Ukraine Situation Report: Defense Chief Wants Advanced Weapons Testing Against Russians

Ukraine is openly offering itself as a venue for NATO allies to donate and demonstrate advanced weaponry in real-world combat scenarios. The countries would then benefit from the combat experience of Ukrainian soldiers using those weapons against Russian forces, according to Ukraine Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov.

Ukraine “is essentially a testing ground,” Reznikov said on July 19 during a live webcast conversation with John Herbst, senior director of the Atlantic Council’s Eurasia Center. The entire interview can be viewed in the below video.

“Many weapons are now getting tested in the field in the real conditions of the battle against the Russian Army, which has plenty of modern systems of its own,” Reznikov said. “It has electronic warfare and signals intelligence tools, air defenses, cruise missiles and ballistic missiles, among other equipment.”

Ukraine is employing Western weapons like High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS), Polish Krab 155mm artillery systems, and shoulder-fired air-defense missiles and anti-tank guided missiles (ATGMs) against a near-peer adversary. It also is gathering information on the performance and effectiveness of those and other systems and sharing that data with both weapons manufacturers and the nations that donated them to Ukraine, Reznikov said. 

“We are interested in testing modern systems in the fight against the enemy and we are inviting arms manufacturers to test the new products here,” he said. “Some kinds of different equipment just are starting in our battlefield, for example, Polish Krab artillery systems. It’s a really organic unit, but they are distinct in this Russian-Ukrainian war. So, I think for our partners in Poland, in the United States, France, or Germany, it’s a good chance to test the equipment. So, give us the tools. We will finish the job and you will have all the new information.”

Powerful nations using conflicts to test military equipment in real-world scenarios is nothing new. The U.S. military demonstrated precision-guided munitions to the world in the 1990-1991 Gulf War. Nazi Germany infamously exploited the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s to test its newly developed tanks and aircraft, as well as refine the Blitzkrieg tactics it would later use to conquer most of mainland Europe. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were used to prove new technologies and tactics, while for Russia, Syria’s civil war became both a proving ground and weapons demonstration arena for export opportunities. 

The situation in Ukraine isn’t identical to any of these scenarios, but it is providing the United States a venue to test higher-end military technology against a somewhat sophisticated enemy. This is an opportunity that hasn’t been afforded to it over the past two decades of fighting global terrorism and insurgent wars in the Middle East and Asia.

Reznikov said he is confident that the U.S. and other NATO nations will supply Ukraine with weapons of increasing range as the Ukrainian Army continues to show its proficiency at employing the weapons it has. While U.S. political rhetoric still rules out weapons capable of striking well beyond Russia’s border with Ukraine, the U.S. has already greatly expanded the types of weapons it is sending Ukraine, Reznikov said. 

“These decisions will come easier after our partners are sure that we fulfill every obligation and effectively use all the equipment we have already received,” he said. “In November 2021, I was told in Washington, D.C., that we would never get Stingers because that simply wasn’t possible. It was so forbidden by the law. That story was repeated over and over again.”

Ukraine has indeed received significant quantities — well over 1,400 — of Stinger man-portable air-defense systems (MANPADS) and used them to devastating effect against Russian aircraft. Thousands of other MANPADS have been donated by other countries, as well. The U.S. government then included M777 towed howitzers in military aid packages to Ukraine followed by HIMARS and then more recently promised Kyiv two National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile Systems, or NASAMS ground-based air defense systems, Reznikov pointed out.

“Therefore I remain optimistic,” Reznikov said. “Ukrainians will be very grateful for your help receiving weapons of this type. For me, the word impossible means possible in the future.”

Before we dive into what has transpired in the last 24 hours in Ukraine, catch up on our previous rolling coverage of the war here.

The Latest

Another aircraft was shot down over Lyubimovka, in Kherson Oblast, though it was not immediately clear what aircraft was hit or which side it belonged to. Ukrainian officials claim it was a Russian Su-35 Flanker, one of Russia’s most advanced twin-engine fighters. Several videos have emerged of the aircraft exploding mid-air and spinning to the ground. 

Russia has claimed that a drone was shot down, but other videos show the aftermath of the crash from afar and what appears to be the pilot, after ejecting, floating to earth with a parachute. The presence of a pilot confirms the aircraft was a manned airplane and not a drone.

A Russian Mi-24/35 Hind-type helicopter later was seen flying over the apparent crash site, perhaps searching for the ejected pilot. The Mi-24/35 series is unique in that it has a passenger compartment and can provide end-to-end combat search and rescue missions without other types of helicopters, under some circumstances You can read all about this capability here.

