It’s been four days since the last updated map of Russian and Ukrainian locations in Bakhmut, but that’s okay. Because in the last four days, those positions have barely changed. In fact, just about the only change worth noting might be that Ukrainian forces advanced into formerly Russian-held positions north of the T0506 highway. This move may not have restored the highway to reasonable use—it’s still easily under mortar fire from Russian positions near Yahidne and Berkhivka, but there might be an opportunity to remove some of the debris of shattered vehicles from the path and treat the road as an access line of last resort.
Something similar may have happened to the south, as Russian forces appear to have been backed slightly away from the T0504 highway where it enters the southwestern edge of Bakhmut. That change is likely only in the area of a block, but it’s just possible that Ukraine could make a fast run along that route, if it really had to. Once again this week, Bakhmut is expecting five days of rain, with little sunshine in between, so the unpaved roads that currently provide much of the access for Ukrainian forces moving in and out of the city are not going to get any less muddy.
Meanwhile, there continue to be rumors that Russia is building up forces in Bakhmut, preparing for that one final push that will drive Ukraine from the city in time for Putin to celebrate during the reduced-sized “Victory Day” parades on May 9. And, according to the Russian state-owned news agency RIA, there’s a new star in town—Russia’s hypermodern T-14 Armata tank.
On Tuesday morning, the Russian propaganda outlet announced that the T-14 was in Bakhmut, where it had been used to “fire on Ukrainian positions.” However, the agency also said the T-14 had “not yet participated in direct assault operations." The number of the tanks supposedly sent to the beleaguered city of Bakhmut wasn’t reported.
RIA also claimed that the T-14 has been further upgraded with additional armor and better protection for the crew, which are not in the turret of the Armata, but ride in an “isolation capsule” behind the front hull. That capsule reportedly includes both a mini-kitchen and a toilet for the crew so they can stay enclosed in the capsule for an extended period. RIA alleges that the crews of the tanks had been given training in “combat coordination" at a special location within Ukraine to make their appearance in Bakhmut more effective.
The T-14 is the first all-new Russian tank design in decades. It’s been in development for more than 11 years, and the original order called for 2,300 vehicles to be produced. However, since the first T-14 showed up in a 2014 parade, estimates of the number actually made range from around 40 to closer to 100. However, many of these are not actually full tanks, but only shells or other components produced for testing. A handful have been seen riding in parades (and breaking down in parades), as well as in Russian videos showing the tanks reportedly undergoing testing. Recent reports claim that Russia will produce 40 of them over the next two years.
There have been several statements that the T-14 would be joining the effort in Ukraine, especially in response to initial reports of Western tanks being sent to Ukraine. Social media posts from pro-Russian accounts have even produced images that supposedly showed the tank somewhere in Ukraine, but all of these were fakes. This appears to be the first time Russian state media claims that the T-14 is present at a specific location.
Reports that Russia was building forces at Bakhmut, preparing for a final push to force Ukrainian troops out of the city in time for the next Victory Day parade on May 9, have been building for a week. If Vladimir Putin is seeking a propaganda victory by taking the city, then rolling a T-14 carefully through the streets after the fighting ends might make sense.
It seems highly unlikely that Russia would actually risk losing one of these tanks in combat because the scenes of a T-14 taken out by ordinary anti-tank weapons—or worse still, shot down by one of the older Soviet tanks in Ukraine’s arsenal—would be too, too sweet. Russia has already lost at least 60 of its T-90 tank, the most modern main battle tank it actually fields. That includes export models Russia has begun using in Ukraine to bolster its shrinking tank fleet.
Even more fun: Back in January, U.K. intelligence reported that Russia had attempted to send a small group of T-14 tanks to units in Ukraine, only to have the tanks rejected because the rough prototypes were in such "poor condition" that they could not be used.
The T-14 might not be much of a threat at the moment, but the reports of building forces in Bakhmut are certainly concerning. Russia’s lines have not advanced since last week, but the small area of the city still controlled by Ukraine makes it possible to concentrate a great deal of artillery fire on Ukrainian positions. Russia has reportedly been building up troop strength and ammunition in advance of that final push.
Of course, all that ammunition being built up to support this push also leads to some … opportunities.
Scenes of Russian ammunition dumps being destroyed were common some months ago, especially just after Ukraine got HIMARS and other long-range precision ammunition into service. Since then, Russia has moved its major ammunition depots back, often situating them over 150 km from the front lines, and used only smaller caches of material nearer to active fighting. That’s complicated Russia’s already poor logistics, but it has kept them from seeing tens of thousands of shells all going up simultaneously.
