AURORA, Colo.—Ukraine has lost roughly 60 aircraft so far since Russia’s renewed invasion of the country in February 2022, while the Russians have lost more than 70, according to the top U.S. Air Force commander for Europe. After Russia’s larger air force failed to establish air superiority in the early days of the war, the air picture has turned into a mutually denied environment, Gen. James B. Hecker said March 6 at the AFA Warfare Symposium.
“Russian, as well as the Ukrainian, success in integrated air and missile defense have made much of those aircraft worthless,” according to Hecker, who serves as the commander of U.S. Air Forces in Europe-Air Forces Africa and NATO’s Allied Air Command.
“[Russia has] downed over 60 Ukrainian aircraft,” he added. “Ukraine’s downed over 70 Russian aircraft. So both of their integrated air and missile defense, especially when you’re talking about going against aircraft, they’ve been very effective. And that’s why they’re not flying over one another’s country.”
Russian air defenses are located in Russia, Belarus, and parts of occupied Ukraine—and have the ability to move around. That has made it difficult for Ukraine to use airpower in the combined arms counteroffensive the Ukrainians are planning for the spring and summer.
“They’re not doing a whole lot,” Hecker said. “They can’t go over and do close air support.”
The U.S. has attempted to bolster Ukraine’s air force with AGM-88 HARM anti-radiation missiles, which have been jerry-rigged to work with the country’s Soviet-designed fighters.
“Obviously, they’re not as integrated with the airplane as it would be if they’re on the U.S. aircraft, so they do have limitations,” Hecker said of Ukraine’s employment of HARMs. “But they’re doing a pretty good job.”
The U.S. has also recently provided Ukraine’s air force with JDAM precision-guided bombs that have extended the Ukrainians’ strike capability. Hecker said that allows them to hit targets slightly beyond the current range of the GMRLS rockets fired by HIMARS launchers. The GMLRS rockets the U.S. has provided Ukraine have a range of nearly 50 miles. The U.S. has declined to provide Ukraine with long-range ATACMS missiles which have a range of nearly 200 miles.
“Recently, we’ve just got them some precision munitions that had some extended range and can go a little bit further than a gravity drop bomb,” Hecker said. “And it has precision. That’s a recent capability that we were able to give them probably in the last three weeks.”
But Ukraine still must fly low to terrain mask its aircraft against Russian surface-to-air missiles. Ukraine has asked for U.S. fighters such as F-16s, but the Biden administration has declined to provide them despite objections from some U.S. lawmakers.