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Russia's full-scale military invasion of Ukraine has been going on for almost six months, during which its nature, scope, and goals have changed: the Kremlin obviously no longer expects to seize the entire country On the contrary, Kyiv has started talking about full liberation of the territories occupied by Russian troops. Ukraine's optimism was bolstered by weapons supplies from its Western allies. The Insider tried to assess how Western weapons really affect the course of the war.

ALL CARDS
  • What has been supplied

  • How supplied weapons are used

  • What the AFU need to counterattack

  • «At the moment, instead of supplying tanks and planes, a number of countries are sticking to the line of avoiding escalation»

  • «The U.S. should lift restrictions on supplies from its arsenal»

  • «Tactical weapons should be supplied to Ukraine not in units, but in dozens»

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What has been supplied

Despite many miscalculations in military planning, problems with supplies, communications, management, and heavy casualties, the Russian Armed Forces (RFAF) and formations (“people's militias”) of the DPR and LPR are gradually pushing back the Ukrainian army in the operational area in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions in eastern Ukraine. In the meantime, there is a relative lull (“operational pause”) in other directions. The Russian command learned from the mistakes of the initial phase of the war and no longer tries to conduct simultaneous offensives in several sections of the front or break through enemy defenses by battalion tactical groups' motorized columns.

The character of combat operations has changed in such a way that neither tanks nor aviation (outside the immediate line of contact) plays a key role anymore. It has shifted to the “god of war” – artillery as reflected in public sentiment: the “Holy Javelin” and “Holy Panzerfaust,” i.e., portable anti-tank melee weapons, popular on social media, have been replaced by “Holy HIMARS” and “Moses M777,” which symbolize long-range artillery systems.

Western weapons supplied to Ukraine have become a subcultural phenomenon in the form of images of peculiar militant “saints”
Western weapons supplied to Ukraine have become a subcultural phenomenon in the form of images of peculiar militant “saints”

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In other words, the operational situation is now determined by firepower and the ability to concentrate artillery strikes in narrow sections of the front (for the Russian Armed Forces) and, accordingly, the ability to resist such attempts or prevent them in a timely manner (for the AFU). With such a type of armed conflict, artillery (barrel or reactive) together with auxiliary weapon systems (reconnaissance drones and target designation, fire control systems, counter-battery radars), as well as the characteristics of the ammunition used and their available stockpiles play the most important role.

Ukraine's prospects of surviving a “war of attrition” depend on supplies of Western military products: weapons, military equipment, gear and ammunition. And if you follow media headlines, you might get the impression that the Ukrainian Armed Forces have received from the allies huge shipments of weapons capable of decisively changing the situation in their favor.

In fact, according to the calculations of the Institute of World Economy in Kiel (Germany), the total amount of the announced military assistance to Ukraine is about €20 billion, and the cost of supply of weapons and military equipment does not exceed €14 billion (the rest is earmarked funds). And of the announced €14 billion, only €8.5 billion's worth of arms were delivered to the Ukrainian military. E.g. the U.S. announced the deliveries of €6.4 billion's worth of military equipment to the Ukrainian armed forces, but has actually delivered only €2.4 billion. Other military and political partners of Kyiv fulfill their obligations much more quickly, but their volume is insignificant compared to the overall volume.

And if you look carefully at the range of weapons transferred to Ukraine, it turns out that the number of modern Western systems - not of Soviet or Warsaw block origin – that the AFU have at their disposal is still critically low. For example, all tanks and infantry fighting vehicles received by the AFU are modifications of domestic T-72 and BMP-1 vehicles. The vast majority of armored personnel carriers are vehicles based on the American M113, developed back in the 1950s. There are literally just several dozens of more advanced mine-resistant and armored fighting vehicles like the Australian Bushmaster.

Western governments are still only discussing the possibility of supplying combat aircraft and helicopters, as well as Western-made air defense systems like NASAMS. Deliveries of drones, not counting the Turkish Bayraktar, are limited to light reconnaissance models and bomber munitions.

The only category of weapons and military equipment where the inflow of Western weapons is noticeable is artillery systems. And still a significant proportion of them are self-propelled artillery systems (SAU) and Soviet-type MLRS with calibers 152 mm and 122 mm, respectively, handed over by the Czech Republic and Poland. Finding ammunition for them is now a separate headache.

