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Some Tory backbenchers have called for British military intervention in the Russian invasian of Ukraine (source). The specific proposal seems to be to deny Russia air supremacy (which Russia claims1 to have attained). Ignoring the potential for further escalation, I am wondering whether this is remotely within the British military capability.

Just to clarify terminology: Air supremacy is a degree of air superiority wherein the opposing air force is incapable of effective interference. (Thanks for o.m. for digging up the phrasing). Denying air supremacy to Russia is a significantly lower standard than trying to attain air superiority for a hypothetical interventionist.

1 It has turned out that Russia's claims of having attained air supremacy early in the invasion were exaggerated at the very least; with Ukraine apparently still capable of conducting anti-air defense and even air-to-ground assault on their own.

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    You're asking about air-to-air combat between Russia and the RAF over Ukraine? Whether the UK (alone?) would be able to hold their own against Russia? I suspect that would be way too speculative, both because precise military capabilities are classified and we've never seen that sort of fight in the real world. Heck, has there ever been a real conflict between 2 modern airforces for air supremacy?
    – divibisan
    Feb 24, 2022 at 18:35
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    Hey, could you put in that quote? It's priceless fantasy and it's coming from someone senior to boot. Feb 24, 2022 at 18:43
  • @divibisan Denying air supremacy to your opponent is a rather different thing from trying to gain it yourself, at least that's my understanding.
    – Arno
    Feb 24, 2022 at 18:47
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    To be fair to Davis, he seems to have been referring to NATO as a whole providing air support, not just the UK. mobile.twitter.com/DavidDavisMP/status/1496790747525402629 Still a rather questionable idea of course.
    – CDJB
    Feb 24, 2022 at 18:52
  • If UK would intervene, which I doubt, then probably not alone. UK alone against Russia is not realistic.
    – Trilarion
    Feb 24, 2022 at 22:54

3 Answers 3

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As of couple of years ago, air supremacy used to be defined as "[t]hat degree of air superiority wherein the opposing air force is incapable of effective interference." So the UK would have to help Ukraine to interfere effectively with Russian operations. That is a very low standard.

I dare say that the UK could interfere with Russian operations. As you mentioned, this would be highly escalatory, and it might prompt Russian attacks on the airbases -- interfering with the ability to interfere.

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    It's not that I am disagreeing with anything here, but you are not really offering anything of substance.
    – Arno
    Feb 28, 2022 at 10:03
  • @Arno, what I'm saying is that "supremacy" is the highest ranking in a list of terms, and denying full success is much easier than denying success. Just with a glance at the numbers, it would seem that the UK can deny supremacy.
    – o.m.
    Feb 28, 2022 at 11:22
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No.

Russia has a more powerful air force than the UK solo and their aircraft would be operating from nearby bases.

While the UK would not be operating anywhere near its bases. Assuming it wanted to, and moved to nearby airstrips, say in Poland, that would take weeks.

And obviously this is not the swiftest of ideas when dealing with a nuclear power. Habits of avoiding direct confrontation need to prevail, as they did from 1950 to 1990.

There's plenty NATO and the EU can do to hold Russia to account. Foolish ideas like those of these backbenchers don't count.

About those numbers:

Eyeballing the Russian fighter/multiroles, I see about 800 in that role.

Lot less eyeballing needed with the UK: 101 Typhoons and 23 F35s.

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  • as they did from 1950 to 17th January 1991, Desert Storm - The Air War, Day 1 - Animated - the question is if they can do that to each other; blow up all the radar and SAM sites (that's the definition of air superiority) and then use that time to blow up all the tanks. Which I think the EU, Russia, and the US could all do to each other if they wanted to.
    – Mazura
    Feb 25, 2022 at 7:21
  • @Mazura that's not at all what this part of my answer is about. What it is about is that the USSR and the USA took extensive steps to avoid their troops shooting at each other during the Cold War. Ditto NATO/Warsaw Pact. Steps that were taken for excellent reasons: avoiding WW3. Desert Storm has nothing to do with. Feb 25, 2022 at 16:24
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    Denying air supremacy isn't a very high bar to clear. The UK doesn't need to clear Ukrainian airspace of Russian aircraft to manage it, they just need sufficient fighter or anti-aircraft presence to contest control of that airspace.
    – Mark
    Feb 26, 2022 at 0:54
  • @Mark Glad I ain't a RAF flyboy with you in charge of throwing my life away with 8 to 1 odds, no logistics on location. And, oh, let's not forget: a really, really, timid set of rules of engagement because this after all concerns 2 nuclear powers in direct combat. Military types often think civs don't have a clue, but your grasp of the subtleties of superiority vs supremacy certainly shows them! Feb 26, 2022 at 10:19
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    The UK is not a nuclear power as well? Feb 28, 2022 at 20:25
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Russia has 4,163 various aircraft such as fighters, transports, and helicopters. Compared to the UK's 555 fixed-wing aircraft not counting helicopters no the UK cannot deny Russia Air supremacy.

link for reference: https://tass.com/defense/1375695

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    Thanks for digging up the data. But I feel this is a start only - to actually answer the question would be what kind of aircraft pose a serious threat to which others, etc.
    – Arno
    Feb 24, 2022 at 18:55
  • Also how much aircrafts of UK can actually reach Ukraine
    – No One
    Feb 24, 2022 at 19:03
  • @ARNO even with that info the Russians still win by numbers alone.
    – JMERICKS
    Feb 24, 2022 at 19:07
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    Just the numbers are not sufficient because a significant difference in technology levels can easily counter a numerical advantage. I don't know whether or by how much the UK forces are more modern but say 50 years difference in technology (much bigger than it is here) would be enough to counter an almost arbitrary numerical disadvantage.
    – quarague
    Feb 25, 2022 at 12:16
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    Russia has slightly more territory to defend. I doubt they'd be willing to leave, say, their Chinese border entirely undefended. The practically available numbers aren't as lopsided as this answer would portray.
    – ceejayoz
    Feb 25, 2022 at 14:31

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