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ISW: Russia achieved localized air superiority in Avdiivka before capturing it

Russia achieved temporary localized air superiority over Avdiivka by mass deployment of glide bombs, enabling close air support for advancing troops on the ground, per ISW.
Avdiivka
Avdiivka Coke Plant. Credit: “Var,” commander of 2nd Mechanized Brigade of 3d Assault Brigade
ISW: Russia achieved localized air superiority in Avdiivka before capturing it

The Institute for the Study of War (ISW) reports that, during the recent offensive to capture Avdiivka, Russian forces appear to have temporarily achieved limited and localized air superiority for the first time in Ukraine, providing close air support to ground troops.

Russians carried out frontal attacks on the Avdiivka area for four months, making tiny incremental gains costing the Russian troops thousands of soldiers. In February, Russian forces began using aircraft more extensively and threatened encirclement, which forced Ukrainian troops to retreat from the city.

A spokesperson for a Ukrainian brigade near Avdiivka reported that Russian forces launched 60 KAB glide bombs at Ukrainian positions in Avdiivka on 17 February, and a Ukrainian soldier in the area stated that up to 500 glide bombs were launched at Avdiivka in recent days.

Situation in Avdiivka, Donetsk Oblast, as of 16 and 19 February 2024. Maps: Deepstatemap

Brigadier General Oleksandr Tarnavskyi, Commander of the Ukrainian Tavria Group of Forces, stated that the Russians conducted a record 73 airstrikes in the Tavria direction (from Avdiivka through western Zaporizhzhia Oblast) on 14 February, as they intensified their tactical turning movement in Avdiivka.

On 17 February, a Kremlin-affiliated military blogger claimed that Russian forces launched 250 FAB glide bombs at a specific area in Avdiivka alone in the past 48 hours.

Russian sources widely attribute the use of glide bombs to enabling Russian forces to overcome Ukrainian defenses in Avdiivka, with some milbloggers asserting that Russia has air superiority in the area.

Since early 2023, Russian forces have gradually increased their use of glide bombs across the theater, but the recent mass deployment of these bombs in Avdiivka marks the first time Russian aviation has used them on a large scale to provide close air support to advancing infantry troops.

A Russian Storm-Z instructor claimed that Russian forces have previously struggled with conducting mass airstrikes in close air support operations and expressed hope that the aviation operations in Avdiivka will signal a change in Russian tactics along the frontline.

The Russian ability to conduct these mass strikes for several days in the most active part of the frontline suggests that Ukrainian forces were not able to deny them access to the airspace around Avdiivka, and Russian forces likely leveraged this temporary localized air superiority to facilitate the capture of much of the settlement,” ISW concludes.

Air superiority

Two weeks into the full-scale invasion of Ukraine, in March 2022, RUSI experts explained the fact that Russia had not achieved air supremacy in Ukraine despite initial fears that it had such a capacity by Russia’s overall lack of capacity to conduct complex air operations.

Later in the war, Russia didn’t manage to achieve air superiority across the front in Ukraine.

Both countries have deployed a wide range of air defense systems to deny airspace near the frontline. Compared to Ukraine’s older models, Russia holds both numerical and qualitative advantages with its modern aircraft.

In early January, the British Defense Ministry stated in its intelligence report that the shooting down of three Russian Su-34 combat jets over southern Ukraine on 22 December 2023 had significantly weakened Russia’s air superiority in the region.

In recent months, Russian tactical bombers extensively used glide bombs to bombard frontline areas from dozens of kilometers away, beyond the range of Ukraine’s anti-air systems.

Ukraine is preparing the deployment of Western-made F-16 fighter jets to counter Russia’s air superiority at the frontline. The dense air defenses prevent Russian aircraft from operating behind lines in Ukraine-controlled territory, but they maintain an edge with longer-range radars and air-launched missiles and bombs. By deploying F-16s, which are superior to their current Soviet-era aircraft, Ukraine hopes to push Russian aircraft further from the front.

In late January, the Ukrainian Air Force’s spokesman stated that international partners are ready to provide Ukraine with F-16 jets, yet Ukraine still continues to prepare infrastructure and train personnel for their deployment.

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