Ukraine Situation Report: Both Sides Rationing Shells Ahead Of Kyiv’s Counteroffensive

Artillery units on both sides of the line, despite the continued duels, are reportedly dialing back fire missions to save up ammunition for the long-awaited Ukrainian counteroffensive.

Russian milblogger Alexander Khodakovsky claims that those Russian units not involved in ongoing offensives have had ammunition supplies seriously curtailed. Khodakovsky attributed the rationing to concerns about the potential offensive.

At the same time, a frontline account from The Washington Post highlighted Ukrainian artillery crews similarly conserving shells. While embedded with an artillery platoon in Ukraine’s 56th Motorized Brigade, Isabelle Khurshudyan and Kamila Hrabchuk reported the unit’s 152mm howitzers used to fire more than 20-30 shells a day. That number has dwindled to fewer than three.

The nearby units equipped with NATO 155mm caliber guns are reportedly facing less of a shortage than the Warsaw Pact-era guns. Citing an anonymous Ukrainian military official, the report claimed Ukraine is still firing 7,700 shells a day. Russian shelling reportedly dwarfs even that figure. Ukraine’s incredible artillery consumption remains a concern for NATO as Western production lines struggle to keep supplies moving. 

The Institute for the Study of War (@TheStudyOfWar ) noted that concern from Russian milbloggers has only grown in the days since a number of classified intelligence reports on Ukraine’s war efforts leaked. You can read more about the ongoing fallout from those documents’ leak in our story here.

Each day that the Ukrainian ground firms draws the counteroffensive nearer. These are the latest signs that even as the battle for Bakhmut grinds on, Ukraine and Russia are looking ahead to the next major engagement. And as Rob Lee (@RALee85 ), Senior Fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, notes, it further indicates Moscow wants to be more prepared than it was in its route outside Kharkiv in September.

Before we get into today’s latest news from Ukraine, The War Zone readers can get caught up with our previous rolling coverage here

The Latest

Saturday’s intelligence update from the British Ministry of Defense has assessed Russia’s winter campaign against Ukraine’s energy infrastructure as having “highly likely failed.” Waves of strikes using missiles and Iranian-made kamikaze drones began targeting the power grid in October. But those large-scale raids have been rare since early March.

Ukraine continues sourcing replacement components for damaged infrastructure, creating a significant logistical headache in moving 100-ton transformers across the country. However, warming temperatures will help lighten the load on the Ukrainian power grid. 

Part of the classified document leak from last week reportedly features particular concern with declining stocks of Ukraine’s Soviet-era medium and long-range surface-to-air missiles that could run dry in the coming months. They also supposedly point to concerns about the inventories of IRIS-T missiles and those used by NASAMS, and that such exhausted defenses would not be able to prevent continued Russian attacks on infrastructure, population centers, and frontline forces. 

However, as noted above, the pace of Russian air raids has slowed from its winter siege. It’s unclear not only whether those documents and the assessments therein are genuine, but also whether the lessened attacks have changed the SAM stocks’ outlook. Also, the NASAMS claim is curious if not dubious as that system primarily uses AIM-120 AMRAAMs, of which there are many thousands in stock within NATO alone. AIM-120s continue to be supplied by the U.S. in recent military aid transfers from the U.S., too.

Fighting in Bakhmut has approached the city’s train station, further indicating that the situation has deteriorated for Ukrainian forces. Imagery shows months of brutal fighting have left streets and buildings in ruin as muddy trench warfare continues outside urban areas.

The Ukrainian supply route connecting the besieged city to nearby Chasiv Yar is increasingly threatened, as evidenced by the charred remnants of trucks, Humvees, and an M113.

Ukrainian artillery gunners continue hunting Russian forces spotted by forward observers and drones, such as in this strike on a BMP-1 infantry fighting vehicle outside Bakhmut. There are also clips of a Czech-supplied vz.77 “DANA” 152mm self-propelled howitzer, and an L119 105mm towed howitzer in Ukrainian service.

On the other side, Russian ZALA Lancet loitering munitions remain a threat even to some of the most modern and mobile Ukrainian artillery systems. Video shows a Lancet strike on a Ukrainian M109 self-propelled howitzer followed by a fire and subsequent cookoff. 

Lancet strikes on Ukrainian vehicles are included in this compilation of attacks from Russian SSO (Special Operations Forces), as well as a purported diver team sabotaging a Ukrainian ship.

Russian forces have captured a downed Ukrainian drone armed with three PTAB-2.5M submunitions. Soviet RBK cluster bombs dispense these munitions several dozen at a time, each carrying a shaped high-explosive anti-tank (HEAT) charge to penetrate armored vehicles. Interestingly, Ukraine has been asking the U.S. to give it Rockeye cluster bombs, not to use in combat but to harvest its submunitions for similar drone-dropping operations.

Also on the topic of drones, there is a Ukrainian competition to develop and deploy a drone to land in Moscow’s Red Square during Russian Victory Day celebrations on May 9. Winning the contest will net developers 20 million Ukrainian hryvnya, or a little more than half a million U.S. dollars.

Although this contest factors in the high profile of Russia’s Victory Day celebrations and beefed-up air defenses in the Moscow skies, it wouldn’t be the first time an uninvited airborne guest made a visit to Red Square. The contest evokes memories of then-19-year-old German pilot Mathias Rust’s incredible flight from Helsinki, Finland, to Red Square in a Cessna 172P in May 1987

Rust evaded Soviet Voyska PVO air defense force SAM batteries and MiG interceptors, before landing on Bolshoy Moskvoretsky Bridge near St. Basil’s Cathedral and taxiing right into Red Square. 

A picture shows a rather kitted-out Lithuanian EDM4S counter-UAS system in service with the Ukrainian 36th Brigade. The system not only has a matching camouflage paint job, but a black holographic sight. There’s also a suppressed Desert Tech SRS-A1 sniper rifle.

The Times has a remarkable report on a failed Ukrainian special forces operation to retake the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant in October. The reportedly 600-strong force launched the unsuccessful attack from boats crossing the Dnipro River.

Snowy video shows a Ukrainian T-64BM2 Bulat tank engaging Russian forces in Donetsk Oblast. As Ukraine thaws out from winter, it’s unclear when this video dates to. 

There are further reports that a Polish firm will help refurbish and further modernize Ukrainian T-64s, with plans for potential support for Leopard 2 operations alongside them. 

An engineering variant of the U.S.-supplied Stryker armored vehicles appeared in Ukrainian service equipped with a mine roller. The M1132 Engineer Squad Vehicle (ESV) and a following M1126 Infantry Carrier Vehicle (ICV) roll by with their machine guns covered. There are also pictures of an Australian Bushmaster MRAP sporting a Mk 19 grenade launcher in Ukrainian service.

Lastly, there’s a real Frankenstein of a vehicle in Ukrainian service. What appears to be a captured Russian Tigr-M with the turret from a BRDM-2/BTR-60PB.

That’s it for now. We’ll update this story when there’s more news to report about Ukraine.

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