Su-34s utilize guided bombs to target Ukrainian forces near Kupyansk

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As per the Russian Defence Ministry’s February 26 report, the Russian Air Force has drafted Su-34 strike fighters to execute precise onslaughts against Ukrainian infantry and armored entities near Kupyansk.  

Photo credit: Wikipedia

These aircraft are armed with high-diameter glide bombs that exhibit precise guidance features, capable of adjusting their course mid-flight. The ministry emphasized that the glide attribute of these bombs allows the Su-34s to initiate attacks while remaining outside of enemy air defense range, thus safeguarding the fighter units as they all returned safely to the base post the operation.  

Comparatively, the utilization of glide bombs places aircraft in a safer zone than regular gravity bombs. Unlike conventional bombs, which need to be released from closer proximity to the target, glide bombs facilitate a much more economical alternative to customary air-launched cruise or ballistic missiles, which were generally used to stay away from enemy air defenses.  

Photo credit: UAC

Reduced flights

Precision guidance doesn’t only make these bombs more potent in annihilating the targets but also reduces the mandatory sortie numbers significantly. These bombs can be released from higher altitudes where both aircraft and bombs are more guarded by short-ranged ground-based air defense systems, as well as, their flight range can be extended considerably up to 70 kilometers. 

Characterized by exceptionally high endurance, the Su-34 unquestionably not only outperforms any other global fighter class in terms of range but also carries payloads that remind us of the ones used by early nuclear-armed bombers rather than present-day fighters. 

Photo by Alex Beltyukov

Since the conflict in Ukraine, the Su-34 has been a consistent mainstay of the Russian Air Force. Current estimates by Western sources denote that approximately 24 of these have been relinquished during the two-year campaign, implying an average loss rate of about one aircraft per month. All losses recorded were either due to mishaps or ground-based anti-aircraft resources.  

A subject of growing anxiety

The ever-increasing use of glide bombs by the Russian Air Force has been a subject of growing anxiety for the Western and Ukrainian entities since 2023. During this time, the Russian defense sector has noticeably broadened its capacity to generate such ammunition. 

Photo credit: Military Watch Magazine

The threat these weapons pose was pointed out by Ukrainian Air Force spokesperson Colonel Yuri Ignat on May 2, stating: “These bombs have a flight range of about 70 kilometers [similar to 43 miles] and are capable of targeting critical infrastructure facilities, residential zones, kindergartens, medical and educational institutions and we are helpless against such explosives. Our air defense proves inefficient against them, instead, our focus should be on shooting down the Su-34 strike fighter carriers which deliver this ammunition.”  

Several Ukrainian servicemen shared with The New York Times in January 2024 that a new sequence of Russian air strikes was instructed using these glide bombs, delivering “an added catastrophic power,” in support of the near non-stop artillery attacks for some months. 

500 kg of explosives

They emphasized these bombs could carry up to 500 kg of explosives each which add enough power to obliterate their underground bunkers completely. Noting the impact of Russian glide bomb strikes, a serviceman equated it to “hell’s gates,” stressing that the Russian Air Force “would launch a series of two at a time, counting eight every hour… It gives the feel of a jet descending upon you.” 

Ukraine’s lack of founding support with manned combat aircraft, other than those deploying foreign supplied long ranged cruise missiles which are in short supply, has put its ground forces at a severe disadvantage. This has further supplemented the increasing discrepancies in artillery and ballistic missile assets, putting them hugely in favor of Russian forces.  

The revolutionary class of Russian glide bomb, the PBK-500U Drel, is likely to go into mass production by the end of the year subsequently making its battlefield debut. Furthermore, production of the Su-34 strike fighter is also anticipated to have expanded from 2023, with planes delivered post-mid-2022 being constructed to the advanced Su-34M standard. 


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