Ukraine update: The time for ‘hero weapons’ is past. Ukraine needs an equipment upgrade

Ukraine update: The time for ‘hero weapons’ is past. Ukraine needs an equipment upgrade

UPDATE: Friday, Jan 6, 2023 · 10:10:05 PM +00:00 · Mark Sumner

Here’s an update on that possible Russian breakthrough north of Bakhmut. Most of this is from Russian sources, but Ukrainian military sources and locals are also confirming a smaller Russian advance. So think of this as something close to a worst case scenario that is based on the Russian sources.

Bakhmut to Soledar. Open image in another tab for a larger view.

Russia has claimed to take all of Bakhmutske several times over the last few months. As of yesterday, that certainly was not true. However, considering positions Russian forces have reportedly reached on Friday, it may now be true.

Earlier Ukrainian forces had confirmed that Russia had advance from the area of the highway to the quarry seen right where the name Soledar is circled. However, Russian sources are claiming that their troops have reached the salt mine museum in the center of town, which is identified by the red explosion symbol on the map. To the southwest, there are reports from locals in Krasna Hora that Ukrainian forces have drawn back from the area.

Keep in mind that all these reports are very like the “Russia has made a big advance in Bakhmut” reports that came through at the beginning of December, and which generated panic over several days before Ukrainian forces demonstrated conclusively that they were false.

In Bakhmut, there is a report that Russian forces have reached the winery, which is about 100m west of where they had previously been spotted. I’ve dropped an explosion marker on the location, though there’s not a lot of indication of heavy fighting here.

UPDATE: Friday, Jan 6, 2023 · 7:32:07 PM +00:00 · Mark Sumner

The Pentagon makes it official. Bradleys are on their way.

Latest package:

  • 50 Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicles
  • 100 M113 APCs
  • 55 MRAPS
  • 18 M109 SPGs

U.S. military saying that Ukraine will need training to operate and maintain the Bradleys, so don’t expect them to be on the line tomorrow. Soon.

UPDATE: Friday, Jan 6, 2023 · 6:31:00 PM +00:00 · Mark Sumner

Two great things that go well together… 

Hellenic Leopard-2 HEL and US M2 Bradley in Bulgaria on joint exercise.#HellenicArmy #leopard2 #bradley #USArmy pic.twitter.com/tdRSh0DrWi

— 𝔗𝔥𝔢 𝔇𝔢𝔞𝔡 𝔇𝔦𝔰𝔱𝔯𝔦𝔠𝔱 (@TheDeadDistrict) May 20, 2020

UPDATE: Friday, Jan 6, 2023 · 5:34:56 PM +00:00 · Mark Sumner

Your feel good tweet for 2023: 

Americans, you can’t even imagine how much we love you! ❤️ 🇺🇸

— Defense of Ukraine (@DefenceU) January 6, 2023

It wasn’t just Russian intelligence that was utterly wrong about the outcome of Vladimir Putin’s illegal and unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, especially when it comes to the assumption that Russian forces would be occupying Kyiv within days. Most Western analysts expected the same thing. Even when there was talk that Russia would “inevitably lose,” that talk was centered around the idea that Ukraine would hold on in the form of irregular forces, mostly fighting in the mountainous regions along the Polish border and in partisan attacks on occupying authorities. In short, most predictions treated Ukraine like a cooler, greener Afghanistan.

That Ukraine would actually effectively defeat Russia in direct, full-on military combat, was as big a shock to most Western governments as it was to everyone inside the Kremlin. Even in the Pentagon, which had been so accurate in predicting Russian moves leading up to the invasion, there was a clear assumption that Russian tankers would have every opportunity to wear the dress uniforms they took with them when driving south out of Belarus.

It wasn’t until Ukraine proved them wrong, with the first huge victory of the war, that Western militaries committed to providing real assistance.

That the U.S. and other NATO nations weren’t flooding Ukraine with their most modern gear immediately after Russian tanks rolled was largely reflective of the expectation that Ukraine would not just lose the conventional military conflict, but that they would lose it quickly. Over the following weeks, small arms, ammunition, and supplies flowed into Ukraine, but it really wasn’t until a full month following the start of the invasion that there was a decision to send so-called “heavy weapons” to Ukraine. 

The standard meme for the first weeks of the invasion.

Looking back, the whole of the last 10-plus months seem like an exercise in Ukraine holding in there while the West dithered over whether they should be sent the tools they need to deal with the Russian invasion. The slow acceptance of providing necessary weaponry and addressing Russian aggression may have seemed like prudence at the time, but it certainly looks like foot-dragging timidity in retrospect.

That line about Ukraine wanting ammunition, not a ride? Zelenskyy had good reasons for that, as every phone call and announcement from Western leaders in the opening days of the conflict seemed to promise little more than unspecified “assistance” and “humanitarian aid.” 

