Ukraine Situation Report: Russia Adding ‘Cope Cages’ To TOS-1A

Throughout this all-out war, Ukrainian drones have wreaked havoc on Russian armor and other vehicles by either dropping munitions onto them or flying into them and exploding. Even before it began, Russia has tried to counter the threat from drones and anti-tank guided missiles by adding metal grids atop vehicles in an attempt to stop the munitions before they can cause catastrophic and deadly damage.

We first saw this peculiar practice in November of 2021, when Russia added ad hoc armor to T-80 tanks. In response, Ukraine began testing Javelins against static targets rigged with similar caging a month later. The results were not encouraging for Russian forces.

And last summer, Russia added what were by then coined “cope cages” to ancient T-62 tanks they sent to the fight.

Now it appears that Russia has added cope cages to its TOS-1A thermobaric Multiple Launch Rocket System Vehicles (MLRS).

Ukraine has destroyed one, damaged another and captured four of this family of MLRS, according to the Oryxspioenkop OSINT group, though the actual figures are likely higher because they only report about the status of weapons systems they are able to visually confirm.

Given the devastating effect of these weapons, which fire rockets using thermobaric, or fuel-air explosive, warheads that suck up surrounding oxygen to create a high-temperature explosion, it’s no wonder why Ukraine wants to target them.

But the likelihood of these cages providing much protection is questionable, though some Russian tanks appear to have survived attacks with the cages on. And certainly, if a full batch of rockets were to go up in a TOS-1’s launcher, it would be a very bad day for anyone nearby.

While useless against anti-tank guided missiles and large air-dropped munitions, they may offer some level of protection against small bomblets dropped by commercial drones. The cages provide no defense against side attacks from other weapons either.

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

In the wake of the leak of classified materials, the Department of Defense (DoD) is reaching out to reassure allies and is examining who had access, a Pentagon spokesman told reporters on Monday.

“Over the weekend and into today, U.S. officials have engaged with allies and partners and have informed national security committees in Congress about the disclosure,” Pentagon spokesman Chris Meagher said. “The Department and other U.S. officials are engaging with allies and partners at high levels to reassure them of our commitment to safeguarding intelligence and fidelity to our security partnerships. Those conversations began over the weekend and are ongoing…”

Last week, we reported that Ukraine was assessing the damage caused by the release of the documents and that there was concern Kyiv would become more reticent to share information as a result of this situation.

On Monday, Meagher declined to address the specifics of those concerns.

“We’re not going to get into the sensitive information contained on these purported documents. I’m not going to speculate on the impact on the battlefield, but I will say that the Ukrainians have demonstrated their capability and competence in this war.”

Meagher also declined to say how many classified documents were made public, the level of their classification, or who received them.

The Pentagon, he said, is “still investigating how this happened, in addition to the scope of the issue. There have been steps to take a closer look at how the information is distributed and to whom. We are also still trying to assess what might be out there. We, of course, condemn any unauthorized disclosure of classified information, and we’re taking this very seriously.”

The classified documents leaked over the past several months on a Discord Minecraft gaming channel, and which recently appeared on social media and the Telegram messaging app, “appear to show documents similar in format to those used to provide daily updates to our senior leaders on Ukraine and Russia-related operations, as well as other intelligence updates,” Meagher said. 

“Some of these images appear to have been altered,” he added, declining to offer details. 

We previously reported that information about the number of Russian casualties appears to have been altered in at least one of the documents published on pro-Russian Telegram channels.

The Pentagon has “been in close touch with the White House and with interagency partners on this issue, and an interagency effort has been set up with a focus on assessing the impact these photographed documents could potentially have on U.S. national security and on our allies and partners,” said Meagher. 

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin “was initially briefed on the unauthorized disclosure on the morning of April 6th and received updates throughout the course of the day. On April 7th, the Secretary began convening senior leaders on a daily basis to discuss the unauthorized disclosures.”

Austin directed DoD to stand up “a cross-department effort to make sure that we were assessing those potential impacts, engaging our allies and partners, along with the Hill, in determining the way ahead,” Meagher said. ”Austin will continue to be briefed regularly as things develop.”

The Pentagon is also investigating why it took some 40 days to notice the documents were out in the public realm, Meagher acknowledged.

“As these documents circulate online, I would like to highlight that they present a very serious risk to national security and have the potential to spread disinformation,” he said. “So we’re being very careful and watching where this is being promoted and amplified and we’re going to continue to coordinate efforts to determine the damage. That’s something we’re still looking into. We’re still coordinating efforts to determine the impact these documents might have on our national security going forward.”

At the White House, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said it was unknown whether there are more leaks to come.

The release of these documents is apparently shedding new light on some previously reported incidents.

In October, U.K. Defense Secretary Ben Wallace provided some details of an incident where a Russian Su-27 Flanker “released” a missile during an encounter with a British Royal Air Force RC-135W Rivet Joint electronic surveillance aircraft, which occurred in international airspace above the Black Sea on Sept. 29. You can read more about that in our story here.

But that encounter may be much more significant than originally announced.

