A Shift in Russian Tactics Intensifies Air War in Ukraine

The Ukraine war has been fought largely on the ground in the past two years, with troops often locked in back-and-forth battles with heavy artillery and drone support. The countries’ air forces have played second fiddle because of Ukraine’s limited fleet of planes and Russia’s inability to gain the air supremacy it once expected.

But as the Russian military presses on with attacks in the east, its air force has taken on a greater role. Military analysts say Russia has increasingly used warplanes near the front lines to drop powerful guided bombs on Ukrainian positions and clear a path forward for the infantry. That tactic, used most notably in Avdiivka, the strategic eastern city captured by Russian forces last month, has yielded good results, experts say.

It has also come with risks.

“It’s a costly but quite effective tool that Russia is now using in the war,” said Serhiy Hrabskyi, a retired Ukrainian army colonel. “It’s dangerous for them to send their fighter jets” close to the front line, he added, but it can “impact Ukrainian positions effectively.”

The Ukrainian Army last week said it had shot down seven Su-34 fighter jets, nearly all operating in the east, just a few days after downing an A-50 long-range radar reconnaissance aircraft. It was, according to Ukrainian officials, part of a series of successful strikes against the Russian Air Force, in which Ukraine claimed to have shot down 15 planes in as many days.

The majority of the shootdowns could not be independently verified.

Oryx, a military analysis site that counts losses based on visual evidence, and Russian military bloggers confirmed the loss of two Su-35 fighter jets. Britain’s military intelligence services confirmed the destruction of the A-50 plane.

Justin Bronk, a senior research fellow for air power and technology at the Royal United Services Institute in London, or RUSI, cautioned that “overclaiming on kills is a systemic feature of air warfare.”

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