“Billions of dollars have been poured into Russia’s warplanes over the past decade. Between 2009 and 2020 the air force gained around 440 new fixed-wing aircraft, as well as thousands of drones. At the outset of war, it was widely assumed by defence analysts and officials that Russia would quickly destroy its enemy’s air force and roam freely over the country, using its air superiority to pick off Ukrainian forces at will.
Yet in the first two weeks of combat, Russia’s air force has played a minimal role. Air activity is difficult to track and Russian air strikes may have increased in both number and complexity in recent days. It is clear, though, that the Russian air force has held back its full capabilities. ‘Fast jets have conducted only limited sorties in Ukrainian airspace, in singles or pairs, always at low altitudes and mostly at night,’ notes Justin Bronk of the Royal United Services Institute, a think-tank in London.
When hostilities began, Russia sent a volley of cruise and ballistic missiles towards Ukraine’s air bases in an attempt to ground its planes and air-defence systems, and to hobble its radars and anti-aircraft missiles. That effort failed. Ukraine had wisely dispersed its air-defence systems, making them harder to find. American defence officials say that Ukrainian air and missile defences consequently ‘remain effective and in use’—a claim that can be corroborated with open-source intelligence.”