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From frontline to rear: How Ukraine destroying Russian aircraft and what is needed for air supremacy

From frontline to rear: How Ukraine destroying Russian aircraft and what is needed for air supremacy Photo: Russian aircraft are at risk not only in Ukrainian skies but also at rear airfields (Russian media)

Since the beginning of the full-scale war, Ukraine has shot down hundreds of Russian aircraft. However, it has not yet gained air superiority to ensure strategic success on the front.

More details on how the Defense Forces are destroying enemy aviation and what is needed to achieve victory in Ukrainian skies can be found in the material by RBC-Ukraine.


How Ukraine shoots down frontline aviation

According to the General Staff statistics, since February 2022, 359 Russian aircraft have been destroyed. Aviation was most actively used in the first months of the war, so it logically suffered the greatest losses during that time.

For instance, in just the first week, Russia lost 30 aircraft. In March - 114, April - 49, May - 16. Approximately since late spring 2022, enemy aircraft have flown less frequently in the skies controlled by Ukraine and continue to operate from occupied territories and Russian territory.

The elimination of the Su aircraft continues on the front. The end of February 2024 was particularly fruitful when the Russian forces advanced on several fronts in the east, and aircraft were "falling" several times a day. For example, on the 17th, two Su-34 bombers and one Su-35 fighter were shot down, and on the 29, three Su-34 units were downed.

"Since the beginning of February, Russia has lost 15 military aircraft. This is the proper dynamics of their losses," said President Volodymyr Zelenskyy at the beginning of March.

In spring, the Su-25 attack aircraft picked up a positive trend for Ukraine. Only from May onwards, at least seven Grach (Su-25) were successfully shot down in the Donetsk region. The latest incident occurred on June 11 in the Pokrovsk direction.

Attention. The video contains explicit language.

Enemy aviation is used along the entire front line, but with varying intensity. Currently, the hottest directions are Pokrovsk and Kurakhove, where the Russian forces are advancing with active support from frontline attack aircraft.

"As for specific segments of the front where Su-25 are shot down, there is a simple explanation. These aircraft can be shot down with MANPADS (man-portable air-defense systems). And we see how our military has learned to hunt them, conducting round-the-clock ambushes," said Oleksandr Musiienko, the head of the Сenter of Military Law Researches, to RBC-Ukraine.

Air defense systems of the Ground Forces, including Soviet-made systems like Osa and Strela transferred by partners, are also working on air targets. Additionally, there are so-called hybrids like FrankrenSAM equipped with Western missiles.

In the case of Su-34, which are carriers of guided bombs, it's more challenging. They don't approach as closely and launch guided bombs from tens of kilometers away.

"Therefore, we don't shoot them down until our "roaming" Patriot is operational. Once it starts working, we will get more missiles or Western aircraft, and we will have more chances to shoot down Su-34s," emphasized the expert.

How Ukraine destroys aircraft in the Russian rear

Ukraine destroys Russian aircraft not only on the front lines but also in the rear. In January, for the first time in history, a long-range reconnaissance aircraft A-50 was successfully shot down over the Sea of Azov. Recently, US Army representative Rosanna Clemente claimed that it was allegedly hit by Patriot SAM. The Ukrainian side did not comment on this.

However, the second downed A-50 in February over the Sea of Azov was commented on. Chief of Military Intelligence Kyrylo Budanov stated that an ambush had been prepared for two weeks, and President Zelenskyy hinted at Ukrainian weaponry. RBC-Ukraine sources pointed to the Soviet-era S-200 SAM system.

On April 19, a strategic bomber Tu-22M3 crashed in Stavropol Krai (Russia). The aircraft was successfully hit 300 km from the Ukrainian border. According to Budanov, the familiar S-200 complex was used. Previously, in December 2022, drones damaged Tu-22M3 at the Dyagilevo airbase (Ryazan region), and in August 2023, one was destroyed and two were damaged at the Soltsy base (Novgorod region).

Strikes on enemy rear airfields are carried out regularly. For example, one of the attacks in May targeted the Kushyovskaia base (Krasnodar Krai), where, according to some reports, a Su-27 was destroyed, and Su-34 and Su-30 were damaged. In the middle of last month, two MiG-31s, Su-27, and MiG-29 at the Belbek base (Crimea) could have been destroyed due to a missile attack.

Від фронту до тилу. Як Україна дістає літаки РФ та що треба для перемоги у повітрі

Photo: Satellite image of the location of the historic strike on Russian Su-57 aircraft (t.me_DIUkraine)

Recently, there have been more historic achievements. As a result of an operation by the Defense Intelligence of the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine, drones struck the pride of Russian combat aviation - two new Su-57 fighters. Moreover, it happened at the Akhtubinsk airbase (Astrakhan region), nearly 600 km from Ukraine. During the period of full-scale invasion, such aircraft were used only a few times.

"They saw it when it launched guided aviation missiles. However, it had not been observed systematically, used continuously, or approached so close to the state border or the front line," noted Air Force spokesperson Illia Yevlash.

The development of the Su-57 has cost Russians $10 billion, and the production cost of one exceeds $200 million. According to open sources, there are up to 15 such aircraft, including prototypes, so losing two units, to put it mildly, angered the Kremlin.

