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Ukraine is trying to weaken Russian air defense before receiving F-16s: ISW outlines how Western aircraft will affect the situation

Ukraine is trying to actively weaken Russian air defense

The defense forces are making efforts to weaken Russian air defenses, including by targeting such facilities in the temporarily occupied Crimea. If successful, this tactic could allow Ukraine to make more effective use of Western aircraft in the long term.

However, success may largely depend on whether the partners are inclined to support strikes on the deep rear of the Russian Armed Forces. This is the opinion of analysts at the Institute for the Study of War (ISW).

The day before, the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine reported that Ukrainian forces attacked one S-300 and two S-400 air defense batteries in the area of the temporarily occupied Belbek and Sevastopol (Crimea) on the night of June 11-12. As a result, at least two Russian S-300/S-400 radar systems were destroyed, which led to further detonation of ammunition and, apparently, enemy combat losses.

The geo-referenced photos also show damaged and destroyed Russian S-300 systems north of the temporarily occupied Yevpatoriya and a destroyed Russian S-400 radar south of Dzhankoy, confirming reports of strikes a few days ago.

Ukraine is trying to weaken Russian air defense before receiving F-16s: ISW outlines how Western aircraft will affect the situation

Some Russian sources have suggested that the Ukrainian Armed Forces used ATACMS missiles for the strikes, but ISW did not speculate on which systems were actually used by the Ukrainian forces.

On June 12, Kraken special forces commander Konstantin Nemichev confirmed that the Defense Forces used HIMARS to destroy four Russian S-300 systems in the Belgorod region of Russia on an unspecified date. The Suspilne media outlet cited his statement as the first official Ukrainian confirmation of strikes on a Russian S-300 battery near Belgorod on June 1 or 2.

Ukraine is trying to weaken Russian air defense before receiving F-16s: ISW outlines how Western aircraft will affect the situation

It is noted that Ukrainian previous strikes prompted the Russian command to move air defense assets from Crimea to the Belgorod region of the Russian Federation in early June 2024 and worsened Russian air defense coverage around the peninsula. GUR representative Andriy Yusov also clarified that Ukrainian UAV strikes on the Akhtubinsk airfield in Astrakhan region of the Russian Federation between June 7 and 8 damaged two Russian Su-57 aircraft instead of one, as previously reported.

Ukraine is trying to weaken Russian air defense before receiving F-16s: ISW outlines how Western aircraft will affect the situation

"The S-300/S-400 air defense systems and Su-57 fighters are important means of Russian air defense and aviation, which deprive Ukraine of the ability to use aircraft near the front line and repel Russian offensive operations," ISW emphasized.

They speculate that Ukrainian forces may try to actively weaken Russian air defense before they receive a significant number of Western aircraft to create conditions for their future use closer to the frontline. In particular, on the eve of the expected deliveries of F-16 fighters, which will begin in small numbers in the summer and fall of 2024.

"They may eventually be able to develop a concept of operations that combines aviation to support ground operations if they receive enough fighters, their Western partners train enough trained pilots, and if Ukraine manages to weaken Russian air defense capabilities," the report said.

Ukrainian and Western officials have previously indicated that it will take considerable time to adequately train enough Ukrainian pilots and equip the army with the approximately 150 F-16s needed to achieve air superiority. They also stated that F-16s and other aircraft could be used to limit Russian air operations. However, Ukrainian Air Force spokesman Illia Yevlash noted that even two squadrons of these aircraft (approximately 18 planes) would be enough to significantly affect the situation in Ukrainian airspace.

"This should not fundamentally limit Ukraine's ability to use aviation on a large scale in the long term, but if Western partners are inclined to support Ukrainian airspace and the potential for a deep strike (probably on the territory of the Russian Federation - Ed.)," ISW stated.

As reported by OBOZ.UA, military expert Oleksandr Kovalenko noted that by destroying Russian air defense, the Defense Forces are creating a zone for flights over Crimea. He spoke about the facts of the destruction of air defense systems and indicated how many of them the enemy still has.

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