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Russia's fear of putting its planes in danger may be the very thing getting them shot down, experts say

A member of the Ukrainian Territorial Defence Forces walks beside the blue remnants of a Ukrainian jet with rubble and a house behind him
Ukrainian Territorial Defence Forces inspect the remains of a Russian Sukhoi Su-34 in Chernihiv, Ukraine, April 6, 2022REUTERS/Serhii Nuzhnenko
  • Russia's aircraft have been staying further from the front and using glide bombs.

  • Analysts say this is because Russia wants to protect its jets. But Ukraine is taking out many.

  • Experts say Russian tactics may be giving Ukraine more time to hit the planes.

Russia's tactics for protecting its aircraft are giving Ukraine more time to shoot them down, air warfare experts told Business Insider.

Ukraine has taken down a host of aircraft since Russia launched its full-scale invasion in February 2022, with its success rate seemingly rising this month.

On Wednesday, Ukraine's Ministry of Defence said it had taken down its 10th Russian fighter jet in just 10 days.

Experts told BI that Ukraine's recent success may be down to a tactical shift by Russia that was developed to try to stop Ukraine's attacks.

Justin Bronk, a Russia and air warfare expert at the UK's Royal United Services Institute, said Russian jets have been staying far from the front lines since around May 2023, when two fighter jets and two helicopters were shot down.

That distance has increased further in recent months as Russia has been "relying on launching large numbers of glide bombs," Bronk said.

Analysts at the International Institute for Strategic Studies said this month that Russian aircraft appear to be carrying glide bombs more, almost certainly "to provide a greater stand-off distance to avoid further losses."

But this shift may explain why Ukraine seems able to shoot down more jets, Bronk said, though he emphasized that not all recent aircraft downings are confirmed.

Getting unpowered glide bombs to travel far enough from a distance requires "lobbing from very, very high altitudes and speeds," he said.

This means that Russian jets must fly higher, giving Ukraine more time to spot and target them, Bronk said.

"It gives more time to complete an intercept while those Russian aircraft are at higher altitudes," he said.

Mattias Eken, a missile defense expert at the RAND Corporation, gave a similar assessment. "The recent downing of several Russian aircraft by Ukraine may be due to Russia's increased use of glide bombs," he told BI.

Eken said that launching glide bombs at distant targets from higher altitudes exposes Russian planes to longer-range Ukrainian air defense systems.

Russia's tactic also means using its aircraft more frequently, so there are "more targets" for Ukraine to go after, Bronk said.

Even so, Ukraine's recent success in shooting them down is unlikely to be a game changer in the war.

Russia's glide bombs are also causing huge damage to Ukraine, and Russia putting more jets in the sky means more harm.

Eken said speculation that Russia may be quickly burning through its glide bomb stockpile seems to be unfounded. "It doesn't look like Russia is about to run out of glide bombs anytime soon, although it may struggle to replenish certain types," he said.

Glide bombs are considered hard to stop and cheap to produce.

Ukraine's ability to keep shooting down Russian jets is also under serious threat.

Ukraine's air defenses have kept Russian jets from flying regularly into Ukrainian airspace, with experts describing this as a hugely impressive achievement that may have stopped Russia from quickly winning the war.

But Ukraine's missile stocks are running low. If they fall too low, Russia's air force could fly freely, to devastating effect.

Read the original article on Business Insider