayraktar TB2 of Turkish origin.

Currently the UAVs / UCAVs represent the only offensive instrument that can be spent in the hands of the Ukrainian Air Force with the Tu-141, the Tu-143 and the RQ-11 actively engaged in reconnaissance missions along the entire front area and the Bayraktar TB2 used to hit Russian supply lines.

It is highly unlikely that UAVs alone will change the course of the war (in fact they did not even in the Second Nagorno-Karabakh War, despite the carelessness of numerous analysts) but they will certainly continue to make an important contribution to the Ukrainian resistance, especially if their numbers could be reinforced by new emergency supplies that both the United States and Turkey have shown themselves in favor of negotiating.

Also read: "Analysis on the progress of the second week of war in Ukraine (second part)"

Also read: "Analysis on the progress of the second week of war in Ukraine (third part)"

Photo: Russian Federation MoD