Here’s a quick review of the announced U.S. assistance to Ukraine, showing how that assistance has shifted over the course of the war’s first year.

On March 10, President Bident announced the first post-invasion assistance package to Ukraine., but this was humanitarian aid only, with a focus on providing food, blankets, and clothing to displaced civilians. A week later, on March 16, there was the first post-invasion shipment of military gear to Ukraine, including human-portable anti-tank and anti-aircraft systems (Javelin and Stinger), small arms, body armor, and helmets. More humanitarian aid followed at the end of the month, focused on providing food, medical supplies, and assistance to nations taking in Ukrainian refugees.

Then a funny thing happened. Starting in mid-March, Ukraine began a counteroffensive against Russian forces in Kyiv oblast. By the first of April, Russia had been driven from the area. That same day, the U.S. announced a package of new equipment, including the first Puma and Switchblade drones. This was followed up a few days later with a deal to transfer Soviet-era artillery and helicopters to Ukraine from NATO partners. Then, on April 13, less than two weeks after the last Russian soldier staggered out of Kyiv Oblast, came the big one — in the sense that this is the first package where the U.S. appears to officially recognize that Ukraine is in it to win it. This $800M package includes the first M777 artillery, M113 APCs, counter-battery radars, Switchblade drones, Soviet helicopters, and more.

That April 13 package broke down the idea that Ukraine could not be sent “heavy” equipment, and that it shouldn’t be sent heavy equipment manufactured by a NATO country, rather than just Soviet gear tucked away by former Warsaw Pact countries. From here on out, the scale and frequency of assistance packages to Ukraine increase drastically. None of that happened until after Ukraine had already demonstrated that it could defeat large numbers of Russian forces, head-on, in direct combat.

I’m going to skip over a huge number of announcements from the White House or Pentagon detailing new packages. It’s enough to say that, what had been a trickle became a steady stream, and as more Ukrainian victories arrived, that stream became a flood. On June 1, came the first HIMARS announcement. Two weeks after that, the first Harpoon missiles. On July 1, it was the first NASAMS air defense system. July also brought a huge announcement of Phoenix Ghost drone systems … and if anyone knows what these look like, how they operate, or whether they’re responsible for a single successful attack, please call me. 

By summer, St. Javelin was taking a back seat to a new hero weapon.

The word for the next few weeks’ worth of assistance is simply more. More HIMARS, more artillery, more drones, more NASAMS, more of everything. The number of such systems increased again after Ukraine’s successful counteroffensive in Kharkiv Oblast, driving home the connection between successful operations on the ground, and Western nations being willing to open their pocketbooks. By November, the U.S. was sending tanks to Ukraine … only these were upgraded Soviet-era tanks, made available through promises of sending M1A1 Abrams to other U.S. allies. October and November also brought on the HAWK system, as well as a number of air defense systems from other NATO allies, as Russia tried to make up for losses on the ground with missile and drone attacks on Ukrainian infrastructure.

By the end of November, the U.S. had dispatched 38 HIMARS, 8 NASAMS, 142 M777 artillery guns, 200 M113 APCs, 20 Soviet-made Mi17 helicopters that happened to be in U.S. hands, and 45 upgraded T-72 tanks swapped out from NATO allies. That would seem to demonstrate that any concern about “heavy equipment” was way back there in the rearview. (Oh, and the U.S. has now sent over 1,800 Phoenix Ghost drones, so you’d think I’d have at least one clear video of these things in action. Except I don’t.)

The reason for running through all this now, is that the announcements this week that France is looking to send AMX-10 RC “mobile guns” and the U.S. is strongly considering dispatching Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicles, seems like another of those moments when some artificial “this far, but no farther” barrier has been blown away. Western countries are going to provide Western armor to Ukraine, and not just “battle taxis” left over from an idea of warfare tactics that’s two generations out of date. It’s now clear that, in addition to the two systems we discussed yesterday, Germany intends to send the Marder — a 30-ton, tracked fighting vehicle that, like the Bradley, packs an autocannon and anti-tank weapons. In fact, the Marder’s role is so like the Bradley, Ukraine is going to need to make some decisions on how and where to deploy the two vehicles to prevent a logistical nightmare.

But hey, the Marder. The Marder is older than the other two hardware systems (going back to a prototypes ordered in 1960), supposedly on their way. That doesn’t mean it’s not good. Here’s a thread from a German NAFO member breaking down some of the characteristics of the Marder.

The vehicle was designed to complement Leopard tanks in much the same way that the Bradley was designed to be a companion to the Abrams. The emphasis was on giving it the speed it needed to keep up with the new tank, while also giving it the levels of armor necessary to deliver infantry reliably on a battlefield dominated by tanks.

