Ukrainian counteroffensive lacks this 1 key element

A Portuguese Air Force F- 16 military fighter jet and a Romanian Air Force F- 16 military fighter jet participating in NATO's Baltic Air Policing mission in Lithuanian airspace, Monday, May 22, 2023. (AP Photo/Mindaugas Kulbis)
By Dénes Albert
3 Min Read

Ukraine’s long-awaited counteroffensive against the invading Russian force is underway, with Kyiv’s forces utilizing powerful new equipment from Western allies — from long-range missiles to advanced tanks and infantry fighting vehicles.

However, one expert warned that Ukraine’s chances of success could be reduced by a looming gap in Ukraine’s military that Western aid has so far failed to fill: aviation.

Michael Clarke, a visiting professor at the Department of War Studies at King’s College London, offered the assessment as part of a wider analysis of the counteroffensive published by The Times of London. He said a key challenge Ukraine will face in trying to break through Russia’s thick defenses in the south of the country is due in large part to Russia’s artillery. The dominance of Russian artillery has been one of the defining features of the conflict so far, and Ukraine does not have that many ways to counter its superiority in terms of artillery numbers and ammunition stockpiles. Simply put, Russia can fire more times than Ukraine can.

“We’ll also see if their rockets are enough to knock out the covering Russian artillery fire. Because this is where they’ll feel their lack of aircraft to attack those, the close air support which F-16s would do very well,” Clarke wrote.

Aircraft would work closely with ground units to remove obstacles or damage key positions or weapons so that infantry and tanks could advance. It’s a sophisticated way of fighting that involves good coordination and one that Russia has often struggled to achieve when fighting in Ukraine.

The F-16, a U.S.-made fighter jet operated by many NATO countries, has been the most prominent item on Ukraine’s military wish list, which it has so far failed to obtain. The F-16 has distinguished itself in the past with close air support, including in the Kosovo war, the first Gulf War and the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan.

President Volodimir Zelensky and his allies have lobbied for months to get some of the planes to help even the odds against Russia’s larger and better-equipped air force. Even though it has acquired longer-range missiles, the Patriot air defense system and advanced Western tanks, modern fighter jets are still needed.

Another big gap consists of a lack of air defense systems mobile enough for the Ukrainians to bring with them as they move forward to hold off Russia’s attack aircraft.

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