December 8, 2023

Sitrep for Dec. 6-8, 2023 (as of 8 a.m. UTC+3)

Frontline Situation Update

Foreign Policy has released an analytical article by Franz-Stefan Gady summarizing the joint trip of military analysts to Ukraine. In it, he questions the popular thesis of “a newly transparent battlefield” created through the widespread use of inexpensive reconnaissance drones. Ubiquitous drones and other technologies make it possible to track, in real time, any troop movements by either side, making it all but impossible to hide massing forces and concentrations of armored vehicles from the enemy and thus leading both sides to shift toward attacks in small groups. However, there are various ways to reduce or even deny the enemy the ability to conduct real-time tracking. Staying hidden often involves simple environmental factors, such as the time of day (most Ukrainian attacks occur pre-dawn or late in the evening, under the cover of darkness), weather conditions (on a cloudy day with heavier winds and rain, there are fewer drones in the air, resulting in less surveillance coverage and a lower rate of artillery fire, and in dense fog, they may not pose a threat at all), and even terrain.

Contrary to the common belief that elevated positions no longer provide a significant advantage, in reality, launching a drone from higher ground increases its flight range. From lower ground, however, FPV drones usually require additional communication relay drones to effectively strike at a distance. During the fighting for Bakhmut, many analysts considered it more advantageous to retreat to tactical heights near the town to defend against drones, as the town is located in a low-lying area.

Using drones at night remains considerably challenging, even though both sides have started deploying drones equipped with thermal imaging or night vision devices. However, given their higher cost, such drones are used less frequently.

In his article, Gady also described Ukrainian attacks: the Armed Forces of Ukraine usually attack Russian trenches in assault groups of approximately 10 to 16 soldiers. These troops are dropped directly into the enemy’s trench network by two or three infantry fighting vehicles or armored personnel carriers, supported by two or more main battle tanks. If the soldiers take the trenches in a dawn attack, they will then need to hold them against counterattacks until nighttime, when they can either move again or receive reinforcements. Due to all the aforementioned factors, it is incorrect to claim complete transparency on the frontline. To address this situation, new technologies and radio-electronic warfare systems, capable of more effectively countering enemy drones, are required.

Serhii Sternenko, a Ukrainian far-right social activist and YouTuber, is raising awareness about the escalating issue of a growing number of Russian drones equipped with night vision and thermal imaging devices. He urges the AFU command and the Ukrainian government to develop systematic measures to address this issue and, currently, to provide the AFU with as many drones with similar capabilities and electronic warfare systems as possible, rather than leaving this matter solely to volunteers.

Western Assistance

According to Reuters, during a closed-door meeting in Washington, Ukrainian representatives, including Defense Minister Rustem Umerov, requested various weapons for the AFU, such as F-16 fighter aircraft, Abrams tanks and ATACMS tactical ballistic missiles, as well as other military equipment, including:

  • C-17 Globemaster transport jets and the C-130 Super Hercules;
  • F-18 "Hornet" fighter jets;
  • Boeing AH-64 Apache and UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters;
  • THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defense) air defense system (similar to the S-300 SAM system);
  • three types of drones, including the MQ-9B SkyGuard drone.

It remains unclear whether the meeting discussed FPV drones, crucial in significant quantities on the battlefield. While the MQ-9B SkyGuard and other requested drones are large aircraft-type UAVs that are vulnerable to air defenses, FPV drones, as has been repeatedly emphasized, can partially compensate for artillery and ammunition shortages, requiring industrial-scale production, at least in the tens of thousands per month.

On Dec. 6, US President Joe Biden urged Congress to approve additional aid to Ukraine before the holiday break or risk giving Putin his "biggest gift." According to the Congressional calendar, Dec. 14 is the last working day before the Christmas holidays, and senators and congressmen will not return to work until Jan. 9. It is worth noting that the Congressional recess can be interrupted in the event of an emergency.

On Oct. 1, the Lend-Lease Act expired, leaving the US without even a "Plan B" to help Ukraine in case aid from other programs was delayed. Biden emphasized that insufficient aid to Ukraine could directly threaten US security. He did not rule out the possibility that Putin, having regained his strength, might attack a NATO country after a possible victory over Ukraine.

The structure of the aid to Ukraine still raises questions for us: either US officials claim that the funds for these purposes are exhausted or, unexpectedly, they state that there is less than $6 billion left for these purposes.

The Department of Defense has announced new security assistance to meet Ukraine's critical security and defense needs. The capabilities in this package, valued at up to $175 million, include:

  • AIM-9M and AIM-7 missiles for air defense;
  • Additional ammunition for HIMARS;
  • 155mm and 105mm artillery rounds;
  • High-speed Anti-radiation missiles (HARMs);
  • Tube-Launched, Optically-Tracked, Wire-Guided (TOW) missiles;
  • Javelin and AT-4 anti-armor systems
  • More than 4 million rounds of small arms ammunition;
  • Vehicles to tow and haul equipment;
  • Demolitions munitions for obstacle clearing;
  • Equipment to protect critical national infrastructure;
  • Spare parts, maintenance and other ancillary equipment.

