UPDATE: Mark Sumner
New assistance package for Ukraine just announced. According to the Department of Defense it includes:
- Additional munitions for Patriot air defense systems;
- Additional ammunition for High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS);
- 155mm and 105mm artillery rounds;
- 120mm mortar rounds;
- 120mm and 105mm tank ammunition;
- 25mm ammunition;
- Tube-Launched, Optically-Tracked, Wire-Guided (TOW) missiles;
- Approximately 400 grenade launchers and 200,000 rounds of ammunition;
- 11 tactical vehicles to recover equipment;
- 61 heavy fuel tankers;
- 10 trucks and 10 trailers to transport heavy equipment;
- Testing and diagnostic equipment to support vehicle maintenance and repair;
- Spare parts and other field equipment.
The need for those fuel tanks is something that kos has pointed out in the past. Lots of thirsty equipment being sent to Ukraine.
It had been obvious for a week that Wagner was fighting to take a couple of buildings in what media outlets insisted on calling “the center of Bakhmut.” Only this wasn’t the geographic center, or the center of the area of Ukrainian control. It was the former administrative center—the rubble of buildings that had once been the equivalent of Bakhmut’s city hall. On Sunday, They achieved this. Or at least they did to the extent of allowing Wagner owner Yevgeny Prigozhin to stick a flag among the debris. At night. Prigozhin then followed up with an announcement that Bakhmut is now “legally controlled by Russia.”
It shouldn’t need to be said … that’s not how that works.
On Wednesday, Ukrainian military spokesperson Serhiy Cherevatyi downplayed Prigozhin’s claims with a thermite-hot burn.
"Prigozhin is probably in Bakhmut because it is not safe for him in St. Petersburg right now.”
Cherevatyi went on to mention how restaurants were blowing up in St. Petersburg and noted that Prigozhin was probably better off sticking flags on the shells of empty buildings. He also accused the Wagner head of “inventing a victory” that doesn’t exist.
However, thoughts that Wagner might halt their advances or even pull back after tagging this apparently magic spot turned out to be wrong. Over the last two days, fighting has moved several blocks both in the southeast corner or the city and in the north. Wagner appears to have solidified control over much of the south and east of the city. Fighting is now occurring near Metalurh football stadium on the east, and near the “People’s House” in the north.
And if possible, that fighting has gotten even more intense with the exchange of every kind of weapon reaching what would seem to be an impossible fever pitch.
Every few days, it seems like there’s a need to find a new adjective for the level of fighting taking place in Bakhmut. Websters offers up 272 synonyms for “terrible” and 100 more for “intense,” but all of them seem woefully inadequate. Hellacious may be the closest that can be had without resorting to onomatopoeia. In any case, after a week there in which conditions were [insert term for “terrible” here], they’re worse.
Saying that things are currently worse in Bakhmut than they have ever been before is a bit like saying that the next version of the iPhone will the “best ever.” Because so long as Russian troops are still advancing, things are getting worse by definition. However, things in Bakhmut right now do look bad in a way they really hadn’t over the last month. More unstable.
However, Russia is certainly not advancing without incredible losses. That included being hit by a weapon that has gotten little to no mention in this conflict previous to this … because it’s not usually thought of as an offensive weapon: the UR-77 Meteorite.
The UR-77 is a mine-clearing vehicle, and it fires a “line charge” over a relatively short range. That charge is designed to open a path through which other vehicles can pass through a minefield. To do so, it produces a series of explosions that clear an area 90 m long and 6 m wide. On Monday, Ukraine fired one of those charges into what was reportedly a mass of Wagner forces. The video behind the “sensitive content” flag above doesn’t actually show the kind of detail that would allow you to see individuals that are under this blast. But it certainly isn’t hard to imagine what that might have been like.
Looking at the explosion, meteorite is underselling it. More like “dinosaur-killing asteroid.”
The location for this blast is just off the south edge of this map, near where the T0504 highway (Chaikovskogo St.) meets Korsunskogo St. In this area, Russian forces have reportedly been forced back. If that explosion took out as many as it appears, it’s not hard to understand why.
And there’s another reason to believe that Wagner isn’t going to turn their “invented victory” into the real thing. Reports started rolling in Monday morning that additional forces—including a significant convoy of tanks and other armored vehicles—were heading to Bakhmut.
Fighting at Bakhmut has been at an 11 for weeks, if not months. The terms “meat grinder” and “slaughterfest” were already being used back in October. Now it looks like both sides are carving a 12 onto their amps and turning the dial again.