The version that’s likely to appear in Ukraine, assuming this all goes through, is the A3. That has upgraded electronics and armor specifically designed to withstand the 30mm rounds fired by Russian BMPs. However, unlike the guns on the Bradley, most weapons mounted on a Marder really don’t have the penetration to take out the Russian fighting vehicle. Still, there are a lot of targets that can be taken down by a belt-driven 20mm autocannon firing a variety of switch-on-the-fly ammo.

For most Ukrainian soldiers, the Marder should prove a big step up when it comes to safety and effectiveness of their ride.

But the Marder may just be the tip of the iceberg. With news of Bradleys and (maybe even more importantly) the AMX-10 RC on the way, it seems like NATO is right on the verge of breaking one of the three remaining taboos when it comes to shipping gear to Ukraine. Those three: No Western aircraft, no long-range, ground-to-ground missiles, no Western-designed tanks.

With their own stock of Soviet-era gear, plus home-grown Ukrainian inventiveness, Ukraine won the battle of Kyiv. Bolstered by Western artillery and transports, they won the battle of Kharkiv. With HIMARS on hand to take out bridges and a increasing capacity to withstand Russian assaults from the air, Ukraine won back Kherson. 

Now Ukraine needs to liberate Luhansk, Donetsk, and Crimea, and they’re doing so even as Russia is filling those areas with every person and piece of equipment it can drag into the fight. The sheer density of Russian forces in these remaining areas likely guarantees that to liberate them effectively, Ukraine can no longer lean on a force primarily equipped with the same gear that Russia is carrying. They don’t need a new “hero weapon.” They need a general upgrade.

It’s time for Ukraine to move against Russian forces using the same modern, powerful, Western tools that were purpose-built to face the force now occupying portions of Ukraine. AMX-10 RC is a good step. Bradleys are a good step. Marders are a good step. But an even better move would be a coherent and coordinated plan in which Western nations systematically provided the best available replacement for each of the weapons Ukraine needs to conduct the next phase of this war. 

We’ve worried about logistics the whole time, and that worry is only exacerbated when Western nations decide to send Ukraine a whole bunch of overlapping tools because no one wants to be the first to step over the next tenuous line in the sand. If that sounds like I’m saying Germany should just keep the Marders and send Leopards … yes, that would be best. The Marders are good, but if the Bradleys arrive, they’re the second-best solution to an already-addressed problem.

Ukraine doesn’t need ten different types of APCs, a dozen versions of mobile artillery, and fifteen varieties of Humvee equivalents. It needs NATO to sit down and determine the best mix of tools that can be put in place and supported, which would allow Ukraine to fight Russia, rather than trying to find the manual for one of forty different diesel engines. Clearing out a dozen of this and a dozen of that from NATO storage sheds may be providing marginal improvements for Ukraine, but it’s also making logistics and support much more difficult. So stop that. “We have a lot of these sitting around” is not the first thing that should be considered when deciding what to send to Ukraine. Start with “these are the best tools to address a need Ukraine is telling us about” and work from there.

Even more importantly, Ukraine needs the U.S. and everyone else to stop drawing those artificial lines. Those lines are going to be broken anyway, and they only look more silly by the day. So stop worrying about what Russia will do. Start thinking about what Ukraine needs to end this thing. Stop erecting artificial barriers to the victory you claim to be supporting.

Otherwise, we’re going to be sitting here next August talking about how the U.S. just decided to send Ukraine some A-10 Warthogs. And if that sounds exciting, here’s something a lot better—we could be sitting here next August, talking about how this war is over, because Ukraine got what they needed back in January.

A number of Russian sources have been pushing this video that supposedly shows Russia’s own fast-wheeled vehicle on its way to Ukraine, likely as a response to announcements about the AMX-10 RC. However, it’s worth noting that there’s no actual location or date for this video. It very likely shows BTR-82As rolling across somewhere in Russia last year, not this winter. Why is that more likely? Because 377 BTR-82As are already verified destroyed in Ukraine. 

2124/ A trainload of BTR-82A can be seen, allegedly in the #Belarus#Russia border direction. pic.twitter.com/NI5Ujy3ryj

— Huligan (@Ghost132607472) January 6, 2023

But we do have a date on these trucks. 

The Turkish-made mine-resistant armored vehicles Kirpi were spotted at the railway station Bacau in Romania few days ago The vehicles were moving towards Ukraine on the freight train of the Ukrainian Railways Ukrzaliznytsia.pic.twitter.com/CNbyOELGoq

— Euromaidan Press (@EuromaidanPress) January 6, 2023

Tanks were invented in World War I in hopes of bringing an end to the stalemate of trench warfare. A century later, tanks are still charging at troops in trenches. In this case, it’s a Ukrainian T-72 driving straight over Russians in a trench. This is not an even fight, but it is a good test of gun depression. In Zombieland terms, this is a massive double tap.

Украинский танк в упор расстреливает окоп с российскими оккупантами pic.twitter.com/uZW2yk4L2I

— СЛАВА УКРАЇНІ (@ok_ukraine) January 6, 2023

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