There are growing indications that Ukraine could get longer-range Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS) short-range ballistic missile variants from the U.S. military as early as January of next year. Ukraine’s Ambassador to the United States, Oksana Markarova, said today that her country’s military needs more “game changers” like ATACMS to keep up the pressure on Russian forces.
Markarova said the current situation on the ground in Ukraine, where fighting has recently surged in many areas along the front lines, means “that we have to be more creative, that we have to find the right mix of capabilities, [and] that we have to use more game changers.” She claims that Russia currently has some 400,000 personnel in the country.
Ukraine’s top diplomat in the United States specifically highlighted the country’s first-ever ATACMS strikes on two Russian-occupied airfields in eastern Ukraine last week as examples of game-changing capabilities. Those strikes destroyed a large number of helicopters and other materiel, and look to have had significant operational impacts for the Russians already.
Ukrainian forces have since carried out at least one additional ATACMS strike, which reportedly targeted Russian S-400 surface-to-air missile systems.
Markarova’s comments came earlier today during a question and answer session at the 2023 Military Reporters and Editors conference in Washington, D.C. Interestingly, she also specifically talked about the value and limits of longer-range ATACMS variants able to hit targets up to 186 miles (300 kilometers), which Ukrainian forces are not understood to have received. U.S. officials told various outlets last week that only versions with shorter 102-mile (165-kilometer) ranges had been sent to Ukraine so far.
“It’s not even long-range, right? Even the 300 kilometers [range variant] is not really a long range [weapon] from the military standpoint,” she said. “But [we need] longer range capability so that we can actually reach everywhere on our territory, that we can not only prepare the battlefield, but we can actually change the situation.”
“We need to threaten all the logistical channels of [the] Russians,” Markarova continued. “We need to put all of their ammo dumps and helicopters and everything they have there [at risk].”
The Ukrainian Ambassador’s comments come just a day after Myroslava Gongadze. VOA‘s Eastern Europe Chief, wrote on X, formerly Twitter, that a senior Ukrainian military official told her that the country’s foreign partners would start supplying unspecified missiles with a 300-kilometer range starting in January 2024. The clear assumption here is that this is a reference to longer-range ATACMS variants.
While the ATACMS missiles Ukraine has received so far are all loaded with cluster munitions, there are longer-range variants that also have unitary warheads consisting of a single large high-explosive charge. The cluster munition versions offer immense advantages when targeting things like airfields full of aircraft and air defense assets, as The War Zone has previously explored in depth.
Variants with unitary warheads could still be very valuable for engaging singular and more hardened targets, such as command posts and other specific facilities. Bridges would be another key target for these weapons. As ballistic missiles, all ATACMS variants come down at a very high velocity in the terminal phase of their flight, which makes them extremely challenging to defend against. I also give unitary types the ability to burrow more deeply into hard targets.
It remains to be seen if and when Ukraine does receive ATACMS versions with greater reach, but there is no question that they would be a boon to its efforts to push Russian forces further back.
Before getting into the newest developments in Ukraine, The War Zone readers can first get up to speed through our prior rolling coverage here.
The U.S. military announced yet another aid package for Ukraine yesterday. No specific mention was made of more ATACMS, but unspecified additional rounds for the country’s U.S.-made High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS), one of the launchers capable of firing ATCAMS, were included.
Also included were additional interceptors for Ukraine’s National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile Systems, as well as more AIM-9M Sidewinder air-to-air missiles that are set to be transformed into air defense weapons as you can read more about here. More Stinger short-range surface-to-air missiles, TOW and Javelin anti-tank missiles, and 155mm and 105mm artillery shells, among other materiel, will also be heading to Ukrainian forces.
Artillery shells, especially 155mm rounds, continue to be in extremely high demand in Ukraine, and Western producers are still struggling to keep up. There are reports that a European Union initiative to help get more artillery ammunition to Ukrainian forces is behind schedule. Norwegian Defense contractor Nammo also recently told the government of that country that substantial new investments are required to meet both Ukraine’s needs and those of European militaries.