"Putin is really furious, and the reaction in the Kremlin is very hot and palpable. Because they tried to carefully conceal and protect the Su-57," said Defense Intelligence representative Andrii Yusov.

The destruction of aircraft in the air and on airfields is part of a strategy to achieve air superiority. Firstly, it reduces the number of enemy combat aviation assets. Secondly, it achieves an ostensibly less obvious but equally important goal related to exerting pressure and exhaustion. For example, on Tuesday, a Su-34 crashed over North Ossetia, and Oleksandr Musiienko attributes this directly to Ukraine's actions.

"Because we forced Russian pilots to fly to various airfields, including ones they didn't use before. Russia is squeezing everything out of its aviation, which leads to accidents and the loss of experienced pilots. The workload on equipment that can't cope increases, and emergencies occur," he explained.

Factor of air defense: How many and what kind of ground systems are needed

As of today, Ukraine has only a quarter of the air defense assets necessary to maintain the front line. At the reconstruction conference in Berlin, President Zelenskyy stated that air superiority remains Russia's biggest strategic advantage.

"Only up to a hundred guided air bombs daily... This is insanely destructive pressure, plus missiles, plus attack drones... Air defense systems are the answer," he noted.

To protect major urban areas, at least 7 Patriot-type systems are needed. Western allies seem to have finally heard the signal.

In particular, a third battery from Germany is expected, the second from the United States, and another one will be assembled at the initiative of the Netherlands. Romania may also provide another system if it "doesn't weaken" its own air defense. Additionally, Italy announced plans to supply additional SAMP/T air defense systems.

It's also important that Ukraine will be able to shoot down Russian aircraft over Russian territory. Even Germany is not against it. As German General Christian Freuding stated, it's possible that Patriots, for example, will be deployed in the Kharkiv region to intercept missile carriers and guided bombs.

Від фронту до тилу. Як Україна дістає літаки РФ та що треба для перемоги у повітрі

Photo: Volodymyr Zelenskyy and Boris Pistorius in front of a Patriot missile system, which Germany will transfer to Ukraine (

Expert Musiienko clarified in an interview with RBC-Ukraine that Russia's advantage is only in the skies over the occupied territories.

"To deprive them of this advantage, we need 7 Patriot air defense systems. This will allow us to engage them in such a way that they approach closer to the frontline and shoot down the carriers of guided bombs. At the first stage, this will be sufficient, but further strengthening with aviation is needed," he explained.

How many aircraft are needed to deprive Russia of air superiority

A large number of aircraft are needed. According to President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, no less than 120-130 in addition to those already available.

"They can be different, but as modern as possible... Ukraine needs about 120-130 F-16 fighter jets and other modern aircraft to resist the Russian invaders. This will be a capable Ukrainian fleet to defend the sky against 300 aircraft — that's exactly the number Russia uses against Ukraine," he said in an interview with AFP.

So far, only four countries have confirmed readiness to transfer F-16 fighter jets. The Netherlands will provide 24 units directly and 18 to a training center in Romania for Ukrainian pilot training. Belgium - 30, Denmark - 19, Norway - 12. How many Ukraine will receive in the summer and by the end of the year is unknown. Deliveries may span over several years, so Ukrainians are cautioned against inflated expectations.

"The first ones (F-16s, - ed.) will not play a key role. We need to approach everything fairly and with understanding. The first ones will not play because their number will be insufficient," Zelenskyy said.

Additionally, several aircraft will remain at bases abroad. According to the chief of aviation of the Air Force Command, Serhii Holubtsov, this is necessary as a reserve to be able to substitute a faulty aircraft or one undergoing maintenance. This backup will allow preserving more F-16s since Ukrainian airfields will become a priority target.

"At the first stage, F-16s are needed to repel enemy aviation and strike ground targets. I think soon we will be able to have up to 10 aircraft and possibly up to 14 by the end of the year," Musiienko predicts.

The full potential of the F-16 will be realized with Saab 340 AEW (ACS 890) airborne early warning aircraft. Swedish partners have promised to transfer two units. This will also be a historic moment because Ukraine has never had its own AWACS aircraft since independence.

Some tasks like strike missions and hunting down cruise missiles may be performed by French Mirage 2000-5 fighters. According to La Tribune newspaper, Paris may transfer from 6 to 12 Mirages soon, but Musiienko doubts this will happen before the beginning of 2025.

Regarding the 120-130 aircraft figure, he agrees that coupled with a sufficient amount of ground-based air defense, this would be enough to move towards a real victory over Russia in the air.

"The President voiced the number. If everything goes well, this is how many we can get by 2026-2027, not earlier. But this guarantees complete superiority in the sky, over the entire territory of Ukraine - unequivocally," the expert concluded.

Sources: data from the General Staff, statements from President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, the spokesperson of the Air Force Illia Yevlash, and the representative of the Defense Intelligence of the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine Andrii Yusov, as well as an interview with the chief of aviation of the Air Force Command, Serhii Holubtsov, for Radio Svoboda, and comments from the head of the Сenter of Military Law Researches, Oleksandr Musiienko.