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Mass use of guided bombs driving Russian advances, says Ukraine

The mass use of “drop-and-forget” guided bombs containing foreign components is driving Russian advances in Ukraine, with up to 500 now being fired a week, according to a Ukrainian government analysis.

High explosive and cluster bombs fitted with “UMPC” guiding systems with a range of 40-60km (25-37 miles) are now said to be a central threat on the frontline, forcing back Ukrainian forces.

According to a Ukrainian government report obtained by the Guardian, such weapons fired from afar by aircraft “played a key role in the destruction of [the eastern city of] Avdiivka and the seizure of its ruins by Russia”.

Russia took full control in mid-February of Avdiivka, in the industrial Donbas region, its biggest gain since capturing Bakhmut last May.

The Ukrainian analysts write: “Russia uses UMPC bombs primarily to its targets in frontline areas, minimising the possibility of its own aircraft being hit by Ukrainian air defences. In just one week, from 26 February to 3 March, Russia used more than 500 [guided aerial bombs with a mounted UMPC]”.

The freefalling Soviet design bombs used by the Russian military are being easily transformed into guided ones by adding a UMPC “planning and correction module”, cheap wings and satellite navigation systems.

They are described in the military as being “drop-and-forget” as aircraft carrying them are able to fire out of reach of Ukraine’s air-defence systems.

Russia’s air force appears to have been a key player in turning the tide of the war in the Kremlin’s favour in recent months at a time when Ukraine’s air defences are at a low ebb.

A recent paper from the International Institute for Strategic Studies warned: “Russia is using glide bombs, along with direct-attack munitions, in volume to overwhelm Ukrainian air defence.”

The thinktank noted that the source of the success of the weapon was the lack of capacity within the Ukrainian air defence.

“The reduced rate of missile engagements and the growing number of glide-bomb attacks are indicative of the scarcity of air-defence weapons,” they wrote. “This shortage is in part due to delays in European aid and the hold up of the latest US military-aid package, which is worth around $60bn. Passed by the US Senate in February, it has failed to win the support of the Republican-controlled House of Representatives.”

Russia is reliant on foreign-made components but has not found any difficulty in importing them, despite the west imposing sanctions.

The Ukrainian report on the latest military developments notes that on the samples of such munitions obtained by its forces the “surface of electronic components is rubbed or varnished, which prevents the identification of some components”.

Analysts have, however, identified a variety of key pieces of technology in the guided bombs which are said to have been imported to Russia via China, Thailand and Turkey. The components were originally made by companies in the US, China and Japan, it is claimed, although there is no evidence that any of the manufacturers have breached the western sanctions regime on imports to Russia.

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Nevertheless, the supply of Russia’s military-industrial complex from China is a growing concern in Washington. On Tuesday, Russia’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, while on a two-day visit to Beijing, increased that anxiety by claiming that the two countries had agreed to discuss ways to deepen their security cooperation. The US treasury secretary, Janet Yellen, also warned during a parallel trip to China that there would be “significant consequences” for any Chinese companies supporting Russia’s war in Ukraine.

UMPC systems attached to bombs “generate a flight path depending on the received flight tasks with location correction” enabled through global navigation systems, according to the Ukrainian government report.

A key developer of the technology being attached to the bombs is said to be the Russian manufacturer NPO Basalt JSC, which is able to produce 500 units a month.

The bombs – ranging from the 250kg FAB-250 to the 1,500kg FAB-1500s – on which the guidance systems are often attached, are high explosive and have a “relatively robust casing for penetrating soil or obstacles such as interfloor floors of buildings and structures”, according to the Ukrainian report. The estimated range of the middle-weight FAB-500 is 55-60km.

The heavier bombs are said by the analysis to be carried by Su-34 and Su-35S precision bombers. “The onboard equipment of these aircraft probably allows changing the coordinates of their target during the flight but before launch”, the Ukrainian report says.

According to the report, “civilians and civil infrastructure are also often targeted”. It cites a strike that damaged 15 high-rise buildings, injuring 16 civilians, including two children, in Kurakhove, in the Donetsk region, on 3 March, and strikes in the Kharkiv region on 7 and 27 March that killed two and injured 17.

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