The Washington Post on Sunday reported that the incident was described in the recently-released tranche of secret documents “refers to the incident as a ‘near-shoot down of UK RJ,’ a reference to the ‘Rivet Joint’ moniker common for RC-135 reconnaissance planes. The aircraft is used to collect radio transmissions and other electronic messages.”

The Bulgarian Defense Ministry issued a denial Monday about the information contained in the leaked documents pertaining to the donation of MiG-29 Fulcrum jets.

CNN reported that on Feb. 23, “the report says, ‘Bulgaria expressed willingness’ to donate its fleet of Fulcrums to Ukraine. Such a donation would be a ‘challenge’…because it will leave Bulgaria without fighter aircraft to fulfill its air policing missions until US-made F-16s are delivered, ‘which is at least a year away.’”

But there have been no talks about joining Slovakia and Poland in sending the Fulcrums to Ukraine, according to the Sofia Globe.

“Such a decision would lead to a deficit of capabilities, which is contrary to the constitution of the Republic of Bulgaria and the Defence and Armed Forces Act of the Republic of Bulgaria,” the Bulgarian Defense Ministry said.

On the battlefield, the commander of Ukraine’s Ground Forces visited troops near the frontlines of Bakhmut Monday, going over plans to defend the embattled Donetsk Oblast coal mining town that’s been the epicenter of fighting for months.

“The defense forces exhausted the Wagnerites,” Ukrainian Ground Forces Commander Colonel-General Oleksandr Syrskyi said on his Telegram channel Monday. “The enemy is forced to involve special forces and airborne assault units in the battles for Bakhmut. Fights are tough on both sides. The enemy has moved to the so-called ‘Syrian’ tactics of the burnt earth. Destroys buildings and positions with aviation strikes and artillery fire. The defense of Bakhmut is in progress. The situation is difficult, but controlled.”

The defense of Bakhmut, he added, “continues, our soldiers bravely and expertly carry out the assigned task. Every day they bleed the enemy and destroy his combat potential, with each successful shot, hitting the target, they bring our Victory closer!”

According to the Wagner mercenary group, Ukraine is finding it increasingly difficult to supply troops in Bakhmut.

“Supply routes for Ukrainians in Bakhmut became more fragile,” Wagner said on its Telegram channel Monday. “At the same time, Kyiv will continue to ask the soldiers to stay in the western region of the city. Russian forces have advanced significantly in the city center over the past few days.”

The Wagner group shared a video of what they claim is an M-113 armored personnel carrier (APC), donated to Ukraine by the U.S., that they captured in or around Bakhmut. The U.S. has donated 300 of those APCs to Ukraine.

Since the launch of Russia’s all-out invasion, U.S., NATO and allied surveillance aircraft have logged a lot of hours keeping an eye on the situation near the Ukrainian and Russian borders. Using data compiled by flight tracking OSINT groups, freelance OSINT researcher Orion Intel mapped out two months of such flights. The aircraft included U.S. Army ARTEMIS jets, U.S. Navy Poseidon P-8s and EP-3E Aries, U.S. and U.K. Air Force RC-135V/W Rivet Joints, E-3 Sentry Airborne Warning And Control System jets, E-8C Joint STARS, EC-37B Compass Calls and RQ-4 Global Hawk drones.

Inside Ukrainian airspace, Kyiv’s Air Force often uses roads to operate on, something you can see in this video below.

With Ukrainian forces continuing to attack Bryansk Oblast in Russia, it appears that Moscow is taking preventative action in the form of a strike on a bridge in Ukraine’s abutting Chernihiv Oblast. The strike, by a Russian Su-34 Russian Fullback jet firing a Kh-29TD laser-/TV-guided missile, was aimed at thwarting Ukrainian Defense Intelligence Directorate (GUR) efforts in Bryansk, Russian milblogger Evgeny Poddubny claimed on his Telegram channel.

It appears that the Russian Eleron-3 reconnaissance drone is back on the battlefield. The first recorded loss of one of these drones took place in August, but they have not been observed much since, according to the Ukraine Weapons Tracker OSINT group.

The first documented loss of a Russian 1L119 Nebo-SVU VHF multi-function radar has emerged on social media.

And finally, talk about close calls.

Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov said he was almost captured last year in Hostomel near Kyiv, where Russian troops landed in the beginning of the all-out war.

He was supposed to go to a Ukrainian Defense Ministry (MoD) protected command post (ZKP) at Hostomel airfield, but it was a good thing those plans changed.

“The ZKP, which was assigned to my staff, was – you will laugh –  in Hostomel, in a protected place, which was the first to be ambushed,” he told Ukrainian media Monday. “Theoretically, if we moved there at least a day or two, then I would have half the ministry there. Almost in captivity.” 

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

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Howard Altman Avatar

Howard Altman

Senior Staff Writer

Howard is a Senior Staff Writer for The War Zone, and a former Senior Managing Editor for Military Times. Prior to this, he covered military affairs for the Tampa Bay Times as a Senior Writer. Howard’s work has appeared in various publications including Yahoo News, RealClearDefense, and Air Force Times.