Feature: Russia’s newest weapon is changing the course of Ukraine war

Colonel Yuriy Ihnat, the spokesman for Ukraine’s Air Force, told the Telegraph the bombs posed a “very serious threat”.

The extra range offered by the gliding technology means Russian jets can avoid risky sorties near front lines to fire munitions.

“At the moment the enemy is using tactical aviation for combat missions along the border with Russia, the front line, and the sea coast. In all those regions the enemy has for about a month been intensely using glide bombs,” Col Ihnat said.

It is estimated by Ukrainian officials that Moscow’s forces are releasing at least 20 glide bombs per day on the battlefield.
As the world awaits Ukraine’s expected counter-offensive, Ukrainian and Western analysts have started suggesting the introduction of the weapon could force Kyiv to make last-minute changes to its operational planning.

The most basic of glide bombs are modified weapons fitted with wings and navigational systems that allow for a flight path to the target to be established.

It can be as simple and crude as converting unguided weapons with the Russians mostly overhauling old Soviet FAB-500 aerial bombs.

However, some glide bombs, such as the UPAB‐1500B‐E, are specifically designed with these features included.

It appears that the winged bombs, which are cheaper and easier to produce than ballistic and cruise missiles, have become Russia’s weapon of choice as it reportedly runs out of more hi-tech precision munitions.

The specification and capabilities of each gliding weapon – modified or manufactured – differ drastically, with some reported to have operating ranges of up to 75 miles and able to hit a target within a 10-metre radius.

But most conventionally it is believed the glide bombs used by Russia have a range between 30 and 45 miles.

Regardless of the bombs’ efficiency, the weapon gives Russian fighter pilots the ability to use air power effectively to influence ground operations in a way they previously struggled to achieve.

Intelligence gathered by Ukraine shows that most glide bomb attacks are unleashed from 25-30 miles inside Russian territory, at which point the warplanes turn back to avoid coming into the range of Kyiv’s air-defences.

“The stand-off the new improvised weapons give means that the air defence threat that has previously constrained the use of strike and attack aircraft is somewhat mitigated,” Justin Crump, a military analyst at the intelligence consultancy Sibylline, told the Telegraph.

As Ukraine transitions from its stocks of Soviet-era air defence systems, Kyiv finds itself with only a small number of medium-to-long range systems to defend against aerial attacks.

Most of its short-range air defence systems are on the front line, while longer-range missile systems are far behind the front to defend cities and keep them out of range of Russian artillery and drone attacks.

In recent weeks, Russia has once again ramped up the number of its long-range attacks, using Iranian-made suicide drones, and ballistic and cruise missiles on cities, such as the capital Kyiv, in the hope of depleting Ukraine’s stockpile of air-defence missiles.

“Why would they use scarce ballistic cruise missiles of which they haven’t many left? It’s a cheaper option. That’s why they are using glide bombs or S-300 surface to air missiles to do that job,” Col Ihnat said of the glide bombs.

“The S-300s we can sometimes intercept, but these bombs are a problem.”

Western military experts say the glide bombs offer less radar return than a conventional long-range weapon, making them harder for Ukraine to track.

Radars don’t always pick up objects flying at low altitude, and the glide bombs’ small size makes them harder to see on the radar.

Electronic jamming and anti-radar techniques deployed by the Russians mean Kyiv’s forces only have a limited window to target the bombs as they unmask.

The attacks also raise questions in Kyiv over whether air-defence systems should be moved away from population centres to support the upcoming counter-offensive.

One solution would be to engage incoming glide bombs with Patriot or other air-defence missile systems.

But those SAM units are valuable, their rockets expensive, and they have to be kept well away from the front line so they are not vulnerable to Russian strikes.

With the Patriot systems, which have been donated by the US and Netherlands, in place, Ukraine’s forces also have the option of moving more air-defence assets to the front line.

The best solution, according to Col Ihnat, would be modern Western fighter jets – for logistical reasons Ukraine favours the F-16 – that have longer range radars and air-to-air missiles than the ageing Sukhoi Su-27s and MiG-29s Ukraine currently relies on.

“Just one or two would be enough to deter them, because the Russians would see that a couple of these things are in the air and they would avoid approaching,” he said.

But donations of Western fighters to help level the playing field are a long way off.

For now, Kyiv will have to plan its offensive to avoid being undone by the presence of Russian glide bombs.

Ukraine will need “significant air-defence” on the front lines when its troops encounter chock points, such as river crossings or well dug-in Russian positions, where they become vulnerable to air attacks, according to Mr Crump.

If Russia manages to gain a foothold in the battle of air superiority, it will also mean assembly points for Ukrainian troops, as well as command and control nodes, and logistical hubs, become equally vulnerable.

Ukraine will have to master the art of deception and high-mobility warfare in order to dampen any potential aerial threat posed by Moscow’s forces.

“This means, for example, scattering troops widely when not in combat but being able to bring them together fast when needed – something the British and US militaries have repeatedly learned on recent exercises,” Mr Crump said.
“Dispersion and rapid concentration of force is vital in this environment.”

Ultimately, the glide bombs deployed by Russian forces are not a silver bullet, and will play a limited role in the upcoming offensive if Kyiv is able to maintain its air defences on the front line.

“It’s an old technology that has been around for years. They have just started using them more intensely over the past month,” Col Ihnat said.

Source: Yahoo News


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