To the rear of the brutal fighting at the frontlines, Ukraine appears to be making the very best of counter-battery fire to suppress and destroy Russian artillery units.
Though Ukrainian troops continue fighting for breakthroughs in Russian defensive lines, artillery gunners are playing the long game for future artillery supremacy. Counter-battery fire, and especially radars that facilitate it with high accuracy, are playing a big part in this. It has been reported that many Russian artillery units lack counter-battery radar systems to pinpoint incoming fire, with losses of these prized systems having taken their toll in nearly year and half of fighting. In addition, due to their high-tech nature, Russia is hard-pressed to replace them with new units.
Russian accounts of the fighting seem to corroborate a growing Ukrainian artillery advantage in some regard. Former separatist commander Aleksandr Khodakovsky opined that Russian artillery can neither suppress the Ukrainian guns nor compete with their longer range.
Ivan Popov, a top Russian general, was fired recently after laying into Defense Minister Shoigu about how poorly the war is being ran from headquarters, highlighted the lack of Russian counter-battery fire capabilities, in particular. We will talk more about the general's dismissal in a moment.
Some of Ukraine's counter-battery fire has relied upon western-supplied long-range precision artillery, most notably the GMLRS. The GPS-guided Excalibur artillery round, of which thousands have been donated to Ukraine, are also prized weapons for quickly taking out pinpointed enemy batteries with high certainty. The U.S. has also provided counter-battery radars beginning in 2015.
Precision long-range fires have also been prioritized against artillery systems beyond counter-battery engagements. Spotting by lower-end drones combined with guided artillery has resulted in numerous examples of 'one shot, one kill' destruction of Russian artillery systems.
The emphasis on counter-battery fire could well be part of a shift in tactics as the counteroffensive continues. The New York Times reported Saturday that Ukraine changed tactics after the first two weeks of combat saw “as much of 20 percent of the weaponry it sent to the battlefield was damaged or destroyed.”
Attrition rates slowed as commanders adapted in the ensuing weeks, but the story noted losses have decreased because the counteroffensive itself has not progressed rapidly.
Intense video shows what these offensive operations look like, as Ukrainian infantry hug the ground and open fire while a BTR wheeled armored personnel carrier opens up with its autocannon over their heads.
While accurate strikes on Russian artillery do not translate immediately into territorial gains, it fits with shaping the battlefield in what has become a war of attrition in some respects. Ukrainian ground forces can better exploit weak points in the Russian lines when Moscow has degraded artillery capabilities to effectively respond and suppress them. With 155mm cluster munitions having arrived in Ukraine from U.S. stockpiles, this artillery disparity is set to only increase. In terms of counter-battery fire, these weapons can also allow for saving prized guided munitions to quickly kill enemy batteries with high certainty.
Time will tell how crucial Ukraine's growing artillery advantage in these regards is as the counteroffensive rolls on.
Before we head into the latest from Ukraine, The War Zone readers can catch up on our previous rolling coverage here.
Today’s intelligence update from the British Ministry of Defense noted the high-profile firing of Russian Maj. Gen. Ivan Popov, former commander of the 58th Combined Arms Army. Popov was sacked this week after voicing criticisms of Russian MoD leadership in a leaked video.
Popov’s dismissal was apparently not “for any alleged poor performance” and strictly related to his remarks, claiming the Russian leadership was “hitting us from the rear, viciously beheading the army at the most difficult and intense moment.” If that language sounds familiar, it’s similar to Wagner PMC leader Yevgeny Prigozhin’s many blistering critiques in the months preceding his ill-fated coup attempt on June 24.
Popov’s comments indicate “serious disaffection many officers likely harbor towards the senior military leadership,” per the British MoD. This was reportedly not the only change of command this week, as reports have emerged that the commander of Russia’s 106th Air Assault Division, one of the units that replaced Wagner in Bakhmut, was relieved.
In its daily update, the Institute for the Study of War (@TheStudyofWar) reported Russian President Vladimir Putin wants to retain Wagner Group as a fighting force, just without its mutinous leader, Yevgeny Prigozhin.
It remains unclear what a Wagner without Prigozhin would look like, particularly as it concerns the organization’s far reach and presence as a Russian proxy in Africa and the Middle East.
However, Putin’s remarks certainly don’t bode well for Prigozhin’s life expectancy should he be fully relieved of his private arm. We’ve previously reported Ukrainian Defense Intelligence Directorate (GUR) Director Maj. Gen. Kyrylo Budanov’s claims that there is an ongoing plot to assassinate Prigozhin to remove him as a future threat to Moscow.
Alongside these developments, reports from Belarus suggest Wagner troops and equipment continue to arrive there. A convoy of Wagner trucks and heavy construction equipment were seen en route to the country, with Belarusian insiders reporting the same or possibly another convoy was headed to the encampment near Tsel. Ukraine has also reportedly observed redeployments.
South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol made an unannounced visit to Kyiv on Saturday to meet with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, the first such visit of a South Korean leader to Ukraine. Yoon retweeted Zelensky’s photo of the two leaders and their wives, noting South Korea’s commitment to “protect lives, freedom, and universal values.”
Yoon further promised an increase in South Korea’s non-lethal support to Ukraine in the form of helmets, body armor, and uniforms, as well as $150 million in humanitarian aid. South Korea is seen a major potential supply vector of arms to Kyiv, but that hasn't materialized yet. The U.S. is buying large amounts of artillery rounds from Seoul to send up in Ukraine, but selling weaponry directly, especially actual systems, not ammunition, remains off limits.
Fighting continues on the flanks of Bakhmut’s ruins, with Ukrainian counterattacks around the Klishchiivka area to the south reportedly going well.
Also in Zaporizhzhia, Russian Telegram channels report a flyer was put into several residents’ mailboxes in the city of Enerhodar, home of the occupied Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant. The flyers invite the residents to relocate to the Russian Far East with assistance from the Russian government.
Japan has also pledged to provide a C-UAS Drone Detection System as part of its continued aid to Ukraine.
The Ukrainian Air Force released a picture of one of its MiG-29 Fulcrums sporting a digital camouflage paint scheme, with blue and gold on the wings’ leading edges and a mix of R-73 IR-guided and R-27R radar-guided missiles on the pylons.
The caption “Ready to Fight” could indeed be tongue-in-cheek after Politico reported on July 14 that though President Joe Biden has promised to allow the 11-nation F-16 coalition to begin training Ukrainian pilots, the U.S. State Department has still not formally approved the transfer of instruction manuals, simulators, and other training materials.
One of the rarer western-supplied armored vehicles has appeared in Ukrainian service, a German Bilber armored vehicle-launched bridge (AVLB). German for “beaver,” the Bilber is based on a Leopard 1 tank chassis and carries a scissor bridge used to span gaps and fortifications in support of other armored vehicles.
If you needed any reminder of why tanks need bridges, Ukraine has pulled a Russian T-72 from the Desna River in Chernihiv Oblast. The tank sank into the river during an unsuccessful attempt to ford it during the full-scale invasion’s first weeks as Russian tanks poured into the area over the Belarusian and Russian borders.
That’s all for now. We will update this story when there is more to report about Ukraine.
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