How supplied weapons are used

The most common type of combat engagement in Ukraine can be currently described as “artillery duel”. The sides exchange strikes at long ranges and are forced to expend a gigantic amount of ammunition to provide dense fire cover. The targets are concentrations of manpower and equipment, enemy combat positions and engineering structures, ammunition depots, supply lines, and infrastructure facilities. Since the stock of shells for Soviet artillery systems in service with the AFU is close to exhaustion, let us dwell in more detail on the NATO models of heavy artillery. In total, just over 200 155 mm and 227 mm caliber systems have been supplied.

The American M777 howitzers (aka “three hatchets”) with the range of 24-30 km are still the most common type of Western artillery used by the AFU. The M777A2 modification of the howitzer is equipped with automation systems and high-precision ammunition firing equipment, but there is no reliable information about the use of guided shells in combat yet.

The FH70 trailed self-propelled howitzers are capable of firing at a rate of 6 rounds per minute to a range of 24-30 km. As far as we know, Ukraine received several FH70 units from Italy and Estonia, as well as Finnish shells for them.

The US-made M109A3GN self-propelled artillery guns, taken out of storage and handed over by Norway, have a range of 30 km. The SAUs were received by the 28th and 72nd separate mechanized brigades of the AFU.

The French wheeled CAESAR SAU is noted for its high degree of automation, speed and maneuverability. It takes just a minute to deploy, several minutes to fire its ammunition and about 40 seconds to leave its position.

As far as can be judged, it was CAESARs that “smoked” the Russian garrison from Snake Island. Unsurprisingly, Russian propaganda tried to launch disinformation about the loss and even sale of the howitzers by Ukrainian servicemen.

The Polish Krab SAU has a maximum range of 40 km. The self-propelled vehicle was created as a replacement for the Soviet Gvozdika regimental howitzer and is being transferred to the Ukrainian side along with the fire control vehicles.

The German Panzerhaubitze 2000 (PzH 2000) is also noted for its high level of automation and ability to deliver fire within a range of 40 km. The units come to Ukraine with modified onboard computers and integration with the Ukrainian automated troop control system GIS Arta.

As noted in the report of the British Royal United Services Institution (RUSI), in general, NATO 155 mm caliber artillery allows the AFU to prevent the concentration of Russian troops and effectively cover the deployment of its forces. Another matter is 227 mm multiple rocket launchers: the wheeled M142 HIMARS, the tracked M270B1 and MARS-II. So far, only a few of the latter have been present in the Ukrainian theater of military operations, so we will be discussing the HIMARS.

According to Valery Zaluzhnyy, Chief of the General Staff of the AFU, the timely delivery of HIMARS makes it possible to hold the defense line in Donbas and strike at control points, ammunition depots and fuel bases in the rear of the Russian Armed Forces. Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov claims that while the Ukrainian Armed Forces had only eight HIMARS, they managed to destroy 30 command posts and depots, reducing the pace of the Russian offensive and the intensity of artillery fire. So far, Ukraine has received 12 HIMARS units, and Reznikov's estimate has increased to 50 defeated ammunition depots.

Independent estimates put the rate of destruction of ammunition depots at up to a dozen per week. The Kremlin's indirect acknowledgement of the significant damage caused by the HIMARS is the propaganda reports about the destruction and purchase of these systems.

At the same time, Ukraine has not yet been supplied with the longest-range ammunition for the HIMARS - tactical ATACMS missiles with a range of up to 300 km. So currently the MLRSs can strike within the 80 km range, albeit with GLMRS guided projectiles with GPS navigation.

In total, the U.S, has made commitments to send 20 units. For a 2,000 km front line, it is a negligibly small number. Although even pro-Russian sources admit: Ukrainians successfully use the HIMARS to hit important targets, Russian air defense systems being unable to effectively resist the high-precision weapons.

For example, in a devastating strike on an ammunition depot in Nova Kakhovka, only half of the missiles fired were intercepted. In the Kherson direction, the AFU, using the HIMARS, is trying to destroy bridges and communication lines of the Russian grouping on the right bank of the Dnieper and cut off its escape routes. The TASS news agency's assessment of the results of the Antonov bridge strike is just as impressive - 11 of the 12 missiles fired hit the target. But the success of the HIMARS is due to the tactics of the Russian command, which seeks to create an overwhelming firepower advantage in small sections of the front to break through Ukrainian defenses.