The range of the JDAMs used at Bakhmut is short (15 km), but it seems that to support their reported upcoming push, Russia needed that ammo close at hand. Close enough for Ukraine to reach out and touch it.
Russia may launch an offensive in Bakhmut in an attempt to take the city before May 9. On the other hand, they may not. After all, there were even more reports that Russia was going to accelerate the capture of the city so that Putin could gloat about it on the first anniversary of the invasion. Before that, there were claims that Putin wanted the city for a Christmas present. Whenever there have been reports that Russia would “take Bakhmut by date X,” X turned into Y, and then to Z with Ukrainian forces still in Bakhmut.
Maybe they’ll do it this time. Maybe not. And maybe the T-14 will be there … even if they have to drag it onto the scene.
It was always clear that the collection of Western weapons being sent to Ukraine was going to take some … creative planning. With Challenger 2, Leopard 1, Leopard 2, and Abrams M1 all coming in quantities ranging from a squadron to a brigade, and a mix-and-match set of armored personnel carriers, fighting vehicles, anti-aircraft guns, trucks, transports, and support vehicles, Ukraine faces a monumental task in putting people with the right training with the right vehicles, supporting it all with the right logistics, and finding a tactical means of putting the whole mess to best use.
Last week we got a glimpse of Ukraine’s new 47th Air Assault Brigade, where highly upgraded T-55 tanks given to Ukraine by Slovenia (hey, I think I got that right for once) were paired with U.S. Bradley Fighting Vehicles. Today, another new Ukrainian unit is coming into focus.
This is surely not all that’s in this brigade, but even at first glance, the combination of the M-ATV and the AMX-10rc suggests that the Ukrainian 37th Marine Infantry Brigade is going to be all about one thing: Mobility. This is a pairing that can deliver force quickly, though it probably doesn’t want to come nose to nose with a heavily armored enemy or get bogged down in picking its way through defensive trenches.
Seems like the kind of unit that might be built so that, once more tank-centric units have punched through, the 37th could rush ahead, liberate areas, and flank Russian forces. Both of these vehicles share speed and a reputation for toughness. The AMX-10rc may not be technically a tank, but it can deliver a big gun in a hurry–and thanks to its much smaller than a tank 280hp engine, it can do so with a reported driving range of up to 1000 km.
The 37th looks like a unit that will have to take care it doesn’t outrun its supporting vehicles if things start to move at high speed.
Challenger 2 tanks supplied with depleted uranium shells
One of the tanks that definitely is in Ukraine right now is the British-made Challenger 2. Fourteen of the main battle tanks have now arrived, and images circulating on Tuesday suggest that some are actually off the training grounds and moving somewhere closer to active fighting. However, some of those images are suspect, and others are out-and-out fakes. So beware of any hint that Challengers are about to actually see action.
Everyone wants the counteroffensive to be successful. But it seems some people are so anxious to see it begin that they’re willing to make it look as if it has already started. Some pro-Russian forces also report that the Challenger 2 is in action for the express purpose of reporting that it’s no big deal, or even that some of the tanks have been destroyed. So, information buyers, beware.
However, one piece of news about the Challenger 2 has been confirmed: The tanks come complete with “thousands” of shells, including some made with depleted uranium. The sheer density of uranium slugs makes them highly effective in penetrating armor, but the U.S. has been reluctant to share these shells with anyone, because … uranium. However, the uranium used in such shells is the opposite of enriched. It’s so low in the isotopes necessary to make nuclear weapons that it’s literally worse than uranium fresh from a mine.
Back in March, the U.K. government listed these shells among the weaponry that would be accompanying the Challenger 2, setting off a storm of controversy among nuclear disarmament activists, but calling these shells nuclear bombs is like calling a Coke can a missile just because they use the same metal.
That doesn’t mean there isn’t a reason to be concerned. There have been reports of increased cancers in areas where these shells have been tested or manufactured. That includes widely publicized reports of health issues in Iraq after the shells were used in the Gulf War and in Afghanistan after the U.S. invasion. The U.S. military has been sued repeatedly over claims of cancers, ranging from lung cancer to lymphoma to leukemia, supposedly resulting from exposure to depleted uranium.
However, the CDC has something to say about this.
No human cancer of any type has ever been seen as a result of exposure to natural or depleted uranium.
Obviously, some people and groups don’t believe this. And there’s certainly no guarantee that the CDC is right. One thing is sure—being on the wrong end of a depleted uranium shell is going to result in a bad day. The depleted uranium shells are sometimes known as “tank busters” for their stopping power. Over 320 tons of such shells were used in the Gulf War.
We’ve seen these being built, and Ukraine reportedly has a thousand. Now it seems that 100 are going to be put to use in Bakhmut.