At a G7 leaders’ meeting, Prime Minister of Japan Fumio Kishida announced that the Japanese government will provide $4.5 billion in financial aid to Ukraine. These funds are intended to support Ukraine's economy, including ensuring the timely payment of salaries to state employees and civil servants.

Reuters has published details about the EU's earlier promise of one million artillery shells for Ukraine: since the beginning of 2023, 480,000 shells have been transferred, with only 60,000 recently produced in European factories, and 30,000 found in EU ammunition depots. The remainder was purchased outside the EU. This highlights the slow pace at which Europe has been able to ramp up military production.

Swedish TV has aired a report on the deployment of the country's Archer 155mm self-propelled howitzer on the frontline in Ukraine.

The State Duma [lower house of the Federal Assembly of Russia] has introduced a bill to recognize the Azov Sea as an internal water body of Russia. Some Western publications interpret this as a sign that Russia plots to annex 15,000 square miles of Ukrainian territory. It is worth noting that, according to the current Russian Constitution, all captured territories on its shores are part of Russia, and therefore, the Azov Sea is considered internal. Presumably, this bill is intended to legally solidify this status.

Alexander Zakharov, the designer of the Lancet loitering munition, who owns property in London, has been added to the UK sanctions list along with his family. Several companies supplying components for Lancet drones including those owned by Zakharov's children, have also been added to the list.

For the first time, the US Department of Justice has initiated a criminal case against four Russian military personnel in connection with the abduction and torture of an American citizen in the occupied part of the Kherson region.

Ukrainian and Russian Strikes

On Dec. 6, there were two consecutive strikes (known as a double-tap strike) on the Budyonnivskyi district of Donetsk, the second of which was caught on video. Denys Pushylin [head of the so-called DPR] stated that tanks with bitumen intended for road and roof repairs were hit. Reportedly, the second strike killed two employees of the Ministry of Emergency Situations and injured 13 others. The double-tap tactic violates international rules of war, and this incident must be thoroughly investigated.

Furthermore, on Dec. 6, AGM-88 HARM anti-radiation missile attacks were recorded in the Voroshylovskyi district of Donetsk and in the town of Makiivka. In Makiivka, four people were injured, including a two-year-old child. It is worth noting that we have seen instances of Russian forces committing war crimes by installing a Pole-21 EW system on residential buildings’ roofs. We do not rule out the possibility that HARM missiles could have targeted such systems.

Additionally, it is reported that in recent days, drones have frequently entered Donetsk, dropping munitions and causing harm to civilians. On Dec. 4, two civilians were injured in the Kuibyshevskyi district; on Dec. 6, three people were wounded in the Kirovskyi district, and on Dec. 7, two local residents were injured in the Petrovskyi district.

Furthermore, on Dec. 7, the port infrastructure in the Odesa region was hit with Geran (Shahed) loitering munitions, resulting in the death of a civilian driver.

In early November, local Polish truckers blocked the border crossing for Ukrainian truck convoys, accusing Ukrainian truckers of dumping. Over the past month, queues of Ukrainian trucks, including those carrying fuel and humanitarian aid, have formed at the border, sometimes stretching several dozen kilometers in both directions. To overcome the blockade, Ukrainian Railways (Ukrzaliznytsia) has launched a trial train to transport trucks from Poland to Ukraine and back.

In Russia, current and former law enforcement officers, members of a gang involved in kidnappings, murders, including contract killings, and armed robberies in Moscow and the Moscow region since the late 1990s, have been detained. Among them were active members of the Rosgvardia [Russian National Guard], including Aleksey Alpatov, chief of staff of the Special Rapid Response Unit (SOBR) "Lynx," and Sergey Volostnykh, his chief assistant for special cases in the methodological department. According to investigators, over the course of 25 years, the group committed more than 30 contract murders, armed robberies and kidnappings. It is expected that even if they are sentenced to long prison terms, they will eventually be sent to the front.

Despite some viewers claiming that Chinese DesertCross all-terrain vehicles have excellent maneuverability and load-carrying capacity, we continue to refer to the laws of physics: low ground clearance and small wheel size will not allow these vehicles to pass where Ural trucks may get stuck, regardless of the power of their engines. We estimate their cross-country capabilities to be on par with a VAZ-2121 Niva off-road car or a light ATV. The muddy season concluded with the frosts that affected most of the frontline, but on many roads, the ruts may still be quite deep and challenging for Chinese ATVs to navigate.

The Times visited a secret base of the Main Ukrainian Intelligence Directorate, where the new Ukrainian MAGURA V5 maritime surface drones are being developed. These drones have played a crucial role in pushing back most of the Russian Black Sea Fleet to Novorossiysk. As a result, Russian ships were prevented from blockading vessels carrying Ukrainian grain from ports, and the distance from which cruise missiles were launched into Ukrainian territory was increased.

We are in the process of compiling a brief historical overview of howitzers and are seeking insights from individuals with experience operating Soviet or foreign towed howitzers. We invite those who served on the D-20, Msta-B, or M777 howitzers to reach out to us and share their expertise. Please feel free to contact us if you have any information on this topic.