Russia’s “dragon tooth” tank traps, minefields and multi-layered fortifications are only one set of obstacles in Ukraine’s budding counteroffensive. One other formidable foe seems to be airborne, together with the Russian Ka-52 “Alligator” assault helicopter.
In one of many marketing campaign’s early battles close to Orikhiv, in Zaporizhzhia province, a Ukrainian infantry firm drove right into a minefield and reportedly got here beneath fireplace from Alligators, dropping a number of US-supplied Bradley infantry combating automobiles and a German-built Leopard 2 tank.
It was unclear what number of automobiles had been destroyed or later recovered. Nor has Kyiv make clear to what number of Ukrainian troopers had been killed. However photos of that battle, shared by Russian media and pro-war bloggers, spoke powerfully of the obstacles Ukraine’s forces should overcome.
Ukrainian troops and western analysts and officers have lengthy highlighted the function of aviation, together with Russian fighter jets and assault helicopters in selecting off Ukrainian armour, and the shortage of air defences on the frontline to discourage them.
“I personally noticed how, throughout our assault, the enemy [fighter jet] plane instantly fired on our advancing troops utilizing laser guided bombs from a far distance,” mentioned Stas, a soldier with an elite drone surveillance unit serving to infantry regain misplaced territory within the south of the nation. It was not an remoted incident, he mentioned.
Russia’s use of helicopters to assault armour was a “very highly effective method” to which Ukraine had no parity, mentioned Stas, pleading for the west to offer Ukraine with US Apache assault choppers, along with F-16 fighter jets.
Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy final week paid tribute to his forces for persevering with to press into Russian-held territory regardless of Russia’s “air and artillery superiority”.
Earlier this month, Moscow deployed an extra 20 helicopters together with Alligators to an airfield close to Berdyansk, 100km from Orikhiv, which has change into a number one base for rotary wing operations.
“Within the fixed contest between aviation measures and countermeasures, it’s doubtless that Russia has gained a brief benefit in southern Ukraine, particularly with assault helicopters using longer-range missiles in opposition to floor targets,” Britain’s defence intelligence tweeted over the weekend.
Regardless of its technical superiority, Russia’s air pressure by no means gained management of Ukrainians skies because of Ukraine’s intensive Soviet-era air defences later bolstered by western techniques. Russian fighters straying too far over the frontline into Ukrainian territory risked being shot down.
Russian fighter jets and helicopters are actually exploiting deficiencies in Ukraine’s air defences on the frontline. Kyiv operates totally different Soviet-era surface-to-air missile techniques, however has too few to offer full cowl, leaving it partly reliant on very short-range shoulder-launched missiles (Manpads) which require the operator to see the goal earlier than capturing.
“Manpads are usually not very efficient at night time,” mentioned a Ukrainian air pressure pilot. “We want techniques with detection and steering — radar or optical-electronic techniques,” the pilot added.
Justin Bronk, senior analysis fellow on the Royal United Companies Institute, a London-based think-tank, mentioned that Russian helicopters fitted with anti tank guided missiles “had been all the time going to be a a lot higher menace to Ukrainian forces throughout a counteroffensive than during times when Ukraine was defending in opposition to Russian assaults”.
“They’ll hover, spot for targets and fireplace anti-tank guided missiles from past the vary of shoulder-fired Manpads or anti-aircraft fireplace,” Bronk mentioned.
This leaves Ukrainian forces having to continuously stability the chance of deploying their scarce surface-to-air missile techniques nearer to the entrance traces in opposition to the price of leaving their armoured automobiles uncovered to Russian gunfire.
As Russian missile strikes in opposition to a number of Ukrainian cities have intensified since early Might, Ukraine’s armed forces needed to maintain their surface-to-air missile techniques in place to guard the civilian inhabitants quite than shifting them to the frontline. The losses within the opening battles of the counteroffensive to Ukrainian forces has set off a rush by western allies to produce extra air defence techniques and ammunition to Kyiv.
Britain final week mentioned that along with the US, Denmark and the Netherlands it was buying “a whole bunch of quick and medium vary air defence techniques”, largely Soviet period, to be delivered within the coming weeks.
On Monday, French president Emmanuel Macron introduced that Franco-Italian SAMP-T techniques pledged earlier had been now “operational” in Ukraine.
“An important downside for Ukraine is that we have to do two air defence duties concurrently — to guard main city areas and business . . . and the frontline,” mentioned Mykola Bielieskov, a analysis fellow on the Kyiv-based Nationwide Institute for Strategic Research. “It’s a problem as we have now a scarcity of land-based [air defences].” Bieliskov cautioned that these techniques might themselves change into targets to Russian Lancet kamikaze drones.
The Ka-52 helicopter is hardly infallible. When Russia’s defence ministry broadcast a video of 1 placing a Leopard tank in an open subject, western analysts ascertained the destroyed goal was, embarrassingly for Moscow, a crop sprayer.
The Alligator can be extremely weak to floor to air missiles when in vary. Russia has misplaced at the least 35 of them since February final 12 months, in line with Oryx, which paperwork tools losses within the struggle. Colonel Yuriy Ignat, spokesman for the Ukrainian air pressure, claimed 4 had been shot down within the final week.
Ignat performed down the menace from Russian assault helicopters in the course of the counteroffensive.
“The Ka-52 is completely not a helicopter that establishes air superiority,” Ignat mentioned, nor did it ship “the form of firepower that’s decisive on the battlefield”.
The higher aviation menace to Ukraine’s forces got here from Russian fighter jets which had extra highly effective radars and longer-range missiles than Ukraine’s older Soviet-built plane, Ignat mentioned. The vulnerability of Ukrainian forces underscored the necessity for western-made jets, just like the F-16, he mentioned.
Stas, the entrance drone operator, mentioned Ukraine wanted F-16s and US helicopters to guard floor forces.
“Offensive actions require air cowl and an important factor now could be the offensive, as a result of if we don’t swiftly win this struggle, if we don’t take again all of our territory, it’s going to drag on and on,” he mentioned.
Further reporting by John Paul Rathbone in London