Russia’s ferocious bomb campaign

Russia’s ferocious bomb campaign

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FWHERE Last year, Russia increased its use of glide bombs. In recent months, the size of bombs and the speed at which they are launched have increased significantly. So far, they have mainly been used against Ukrainian troops on the front lines. They demonstrated their effectiveness in February by ending Ukraine’s stubborn defense of Avdiivka, a coking town in the east. But they are now also being used to add a new dimension to Russia’s strategic air campaign, complementing its limited supply of air-launched cruise missiles.

Glide bombs began life as mostly Soviet-era general-purpose bombs FAB bombs, of which Russian stocks are in large quantities. Last year, the Russians began adding cheap and simple conversion kits: wings that deploy when the bomb is dropped and a satellite guidance system based on the Russian system. GPS equivalent, GLONASS. A slightly more sophisticated and precise version, with wings integrated into the body of the weapon, laser guidance and an anti-jamming antenna, appeared last month. Two of them hit Kharkiv on March 27.

The bombs are carried by SU-34 and SU-35 combat aircraft, which lob them when flying at high speed (1,500 km/h) and high altitude (10 km) to give them a range of up to 65 km. Once released, they are almost impossible to track. The only way to stop them is therefore to destroy the planes carrying them before their release, either with long-range ground-based air defense missiles or by fighter planes armed with long-range air-to-air missiles.

There is a sequence of events that leads directly to Russian bomb attacks on civilian targets in Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second city, located just 30 km from the Russian border. It appears that to counter the growing threat of hover bombs, the Ukrainians took the risk of moving valuable Patriot missile launchers close to the front line. At the end of February, Ukraine announced that in just ten days it had slaughtered between ten and twelve SU-35 and SU-34s, an intolerable attrition rate for the Russians.

But on March 9, it was confirmed that a Russian Iskander missile had hit a convoy of Patriot launchers. He destroyed at least two of them and killed their crew. Since then, gliding bomb attacks have increased. On March 27, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said that Russia had dropped 700 glide bombs over a six-day period starting March 18. Without more Patriot batteries, or until the long-awaited arrival of F-16 armed with AIM-120 missiles, which is unlikely before July, Russian pilots will continue to inflict the scourge of glide bombs with impunity.

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