Russia's air force seems to be increasingly using 1,100-pound cluster bombs.
British intelligence says these weapons have been employed near the front-line city of Avdiivka.
Avdiivka has become a fixation of Moscow and has seen intense ground combat in recent weeks.
Russia's air force appears to be increasingly relying on a heavy cluster bomb for damaging strikes on a section of the battlefield that has recently seen some of the deadliest fighting in Ukraine, according to Western intelligence.
Moscow "has likely started to more frequently employ" the RBK-500, a 1,100-pound bomb, over the past month, Britain's defense ministry wrote in a Wednesday intelligence update.
Depending on the type, this weapon can carry between 100 and 350 submunitions — smaller explosives that are dispersed mid-flight over a large area — that can release either piercing shrapnel or a larger anti-tank charge.
Reports indicate the RBK-500 has been used against Kyiv's forces near the eastern Ukrainian front-line cities of Vuhledar and Avdiivka, Britain's defense ministry said.
The latter city — which has become a fixation of Russia's renewed fall offensive that began in early October — has seen some of the most intense — and bloody — ground combat in recent weeks. Russia's military has suffered heavy personnel, equipment, and armor losses in its ongoing attempt to capture Avdiivka due to, war experts say, poor tactics and decision-making from the Kremlin.
"The enemy keeps trying to encircle Avdiivka. The Ukrainian soldiers are standing their ground and inflicting major losses on the invaders," Kyiv's General Staff of the Armed Forces said in a battlefield update on Wednesday.
Citing Ukraine's General Staff, Britain's defense ministry said on Monday that November and October have seen some of the highest casualty rates for Russian troops in the war, largely caused by the assault on Avdiivka.
Britain's defense ministry noted in its Wednesday update that there's "a realistic possibility" that Russia integrated a guided stand-off glide kit with the RBK-500 as it's done with other air-dropped bombs.
Such an upgrade allows the ordnance to be released much farther away from a target as opposed to almost directly over it, reducing the vulnerability of an attacking aircraft to ground-based air-defense systems.
Sophisticated air defense on both sides has kept the sky above the battlefield contested, with neither Ukraine nor Russia's air force able to achieve air superiority.
Ukraine's military has repeatedly raised concerns about Russia's glide bombs, arguing that while they're relatively poor in quality, they can still cause headaches for Kyiv.
Britain's defense ministry said in its Wednesday update that although the kits have "generally achieved poor accuracy," the large number of submunitions that are released from a single RBK-500 bomb "can cause effects over an area of several hundred meters, increasing the chance of inflicting at least some damage on the intended target."
Throughout the 21-month-long war, both Russia and Ukraine have used cluster weapons, which have been banned by a majority of countries due to their indiscriminate nature and potential to leave behind unexploded ordnance that endangers civilians years after a conflict ends. Moscow's use of these kinds of munitions has already killed and injured countless civilians during this conflict, according to human rights groups.
Ukraine has been outfitted with ground-launched cluster munitions in the form of artillery shells and missiles from the US. They include dual-purpose improved conventional munitions (DPICMs) and the formidable M39 variant of the MGM-140 Army Tactical Missile Systems, or ATACMS, which was used last month in devastating attacks on two Russian airbases that destroyed over a dozen military helicopters.
The M39 variant, which was delivered in secret to Ukraine after months of pressure on the Biden administration to approve the transfer, has a range of around 100 miles and is packed with 950 anti-personnel and anti-materiel M74 bomblets. Like with the RBK-500, these submunitions scatter mid-flight over a large area, thus causing far more damage across a target area than a unitary warhead.
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