October 18, 2023

Sitrep for Oct. 16-18, 2023 (as of 8 a.m.)

Frontline Situation Update

The Armed Forces of Ukraine continue to capitalize on their recent successes in the Bakhmut direction, managing to secure positions around Klishchiivka and Andriivka along the railroad, effectively pushing the Russian Armed Forces back behind the tracks. For now, Russian forces are fortifying their defenses along the road from Bakhmut to Horlivka. Intense fighting continues in Kurdiumivka.

Combat operations are similarly continuing on the Zaporizhzhia axis, albeit without significant changes in the frontline.

Strikes on Ukrainian and Russian Territory

During the night of Oct. 18, Russian forces struck Zaporizhzhia, partially destroying a residential building. The strike resulted in five people killed and three injured, with another five people hospitalized.

In a major development in the Russian-Ukrainian war, the AFU carried out a strike on the Berdiansk airbase on the night of Oct. 17. The airbase was actively used to conduct attacks against advancing Ukrainian forces on the Zaporizhzhia axis.

Videos recorded by Russian soldiers on the base depict several helicopters engulfed in flames—presumably Mil Mi-8 transport helicopters and at least one Kamov Ka-52 (Hokum B) attack helicopter. According to the soldiers on the scene, four to five aircraft caught fire as a result of the strike, while several fuel tanks and ammunition boxes were destroyed.

Subsequently, photographs emerged showing missile bodies marked as MGM-140A manufactured in 1996 and 1997, indicating they belong to one of the oldest ATACMS variants. According to available records, it is the earliest variant, ATACMS Block 1, that was employed. Its flight range is up to 100 miles, or approximately 165 kilometers, and its cluster munition warhead contains 950 M74 anti-personnel and anti‑materiel bomblets. Thanks to this warhead, the missile targeted a substantial area and inflicted significant damage to the airbase. While it is currently impossible to assess the extent of the damage, this attack is being referred to as “one of the most serious strikes of all time” in pro-Russian Telegram channels. Satellite images of the Berdiansk airbase have later surfaced.

M74 bomblets from the ATACMS missiles bear a striking resemblance to Soviet-made ShOAB-0.5 submunitions, which were likely based on similar US designs from the past.

Assumptions were made that the 1997 missile body represented an upgraded MGM-140B ATACMS Block 1A variant with GPS-aided guidance and a 300-kilometer range, achieved by reducing the number of bomblets by approximately two-thirds. However, Western media sources indicate that Ukraine only received ATACMS missiles with a range of up to 100 miles.

The supplied ATACMS are inertially-guided ballistic missiles, guided by a set of laser gyros and accelerometers. While this system is less precise than GPS-aided guidance, as it can accumulate errors, it is invulnerable to electronic warfare systems.

The ATACMS missile has the ability to correct its course, making interception more challenging. These missiles are sometimes referred to as quasi-ballistic. The RuAF possess a limited number of S-300V4 air defense systems capable of intercepting such missiles.

Considering that the ATACMS Block 1 missile, equipped with a cluster munition warhead, is designed to target broad areas, the precision offered by the inertial guidance system should be adequate for hitting airfields (provided that aircraft are not in hardened shelters), field ammunition depots, fuel storage facilities and open-air tent camps. However, it is mostly ineffective when striking barracks, trenches, bridges and railway tracks.

Additionally, Ukrainian sources reported an attack on the airfield in the city of Luhansk, however, unlike the case with Berdiansk, this information has not yet been confirmed either by Russian sources or satellite images by NASA's Fire Information for Resource Management System. Ukrainian special operations forces claimed that detonation continued until 4 a.m at the Berdiansk airfield, and until 11 a.m in Luhansk. This would certainly have been reflected in FIRMS satellite images, but no fires can be seen either in the images of the Luhansk airport or the Luhansk aviation school. The Ukrainian side also claims that they managed to damage the runway as a result of the strike, however cluster munitions are unlikely to have caused any significant damage to the runway.

If the AFU had been able to launch such a strike in early June, it would have prevented the Russian Air Force from operating freely in the Zaporizhzhia axis and would have helped Ukrainian forces advance and clear paths through minefields. This latest attack could be viewed as a preparatory artillery barrage, carried out several months after the start of the offensive.

