Russian military is amassing a force of fixed-wing and rotary aircraft along the border and the frontline with Ukraine in preparation for a large-scale air assault, reports suggest.
The assault could be timed to coincide with the anniversary of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, which was launched on February 24, 2023.
According to the Financial Times, two US intelligence officials confirmed the preparation for the assault and added that reports are being shared among NATO allies.
“The Russian land forces are pretty depleted so it’s the best indication that they will turn this into an air fight,” US defense secretary Lloyd Austin was quoted as saying by the Financial Times.
The possibility of the impending assault prompted NATO countries to speed up the deliveries of various air defense systems to Ukraine, the Financial Times added.
On February 21, 2023 the Russian president Vladimir Putin will deliver his ‘state of the nation’ address to the country’s Federal Assembly.
The fact that the address is going to be delivered a few days before the anniversary of the start of the invasion prompted speculation regarding what Putin might announce.
Preparations for an air campaign could support the latter. So far, no Ukrainian officials have commented on the reports of Russia’s potential air assault.
Although the ground war in Ukraine has been raging on with high intensity for almost a year now, the aerial campaigns by both sides have been of little consequence.
The start of the invasion was marked by a significant, but still weaker-than-expected Russian air campaign, which included a helicopter assault on Hostomel airport near Kyiv and resulted in large numbers of both Russian and Ukrainian aircraft shot down.
However, as frontlines stabilized and both sides established powerful ground-based air defense (GBAD) networks, close air support and deep strike missions became difficult for Russia and Ukraine.
Only significant shifts in frontlines, such as Ukraine’s Kharkiv and Kherson offensives, saw large-scale employment of tactical aircraft, while for the rest of the time the forces mostly resorted to stand-off strikes with both unguided and guided weapons.