May 30

Restrictions on the use of Western weaponry on Russian soil have made Lancet loitering munitions one of the primary threats to the Armed Forces of Ukraine on the Kharkiv axis

Since the onset of the Russian offensive on the Kharkiv axis, ZALA Lancet loitering munitions have become a key means of targeting AFU assets on this part of the frontline. Pro-Russian Telegram channels are profusely publishing videos showing these UAVs striking various types of Ukrainian military equipment, particularly artillery systems.

According to the independent researcher Naalsio, 29 pieces of equipment were either damaged or destroyed on the Kharkiv axis as of May 28, with at least 16 of these strikes attributable to Lancets. Twelve of these were MLRS or tube artillery. We have identified 15 additional videos of Lancet strikes geolocated to the Kharkiv axis, on top of Naalsio’s tally. Nine of the 17 assets targeted in these videos were also MLRS and tube artillery. 

The data is available here

The increasing use of Lancets since the start of the May offensive is further corroborated by statistics compiled on the pro-Russian portal LostArmour, which tracks known instances of their deployment. According to LostArmour, as of May 29, there had been 285 recorded Lancet attacks in the month of May, already surpassing the previous record of 178 in March 2024. We expect this number to increase further still by the end of the month. This rise reflects both the growing capabilities of the Russian defense industry (at least in the drone department) and the particularly favorable conditions that have developed on the Kharkiv axis for the use of Lancet loitering munitions.


We see two reasons why the Russian Armed Forces are able to inflict such heavy equipment losses, especially on artillery, which seriously undermine the capabilities of the AFU on this axis. The first reason is related to the theater of war itself: combat is occurring in a compact area in the north of the Kharkiv region, where the road network is relatively sparse. As a result, the invading force can maintain continuous surveillance over most, if not all, of the routes used by vehicles and can immediately deploy loitering munitions from the border areas of Russia’s Belgorod region upon spotting a target. Under these circumstances, it is extremely difficult for Ukrainian crews to avoid detection and the destruction of their military vehicles (1, 2).

The second reason, which, unlike the first, could be resolved, is the prohibition on striking targets within Russian territory. This restriction, imposed by the USA and several other allies on the high-precision weapons they have provided, limits the AFU's options for fire missions. Consequently, the AFU must rely on their own artillery systems, particularly for counter-battery fire. This necessity forces them to position these systems closer to the frontline, which in turn exposes them to Lancet strikes (1, 2).

The situation is further aggravated by the relative impunity with which Russian UAV crews operate within the Belgorod region. They can launch UAVs almost from the border line without the threat of long-range precision fires, such as GMLRS rockets launched from HIMARS MLRS, which the AFU have been actively using against them elsewhere (1, 2, 3, 4). Given the proximity to the frontline, operators require significantly less time to engage a target after its detection. They also do not have to change their positions as frequently, which further increases their effectiveness.

The current situation once again underscores, in our view, the importance of lifting this irrational restriction on the use of long-range precision weapons supplied by allies against targets on Russian territory. This stance has been recently advocated by Ukrainian officials, including President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and high-ranking Western officials, such as NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and, according to NYT sources, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken. Additionally, UK authorities, represented by Foreign Secretary David Cameron, have effectively given the green light for using UK-supplied weapons (primarily Storm Shadow cruise missiles) against targets in Russia. Prominent military analysts, such as Rob Lee, Senior Fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, and active AFU servicemen, like the marine from an aerial reconnaissance unit writing on Twitter under the nickname Kriegsforscher, have also highlighted the need to lift this ban promptly.

The renewed discussions about lifting the ban on using precision weapons against targets in Russia, sparked by the Russian offensive in the Kharkiv region, and the prominence of the speakers raising this issue, give hope for a positive resolution soon. Given the current superiority of the RuAF in battlefield assets, only the most effective use of the weapons available to the AFU will enable the infliction of the necessary damage to maintain the possibility of transitioning to offensive operations to liberate the occupied territories in 2025.