Espreso. Global

Which aircraft will strengthen Ukraine's Air Force and which will cause additional problems. Serhiy Zgurets’ column

15 February, 2024 Thursday

Let's talk about the destruction of the Russian ship Caesar Kunikov, the Ramstein, and the strengthening of Ukraine's Air Force with F-16 fighters and even French Mirage aircraft

Sinking of the Caesar Kunikov ship

The main news is that on the night of February 14, the large landing ship Caesar Kunikov of the Russian Black Sea Fleet was hit and sunk. This happened south of Alupka in the still-occupied Crimea as a result of joint actions by the Ukrainian Navy and the Main Intelligence Directorate. According to information from residents of the peninsula, the ship was attacked and a number of explosions were heard. The ship was definitely transporting equipment and possibly even ammunition or Shaheds, as reported by the Defense Intelligence of Ukraine. Usually, these large landing ships are used to transfer drones from Novorossiysk to Sevastopol, near the sites where these drones are then released across Ukraine. But now, of course, this ship has not fulfilled its mission of supplying equipment or UAVs.

The Ukrainian Armed Forces' General Staff emphasized that the enemy ship was in the territorial waters of Ukraine and that the attack was carried out using surface kamikaze drones. The Main Intelligence Directorate provided a video showing all the stages of the attack - it was a pack attack, meaning that several waves of attack drones struck from different directions at regular intervals. There is even a video of Russian sailors trying to fight off MAGURA V5 drones with assault rifles, which of course had no effect.

The Caesar Kunikov was sunk, and this is a pretty good decision to use drones. We can say that this is the fourth large amphibious assault ship that has been destroyed by the Navy, the Main Intelligence Directorate, or the Air Force, because several such large amphibious ships have been destroyed so far. This significantly limits the possibility of using them for certain places, because they once posed a threat to landings near Odesa and Mykolaiv. Later, when we got anti-ship missiles, it became a suicide mission for the enemy, and these ships were used to bring ammunition to the still occupied territory. Now, the use of marine drones demonstrates that this is an effective, realistic, asymmetric, technological concept of fighting the enemy using marine robotic platforms. It is highly expected that this concept will be scaled up along the entire front line, whether it is based on ground or airborne platforms.

Ramstein meeting and the transfer of F-16s to Ukraine: what is known

When we talk about drones, we still forget about conventional aircraft. The Ramstein-19 meeting was taking place with the participation of a number of countries that provide assistance to Ukraine. Of course, Ukraine is looking forward to our Air Force receiving functional F-16s. After all, on the eve of the meeting in Ramstein, it was said that the coalition would present a report on the preparation of F-16 fighters for the Ukrainian Air Force. This was reported by Head of the Mission of Ukraine to NATO Natalia Halibarenko during a conversation with journalists in Brussels. "So far, the Ramstein meeting is still ongoing and we do not know the details related to the fighter jets, but we understand that such a decision has already been made and there are issues of implementation of these measures.”

On the one hand, our representatives say that we will receive these aircraft sometime in the spring, and this is a realistic timeframe, as our representative to NATO has just said, and some officials say that the deadline may be postponed until the end of 2024. On the other hand, there are optimistic photos of F-16s with our Ukrainian insignia on their wings. And this raises optimistic expectations.

Valerii Romanenko, a leading researcher at the State Aviation Museum, emphasized that before receiving the fighters, it is necessary to train the crew and engineering staff.

"I think that as soon as there is any information that our pilots are ready to operate these aircraft, ready to fight on them, they will arrive. The only thing is that we will be the last to know about it. Of course, it will be a surprise for the Russians, the appearance of these aircraft. You mentioned the photos, and I was very pleased to see that this aircraft was now in a configuration, so to speak, for combat training. There were dimensional models of AMRAAM missiles hanging on the wings and red simulators of Sidewinder missile launches, the main weapon, under the wings. This means that the training is already at the last stage, either combat or even tactical training, that is, flying together and performing training, exercises, combat missions, such as air combat in pairs or alone," Romanenko explains.

Currently, we are preparing a navigation system so that these jets can navigate over our territory, the infrastructure for servicing the aircraft, the place where they will be deployed, and the so-called fake locations to confuse the enemy. Ukraine is expected to receive one or two squadrons of F-16s.

Does Ukraine need Mirage 2000?

A month ago, the Air Force Command announced that Ukraine's arsenal might be reinforced by French Mirage 2000 aircraft. Then there were two publications in the French press saying that this was perhaps the main issue that would be raised during President Macron's visit to Kyiv. He was supposed to arrive on February 14, but the visit was postponed.

According to the expert, Ukraine is counting on one of the latest models of the French Mirage. We are talking about 2000D - carriers of Storm Shadow, SCALP cruise missiles and, possibly, if we receive TAURUS from Germany.

Currently, France has 65 of these aircraft in four squadrons, which they are gradually going to decommission.

"If we get it, it will be as part of a financial tranche, which means it will be free of charge, but it will be taken into account. Perhaps it would be more profitable for us to get, for example, some of the latest anti-aircraft missile systems, the same SAMP/T. The aircraft are generally quite old, in terms of their capabilities, and we are only interested in them as cruise missile carriers and nothing more, because we don't have many Su-24s left, and we are waiting for F-16s, which we are either waiting for or not," said the leading researcher at the State Aviation Museum, adding that if Ukraine receives one squadron of 12-15 aircraft, it would be good, but the Swedish Gripen fighter would be more useful.

The Mirage 2000 has missiles with a maximum range of 60 km, while the Russians fire at 120 km, as do our MiGs with R-27 missiles.

In fact, this proposal should be treated with restraint and caution, because I see that we will get a number of logistical problems with low efficiency, and we will ensure that our efforts are scattered.

Advantages and disadvantages of MRH-90 Taipan

As for the Australian MRH-90 Taipan combat helicopters, many experts wish they would not appear in Ukraine due to a number of technological problems.

Romanenko said that some countries refused to use them, and the first was Portugal, and later Norway, which planned to buy 10 vehicles, but relied on American Black Hawks, as did Australia. Sweden has said it also plans to replace NHIndustries NH90s with modernized Black Hawks. He believes that while other countries have had problems with helicopter maintenance, this issue is even more acute in war-torn Ukraine.

I would still bet on the American Black Hawk.

Will Mi-17s be useful for Ukraine?

Now the United States is supplying Black Hawks to Ecuador, and Ecuador is supposedly going to give us unassembled Mi-17 helicopters, but should we rely on them? A leading researcher at the State Aviation Museum believes that it is only about five helicopters, not six as promised - two military Mi-171s and three more civilian Mi-17V1s.

"Given the cost of transporting them to Ukraine, we can only get a set of very expensive spare parts for our helicopters. We need to send specialists to see what condition the blades, gearboxes, engines are in, then it may make sense, but if only one of the helicopters is in flying condition... and even then we need to see the remaining service life," Romanenko explained.

Crash of the Zircon hypersonic cruise missile

The Institute of Forensic Expertise has already confirmed that most of the parts have similar numbers to Zircon.

"Most likely, this is just a test launch. There was such a tradition in the USSR, and some samples were used in the army somewhere, probably in this case some kind of test launch. Moreover, Ukrainian intelligence says that the launch was carried out from a land battery, not a ship. What is the point of using this missile in Ukraine? I don't see it, because it didn't fall, it didn't cause any damage. This is clearly a missile for tens of millions of dollars, and this is not what the Russians expected from it," summarized a leading researcher at the State Aviation Museum.

He believes that massive shelling with Zircon will not happen in the near future, due to the unproven nature of this missile and the lack of real mass production.

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