Ukraine Situation Report: Gepard Anti-Aircraft Systems Now In The Fight

German Gepard self-propelled anti-aircraft systems will provide additional defense to Ukrainian forces suffering from Russian aerial threats.

byDan Parsons|
Gepard SPAGG
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The first, or at least among the first, footage of a German-donated Flakpanzer Gepard self-propelled anti-aircraft gun in Ukrainian service appeared online on Aug. 25. The Gepard, which means Cheetah in German, sports twin radar-aimed 35mm automatic cannons that present a formidable air defense capability against low-flying Russian aerial threats and can also be used against ground targets. 

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said half the 30 Gepards that Germany has promised are already in Ukraine, while the German military is actively training Ukrainian soldiers in their use at a training facility near Putlos in northern Germany. 

Germany as far back as April announced it would send some number of Gepards to Ukraine. The plan briefly ran afoul of Switzerland’s declared neutrality in the conflict, causing that government to initially exercise its right under the terms of the original export agreement to veto a transfer of 35mm ammunition from Germany to Ukraine. Germany was eventually able to find another source for the ammunition, reportedly Norway.

In June, Berlin released a detailed list of military assistance it was sending to Kyiv and specified it was donating 30 Gepard armored self-propelled anti-aircraft guns, including around 6,000 rounds of anti-aircraft ammunition. That number has likely swelled as these rapid-fire systems burn through ammunition very fast.

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Built on the chassis of the Leopard 1 main battle tank — which Germany also has considered sending to Ukraine — the vehicles were first fielded in the 1970s. The Gepard was retired from German military service in 2010, making them readily available air defense assets that could be transferred to Ukraine. Their twin autocannons, which can be radar-guided or manually aimed, can fire a variety of anti-aircraft ammunition, including air-burst types. They also can fire high-explosive armor-piercing rounds against tanks and other ground targets, making for a very versatile weapon system that will bolster the country's low-altitude, short-range air defense capabilities

The vehicles are likely welcome in a country that is daily taking a pounding from Russian airstrikes, including cruise missile attacks. Towards the front lines, they could be highly effective against low-flying helicopters and fixed-wing attack jets, and especially at knocking down drones.

Before we get into the most recent details, readers can familiarize themselves with our past rolling coverage of the conflict here.

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Russia’s threat of missile strikes on Ukrainian cities reached a new height on Aug. 24. Ukraine’s 31stindependence day saw 189 air alerts, a host of missile strikes, and the shelling of 58 populated areas where “dozens” of civilians were killed, according to the Ukraine Ministry of Defense. 

Power to Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant was shut off at least twice on Aug. 25 and was completely isolated from the electrical grid. Without external power, the plant could have to rely on diesel generators to cool the reactors, which is not ideal, especially in terms of the potential for overheating if those generators malfunctioned or were damaged. Considering they exist in an active war zone, it's definitely an issue.

Russian forces occupied the nuclear powerplant — Europe’s largest — in March and began storing vehicles and other military hardware inside its generator buildings. The occupation sparked immediate concerns that damage to the facility could cause a Chernobyl-style nuclear disaster.  

The Russians also were accused of using the power plant as an artillery base. Russia accused Ukraine of targeting the installation with its artillery.

The cause of the power disruption is not known, but the Kyiv Independent news outlet attributed the outage to Russian artillery shelling in the area. 

That shelling appears to have caused forest fires in the vicinity of the power plant, which also could have led to the disruption in electrical service.

Several hours later external power was restored. Still, as Ukrainian authorities told the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), external power was restored only to the last available connection. 

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky later articulated just how close to catastrophe the power loss to the plant had come. 

"If the diesel generators hadn't turned on, if the automation and our staff of the plant had not reacted after the blackout, then we would already be forced to overcome the consequences of the radiation accident," Zelensky said in a statement.

Since February, an estimated 80,000 Russian troops have been killed, wounded, or deserted their units, U.S. Undersecretary of Defense Colin Kahl is quoted as saying. That is a staggeringly large rate of attrition for six months of war, especially in the post-World War II era. Consider that the U.S. military estimated that Russia massed about 190,000 troops around Ukraine before the February invasion, The New York Times reported then, and that was considered by some as a high estimate.

