(Dan Tri) – Russia’s recent victories in eastern Ukraine are said to be thanks to the large but risky support of the air force.

Ukrainian anti-aircraft gunners opened fire from a position in the Donetsk region last month (Photo: Getty).

Since the outbreak of hostilities in February 2022 until now, the conflict in Ukraine has mainly taken place on the ground, in which the army often has to fight with the support of heavy artillery and drones.

The air forces of both sides only play a secondary role, because Ukraine only has a limited fleet of fighter aircraft, and Russia cannot achieve air superiority as expected from the first days.

But as Russia’s military continues its offensive in the east, the country’s air force has taken on a larger role.

Military analysts say that Moscow is increasing the use of fighter aircraft near the front line to drop powerful guided bombs on Ukrainian positions and clear the way for infantry.

And reality shows that that strategy has brought unexpected results.

Ukraine’s military last week announced it had shot down seven Su-34 fighter jets, nearly all operating in the east, just days after shooting down a Russian A-50 long-range radar reconnaissance plane.

However, most shootdowns cannot be independently verified.

Justin Bronk, senior research fellow in air power and technology at the Royal United Services Institute in London (RUSI), warns that `over-claiming aircraft kill counts is a common trait`.

However, he added that Ukraine `has certainly conducted an increasing number of ambush-style engagements` with the support of air defense systems in recent months and has achieved `remarkable successes`.

After the outbreak of hostilities in February 2022, Ukraine succeeded in preventing Russia from controlling the sky through air combat and skillful use of anti-aircraft missiles.

In a report, RUSI said that after only 1 month and its fighter jets suffered heavy losses, Russia stopped sending fighter jets to the front line, instead switching to launching a series of cruise missiles.

But this left Russia `unable to effectively use the heavy and effective aerial firepower` of fighter bombers to attack Ukraine’s front-line positions, the report said.

Russia changed tactics

And Moscow began to change tactics early last year when it began using glide bombs, guided munitions dropped from aircraft and can fly long distances to the front line, limiting risks to aircraft from missiles.

`These bombs completely destroyed every location. All buildings and structures simply turned into a hole after being attacked,` said Egor Sugar, a Ukrainian soldier who fought in Avdiivka

Ukrainian officials and military analysts say the Russian air force has played a key role in Moscow’s strategy to gain control of Avdiivka, which requires Russian jets to `fly closer` to the front lines.

In late December 2023, the Ukrainian military said it destroyed three Su-34 jets near the eastern bank of the Russian-controlled Dnipro River in the south, where Ukrainian troops had defended small positions.

It is still unclear which air defense systems Ukraine has deployed.

`Russian forces appear to have accepted increasing rates of air losses in recent weeks to conduct glide bomb attacks in support of Russia’s ongoing offensive operations in the east

One of Ukraine’s biggest successes in air combat was the destruction of one of Russia’s A-50 radar planes last week – the second this year.

The Ukrainian Air Force said Russian air activity in eastern Ukraine had decreased significantly since the evening of March 2.

It is unclear how long and to what extent Russia can sustain these losses.

Former colonel Hrabskyi compared Russia’s costly air strategy to land tactics, where the country used to launch its strongest attack to gain control of cities.