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Speaker of the House Mike Johnson has been working hard to separate Ukrainian aid from Israeli aid, then adding poison pills to both so that they can’t pass. But just because nothing is likely to move out of the House anytime soon doesn’t mean that the pipeline is completely shut.
On Friday, the Biden administration announced a $425 million package of assistance for Ukraine. Of that, $125 million came from the existing and dwindling “Presidential Drawdown Authority” ($5.4 billion remaining), while another $300 million came from the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative, which allows the U.S. to place military orders to industry on Ukraine’s behalf. This spending exhausts all funds from that latter program.
The package includes more HIMARS, more NASAMS, more artillery rounds, and more anti-tank weapons. In addition, it comes with lots of small-arms ammo, spare parts, and a dozen transport trucks. It’s certainly not everything Ukraine could ask for, but it seems to mesh well with the immediate need for more precision weaponry and artillery to fend off Russian attacks like the one at Avdiivka. Plus, there’s one more item that could be interesting.
Tucked down at the bottom of the U.S. assistance package is this line:
This says “additional” because reports back in the spring indicated that Ukraine had been sent Humvees from the U.S. carrying launchers equipped with the Advanced Precision Kill Weapon Systems (APKWS). These systems aren’t actually laser weapons in the sense that they knock targets out of the air using a beam of coherent light. They’re just using lasers to paint a target that gets quickly taken down by a small missile.
Originally, these systems were meant for aircraft and helicopters.
But as has already been demonstrated in Ukraine, they can be mounted on armored personnel carriers, infantry fighting vehicles, and even pickup trucks. They can also be fitted to the four-shot VAMPIRE launcher, where the first two letters of that acronym stand for “Vehicle-Agnostic.” So these can be fired from more or less anything on which you can clamp a bracket. That includes a fixed location.
The range is about 11 kilometers when fired from a plane, considerably shorter when launched from the ground.
Mounting these things on something cheap is best because the big problem with such weapons is that they can be spotted easily. Not only do lasers do a good job of pinpointing a target, but they also give away the source of the beam.
However, this system, which is based on converted Hydra 70 unguided rockets, has a couple of real advantages. First, there are a lot of them. While people ponder the limited number of ATACMS and NASAMS that are available to send to Ukraine, there are something like 50,000 APKWS missiles ready to go. Also, at around $20,000-$25,000 each, they are cheaper than the roughly $35,000 cost of a Russian Lancet drone. Hitting one of the tiny, cheap consumer-grade FPV or quadcopter drones now swarming the skies on both sides might be a challenge, but nothing is going to be cost-effective against these weapons except electronic warfare.
APKWS is precise, fast, and effective. The tradeoff is they are vulnerable to counter-battery fire if—and this may be a big if—the enemy is equipped to detect them.
Cheap, high-precision weapons that can take out vehicles or drones and can be mounted on almost anything … somehow, it’s hard to see this as bad. They may not be long-range, but with the fighting that’s happening now along the front line, they may fill a big need.
That list of equipment lost on Friday is so long mostly because of a name we haven’t heard in some time: Vuhledar. Which … holy cow, it's getting really hard to tell one massive Russian disaster from another.
Oooh, Russia’s willingness to keep feeding men and machines into the crusher north and south of Donetsk is baffling. Success in this area would help Russia to both protect its quisling capital at Donetsk and push Ukraine from defensive positions it’s held since 2014. It’s just that, so far at least, Russia has not succeeded. It’s not succeeded to an enormous degree.
At Bakhmut it was clear that halting Russian wave attacks was coming at a cost of very significant losses on the Ukrainian side—enough so that people could have serious conversations about whether it was worth it to hold Bakhmut, and some armchair generals could, ahem, urge Ukraine to get out of there weeks before the fighting ended.
But that doesn’t seem to be the case in Russia’s recent attempts to advance. Whether it’s the first sequence of Vuhledar attacks at the beginning of the year during Russia’s planned “winter offensive,” repeated attempts to retake Klishchiivka after Ukraine liberated that area, or the repeated failures at Avdiivka, or Vuhledar revisited, these Russian attacks have a hugely lopsided cost. Not even the Russians are arguing that Ukraine is taking even a fragment of the losses Russia is seeing.
Every one of these Russian attacks seems to involve attempting to run columns of vehicles or infantry through open fields in locations where Ukraine holds strong defensive positions and can direct concentrated artillery fire. The fields east of Klishchiivka, northwest of Avdiivka, and southeast of Vuhledar all look the same … because they’re all covered in smoking Russian wreckage and a ghastly array of Russian corpses.
Russia is clearly looking for a formula that allows it to break through Ukraine’s defensive positions in these areas, but just as clearly, that formula is not in sight.
Russia’s Black Sea Fleet has turned from a weapon that Russia flexed to show its strength in the region into costly, vulnerable assets it must protect against Ukrainian assault.
Please do feed the drones.
Don’t say that big media isn’t continuing to cover Ukraine. And yes, this is real.