Today's Editorial

Today's Editorial - 04 May 2023

Guided bombs are part of the latest Russian tactics

Source: By Deutsche Welle

Russia is increasingly attacking Ukraine with guided bombs, according to information by the Ukrainian Air Force. The Russian air force previously only sporadically used such weapons, but in recent years, up to 20 guided bomb hits daily were registered along the entire front line.

Ukrainian authorities say the city of Kherson in the south and the country’s regions bordering Russia and Belarus are particularly affected. “The Russians are dropping more and more of these bombs because they are running out of missiles, very few are left, so they have switched to cheap aerial bombs,” Yuri Ihnat, a spokesman for the Ukrainian Air Force, told DW.

By using guided bombs, Russian forces may be “changing aviation tactics to mitigate the risk of further aviation losses by operating out of the range of most Ukrainian anti-aircraft and air defense systems, at the cost of the ability to conduct close air support,” the US-based Institute for the Study of War (ISW) wrote in an assessment recently.

What are guided bombs?

Unlike simple bombs, guided bombs have small wings and tail surfaces that allow them to be put into gliding flight. On the one hand that allows for precise targeting, on the other hand, the bombs can hit targets at a great distance from where they are dropped.

Ukrainian military experts believe Russia currently has two types of guided bombs. They have had the modernsatellite-guided UPAB-1500B for a few years now, however, due to its extremely high production costs, such bombs are used sparingly, experts told DW.

For the most part in Ukraine, the Russian army uses bombs that are originally unguided and weigh 500 (1,100lb)1,000 or 1,500 kilograms — and date back to Soviet times. The high-explosive FAB-type bombs are equipped with wings and a satellite control system, an upgrade to a high-precision weapon. Oleh Katkov, editor-in-chief of the Ukrainian Defense Express trade journal, says the conversion is very inexpensive and does not take long.

“You can quickly produce such modules for these bombs, many of which are still in stock,” confirms Oleksandr Kovalenko, a military expert at Ukraine’s Center for Military and Political Research. These guided bombs are far inferior to modern systems, but Russia can still use them to attack Ukraine for a long time, he added.

Launch of guided bombs hardly possible

Russia stopped flying over Ukrainian-controlled territories a month after the large-scale invasion began, says Yuri Ihnat. The range of the glide bombs allows them to bomb Ukrainian territories from their own airspace or the airspace of Russian-occupied territories, however. “Russian aircraft can drop these guided bombs 50 to 70 kilometers (31-43 miles) deep into Ukrainian-controlled territory,” Ihnat says, adding that the range depends on the aircraft’s altitude and speed. “They don’t fly close to the border itself because they know they can be shot down — the higher an aircraft climbs, the better it is detected by our radar stations,” the spokesman for Ukraine’s Air Force says.

Ukraine currently uses Soviet anti-aircraft missile systems in defense, even if they can hardly stop aerial bombs. “The anti-aircraft missile does not hit the object itself, but explodes next to it and pierces it with splinters,” says Ihnat, adding that “usually doesn’t work with a bomb.” To destroy guided bombs, Ukraine needs modern air defense systems like the Patriot recently arrived from the US, the Netherlands and Germany, he argues.

But there are not enough air defense systems to defend the entire front line and the borders with Russia and Belarus, experts say. They also argue it is risky to deploy them close to the front line. Russian troops will try to destroy the Patriot systems, even if just for propaganda purposes, says Oleh Katkov, a journalist. The Russians would even be willing to sacrifice fighter jets to inflict a significant loss on Ukraine, he says.

Ukraine needs Western fighter planes

The best way for Ukraine to protect itself against guided bombs is with fighter jets, says Kovalenko. “Bombs are very difficult to hit, it is easier to destroy the carrier itself — the Russian aircraft.”

Ukraine does not have air-to-air missiles with sufficient range to hit jets over Russian-controlled areas, however. Also, Western air-to-air missiles like those recently handed over to Ukraine by Slovakia and yet to be handed over by Poland, are incompatible with Soviet-designed aircraft, Kovalenko says.

That is why Ukraine says it urgently needs Western fighter jets — which Western leaders, including US President Joe Biden, have so far refused to supply to Kyiv.