Ukraine is fighting with increasingly heavy Western weapons

“I don’t need a lift, but more ammunition,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said at the beginning of the Russian invasion, and that statement still holds true today. While Ukraine is leading the way, recapturing villages, towns and hundreds of square kilometers from the Russian army, its armed forces are heavily dependent on Western weapons, and the country continues to make wish lists.

Perhaps high on that wish list is the ATACMS missile (Army Tactical Missile System), a ballistic missile with a range of 300 kilometers that can hit targets far behind Russian lines, for example in Crimea. On Monday, Zelensky offered to give the US full insight into the targets Ukraine wants to hit in order to leave the Americans to deliver those ATACMS weapons. So far, US President Joe Biden has refused to do so for fear of escalation and US involvement if the missiles hit Russian territory.

Also read: For now, Russia must withdraw in Kherson and Donbas

The ATACMS discussion is the latest action in an ongoing negotiation process in which Ukraine asks and insists and the West supplies arms. Although not always the desired weapons, and not always in the desired quantities.

Relatively light weapons

At the beginning of the war, Zelenskiy begged for Western fighter jets and a no-fly zone, which NATO countries refused to provide because they would have to shoot down Russian planes; and Ukrainian pilots were not trained on the F16. Instead, Ukraine received relatively light weapons: firearms, helmets, body armor, and portable anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons. These weapons played a crucial role in stopping the Russian invasion in the first phase of the war. Not coincidentally, these are also weapons that require little training and are easy to distribute unseen.

As the war turned into an artillery barrage on the Eastern fronts in June, Western backers switched to heavier weapons

As the war turned into an artillery massacre on the eastern fronts in June, with hundreds of Ukrainian casualties per day, Western backers switched to heavier weapons.

For example, Ukraine received more than a hundred M777 howitzers (cannons for launching grenades) with Excalibur precision grenades. The Netherlands supplied eight armored howitzers and France CAESAR howitzers. Armored vehicles also arrived to transport soldiers.

The real turning point came with the delivery of American HIMARS rocket launchers and comparable British and German systems, of which Ukraine now has more than 20 in operation. These rocket launchers are now being used for GPS-guided GMLRS missiles with a range of up to 70 kilometers. This allowed Ukraine to hit targets far behind the front, such as ammunition depots, radar posts, command posts and anti-aircraft systems.

“It’s called interdiction,” says Patrick Bolder, a defense analyst at the defense and security institute HCSS in The Hague. “You weaken the infrastructure and the supply lines behind the front. As a result, for example, the Russians have to move the ammunition stores further back, so it takes more time and effort to get the ammunition to the weapons on top of the logistical and organizational problems they already had.”

To the south near the city of Kherson, Ukraine used HIMARS to destroy bridges over the Dnipro River, cutting off Russian supplies of fuel, ammunition and troops. “Then at a certain point it is no longer possible to resupply, and you can roll them up,” says Bolder. “We’re seeing it happen now.”

Read also: Putin’s room for maneuver is shrinking, he can only move on

Ongoing military support

Deliveries are still ongoing. Last week, the US pledged an additional $1.1 billion in military aid, including 18 new HIMARS installations and anti-drone systems. This brings the total value of US arms support to around seventeen billion euros.

Some weapons are only now appearing on the battlefield because preparation takes time. In August, images of Western AGM-88 HARM missiles surfaced. This high-speed anti-radiation missile is fired from under an aircraft and detects the radar radiation from air defense batteries to target it. But these missiles are designed for Western jet fighters. Bolder: “The Ukrainians and the Americans managed to integrate it on the Ukrainian Mig aircraft in a few months, which is really very fast.”

Other systems have yet to be built. Ukraine is eagerly awaiting NASAMS (Norwegian Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile System), an air defense system that the US has promised eight. This medium-range air defense system can shoot down enemy aircraft, drones and cruise missiles, and is said to be effective against cruise missiles that Russia uses to bombard major cities such as Kiev and Odessa (and increasingly civilian targets such as power plants, dams and hospitals).

NASAMS is a new system developed by American Raytheon and Norwegian Kongsberg. The US has ordered several for Ukraine, the first of which will arrive in November. The first of four comparable German Iris-T air defense systems was due to arrive as early as October.

Western fears that delivered weapons will be shot or, worse, captured, seem unlikely to materialize so far

Meanwhile, Russia also received its first foreign arms deliveries: Iran delivered dozens of Shahed 136 drones. These are kamikaze drones that can launch themselves at a target with an explosive warhead. Ukrainian soldiers reported the first attacks in September, but the drones are also being used against civilian targets in Kiev and Odessa.

Western fears that delivered weapons will be shot down or, worse, captured seem unlikely to materialize so far. The weapons blog oryx peony head, which tracks weapon losses from scattered imagery, reports that only nine out of more than a hundred Western M777 howitzers were destroyed or damaged.

Despite a high price and propaganda value on the upside of the HIMARS systems, several Russian claims that they have been destroyed have never been confirmed. This is probably also due to ‘high mobility’ which is in the name of the weapon: After firing, HIMARS rocket launchers on truck tires can drive away quickly so that they themselves are not fired upon.

Pilots in training

Meanwhile, heavier weapons are already on the way. Ukrainian pilots are being trained in the US to fly Western A10 fighter jets, the US is considering supplying M1 Abrams tanks, and the EU will train 15,000 Ukrainian soldiers, including on Western weapons systems.

New deliveries are announced almost weekly. For example, last week Slovenia announced the delivery of 28 M-55S tanks in an exchange where Germany will supply tanks and trucks to Slovenia. Not all deliveries are (exactly) announced.

This does not mean that the wish lists are always complied with. A spokesman for the US Department of Defense said on Tuesday that the delivered GMLRS missiles are sufficient for Ukraine for now. The ATACMS missiles with a range of three hundred kilometers, which Zelenzsky insisted on, and which can also be fired with HIMARS rocket launchers, will therefore not come. At least for now.

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