“It’s evolution, countermeasures, evolution, countermeasures,” Colonel Smazhnyi added. “It’s a nonstop process, unfortunately.”
According to Ukrainian and American officials, the Russians have retrofitted some of the bombs with satellite navigation systems and wings that stretch their range, turning an old-fashioned weapon, which Moscow has thousands of, into a more modern glide bomb.
The Russians are deploying these glide bombs from Su-34 and Su-35 jets, their top-of the-line warplanes, said a U.S. Defense Department official who spoke on the condition of anonymity given the sensitivity of the topic. Zooming over Russian-controlled territory, where Ukrainian air defenses don’t reach, the warplanes release the bombs, which glide 20 miles or more, crossing the frontline and then striking Ukrainian territory.
These bombs are even harder to hit than the hypersonic Kinzhal missiles that the Ukrainians claim to have destroyed recently with American Patriot air defense systems.
“A Kinzhal has a longer flight time at high altitudes, so it’s easier to detect and track,” said Ian Williams, deputy director of the Missile Defense Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank. Glide bombs, on the other hand, were not a weapon that the Patriot system was designed to counter, he said.
Russian military bloggers have boasted about the prowess of their glide bombs, posting videos and comments starting in early January. One Russian analyst provided detailed information on Russia’s development of them going back to the early 2000s and said their use was “a step in the right direction.”
There have been some recent mishaps. In late April, a Russian warplane, apparently headed for Ukraine, accidentally dropped a bomb on Belgorod, a Russian city near the border. No one was killed, Russian officials said, but days later, Russian media reported that two more unexploded aircraft bombs had been discovered in the same area. It’s not clear whether these were old-fashioned bombs or the newer gliding versions.