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Air Force critical to Ukraine's defense

Jim DoughertyMay 14, 2024 Updated May 24, 2024 (0)

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Air superiority is the key to victory in modern war

One factor above all others determines whether a country prevails in a modern conflict: air superiority.

That's the conclusion of a 2020 study by Richard Saunders and Mark Souva of Florida State University, analyzing past conflicts to conclude that "Countries that achieve air superiority win almost twice the amount one would expect by chance. Approximately 79% of all decisive battle winners had air superiority. Only twice did a country with air superiority lose the decisive battle. "

In Ukraine's case, that 'decisive battle' is the ongoing fight for its survival against an unprovoked, illegal and brutal aggression by a far more powerful, dictatorial and ruthless enemy, Putin's Russia.

As Giulio Douhet, one of the earliest proponents of air power put it in his classic Command of the Air, "... [Command of the air] means complete protection of one's own country ... and peace of mind to live and work in safety ... To be defeated in the air, on the other hand, is finally to be defeated and to be at the mercy of the enemy, with no chance at all of defending oneself, compelled to accept whatever terms he sees fit to dictate." (From The Influence of Air Power upon History by Walter J Boyne).

That stark and sobering analysis is as true today as it was over a hundred years ago, as what was mostly theory then was borne out through the bloody miscalculations, tragedies, wars and costly victories of the 20th century.

Or, as Saunders and Souva summarized it, "Air superiority explained war outcomes better than a general measure of military power... At least on the modern battlefield, air superiority and not power in general is the key to victory."

Ukraine has survived so far by preventing Russia from achieving air superiority

Air superiority is the key to winning in Ukraine. So far, heroic actions, brilliant use of Stingers, drones, air defense assets from Patriot missiles to patriots with shotguns, good intelligence and adequate support from allies, and just plain cunning, have prevented Russia, despite tremendous advantages in terms of numbers of aircraft, pilots and support systems, from achieving air superiority. And for over two years, Ukraine has staved off the defeat some experts predicted in 72 hours before the start of Russian's invasion in February 2022.

Also, Russia, fearful perhaps, and Russian pilots (fearful for sure) of being shot down, have limited many of their air attacks to remote launched missiles and drones - a mostly terroristic strategy that while cruel is unlikely to intimidate the Ukrainian people or create the air superiority that would allow Russia to prevail.

Russia is building up the resources and correcting its early mistakes to establish air superiority and conquer Ukraine

But that may not last. As Putin further militarizes Russia's economy and society, production of drones, planes and ammunition will increase, as he attempts to follow the model of his idol Stalin, who focused on mass scale industry to defeat Nazi Germany, which, for example in 1942 "produced 15,409 aircraft for use on three fronts ... In that same year the Soviets had produced 25,240 for one front... It was now apparent that the Soviets had long understood the scale of operations that air power required to be effective." (Boyne).

Don't count on Putin not knowing or not taking to heart that core lesson of the Great Patriotic War: it was won not only with the mass scale of the Red Army, sacrificing a million men to defeat Nazi Germany, but in an echo of what we usually think of as the American way of war, by the mass industrial production of the weapons needed, especially planes, tanks and artillery, to win it.

Defeatists don't understand or don't want to provide what Ukraine needs to win

That brutal calculus is why you hear experts and commentators warning that "Ukraine Can't Win the War," such as in the recent Time article of the same name, in which, astonishingly, the statement that "The long-awaited counteroffensive last year failed," a common observation, was once again made without any reference whatsoever to the fact that Ukraine attempted this with zero (0) new warplanes from the West, in effect not even an air force, much less air superiority. Early in the war the U.S. even blocked Poland from sending its old MiGs to Ukraine, fearing escalation.

About 100 F-16s from European allies may finally start arriving in June or July, but according to an April 17 article from Reuters, Dutch deliver three more F-16s for training Ukrainian pilots in Romania, "U.S. officials have privately said the jets will not be a game changer when they eventually arrive after months of training, given the strength of the Russian air force and its defense systems."

Those officials either don't understand or don't care how absolutely vital a real air force is to defend one's country, without which, as Douhet even a century ago realized, a country has "no chance at all" of defending itself. Russia has 3,864 warplanes - and, after more than two years delay, you're going to finally allow Ukraine to receive... 100?

Those same officials may actually be engaged in a self-fulfilling prophecy, knowing or suspecting that the aid they offer is pitifully inadequate to the task, virtually guaranteeing failure.

Large scale, smart air power support is essential to help Ukraine win

Decision makers and their bosses (us) need to understand (like Stalin for all his ruthlessness and murder, the U.S. and others) the mass scale needed to make air power effective: not only many, many more planes, but more and better - but mostly more - air defense systems like the Patriot, and anti-enemy-air-defense missiles to make it safe for Ukrainian pilots to defend their own skies.

The Golden Rule is seldom mentioned and rarely applied in the affairs of nations, but, in this case, given how absolutely clear the historical record - and our own national experience - is on the crucial role of air power in defending a country, how would we feel if someone asked us to send our young men and women into battle without the best possible air support and defense?

As proven in the first Gulf War and every conflict since WW II, air power doesn't have to be nuclear - in fact it can, and demonstrably has, been a major part of preventing nuclear conflict - it just has to applied with the determination, skill and scale needed, and with the benefit of all the hard-won experience, wisdom and judgment so painfully gained over the last century.

Let's help Ukraine, really help Ukraine, win this fight with the air power technology and resources needed to end this war as quickly and humanely as possible.

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