An expert’s take on Russia’s new 1,500 kg gliding bombs
For the first time, the UPAB-1500V 1.5-ton gliding bomb was presented to the public four years ago in Moscow at the International Aviation and Space Salon exhibition (Photo:DR)
Oleh Katkov, editor-in-chief of the Ukrainian military news outlet Defense Express, analyzes the main characteristics of Russia’s new 1,500 kg gliding bomb, which was recently used for the first time by Russian forces. He considers how many of these munitions the aggressor may have, and whether the Ukrainian Armed Forces can fight back against this weapon.
Bombers from Russia’s Aerospace Forces have used their latest 1,500 kg UPAB-1500V guided bombs against Ukraine for the first time, as reported by Defense Express on March 4, citing its own sources. The outlet states that the aggressor's air force first used these munitions a few weeks ago, against a target in Chernihiv Oblast.
The next day, Ukrainian Air Force spokesperson Yuriy Ihnat confirmed reports of the Russian invaders using gliding aerial bombs, dropping them on targets in Ukrainian territory.
NV asked Katkov about the main danger these weapons pose, where the enemy will use them, and what the Ukrainian Air Force can do to counter it.
NV: What do you know about the Russian UPAB-1500V bomb? What are its characteristics and what is its main risks?
Katkov: The first time this munition – the export version, by the way – was demonstrated publicly was in Moscow in 2019 at the International Aviation and Space Exhibition. At that time, the representative of the developer of this bomb, from [Russian state-owned military research and development firm] Region, stated that it had already been tested. Thus, there is no reason to say that these munitions are already being mass produced in Russia, because the time period since the munition’s debut to its serial production has been quite short.
Regarding the capabilities of the UPAB-1500V, it is a gliding bomb. At the same time, it is large in size, with a weight of 1,500 kg, of which approximately 1,010 kg is the warhead. That is, it is a more than powerful munition. The developer claims that when this gliding bomb is dropped from an airplane from a height of 15 km, its range is up to 40 km. The munition is equipped with an inertial and satellite navigation system and can hit highly protected objects. What is more, the detonator has three modes, including a delayed mode – that is, it detonates after the bomb has gone deep into some kind of bunker.
All things considered, this is a pretty dangerous munition. And according to our sources, the Russians have already used it, since the analysis of its fragments allowed it to be identified specifically as UPAB-1500 V.
At the same time, there is a cautious assumption, given the protocol and methodology of using this munition, that the Russian Su-34 front-line fighter-bomber destroyed near Yenakiieve on March 3 was the specific air-craft that carried this UPAB-1500 V. The thing is that the methodology is too similar to the use of this munition, because the enemy plane was shot down at a considerable height, and in the photo and video you can see the aircraft’s contrails and this characteristic loop.
NV: That is, this type of bomb can be dropped only from the Su-34?
Katkov: So far, there is no information about which aircraft of the Russian Air Defense Forces this munition was developed for. But very likely, we are talking about the Su-34 "cruising" bomber. Perhaps the Su-30 and Su-35 are still possible. But it seems to me that the Su-34 is at least the main carrier of the UPAB-1500V.
NV: And where can the enemy most likely use this type of bomb?
Katkov: At the front edge [frontline and border areas], because the bomb’s use parameters allow for it to be dropped and cause damage at a distance of up to 40 km. The "up to" parameter is important here, since the Russians often declare capabilities for their weapons much greater than they actually have. Therefore, in theory, these are exclusively frontline areas, so that the bomber does not enter the active range of Ukrainian air defense forces.
NV: What can the use of this munition affect?
Katkov: Its use is quite limited. We are not talking about mass use, but rather – I can't say it’s experimental – but we’re actually talking about single samples. In addition, given what is happening with the Russian military-industrial complex, which is suffering under Western sanctions, it is possible that a small number of these bombs were actually manufactured long ago, and the Russians are just using them now.
But it should be understood that this information is quite limited. And it can be quite difficult to identify exactly what they have used – especially if the Russians use these bombs on the front line, where there is no way to understand what exactly they dropped. But there was a case when the Russian Federation used this munition on a target in Chernihiv Oblast, where there were fragments that made it possible to identify this gliding bomb.
In addition, a few weeks ago, the Russians showed a video where they seem to have used some type of munition with a rather powerful explosion in the Avdiivka area. And that could have been a UPAB-1500V munition, too.
But no matter what, they themselves are not shining light on this development, are not making it some kind of "analogousness" and this, perhaps, indicates that the real number of these munitions does not allow for any kind of PR action.
NV: But the Russian Federation has a similar, but smaller caliber UPAB-500V munition. Could the Russian military have more of those bombs than the UPAB-1500V?
Katkov: I think that this munition is also in singular quantities, and perhaps even in smaller quantities [than the UPAB-1500 V]. Because, given the cost of installing, roughly speaking, the unit responsible for guiding this bomb, one can assume that it is simply not profitable for the Russians to reduce the caliber while reducing the effectiveness of the munition. In addition, there is also the issue of the accuracy of the guidance system itself. After all, the traditional Soviet approach, which is still followed by the Russian Federation, is that if the munition has low accuracy, then its warhead is simply increased in order to cover the deviation.
NV: In that case, how can the Ukrainian Armed Forces fight back against these weapons?
Katkov: Destroy the carriers of these bombs. This is the only option, because in this case, you should fight not with the munition, but with the bombers carrying it.
The bombers can be destroyed by anti-aircraft missile systems. After all, in order to launch a gliding bomb, Russian planes need to climb much higher, and in this way, a fighter flying at an altitude of 10-15 km will be clearly visible on all radars, and this, in the presence of a long-range air defense system, makes it possible to hit this aircraft.
But you can't put air defense systems under every bush, so it's extremely important for us to get Western fighters that will allow us to see the target much further and detect it earlier, and receiving Western long-range air-to-air missiles will make it possible to drive away enemy aircraft from the front-line zone. In addition, aircraft are more mobile means of air defense, and Western fighters will also make it possible to gain superiority in the air.
NV: And at the current stage, can the Ukrainian Air Force offer some counter in response? Perhaps there are Western analogues?
Katkov: There is information that the U.S. has provided us with JDAM kits [equipment based on GPS technology that turns simple free-fall bombs into all-weather guided munitions]. Moreover, according to Western sources, we are talking about JDAM-ERs [Extended Range], which has improved aerodynamic characteristics. Thus, during high-altitude flight, the striking range of this munition is up to 70-80 km, and at low altitudes, when using the camber method [when the nose of the aircraft rises in order to launch a munition along a hinged trajectory] — up to 40 km.
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