Nothing has changed more rapidly in this conflict than the numbers, types, and utilization of drones. For both Ukraine and Russia, drones have taken on roles that have, at some times, replaced many older weapons, and at all times made this battlefield a much harder place to survive. Fighting in Ukraine means being under almost constant scrutiny from flying eyes floating quietly overhead, ready to direct artillery fire into anything that looks worth a shell—or to drop a grenade on an even a single soldier whose attention slips for a moment. Even the greatest armor in the world would have a hard time holding up in a place where a hatch left open for a few minutes invites a FPV drone carrying multiple kilograms of high explosives to come racing in at over 150 kph.
For a painful example, here’s what happened to a pair of Ukrainian S-300s that were unfortunately parked together where a Russian Lancet kamikaze drone could find them.
As in so many instances with drone warfare, that Lancet cost a tiny fraction of the systems it took out. On the other hand, a large number of these drones are being taken out in-air by Ukrainian teams pairing some rather old-fashioned tech: searchlights and machine guns.
Now Forbes is reporting that four new drones are making an appearance in UKraine’s arsenal.
Switchblade 600—The big brother to the AeroVironment’s Switchblade 300 has been on the list of items to be sent to Ukraine for some time, but these larger versions, which have a warhead powerful enough to take out armored vehicles, are apparently just now beginning to arrive. (Phoenix Ghost, are you actually there?)
Jump 20—This is another AeroVironment product, which combines the vertical takeoff capabilities of a quadcopter, with the endurance of a winged drone, to create an surveillance drone that can hang in the air for a fairly astounding 14 hours. It also packs a 14 kg payload, so just as with the much-used Russian Orlan-10, it might be fitted out with explosives for some missions.
Cyberlux K8—Which, yes, there is a company called Cyberlux. But what this drone does is anyone’s guess. Considering that their other products are quadcopters (including some rather large ones for carrying commercial cameras) that’s probably a good guess.
Altius 600—This is a really interesting one. It’s a “tube launched” winged drone that looks somewhat like the Switchblade 600, but it has a much longer range (up to 440 km). Altius shows it being launched from the ground, from a truck, and from a helicopter, all using the same tube launcher. It’s also designed to “integrate a variety of payloads” suggesting that it can carry up to 8 kg of surveillance gear, or of explosives.
This is an area that continues to evolve swiftly. The biggest “punch” for drones right now has been in using surveillance drones to guide traditional artillery. But that will only last until we reach the phase where these drones make it impossible for that artillery to survive beyond a single shot. That time is coming, but it’s unclear if this set of new drones will bring it nearer.
This is a call for help. On Tuesday, there were multiple new articles out concerning the high number of defensive positions that have been built in the Crimean peninsula, apparently as Russia prepares for Ukraine to drive for Sevastopol. For example, here’s some comments from The Washington Post.
For months, Russian forces have been building fortifications along key points of access in the Kherson region. They have also built fortifications near Melitopol, across what is known as the “land bridge” connecting Crimea to Russia through occupied Ukrainian territory.
More recently, Russia has heavily fortified its defenses on the peninsula, which is connected to the Ukrainian mainland by the Isthmus of Perekop, a narrow strip of land measuring 4.3 miles at its widest.
Looking at some of these locations, many of these trenches are clearly visible on publically available imagery. You can see the trenches themselves, the clusters of “dragon’s teeth” meant to stop or slow tanks, and some concrete pillboxes. There are rows of depressions clearly meant to hide tanks or other vehicles. In some places, the whole things are braced by wood or even poured concrete.
How effective it might be is hard to say. Over the last few days, videos of Ukrainian tanks demonstrating the grim results of tank vs. trench have been circulating.
The Russians trapped in these trenches didn’t appear to have good support from nearby artillery, so it’s hard to say how closely this might reflect events when it does come time for Ukraine to send tanks into the positions Russia has been digging all over Ukrainian land.
However, here’s a personal plea for assistance: As I’ve been looking around at the publically available imagery, many of these trenches are easy to spot, as are more trenches in areas right along the “neck” of the peninsula. The free-to-play images aren’t quite as up-to-date or high resolution as what satellite firm Maxar shared with the Post, but it’s still not difficult to make out much of the work Russia has been doing.
Only, along with all the easily discernible components of Russia’s defensive network, I’ve run into several of … these.
Each of these structures is a loop about 150m across with one end of the loop left deliberately open. Each of them has straight-line structures, or depressions, dug within the loop. All of them are near trenches and other clearly defensive structures but not connected.
I’m not 100% certain these are defensive structures. I’m not discounting the idea that they could be anything from cattle enclosures to the sites of ancient tombs. However, the digging at several of them is clearly fresh, and the proximity to trenchworks certainly suggests that they’re connected to whatever Russia is doing in these areas.
So what are they? They’d make a passable redoubt for combat … say, around 450 AD. But I can’t quite grasp their use now. What do you think? Only one person gets to say “aliens,” but “Swing away, Merrill!” is also acceptable.