For the third time in four months, a massive Russian missile and drone attack has targeted the Ukrainian city of Starokostiantyniv in western Ukraine.

The city is home to around 30,000 people, a gorgeous 16th-century castle, and crucially, a very important air base.

What’s so special about the Starokostiantyniv Air Base?

The Starokostiantyniv Air Base is home to Ukraine’s 7th Tactical Aviation Brigade which flies, among other things, Su-24M bombers.

In the early days of the full-scale invasion, Russia knew that these aircraft posed a serious threat to their invading forces and Moscow made a concerted effort to wipe them out as soon as possible.

Fortunately for Ukraine, they made a bit of a mess of this and, tipped off by NATO intelligence, Kyiv’s pilots effectively dispersed them to other airfields though, over the course of the last 17 months, Ukraine has still lost 16 of them, according to independent monitors.

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During the battle for Kyiv, the Su-24Ms played a crucial role in dropping conventional unguided bombs on Russia’s elite paratroopers as they tried – and failed – to capture the Hostomel airport on the outskirts of the capital.

Until recently, the Su-24M’s freefall bombs and relatively short-range air-to-surface missiles meant the bombers engaging Russian forces in occupied Ukraine involved flying close to the enemy within range of anti-aircraft fire, a highly risky tactic, but recent developments have dramatically shifted the 7th Tactical Aviation Brigade’s fortunes.

ISW Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, July 24, 2024
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ISW Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, July 24, 2024

Latest from the Institute for the Study of War.

What changed?

Storm Shadows.

Supplied by the UK, Storm Shadow is a fire-and-forget cruise missile developed by MBDA missile systems, a joint venture between three European aerospace and defense companies.

The “export” version of the missile has a 300 km range and has been modified to allow it to operate from Ukraine’s existing fleet of former-Soviet aircraft without further adjustment.

It uses GPS, terrain mapping and other sensors to deliver the 450kg, two-stage “Bomb Royal Ordnance Augmented Charge” (BROACH) warhead onto the target.

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In short, it’s been a bit of a game-changer for Ukraine which, according to reports, has modified Su-24Ms to carry the weapons.

Since they arrived in Ukraine in May, they have been responsible for a whole range of devastating strikes against Russian troops and military infrastructure deep inside occupied territory.

Most recently, just this weekend Ukraine targeted two bridges on occupied territory.

“The enemy launched a missile attack near the Chonhar bridge” that connects southern Ukraine to the annexed Crimean Peninsula, Moscow-installed governor Sergei Aksyonov said on Telegram.

“One hit, some missiles were shot down,” Aksyonov said, adding that repair work was ongoing.

A separate attack on a bridge near Henichesk in southern Kherson wounded a civilian and damaged a gas pipeline, cutting supplies for about 20,000 residents, Moscow-installed official Vladimir Saldo said.

Confirming the attacks were carried out with Storm Shadows, Ukrainian Air Force spokesman Yuriy Ihnat said: “Special attention should be paid to the Storm Shadow air-to-ground cruise missiles, which allow us to destroy critical enemy military targets at a distance of up to 250 kilometers.

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“The effectiveness of this class of cruise missiles is evidenced by the damage to the bridges across the Sivash near Chonhar, which significantly complicated the enemy’s supply of ammunition and other material and technical means.

“Also, thanks to these missiles, the enemy’s control points and storage facilities are under constant fire.”

Storm Shadows have also been responsible for blowing up numerous Russian ammo dumps, helicopter bases and even a Russian general.

What’s Russia doing about them?

For obvious reasons, Russia is very keen to put a stop to Storm Shadow strikes and appears to have been targeting the Su-24Ms that carry them.

The Starokostiantyniv Air Base has now been targeted by large Russian strikes three times – first on May 29, then on July 26 and again this weekend.

The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Russian forces launched a second wave of strikes on August 6 consisting of 27 Shahed-131/136 drones, six Kalibr missiles, and 20 Kh-101/555 air-launched cruise missiles, at least a few of which targeted the Starokostiantyniv Air Base.

But again, the attack was unsuccessful, and reports suggest crews were alerted in time and were able to disperse the aircraft elsewhere.

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“This is not the first time that this airfield has been attacked,” Ihnat said. “But in the current conditions, I can say that our aviation is quite mobile, our aviators, pilots, and everyone who supports these flights know how to counter the conditions.

“We have many operational airfields throughout the country, so the enemy will not be able to destroy our aviation so easily.”

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