“Ukraine now has an edge in range and in precision-guided rockets and artillery shells, a class of weapons largely lacking in Russia’s arsenal. Ukrainian soldiers are taking out armored vehicles worth millions of dollars with cheap homemade drones, as well as with more advanced drones and other weapons provided by the United States and allies.
The Russian military remains a formidable force, with cruise missiles, a sizable army and millions of rounds of artillery shells, albeit imprecise ones. It has just completed a mobilization effort that will add 300,000 troops to the battlefield, Russian commanders say, although many of those will be ill-trained and ill-equipped. And President Vladimir Putin has made clear his determination to win the war at almost any cost.
Still, there is no mistaking the shifting fortunes on the southern front.
Ukraine’s growing advantage in artillery, a stark contrast to fighting throughout the country over the summer when Russia pummeled Ukrainian positions with mortar and artillery fire, has allowed slow if costly progress in the south toward the strategic port city of Kherson, the only provincial capital that Russia managed to occupy after invading in February.
The new capabilities were on display in the predawn hours Saturday when Ukrainian drones hit a Russian vessel docked in the Black Sea Fleet’s home port of Sevastopol, deep in the occupied territory of Crimea, once thought an impregnable bastion.
The contrast with the battlefield over the summer could not be starker. In the Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine, Russia fired roughly 10 artillery rounds for each answering shell from Ukrainian batteries. In Kherson now, Ukrainian commanders say the sides are firing about equal numbers of shells, but Ukraine’s strikes are not only longer range but more precise because of the satellite-guided rockets and artillery rounds provided by the West.”
“Russian forces have apparently obtained scores of the cheap, plentiful and potentially deadly Iranian-made drones. Like the Nazis in the Second World War, the Russians may hope these new weapons could turn the tide of the war in Russia’s favour.
Made by the Iran Aircraft Manufacturing Industries Company, the Shahed-136 entered service last year. With a range of up to 1,500 miles and carrying a warhead of 35 kilograms, the drones are designed to loiter overhead before striking targets. Ukrainian forces say they come in both Kamikaze and munition-launching variants.
Constructed from commercially available components – including mobile phone parts and model aircraft engines – the drones are easy and cheap to build with a supply chain that is difficult to disrupt with Western sanctions.
Their deployment comes amid signs that Russia is running out of other precision weapons. Last week, Sir Jeremy Fleming, the head of GCHQ, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “We believe that Russia is running short of munitions.”
The waves of drone strikes are a rudimentary new form of terror, compared with the precision Kalibr cruise missiles which have been used to strike targets deep inside Ukraine.
The drones are estimated to cost less than £18,000 per unit. That’s a fraction of the cost of conventional Russian missiles, which range from about £270,000 for a Tochka-U up to £11.6 million for a x-101 cruise missile.
The relatively low speed of the Shahed-136 – just over 100 miles per hour – make them a tempting if difficult target for Ukrainian small arms fire. Soldiers in the Kharkiv region recently told The Telegraph that the drones are slow and visible enough to engage with small arms fire and that they had downed at least one using ordinary machine guns.
But their lack of defences is not a design flaw. The disposable drone is designed to be launched in swarms to overwhelm air defences. The drone is fired from launcher racks in stacks of five aircraft that take off with a booster rocket before switching to a petrol engine.
This, plus the size of their payload, means the drones pose a serious threat, Ukrainian commanders say.”
“Tehran has carefully couched its denials about the Shahed-136, repeatedly rejecting accusations it has supplied Russia with weapons “to be used in the war in Ukraine”. But security officials told the Washington Post that Iranian technical advisors have visited Russian-controlled areas of Ukraine to provide training on operating the drones.”
“The Pentagon is working on a new plan to rise above competition from China and Russia: balloons.
The high-altitude inflatables, flying at between 60,000 and 90,000 feet, would be added to the Pentagon’s extensive surveillance network and could eventually be used to track hypersonic weapons.”
““High or very high-altitude platforms have a lot of benefit for their endurance on station, maneuverability and also flexibility for multiple payloads,” said Tom Karako, senior fellow for the International Security Program and Missile Defense Project director at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
The Pentagon continues to invest in these projects because the military could use the balloons for various missions.”
“Wind currents allow the balloon to float along a desired flight path, and the company takes advantage of different wind speeds and directions to move the balloon to the target area.
But that’s not all. Raven Aerostar uses a proprietary machine-learning algorithm that predicts wind directions and fuses incoming sensor data in real time, Van Der Werff said. The company also employs a software program to pilot and monitor its balloon fleet and has a mission operations center manned with trained flight engineers 24 hours a day, seven days a week, he added.
The balloons can supplement work performed by traditional aircraft and satellites, and stratospheric balloons can be built and launched at a fraction of the cost and time. For example, the cost to launch and operate balloons for weeks or months is in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, versus millions — or tens of millions — needed to launch and operate aircraft or satellites.”
“The White House announced..it will commit to limiting the use of anti-personnel land mines in most places around the world, putting an end to a Trump-era expansion of the policy that President Joe Biden had vowed to reverse.
Anti-personnel land mines, designed for use against humans, have a “disproportionate impact on civilians, including children, long after fighting has stopped,” the White House said in a statement ”
“The Biden administration noted that the use of anti-personnel land mines will continue on the Korean Peninsula because of the “unique circumstances” there and the United States’ commitment to defend South Korea against North Korea.”
“The policy is “in sharp contrast” to Russia’s involvement in Ukraine, where there’s evidence that the country has used anti-personnel landmines that have caused “extensive damage” to civilians and infrastructure, Brown said. He declined to say whether the war in Ukraine provided the impetus for the administration’s move, emphasizing that the policy has been under review since January 2021 and was recently concluded.
The policy change aims to “bring U.S. practice in closer alignment with a global humanitarian movement that has had a demonstrated positive impact in reducing civilian casualties” from land mines, the statement said.”