Russia’s Strategic Shift: Analyzing the Impact of Glide Bomb Strikes on Ukraine

Russia has increasingly turned to glide-bomb assaults to pummel Ukrainian defenses while largely keeping its assault aircraft out of immediate danger.

Russian soldiers
soldiers

It's a formidable strategy that highlights Russia's capacity to adjust to some of the challenges that have hindered its forces, and one that has contributed to Moscow securing recent triumphs on the battlefield.

Glide bombs enable the Russians to obliterate fortified positions from distances far exceeding those of artillery without exposing their aircraft to 's surface-to-air missiles, and though Russia may lack precision, it compensates with sheer firepower. These munitions can weigh up to 6,600 pounds.

Ukraine has also struggled to counter this threat, primarily due to a shortage of air defense missiles. As it continues to deplete its air-defense resources, and with additional Western military aid remaining inaccessible, military analysts predict that Kyiv may forfeit more territory and seasoned troops.

“The utilization of glide bombs by Russia underscores the ongoing threat posed by the Russian military,” remarked George Barros, the lead of the geospatial-intelligence team and a Russia analyst at the Institute for the Study of War, to Business Insider.

“They are continuously learning,” he stated, indicating that Russian forces are devising solutions, allowing them to advance despite previous difficulties with positional and trench warfare.

Exercising dominance over Ukraine with ‘impunity' Glide bombs are equipped with flight control surfaces and are considered standoff , allowing attacking aircraft to release them at a distance from the target rather than directly above it (unlike traditional gravity bombs), thereby reducing the aircraft's exposure to enemy air defenses.

Their brief flight times, minimal radar signatures, and non-ballistic trajectories render glide bombs exceptionally challenging to intercept. While Ukraine has consistently cautioned about the threat posed by these munitions throughout the conflict, recent months have underscored the validity of these concerns.

Russia military
Russia military (Image source: Twitter)

“Russian forces have notably escalated guided and unguided glide-bomb attacks on rear and frontline Ukrainian positions in 2024, employing mass glide-bomb strikes with tactical effectiveness during the of Avdiivka in mid-February,” analysts at the ISW think tank stated in a recent assessment.

Advanced air-defense systems on both sides maintained contested skies above Ukraine during the initial two years of the conflict. However, as Russian ground troops closed in on Avdiivka, a small city in eastern Ukraine's Donetsk region, Moscow's air force effectively bombarded Ukrainian defensive positions, facilitating a significant breakthrough.

With the Russian air force capable of targeting objectives beyond the reach of artillery support for its ground forces, Ukraine witnessed a surge in glide-bomb strikes in the waning days of its defense of Avdiivka. Ultimately, Moscow seized control of the war-torn city, marking its most significant victory in nearly a year.

The Russians have become adept at gauging the timing and intensity of large-scale strike packages to be unleashed on Ukrainian cities and critical infrastructure, depleting Kyiv's air-defense capabilities, Barros noted.

“When the Ukrainian air-defense capacity is fully occupied, they proceed with the use of fixed-wing aircraft to execute glide-bomb attacks,” he elaborated. “Enhanced air defenses in Ukraine might deter the use of glide bombs by compelling fixed-wing aircraft to maintain a greater distance from the front line.”

In Avdiivka, Russia effectively managed to tie down Ukrainian forces, thereby enabling the deployment of highly destructive glide bombs against Kyiv's defenses. Rather than focusing on precision, experts assert that the overwhelming volume of these bombardments rendered Ukraine's positions untenable. This poses significant implications for the future, Barros cautioned.

Ukraine has largely prevented Russia from establishing control of the airspace over the battlefield as Moscow had in previous conflicts. For instance, during the Syrian Civil War, Putin's forces, supporting the Assad regime, relied heavily on extensive carpet-bombing campaigns to devastate cities.

However, if Ukraine's air-defense capabilities become increasingly strained, “we could potentially witness precarious scenarios where the Russian air force operates with impunity over Ukrainian airspace,” Barros warned.

‘They will continue losing ground' Russian aircraft have already dropped over 3,500 bombs on Ukrainian positions nearly three months into 2024, Ukrainian Deputy Minister of Defense Lt. Gen. Ivan Gavrylyuk wrote in a March 18 op-ed for state-run news agency Ukrinform. This is significantly higher than the previous year, he noted.

However, despite this intensified bombardment, there appears to be no shortage of glide bombs in the Russian arsenal in the foreseeable future.

The Russian defense ministry announced last week that the production of several types of munitions is increasing. This includes the 1,100-pound FAB-500, 3,300-pound FAB-1500, and 6,600-pound FAB-3000 bombs — all of which can be adapted into glide bombs.

“The Russians are reinforcing success here,” Barros remarked. Essentially, Moscow has identified an effective tactic and is swiftly expanding the production of these munitions.

Many of the Russian glide bombs are being deployed up to 30 miles or more behind the front lines, making it challenging for Ukraine to engage these aircraft with most of its air-defense systems, aside from the -made MIM-104 Patriot system, Justin Bronk, an airpower expert at the Royal United Services Institute think tank, informed BI.

Glide bombs are exclusively capable of targeting fixed or stationary objectives, making them particularly potent in areas experiencing prolonged conflict, such as Avdiivka, where Ukrainian positions are relatively conspicuous, Bronk explained.

“This makes mission planning for attacks with standoff weapons that can strike fixed targets, like glide bombs, quite feasible,” he noted. “They contain significantly more explosive power — particularly the 1,500-kilogram variants — than artillery or rocket artillery shells.”

Air Force Ukraine downs Russian Su-34 aircraft
Air Force Ukraine downs Russian Su-34 aircraft (Image source: Twitter)

Consequently, he asserted, there is a “qualitative psychological impact that is greater, in many ways, than artillery.”

Ultimately, to mitigate the threat posed by glide bombs, experts emphasized the urgent need for Ukraine to receive substantial reinforcements in air-defense interceptors, alongside artillery munitions, from its Western allies.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has repeatedly stressed that Kyiv's existing arsenal of air-defense capabilities is insufficient to shield the country from relentless bombardments, consistently urging his partners to provide greater support.

However, Republican lawmakers in Congress have maintained their prolonged hold on additional funding to Ukraine, which would unlock much-needed military assistance, including air-defense capabilities and munitions like Patriot missiles, for the country.

The White House emphasized on Friday the importance of providing Ukraine with additional air-defense assets.

While Russia's glide bombs alone may not determine the outcome of the war, experts asserted that Moscow also holds a significant advantage in artillery. Nevertheless, combined with Ukraine's dwindling resources and uncertainty regarding future Western security assistance, this trend paints an increasingly bleak picture for Kyiv on the battlefield.

“Without the passage of the aid supplemental by the US, it's challenging to envision how the Ukrainians can avoid further territorial losses — potentially catastrophic — during the anticipated major Russian offensive in the summer,” Bronk stated.

Barros concurred, emphasizing that unless Ukraine receives a resupply of weaponry, it will inevitably cede territory. At present, Kyiv requires all available resources for its forces.

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