PANAGYURISHTE, BULGARIA — Undoubtedly, the need for combat aviation to help Ukraine is the topic of February. Most likely, it will not be overexposed soon but will develop during the current year. It is now clear to everyone that Ukraine needs fighter jets. Kyiv took the first step a day ago – officially requested F-16 from the Netherlands. The “lower countries” was the first to announce that it was ready for such a move.
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The second significant visit of the Ukrainian president, Mr. Zelensky, was to Great Britain. London welcomed its dear guest with open hearts. So did the British Prime Minister, Mr. Sunak. This is especially evident in his statement that anything is possible, including the delivery of fighter jets.
In the tone of his speech, Mr. Sunak has already given his order that the Ministry of Defense considers the option of this delivery. Since the British F-35 is not at all the center of attention in this case study, for obvious reasons, our attention is logically directed to the Eurofighter Typhoon of the Royal Air Force.
What does Zelensky want?
Mr. Zelensky has two main demands – improving Ukraine’s anti-aircraft defense capabilities and fighter jets that are resilient in performance against Russian attacks. I.e. the last requirement concerns the sustained handling of the aircraft.
With each passing day, a question that no one wants to publicly ask is emerging more and more: is this not an attempt by Kyiv to modernize its air force “almost for free”? Why exactly at this moment does Ukraine want fighter jets?
Let’s be honest – if Ukraine gets 100 Western fighter jets right now, they can’t be used. It takes lots and lots of training time, as well as complex logistics, new infrastructure, and prohibitively expensive maintenance. Nobody imagines that until this happens, Moscow will press “pause” and wait 12 months for the Ukrainians to prepare?
Let’s look at the situation from the perspective of the war in Ukraine. Currently, the Russian army has deployed the so-called highly effective and multi-layered ground-based air defense [GBAD]. At the heart of this system are the 48Ya6-K1 Podlet radars. They “hunt” the enemy bird at a distance of up to 100 km. This condition applies not only to aircraft flying at high altitudes but also to low-flying aircraft.
The 48Ya6-K1 serves the S-400 and S-300V4 anti-aircraft missile systems. Directly to respond to threats at a shorter distance, Russia has deployed the Buk-M2, Tor-M1, and Tor-M2 anti-aircraft systems. They keep the front line at a smaller distance and from low-altitude aircraft.
A Typhoon can hardly hide from the 48Ya6-K1 radar. The bigger problem, however, is that currently British Typhoons are not optimized to operate at low altitudes. Typhoons are currently tuned to give their missiles a much longer range, and this is achieved by flying at high altitudes. This is also a problem for British aircraft because this tactic has long been rejected by Russian defenses through the use of long-range cruise missiles.
In reality, the S-400 and S-300V4 of the Russian Armed Forces will have to search for the Typhoons high in the sky, which, near the front line, is an unfavorable situation for Ukrainian pilots. Eurofighters at high altitudes have limited options – Paveway II bombs with a Litening III aiming capsule. Realistically, these bombs are inherently safe as far as the frontline threat is concerned.
Why is low-altitude flight useless?
Western fighters are quality-designed aircraft. Undoubtedly, they can provide their operator with the power to push an enemy from a given front. Thus, these fighters deter a future invasion or deeper penetration into Ukraine’s airspace.
In the current situation, however, Typhoons will have to give up flying at high altitudes. By going “lower” and “closer” to the ground, the Typhoons risk not only falling within the range of the GBAD but rendering their missiles ineffective. You see – the GBAD is highly effective at high altitudes, but it can intercept aircraft at low altitudes as well. If the Typhoons fly low, “their missiles will be at a significant disadvantage for effective range compared to the Russians, which are launched from much higher.”
I.e. the effective range that the Ukrainians will desire can only be provided by the most advanced missiles at the moment. And they are the AIM-120D or the European Meteor. The first missile will require permission from the US, and the second cannot operate on British Tranche 1 Typhoon.
Ukraine will have to “spend” a long period until the first trained Typhoon pilots return to defend the homeland. Although this fact is extremely important, we will not comment on it at this time but will direct attention to something that is often forgotten.
The tracks. Neither the Eurofighter nor the F-16 was designed to take off from short runways. Where exactly will the Typhoons be located in Ukraine? How will they hide from Russian intelligence? I.e. Ukraine will be forced to “come out into the open” and start expanding the runways for taking off and landing fighter jets. This means Russian satellites monitoring the repairs and preparing several attacks to destroy this infrastructure and prevent the repairs from continuing. At least no one can deny anymore that Russia has missiles and has shown that it can destroy runways as it is currently doing with strata energy infrastructure.
What about auxiliary equipment? What about aircraft maintenance teams and depots? Because it’s one thing to destroy a western tank and then pull it deep into your rear with a tractor, it’s another to have your western fighter get hit and fall near the front line. Then Russia gets a chance to get to the crashed plane and get hold of the foreign technology.
Giving Typhoons, F-16, and Rafale to Ukraine at the moment is nothing more than an expensive symbolic gesture. It will not have the desired effect, and it will not achieve a change in the balance of power in the war. Then we ask again – why does Zelensky want planes right now?
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