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Russia's pulling its aircraft away from the front lines as Ukraine hits air bases with deep strikes, Western intel says

Jake Epstein   

Russia's pulling its aircraft away from the front lines as Ukraine hits air bases with deep strikes, Western intel says
  • Ukrainian forces used drones to attack an airfield deep inside Russia last month.
  • Since then, Russia has removed its aircraft from the area and dispersed them elsewhere.

Russia has pulled dozens of aircraft away from the front lines in response to a massive Ukrainian drone attack on a military base deep behind enemy lines, according to new Western intelligence.

Ukrainian forces on April 27 fired dozens of attack drones at the Kushchyovskaya airfield, and at two oil refineries in southwest Russia, likely attempting to disrupt Moscow's highly destructive glide-bomb operations. The strikes marked Kyiv's latest long-range attacks targeting Moscow's military and energy facilities.

Britain's defense ministry said the attack on Kushchyovskaya has "likely contributed to approximately 40 aircraft of different types being removed from the area and dispersed to multiple airfields further from the front line" over the past week.

"The impact of this is unlikely to be immediately obvious or dramatic. However, Ukraine has already demonstrated the ability to strike much further into Russia than these dispersal locations," the UK wrote in a Friday intelligence update. It did not specify where these new locations were, though.

"Forcing such dispersal measures means that length of sorties will have to increase to maintain the same permanency over the battle space," the intelligence update continued. "This will in turn require more fuel, increasing cost, while also placing more strain on the aircrews."

Such results would be a win for Ukraine as it looks to alleviate the strain on its front line forces and its air-defense network, which has been under growing stress in recent months as it lacked critical interceptor munitions.

The late-April attack was not the first time Ukrainian deep strikes have forced Russia to relocate its vulnerable assets. Kyiv's fleet of exploding naval drones has wreaked havoc on Moscow's Black Sea Fleet, compelling it to disperse warships from its headquarters in the occupied Crimean peninsula to a port city along Russia's southwestern coast.

The Kushchyovskaya airfield is home to Russia's Su-34 and Su-35 fighter jets. It was not immediately clear if any aircraft were struck in the attack last weekend, but Britain's defense ministry, citing open-source video footage, said that a number of glide-bomb kits had been destroyed in a storage facility.

Glide bombs have flight control surfaces that allow them to soar toward a target rather than free fall and are a kind of standoff weapon, meaning Russian aircraft can release them at a distance beyond the range of Ukraine's air-defense systems.

These munitions are difficult to intercept because they have short flight times, small radar signatures, and non-ballistic trajectories. Destroying Moscow's warplanes before they can release the weapon or hitting them on the ground are really the only ways to defeat the threat.

Glide bombs have long been a headache for Ukraine, but Russia has increasingly relied on them this year to strike Kyiv's ground forces on the front lines and in positions in the rear to devastating effect. Experts have warned that these munitions could play a significant role in supporting Moscow's ground operations in the coming months.

Even before the Kushchyovskaya strike, Ukraine has tried going after Russia's airbases in an apparent bid to stomp out the glide-bomb threat. In April, for instance, Kyiv launched a large number of drones at the Morozovsk airbase, although the extent of the damage was ultimately unclear.

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