Air defense assets also continue to be of prime importance. The German government has now confirmed the delivery of another IRIS-T SLM air defense system, as well as missiles for it and a TRML-4D air surveillance and target acquisition radar, to Ukraine. The country has also sent additional munitions for use in MARS II launchers it previously provided. The MARS II is a derivative of the U.S.-made M270 Multiple Launch Rocket System (MLRS).
A steady stream of aid remains critical for Ukraine, which continues to be engaged in major fighting at various points along the front lines in the eastern and southern ends of the country. This includes the continued defense of the eastern town of Avdiivka, which Russian forces have been attempting to capture for nearly three weeks now. So far, Russia’s military has made at best limited progress, despite continued reports that it has already lost significant amounts of personnel and material in the course of the localized offensive.
A key focus of recent fighting has been over a toxic waste pile adjacent to the Avdiivka Coke Plant. The tweet below shows a Ukrainian drone hitting flags that Russian forces had placed on top.
Ukrainian forces have also reportedly been engaged in renewed efforts to push across the Dnipro (Dnieper) River in the Kherson region further to the south. Ukraine’s own offensive operations in and around the eastern city of Bakhmut are also ongoing.
In its latest public intelligence update on Ukraine, the U.K. Ministry of Defense says that Russian bombers have not conducted any air-launched cruise missile strikes on Ukraine in more than a month now. Though there have been gaps in their participation in the fighting in the past, this is one of the longest recorded to date. British authorities posit this could be linked to Russia’s need to replenish its stocks of Kh-101 land-attack cruise missiles, also known to NATO as the AS-23A Kodiak.
The U.K. Ministry of Defense warned that the Russians could also be conserving missiles for more pronounced strikes against Ukraine’s power grid and other critical civilian infrastructure over the winter and could also use Iranian-designed kamikaze drones to make up for any immediate shortfall in Kh-101s.
Other Russian combat aircraft are still carrying out strikes with a variety of munitions. The social media post below offers a rare look at the release of a 500-pound class bomb with a pop-out wing kit from a Russian Su-34 Fullback combat jet. You can read more about these wing kits here.
Ukrainian Ambassador to the United States Markarova also warned today about Russia’s targeting of energy and other civilian infrastructure in the coming months, highlighting a similar campaign last winter.
“We’re getting closer to winter. We all know already what Russia did last winter,” she said. “Without being able to have some victories for them on the battlefield, they’re trying to terrorize Ukraine everywhere, but also they’re trying to decrease our capability to resist and fight.”
Russia is continuing to actively target Ukraine’s grain exports for these same general reasons. There have been reports this week that Russia has deployed naval mines, possibly air-dropped types, near Ukraine’s port city of Odesa at the western end of the Black Sea, shutting it down, at least temporarily.
Earlier this week, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu also claimed that Russian forces had been able to shoot down 24 Ukrainian aircraft in five days, in part thanks to newly arrived, but unspecified air defense systems. The War Zone cannot independently verify these claims and has seen no evidence of this being the case.
Russia continues to field older and obsolete armored vehicles and other equipment to make up for its own losses. The Tweet below shows another dated Cold War-era T-55 tank in Russian service with a so-called “cope cage” improvised armored screen on top of the turret that is primarily intended to defeat small weaponized drones.
“Cope cages” are in use on both sides of the conflict in Ukraine now. The picture below shows a pair of Polish-supplied 155mm Krab self-propelled howitzers with particularly extensive arrays of screens around their turrets.
The kinds of weaponized drones these screens are meant to protect against have become ubiquitous, as well. This is underscored by the social media posts below, including one from an official Ukrainian armed forces account.
Finally, new pictures have emerged this week reportedly showing the poor conditions Russian troops have to make do with in trenches along the front lines. Large rats have apparently become a major issue impacting quality of life. Rodent infestation is a long-held staple of the horrors of trench warfare.
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