January 10

Sitrep for Jan. 8-10, 2024 (as of 8 a.m. UTC+3)

Frontline Situation Update

On the Donetsk axis, fighting persists for the village of Novomykhailivka, south of the captured town of Marinka. Ukrainian forces have successfully recaptured the southern part of the village, previously occupied by the Russian Army several weeks ago. Julian Röpke marked the liberated portion of the village on this map. These advances, however, have made no significant changes to the frontline.

While combat operations continue along the entire frontline with varying degrees of success, their intensity has decreased compared to mid-December 2023. Predictably, the Russian offensive that began in October has yet to yield any noticeable results, as highlighted by Julian Röpke in an article for the German tabloid newspaper Bild. It seems unlikely to us that Avdiivka will be captured before the onset of the muddy season around the end of March.

The collection of DNA samples from relatives for the identification of the Russian servicemen missing following the strike on the Novocherkassk Ropucha-class landing ship has begun. Given the scale of the explosion and subsequent fire, it is presumed that little remains of the bodies. These samples are likely being gathered in anticipation of discovering fragments of bodies. In most cases, those missing in action will probably be officially declared dead after six months through legal proceedings. Relatives persist in sharing messages about the missing military personnel who served on this ship; these posts can be viewed as being equivalent to obituaries given the slim chances of survival. We consider the information indicating that over 70 crew members were aboard the ship at the time of the strike to be credible.

A video showcasing a new Ukrainian FPV drone, along with a brochure from the Ukrainian SWD company detailing the upcoming production of new payloads, including an explosively formed penetrator payload, has been released. We previously explained the working principle of these types of payloads and warheads when Russian Lancet kamikaze drones with explosively formed penetrator warheads appeared on the battlefield. The need to install these types of payloads on FPV drones likely stems from the widespread use of slat armor and explosive reactive armor, which reduces the effectiveness of conventional shaped charge projectiles.

In response to FPV drones, Russian soldiers have begun deploying Volnorez [Wave Breaker] electronic warfare systems on various vehicles, including the UAZ Bukhanka van, as depicted in this photo. The system is claimed to suppress drones within a 1-kilometer radius, although there is no confirmation of its effectiveness yet.

On Jan. 8, White House officials met with approximately a dozen leaders from venture capital firms, technology and defense industries in an effort to reinforce the Biden administration's commitment to supporting Ukraine's access to cutting-edge US equipment. This includes more autonomous unmanned aerial vehicles, electronic warfare systems and triangulation devices Jake Sullivan, head of the White House National Security Council, convened the meeting to advocate for a "renewed emphasis on helping Ukraine overcome key technological challenges identified as inhibiting their progress and momentum on the battlefield."

Currently, most prospective developments are either small startups or volunteer initiatives. Industrial advancements, exemplified by Beaver UAVs and Sea Baby surface drones, are primarily used for special operations rather than daily frontline activities.

Ukrainian Telegram channels have reported that a jet-powered loitering munition, potentially identified as a Shahed-238, with the letter "J" in the marking "MJO" possibly signifying "jet," was successfully intercepted during a recent attack. Initially, the information was revealed by the Polkovnyk Henshtabu [Colonel of the General Staff] Telegram channel. However, essential details, such as the location, time and method of the UAV interception were not provided. Yurii Ihnat, the spokesman of the Air Force Command of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, did not confirm the interception of such a UAV.

Based on available photos, the wreckage appears consistent with that of a jet-powered drone, but confirmation of it being the Shahed-238 is yet to be established.

The effectiveness of loitering munitions featuring a jet engine remains uncertain. Although their increased speed makes them nearly immune to anti-aircraft guns and small arms, they remain vulnerable to SAMs and MANPADS. Additionally, the heavier and more fuel-consuming jet engine may not significantly enlarge the warheads of such drones in comparison to combustion engine Shaheds, resulting in reduced range and higher costs (Ihnat said approximately the same thing). It is acknowledged that these new loitering munitions may be undergoing trials in Ukraine.

It is worth noting that the AFU has also used jet-powered drones, like the Tu-141 Strizh reconnaissance drone. These drones carry relatively small payloads, such as OFAB-100-200 high-explosive fragmentation bombs, in proportion to their size.

The Ukrainian side continues attacking Belgorod. Photos from Jan. 9 show debris from a missile, with the markings of a Russian surface-to-air missile engine 39B6, apparently used in repelling the Ukrainian attack.

The Russian Ministry of Defense asserted that all 10 RM-70 Vampire rockets were intercepted during the attack. However, such an optimistic statement raises doubts, as achieving a 100% interception rate is typically considered unrealistic in practice.

Strikes on Ukraine with North Korean Missiles

As mentioned previously, US intelligence data and debris discovered in Kharkiv indicate that Russia used ballistic missiles produced by North Korea on Dec. 30 and Jan. 2.

The aforementioned Polkovnyk Henshtabu Telegram channel published a photo of a GPS/GLONASS/Beidou satellite navigation system antenna found among the debris of one of these missiles. Given that it is a civilian component, it is reasonable not to expect high accuracy from such missiles.

We consulted with an expert on North Korean weapons, specializing in intercontinental ballistic missiles, who has no affiliation with either Ukraine or Russia. Among other things, he told us that in addition to solid-propellant missiles, North Korea possesses significant stockpiles of older liquid-propellant missiles, including copies of Soviet R-17 (NATO designation: Scud) missiles with ranges of about 300 km, alongside their indigenous developments. In the 2010s, images emerged showing cluster warheads designed for these missiles, a feature absent in the original Soviet version of the missile. Additionally, in 2014, North Korea’s news agency reported on military exercises involving the launch of a high-precision missile capable of striking either a single or a group of enemy targets with a "dispersion effect," corresponding to the capability of a cluster munition warhead. Currently, North Korea is phasing out liquid-propellant missiles, gradually replacing them with solid-propellant ones, such as the KN-23.

As these aging liquid-propellant missiles are phased out, there is a possibility they could be transferred to Russia. However, this would require the training of new crews since this type of missile was retired from service in the RuAF about 30 years ago. While it is technically possible to deploy these missiles in combat, their effectiveness remains questionable as older missiles are notoriously inaccurate. It is worth noting, however, that we did not anticipate that solid-propellant missiles would be transferred at all, and we assumed that only ammunition compatible with Russian weapons systems would be supplied by North Korea.

On Jan. 6, a representative from the Kharkiv Prosecutor’s Office reported that the diameter of the missile that hit Kharkiv on Jan. 2 was 10mm larger than the diameter of the Iskander short-range ballistic missile. Initial expectations were for a more substantial difference in size (Christian Meyer, whom we cited before, believed the diameter of the KN-23 missile to be about 200mm greater than that of the Iskander missile.) This is important information as a missile’s diameter affects its flight range, with smaller missiles having different technical characteristics than larger ones.

The expert also pointed out that, according to John Kirby, Coordinator for Strategic Communications of the US National Security Council, the missiles’ range was reported to be 900 km. Hence, it is likely the KN-23 modification, as the KN-24 variants have a shorter range.

On Jan. 9, during his regular press briefing, Kirby stated that on Jan. 6, Russia once again launched North Korean missiles against Ukraine, though he did not specify the location.

Mikhail Voitenko, Russia’s leading expert on maritime transport and modern piracy, has died in Thailand. We have worked with him extensively, in particular, when investigating arms shipments for the Wagner Group in the Central African Republic. We express our sincere condolences to Mikhail's family.