This mode of warfare requires enormous consumption of ammunition and a complex system of logistics and storage, which creates vulnerabilities to hits by high-precision long-range systems. The Russian military has indeed shown incredible carelessness both in the choice of ammunition storage sites and in the issues of camouflage and arrangement of such positions. It is likely that sooner or later they will learn better camouflage techniques or move their logistics centers further from the front lines. If this does not happen, then the command of the Russian Armed Forces will have to find new ways to carry out offensive tasks without relying on super-concentrated artillery fire, or to switch to defense, which does not yet correspond to the Kremlin's declared objectives.

What the AFU need to counterattack

Mikhail Podolyak, adviser to the head of the Ukrainian presidential office, wrote on June 13 that Kyiv needs 1,000 155-mm howitzers, 300 multiple rocket launchers, 500 tanks, 2,000 armored vehicles, and 1,000 unmanned aerial vehicles to complete the war. So far very little of this volume, with the exception of tanks, has been delivered, but it should be taken into account that the United States has not begun shipments under the lend-lease program.

On July 19, Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov said during a discussion at the Atlantic Council that Ukraine needs about 50 HIMARS units to stop the Russian Armed Forces offensive, and 100 such MLRSs for a counteroffensive. But neither the HIMARS nor specific types of ammunition can be considered a “miracle weapon.” Ultra-precise and long-range systems alone will not turn the tide in favor of Ukraine until the AFU and the RF Armed Forces are at least equal in firepower. As of June, that is, after Western artillery systems began to be supplied to the Ukrainians, the Russian side had a tenfold advantage in artillery fire density.

According to rough estimates, the superiority in barrels was 20 to 1, in ammunition consumption 40 to 1. And to equalize the situation, not only more howitzers, SAUs and MLRSs are required, but also an uninterrupted supply of ammunition, an effective ammunition storage and logistics system, comprehensive solutions in the field of target designation and fire control. The extent to which the AFU can cope with that task will become clear when the quantity of HIMARS units, CAESARs and other systems in operation will allow them to solve problems at least at the operational level.

«At the moment, instead of supplying tanks and planes, a number of countries are sticking to the line of avoiding escalation»

David Gendelman, Israeli military expert

First of all, the supply of huge quantities of ammunition, mainly artillery shells, by the West has had a critical impact. Without those supplies, everything would have ended long ago. In terms of arms, given the ongoing losses of the AFU’s military equipment during the battles and missile and aviation strikes, the supplied armaments, primarily artillery of all types, can partially compensate for those losses and the Russian Armed Forces’ superiority in firepower.

It would have been over long ago had it not been for the Western supplies

To decisively turn the situation in its favor, Ukraine needs new fully staffed formations, equipment and weapons, including heavy weapons. The AFU’s core personnel is being killed in action while newly mobilized servicemen are inferior, even after training. But no one can help Ukraine with personnel, they will have to work with what they have. Arms supplies can help, which is why Ukraine has constantly demanded them using every platform. A serious counterattack requires a large number of barrel and reactive artillery units; armored vehicles - tanks, APCs and BMPs, air defense equipment, as well as aviation - but aviation is more complicated both technically and politically, so we will discuss aviation separately. Besides, we need high-quality auxiliary equipment to make those heavy weapons more effective - reconnaissance and attack UAVs, counter-battery radars, communications equipment, electronic warfare, etc.

At least we can expect the Lend-Lease program will lead to an increase in the quantity of what is already being supplied, i.e. towed and self-propelled artillery guns, MLRSs, the announced start of SAM deliveries, and, of course, ammunition. Whether such an increase will be significant is a matter of political decision-making, to what extent the U.S. administration decides to really mobilize the U.S. military industry, particularly to compensate for what has been transferred out of stock. Expanding the range to platforms not previously supplied, such as tanks, is also a matter of political decision. Some number could also be given from availability, but the U.S. has not yet delivered tanks precisely for political reasons.

Ukraine needs new formations fully staffed, military equipment and weapons

On the tactical level, HIMARSs and CAESARs undoubtedly make a difference. For any operational effect, let alone a strategic one, the quantities supplied are not enough, but they are quite sufficient for a tactical one, on a particular section of the front. The Russian offensive is being carried out due to superiority in firepower, so HIMARS strikes on ammunition depots disrupt the pace of the offensive - and that is their main contribution. Of course, they are much more prominent in the information war than in the real one, but that’s essential for information warfare. There are also opposite examples, such as the Ukrainian Bogdana SAU, which received the laurels in the coverage of the recapture of Snake Island, while in reality CAESARs and other Western weapons made a much greater contribution. Firstly, there’s only a single Bogdana unit, and secondly, it has not yet been fully tested and perfected.

