The Significance of Air Superiority: The Ukraine-Russia War

Arlington, VA | July 2, 2024 — The Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies is pleased to announce a new entry in its Policy Paper series, The Significance of Air Superiority: The Ukraine-Russia War by Lt Gen (Ret.) Dave Deptula, Dean of the Mitchell Insitute for Aerospace Studies, and Dr. Christopher Bowie, Non-Resident Fellow at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments.

The conduct of the war in Ukraine to date has been a lesson in two distinct parts on the importance of air superiority. The first is the failure of the Russian Air Force to establish air superiority and overwhelm Ukrainian forces to achieve a decisive victory at the start of the conflict. The second part concerns the difficulty of establishing air superiority with insufficient resources and capabilities—a situation the Ukrainian Air Force has lived with for over three years as Ukraine has endured costly attacks on its territory. Unfortunately, without the advantages that air superiority ensures—namely freedom from attack and freedom to attack—this attrition-based conflict will be won by the side with the most warfighting personnel and material—Russia.

This paper focuses on how Ukraine could conduct an integrated air-ground campaign to secure air superiority in the times and places of its choosing, and thus further its military’s momentum on the battlefield and begin reversing the territorial gains the Russian army has achieved up to this point. This approach has high potential to overcome the size disadvantage that Ukraine has relative to the Russian military, and it requires Ukraine to plan and execute operations that integrate their long-range surface-to-surface weapons with combat aircraft, drones, cyber operations, electronic warfare, and special operations. Achieving air superiority could provide Ukraine with the edge it needs to gain an advantage over the Russians, break through their front lines, and change the course of the war.

The Mitchell Institute Policy Papers is a series presenting new thinking and policy proposals to respond to the emerging security and aerospace power challenges of the 21st century. These papers are written for lawmakers and their staffs, policy professionals, business and industry, academics, journalists, and the informed public.

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