To fill his ranks, Russian President Vladimir Putin on Aug. 25 signed an order to recruit 137,000 more soldiers into the army. That should expand the service to 1.15 million troops. 

Putin’s military has also lost a significant amount of weapons and equipment in six months of hard fighting. To bolster its weapon stocks, Moscow is now looking to Iran, which has begun delivering 'hundreds' of loitering munitions, also called suicide drones, for use in Ukraine, columnist David Ignatius writes in the Washington Post

Meanwhile, Ukrainian forces are doing their best to prevent what weapons and troops Russia does have from reaching the frontlines in the east. On Aug. 25, they again hit the Antonovsky bridge near Kherson with long-range artillery fire. The bridge is a critical Russian supply avenue to its troops north of the Dnipro River and therefore a juicy target that Ukrainian HIMARS batteries have repeatedly damaged without yet severing the span. 

Russia has continued trying to both repair and circumnavigate the bridge itself. The video below shows ongoing Russian efforts to establish a pontoon bridge and ferry service next to the bridge. 

A largely intact AGM-88 high-speed anti-radiation missile, or HARM, was captured by Russian forces in Ukraine. The radar-seeking missiles are designed to take out the tracking arrays governing Russian air defense systems. Identifiable pieces of HARM munitions have been found previously, but this is one of the most complete missile carcass yet seen in the conflict, to the point its year of manufacture — 1991 — can be read off the side.

U.S. Undersecretary of Defense Colin Kahl on Aug. 24 confirmed that Ukraine is firing U.S.-donated HARM missiles from its MiG-29 aircraft. He previously said Ukraine was arming its MiGs with the weapons without specifying MiG-29 Fulcrums.

"We provided them ... HARM missiles, and we had adapted those missiles to be able to fire off MIG-29,” Kahl said. “The Ukrainians in recent weeks have been using the HARM missiles to great effect to take out Russian radar systems."

Britain announced it has signed a joint action plan with Ukraine to restore the battered nation’s transportation networks. The U.K. will offer expertise in airport, runway, and port reconstruction, and will work with the Ukrainian Ministry of Infrastructure to identify training opportunities for airport staff, air traffic controllers, and aviation security, the U.K. government said in a statement.

London also committed £10 million to support Ukrainian railways, a plan previously announced by the Prime Minister at the G7 Summit in June to repair and revamp Ukraine’s grain transport infrastructure under the Black Sea Grain Initiative. So far, the initiative has freed 721,449 metric tons of goods from 3 Ukrainian ports.

Another new vehicle system first seen on the ground in Ukraine is the Australian Bushmaster mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicle, or MRAP. The one pictured below is armed with an EOS R400-Mk2 remote weapon station with a U.S.-made Mk. 19 Mod 3 automatic grenade launcher. 

In another bit of hair-raising footage, two Ukrainian Mi-8 helicopters were filmed flying at very low altitude. The helicopters sport two different paint schemes, with the first in a standard European green camouflage livery with two white stripes on the tail boom. That paint scheme has been seen on U.S.-donated Mi-8/17 helicopters that were initially purchased for the Afghan Air Force and rerouted to Ukraine after Afghanistan fell to the Taliban. The tailing helicopter in the video wears a digital camo paint scheme that is typical of Ukrainian Air Force rotorcraft.

Flying low and fast is a tactic used to evade enemy air defenses, but places the aircraft and crew at much greater risk of striking terrain or obstacles. Note how little clearance there is between the helicopters and the powerlines, which are a very serious hazard to low-flying rotorcraft and very difficult for pilots to spot. 

As the war drags on, disapproval of all things Russian continues to spread through the West. Former Soviet Republics like Latvia, now a member of NATO, are shedding the emblems of Russian imperialism. A 260-foot monument to Soviet soldiers in World War II was demolished in Riga, Latvia’s capital, on Thursday. 

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