Russian chatter on social media and messaging site Telegram suggests the shootdown was yet another friendly fire incident, one day after Russian air defenses appear to have shot down their own Su-34 strike fighter.

Russia continues to launch an all-out offensive to capture the Donbas region, which is its immediate stated objective, according to the latest intelligence assessment from the U.K. Ministry of Defense. Before the invasion, the six Russian field armies committed to the offensive numbered about 150,000 troops but the forces are operating mostly as company-sized units of about 100 soldiers apiece, the U.K. MoD said. Russia has lost a significant number of that force in heavy fighting along the extended frontlines in the east, but even with superior numbers, their fractious coordination would lessen their effectiveness on the battlefield.

Russia’s inability to sustain offensive combat power, a problem since the February 24 invasion, is becoming more severe as the intense fighting continues in the east, according to the U.K. MoD. 

“As well as dealing with severe under-manning, Russian planners face a dilemma between deploying reserves to the Donbas or defending against Ukrainian counterattacks in the southwestern Kherson sector,” the U.K. assessment said. “While Russia may still make further territorial gains, their operational tempo and rate of advance is likely to be very slow without a significant operational pause for reorganization and refit.”

Maps of the frontlines, like the one below showing the situation on July 19, have changed little in several days. 

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg on July 19 gave a passionate plea for alliance members to not only continue supporting Ukraine with economic, humanitarian, and military aid but to commit to doing so long-term. 

“That has a price,” Stoltenberg said. “But the price of not supporting them is much higher. Because for me, this is a moral issue. It’s about a sovereign, independent nation with 40 million people living in Europe, which is brutally attacked by a big power: Russia.”

Stoltenberg went on to say it is NATO’s interest to support Ukraine because if Russia were to win the war, the rest of Europe would be more vulnerable to similar attacks. Latvia seems to agree, as officials there have called for a military draft to prepare for a potential Russian attack. 

“If Ukraine loses this, that’s a danger for us,” he said. “That will make Europe even more vulnerable to Russian aggression because then the lessons learned from Georgia in 2008, from annexing Crimea in 2014, from starting to undermine Donbas in 2014, and then the full-fledged brutal invasion by President Putin in February, is that they can just use force to get their will. It’s to re-establish the idea of spheres of influence, where big powers can decide what small neighbors can do. And that will make all of us more vulnerable. So even if you don’t care about the moral aspect of this, supporting the people of Ukraine, you should care about your own security interest.”

Ukrainian First Lady Olena Zelenska was in Washington, D.C. today to meet with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and other federal government officials. 

Prominent Ukrainian Parliament member Kira Rudik also was in Washington, D.C. for meetings with counterparts in Congress. 

Russia published a missile’s-eye-view video of a strike on the Pidyomnyy bridge in Odessa. War watcher accounts seemed to agree the missile likely was a Kh-59 Ovod cruise missile

Ukrainian artillery also targeted a bridge over the Dnipro River in Kherson, apparently to keep Russian armaments and vehicles from crossing into the region. All Russian personnel and military equipment in Kherson cross over the Antonovskiy Bridge. Russia has struggled with river crossings in the war thus far and suffered a highly publicized, disastrous reverse while trying to ford the Donets River

The husk of what appears to be an M31A1 guided multiple-launch rocket system (GMLRS) fired by either a HIMARS or a NATO-donated M270 tracked launcher was found in a field in the Donetsk Oblast. The M31A1 has a unitary warhead, meaning it is tipped with a single explosive charge rather than cluster submunitions.

The same munition appears to have been used to take out a Russian Podlet-K1 low-altitude S-band surveillance radar in Nova Kakhovka, in Kherson. Ukraine is using guided munitions to strike high-value targets one at a time and having a profound battlefield impact with relatively few rounds. Destruction of this radar could partially blind Russian forces to future incoming Ukrainian missiles and air strikes. 

That is important because the Ukrainian Air Force still is able to fly throughout the country and launch strikes on Russian positions, as these Su-25 close air support aircraft are seen doing in the video below. 

So popular have HIMARS become in Ukraine that they have inspired a pop song, as the Javelin ATGM and TB2 Bayraktar drone have since the war began. The staccato tune repeats the chant “HI-MARS” between short bursts of sassy lyrics like “Muscovites and their ammunition are in warehouses. When it does it goes ‘BOOM!’” according to English subtitles that accompany one music video. 

Here is the Bayraktar song, for comparison. According to Twitter, the songs were penned by the same composer. 

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