As we can see, so far not all Western countries are as involved in the war as Ukraine would like them to be. Many stick to the political line of “avoiding escalation,” including tanks and aircraft supplies. And if aviation is a more complicated issue, because in addition to retraining pilots you need a complex ground infrastructure and complex maintenance, with tanks it is easier, and it is precisely a matter of a political decision. As we have seen, Spain declared its readiness to give 40 Leopard 2 tanks but Germany blocked that decision as the tanks were of German origin, and also refused to give its own Leopard 1s from storage. Therefore, only Poland and the Czech Republic supplied Soviet-designed tanks, and no Western tanks yet have been supplied yet.

As far as aviation is concerned, however, some political moves have been made in recent days. The U.S. Congress passed an amendment to the annual national defense act that allocated $100 million to training Ukrainian pilots and maintenance personnel to operate American aircraft and aviation weapons. The original June bill explicitly stated “F-15s, F-16s and other aerial platforms suitable for air combat” and weapons “such as AIM-9X2 or AIM-9M”; the final version is more abstract “American aircraft and other aerial platforms suitable for air combat and engaging ground targets” and “appropriate weapons.” Ukraine has long expressed the desire to get F-15, F-16, F/A-18, and possibly A-10 attack aircraft, although the latter are limited in use compared to the former, and now it’s possible we see the beginning of the process.

So far not all Western countries are as involved in the war as Ukraine would like them to be

As for the Soviet armaments, the problem is that there are almost no Soviet-type armaments left for Ukraine. There are countries where there are a lot of them, for example, India has several thousand tanks of Soviet and Russian origin in service, but it is not going to give them to Ukraine. And in countries that have agreed to do it, such as Eastern European countries, a significant part of them has already been transferred. And now we see reports that in addition to the already supplied T-72M1 tanks Poland has also started to give Ukraine PT-91 Twardy tanks - the Polish modification of the same Soviet tank. In total there are 232 of those tanks in service with the Polish Armed Forces, which is comparable to the number of transferred T-72M1 tanks. Therefore if all of them are handed over, for example in exchange for the American Abrams, it will be a significant number, but they will be Poland’s last Soviet and post-Soviet tank models.

The situation in Eastern Europe is similar with artillery, MLRSs, SAMs, etc., as well as with Soviet aircraft parts or entire planes, which are being supplied under the guise of parts. On the whole, we can see that Ukrainian representatives are scooping up everything they can all over the world, not only in Europe, and serious work is being done, but basically the reservoir is already depleted and there are no great prospects in that direction.

«The U.S. should lift restrictions on supplies from its arsenal»

Frank Ledwidge, former British military intelligence officer and senior fellow at the University of Portsmouth

What we expect from Lend-Lease is different from what we’ll get. So, we can expect a U.S. commitment to arm the Ukrainian army to the point where they can win the conflict, reclaim their land, and impose serious strategic constraints on Russia. But in reality, things will be much slower than expected because of U.S. politics - with midterm elections approaching, it may be politically difficult for the U.S. to devote itself fully to the Ukrainian conflict.

From a tactical point of view, HIMARSs and CAESARs have already had some impact on the campaign and have demonstrated the ability to strike far behind the enemy lines, almost as far as aviation. But the Ukrainians do not have the ability to launch massive strikes behind the line of contact. Thus, they can only have so much impact on Russian supply lines, artillery positions and ammunition depots. It is clear that they have already had that impact. However, with the small quantities so far supplied, they will be of no operational importance.

As the midterm elections approach, it will be politically difficult for the U.S. to devote itself fully to the Ukrainian conflict

Obviously, the Ukrainians are trying to make the Russians believe that their supply lines are now vulnerable, which to some extent they are. Whether they will succeed in influencing the Russians to the point where they change their tactics, I don't know.

I believe that permanently imposing restrictions on arms shipments to Ukraine is unwarranted. In addition, from an intelligence perspective, I don't understand why the West is doing the work of Russian intelligence, explaining exactly how many weapons and how much ammunition they are sending and talking about the capabilities of that equipment. This has to stop. Secondly, changes need to be made in the supply structure. The U.S. is the only country that can make a difference, so they should focus on supplying arms from their own arsenal.