Yet, even now, the supply of these missiles gives the AFU an additional advantage: the map we prepared shows the potential ATACMS engagement range, which includes the northern part of Crimea (assuming that MLRS are not brought closer than 15 km to the frontline). All potential targets can hardly be secured in this area. It is worth noting that Dzhankoy—an important logistics hub through which all trains with military equipment pass—is also located in the northern part of Crimea, and although the ATACMS Block 1 variant Ukraine received cannot destroy a railway line or station, such missiles with cluster warheads can inflict significant damage to concentrations of military equipment.

Despite the delivery of these missiles being discussed for over a month, it seems that no preparations were made at RuAF airfields. Conducting such preparations on-site without central command allocation of resources is unlikely. Since the AFU currently possess a small number of these missiles, the main task will be selecting the right target. For example, it does not make much sense to strike small ammunition storage facilities since the RuAF have dispersed them along the frontline after the arrival of HIMARS MLRS.

At least two ATACMS missiles were used when striking the Berdiansk airfield. The total number of missiles transferred is unknown, however, reports mention a "small quantity" (some sources claim around 20 units), likely in the tens. Politico claims that US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley opposed supplying ATACMS to Ukraine, as it would deplete US stocks, while US President Joe Biden and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan insisted on the delivery, to bolster the, thus far, slow moving Ukrainian offensive.

This is the second instance of post-factum reporting on the transfer of new and critical weaponry during the full-scale invasion. The first instance was the delivery of Storm Shadow/SCALP-EG missiles.

According to Boeing's commercial director, the first batch of GLSDB munitions (Ground-Launched Small Diameter Bombs) will be delivered to Ukraine "in the near future." Previously, we had expected their arrival by the end of the year. It is possible that this delivery may also not be reported in advance, and we may only become aware of it after an attack occurs.

A video of the launch of a lightweight multirole guided missile, also known as Izdeliye [Product] 305, with a range of up to 14.5 km, from a Kamov Ka-52M (Hokum B) attack helicopter has emerged. The range of this missile makes it impossible to shoot down such a helicopter with a man-portable air defense system; it would now require a medium-range air defense system, such as Buk SAM system. However, placing an air defense system in close proximity to the frontline would make it an easy target for Lancet drones.

All promised Abrams tanks (31 in total) have already arrived in Ukraine. Trained crews and spare parts have also arrived from Germany.

Unlike ATACMS missiles with cluster munition warheads, Abrams tanks are not a fundamentally new type of weaponry, and they are unlikely to have a significant impact on the course of combat operations. It appears that a parity has emerged on the battlefield—both sides advance at approximately the same rate, and the frontline is almost static. It is reported that in recent months, the Ukrainian side has begun to use more artillery and missiles than the Russian side, but this has not yet had a noticeable impact on the situation on the ground (we cannot rule out a cumulative effect in the future).

It is also worth noting that both sides are experiencing a shortage of air defense systems and ammunition, however, their ability to correct the situation is not equal. On Oct. 17, Russia’s Minister of Defense Sergei Shoigu and Moscow Mayor Sergey Sobyanin opened a new Almaz-Antey plant [Russian state-owned concern in the arms industry], which will produce air defense systems. Ukraine, in turn, cannot build a similar plant on its territory due to the high missile threat from Russia.

Experts from the Royal United Services Institute have analyzed satellite images of the Russian Pacific Fleet base in Fokino, Primorsky region, and the North Korean port of Rason. Their findings confirm suspicions that North Korea is indeed supplying weapons to Russia. The Russian-flagged cargo vessel Angara has repeatedly transported containers from North Korea to Russia. These containers were subsequently conveyed by rail to a base in Tikhoretsk, Krasnodar region. A comparative analysis of satellite images taken on July 27 and Sept. 28 reveals a significant expansion of the storage facilities at the Tikhoretsk base. Dossier Center [independent Russian investigative media outlet] journalists examined the cargo manifests, and discovered that the cargo vessel transported 50 tons and 690 kilograms of certain "missiles with explosive warheads."

In a significant legislative move, US officials have bundled support for both Ukraine and Israel into a single legislative package. According to Bloomberg, President Biden plans to request approximately $100 billion from Congress to aid both nations. This development potentially brings good tidings for Ukraine, as a consolidated aid package could find smoother passage through Congress. Nevertheless, there are no discernible signs of diminishing support for Ukraine at this juncture.

The State Duma [lower house of the Federal Assembly of Russia] voted to allow Rosgvardia [the National Guard of Russia] to muster volunteer fighter units at the bill’s first reading. This will likely be used to recruit former Wagner Group mercenaries into Rosgvardia.