Ballistic missiles will not make a difference in Donbass – drones will – POLITICO

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Russia’s enemies should rethink.

That was President Vladimir Putin’s message as he observed this successful test shot an ultra-modern ICBM dubbed the Satan 2 by Western military analysts. It will be able to “overcome all modern missile defense means,” Putin said in comments broadcast on Russian television.

But while it may leave Putin feeling muscular while his army struggles to achieve his war goals in Ukraine, this horrific piece of theater staged by the Russian military on Wednesday will make no difference on the immediate battlefield.

Satan 2, officially named Sarmat, is the largest ballistic missile in history. In development for almost two decades, it is a fearsome weapon with a range of over 10,000 kilometers, a potential speed of Mach 20 and the ability to outwit and evade anti-missile defenses by changing speeds and constantly maneuvering. It also has the ability to deploy 15 nuclear warheads in a single strike.

For example, if fired at Western Europe, a single missile could devastate 15 cities spread across multiple nations.

No doubt this test shot will raise alarms among some in the West that Putin may be “going nuclear.” But in the unfolding battle for Donbass, it will actually be logistics and smaller, cheaper conventional weapons, albeit advanced ones, that will make the real difference – not ICBMs.

Hence the constant public and behind-the-scenes appeals from Ukrainians for more guns — demands to which US President Joe Biden’s administration will respond in some fashion Notice of $800 million in new arms shipments on Thursday. The new US arms shipments include 72 long-range howitzers and towed vehicles, as well as 144,000 artillery shells and more than 120 drones tailored to Ukraine’s needs.

As Russian forces seek to expand their control of Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts and establish a firm land bridge with Crimea, it is these types of weapons – reconnaissance and armed drones, howitzers, light anti-tank weapons, such as Britain’s next-generation Light Anti -Armored Weapons (NLAWs) – this will determine the outcome of the upcoming skirmishes.

Take in the sinking of the Russian Black Sea Fleet flagship, shot down by one of Ukraine’s Neptun missiles on April 14th. The Neptune is an upgraded Soviet-era anti-ship missile that entered service a little over a year ago. There are also some reports that an armed Turkish Bayraktar drone may have played a role in the ship’s fate as well.

Ukrainian officials estimate that about half of the tanks the Russians have lost since February 24 have been knocked out or destroyed by British “fire and forget” NLAWs or the slightly heavier American version, the Javelin. Both weapons automatically guide to their target after launch, allowing the shooter to move quickly after firing, and with their smooth launches, it’s difficult to quickly identify the launch point. Britain has sent more than 4,200 NLAWs and the Americans have delivered more than 2,000 javelins, with another 2,000 on the way, according to official figures.

However, the Ukrainian military admits that while these weapons were very effective in the fighting northwest and east of Kyiv during the first phase of the war, their usefulness in the Donbass may be limited. The region’s flat and open landscape contrasts with the wooded landscape around the capital, which is better suited for ambushes. Even Biden himself referred to the changed landscape when announcing the fresh arms shipments.

Therefore, Western military strategists and Ukrainian military officials agree that the battle for Donbass will depend on drones. They will decide whether the Russian offensive succeeds or is thrown back. But a big question is whether both sides will get enough of it – although Russian forces are running out, a British military planner told me.

This importance of drones is underscored in the latest American weapons pack, which includes 112 state-of-the-art, highly classified Phoenix Ghost Drones. These can take out tanks and other armored vehicles, guide themselves to their targets, and are intended for single use. Little is known of their full capabilities, but they are relatively cheap to manufacture.

Ukrainians say Russian forces are already deploying more Orlan-10 reconnaissance drones in Donbas, which are being used to map Ukraine’s defenses and identify targets for artillery bombardments. But they fly low and are vulnerable to being shot down. Likewise, Turkey-supplied Bayraktar drones are at much greater risk in eastern Ukraine, Justin Bronk of the Royal United Services Institute, a British defense think tank, noted this week.

“The density of Russian ground-based air defense systems is also much greater here,” he says. And he warns that “in the next phase of ground operations, Russia is likely to have local air superiority over much of the Donbass.” Bronk predicts that Russian warplanes will have greater freedom of action in the skies over Donbass than near Kyiv. They are better protected by ground-based air defense systems, he adds.

But he and other military analysts question whether the Russian Air Force will actually be able to exploit its greater freedom of maneuver given its lack of precision-guided munitions and its aircrews not having had enough training hours to learn the complex skills needed for effective close-air support.

So when it comes to the battlefield in Ukraine, Putin may regret not spending more on training his pilots or making precision-guided munitions and drones instead of spending billions developing Satan 2. Ballistic missiles will not make a difference in Donbass – drones will – POLITICO

Fry Electronics Team

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