With small quantities, maneuverability can compensate to some extent for numerical advantage in a war of attrition, and all the Western artillery and other weapons that have been supplied are highly precise. This also means that you can use ammunition much more efficiently. But precision will only work in the context of a war of attrition, where Russia has significant superiority over Ukraine in artillery, and only if Ukraine can seriously challenge the enemy’s artillery. And that means destroying artillery crews with guns and missile systems in the rear. That will require a combination of precision and quantity, which the Ukrainians do not yet possess.

«Tactical weapons should be supplied to Ukraine not in units, but in dozens»

Leonid Dmitriev, Ukrainian military expert

Western arms supplies have definitely made a difference. And a significant one, even despite the fact that there’s just a trickle of supplies. The first deliveries of high-precision modern weapons is what allows Ukraine to secure a serious fire advantage, because their shells fly farther and hit with more precision. A few days ago, the German-Austrian SMArt 155 mm self-propelled shell was first used in Ukraine, and it turned out to be quite an effective weapon in the fight against enemy groups.

Modern high-precision weapons with extended range and precision fire capabilities, be they HIMARS missiles, Harpoon missiles, Brimstone missiles or other systems that are supplied, are what affords Ukrainian Armed Forces a critical advantage. Because all other things being equal, the only way to beat huge numbers of enemy equipment and soldiers is to defeat the logistics of the advancing group of troops in a precise and efficient manner.

The only way to beat huge numbers of enemy equipment and soldiers is to defeat the logistics of the advancing group of troops in a precise and efficient manner

155mm howitzers, such as the CAESAR, are modular artillery systems that use the same caliber, that can be loaded with anything from a British Excalibur to a conventional howitzer charge. It flies in exactly the same way, only more precisely and efficiently – it turns faster, maneuvers more efficiently, and so on. As for the HIMARS, it is quite a powerful and effective weapon in tactical and operational-tactical terms, because it allows Ukraine to implement tasks vital for its defense - in particular to hit the enemy’s ammunition depots and reserves located 30-50 km or more behind the lines.

To decisively turn the situation at the front in Ukraine’s favor, it is critically important for Ukraine to have tactical and operational-tactical level firepower in commercial quantities - that is, not in units but in tens of units. The same applies to artillery and other missile systems that can strike at least 100-200 km deep into the enemy's rear. This will make it possible to effectively cut off the enemy's rear support lines and provide a strong and reliable support for effective counteroffensive actions of the Ukrainian Armed Forces. In addition, effective fire control systems, counter-battery systems, artillery radars, radiolocation systems that will provide target designation for aviation during missile strikes are critical for Ukraine. Right now, Ukraine does not have modern means of detecting air targets.

It is mostly a question of arming and training soldiers to operate the equipment – from U.S. AN/TPQ artillery radars to British ARTHUR-type fire control systems. All of this is vital for Ukraine, because it cannot outnumber the Russians in troops.

My opinion is that the Lend-Lease program will include both air defense systems with elements of missile defense, including medium-range systems like the Patriot, and counter-battery and fire control systems. For example, M777 howitzers that will work in conjunction with AN/TPQ type systems, M270 and HIMARS systems with extended range missiles and Harpoon missiles. I think that weapons important for Ukraine, such as the Tomahawk missile, will not be included in the Lend-Lease program at this stage, but the very possibility of such weapons being supplied will be quite a serious deterrent.

Ukraine has no modern means of detecting air targets

Modern Western aviation certainly has very powerful stuff, especially fifth generation fighters of the F-35 type, which are already linked to neural networks with elements of artificial intelligence and are equipped with means of electronic warfare. There is one problem though: aircraft of that type are good, but Ukraine does not yet have the appropriate infrastructure to support those modern types of aircraft in flight. In particular, airfields in Ukraine are not currently equipped to accept F-16 to F-35 types of aircraft.

As for helicopters, the situation is much simpler and much less trivial. The West supplies helicopters such as Mi-8 and Mi-17 to Ukraine in great numbers, because the safe operation of those systems is only possible in Ukraine now. This is connected with the huge experience of Ukrainian pilots who are the world’s most professional pilots of Mi-8 helicopters. The most important thing is that Ukraine, being in possession of the necessary technology, can produce and operate blades for those helicopters thereby extending their service life.

As far as I know the discussions on the deliveries of F-15 and F-16 Western fighters to Ukraine are ongoing. Certain preparatory work is underway, which would pave the way for training pilots to operate those jets and preparing several sites to deploy them. At this point, it’s a purely academic matter.

Co-written by Veaceslav Epureanu

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