Ukrainian servicemen examine damage from a Russian air strike on a shopping mall in Kyiv, Ukraine, March 21, 2022.

Ukrainian servicemen examine damage from a Russian air strike on a shopping mall in Kyiv, Ukraine, March 21, 2022. Getty Images / Anastasia Vlasova

Russia Speeds Up Air War Over Ukraine, As Some Munitions Run Low or Malfunction

Russian bombers, fighter jets flew 300 sorties over the last 24 hours, Pentagon says.

Russia launched more than 300 fighter jet and bomber sorties over the last 24 hours in an escalation of its air war, the Pentagon said Monday, as Russian leader Vladimir Putin continues an indiscriminate aerial bombardment of Ukrainian cities and infrastructure. 

“We believe that they've committed more than 60% of their fixed-wing and rotary-wing capability,” into the air war over Ukraine, a senior defense official briefing Pentagon reporters said Monday. “So they have put a lot into this fight.”

Over the last several days, Pentagon officials say Russia has begun to rely on more “dumb bombs” rather than precision-guided munitions, which they say might be occurring because  Russia may be running low on precision-guided weapons. Russia has launched more than 1,100 missiles of all types into Ukraine since the invasion began. 

Last week, Pentagon officials assessed that Russia was launching about 200 sorties a day. 

“We have seen air activity from both sides increase,” the U.S. defense official said, but Russia has still not been able to establish air superiority over Ukraine in 26 days of the war. 

Russia continues to be cautious about flying in Ukrainian airspace. Many of its bombers will fire long-range munitions from inside Russia instead of flying over the border to launch from inside Ukraine, and the aircraft don’t successfully release their bombs on every run. 

“We've also seen them suffer failures of some of their precision-guided munitions where they're just not operating. They're not falling either. They're failing to launch, or they're failing to hit the target, or they're failing to explode on contact,” the senior defense official said. 

Russia so far has not shown signs of moving to resupply its stock of precision-guided munitions. The official said the U.S. believes Russia still has “a significant majority” of its ballistic missiles on hand, and more than half of their air-launched cruise missile capability available.

Ukraine has also increased the number of sorties it is flying, but the senior defense official declined to specify how many. 

Ukraine had about 56 operable fighter jets as of last week, but has also been aggressively using armed drones and surface-to-air missiles to attack Russian jets, tanks, and personnel carriers. The Ukrainian defense ministry was reporting that as of Monday, Ukraine had destroyed 97 Russian aircraft, 121 helicopters, hundreds of tanks and personnel carriers, and killed more than 15,000 Russian soldiers, although those statistics could not be independently verified. 

Some lawmakers within the U.S., as well as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, continue to press NATO to either establish a no-fly zone over Ukraine or provide the country with additional Soviet-era MiGs to replenish its fleet, since Ukrainian pilots already know how to operate those jets.