Shadows are driven by fear. Ukraine is deploying new weapons before the offensive

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Last week on Thursday, May 11, the British government said it had supplied Ukraine with controlled Storm Shadow missiles. The first weapon that can hit targets more than 200 kilometers behind the front.

The very next day, there were two explosions at the “Engineering Plant 100” in the city of Luhansk, which is located approximately 90 kilometers from the front line and thus was out of range of Ukrainian weapons until now. Missiles from HIMARS or M270 could theoretically fly into the city, but the rocket launchers would have to stand directly in the trenches – and that is, of course, too dangerous.

Thus, Luhansk has been a completely safe haven for Russian forces until now. Russian army she concentrated here its repair plants and warehouses, satellite images indicate. Testimonies from the scene and from social networks then show that they were found in the city quiet place members of the Russian power and economic elite or their acquaintances and family members to “untwist” the war.

They appeared on Saturday fragment images, which appeared to be remnants of a Storm Shadow cruise missile picked up from the impact site. In the following days and after other strikes, this evidence was added, until finally the deployment of the weapon on May 18 she confirmed and Great Britain.

In tandem

Already the first strikes on Luhansk also showedthat Ukraine has received a system that will allow it to better utilize Storm Shadow’s capabilities.

Specifically, they are lightweight AGM-106B MALD “decoy targets”. These missiles were developed after the 1991 Gulf War to allow Western militaries to more easily penetrate organized air defenses.

MALD carries no payload, but is designed to mimic the radar profile of several different types of combat aircraft and several types of cruise missiles. It can thus deceive enemy radars and divert attention from real planes or missiles.

The supply of these “bait” was not known in advance, they were not specifically mentioned in any list of foreign aid. However, when in December 2022 the Pentagon announced a new delivery of military aid for the Ukrainian Armed Forces, it included what was described at the time only as new “air defense combat capabilities”.

This particular aid package was labeled a “drawdown,” which simply means that all of the items it contained would be supplied from existing U.S. military stocks.

At the same time, it was the first time that the Pentagon supplied weapons to Ukraine in a similar way, without specifying the type in advance. Last year, thanks to fragments from the sites of the attacks, it was first discovered that the US military was supplying its Ukrainian counterparts with AGM-88 HARM anti-missile missiles.

By the way, both missiles (as well as Storm Shadow) are launched from aircraft. In both cases, Ukraine could start using them only when at least some Ukrainian machines of Soviet origin had undergone a significant modification.

Of course, its extent is not exactly known, but in general, in similar cases, it is necessary to replace at least some electronics and then, above all, thoroughly verify that the new and old systems work together as they should. Even in wartime conditions, it is probably a job for months.

And there is another parallel: as in the case of HARM, MALD was not delivered in the latest version. According to the image, Ukraine uses variant B, currently producing variant J, which has significantly expanded capabilities. However, even the less advanced “B” can significantly help improve the chances of Ukrainian missiles penetrating Russian defenses. Which is only good in the case of Storm Shadow, whose price is around 800,000 pounds (approx. 22 million crowns) and which are definitely not available in unlimited quantities.

So what can be said about their possible deployment and influence on the further course of the war?

New Age

Perhaps in this case it is not out of place to use a historical example. We don’t have to go anywhere far into the past, just a year.

At the beginning of the summer of last year, the war was basically going according to the ideas of the Russian command. The Russian army was able to pin Ukrainian forces on the Donbas front, where Russian artillery dominated. Ukraine found itself in an unsustainable position, its losses were unbearable. Daily hundreds were dying Ukrainian soldiers, hundreds more were injured.

However, the situation calmed down significantly during the summer. Western partners have provided Kiev with precision rocket launchers (ie HIMARS and similar GMLRS missile systems) and – often forgotten – battlefield intelligence as well. Together, this helped the Ukrainian military very quickly and effectively identify ammunition depots as well as command posts of the Russian army.

In the following weeks after the delivery of these systems, it was possible to interrupt them, or at least at least slow the supply of ammunition for the Russian artillery and disrupt its coordination with the rest of the army. Which is just as important, because if the cannons don’t get the information on what to shoot at, or at least don’t get it in time, they can’t do any damage.

The Russian military has since adapted to the threat of GMLRS missiles. Its main logistics hubs are now a hundred kilometers or more behind the front, out of reach of these weapons. Command posts were moved to fixed buildings or bunkers. They are allegedly connected directly, i.e. by cable, to the Ukrainian civil telecommunications system. So they are hard to detect (they don’t emit anything) and at the same time they are so well protected that a relatively small GMLRS charge cannot directly destroy them. Russian air defense, which is not completely defenseless against Ukrainian strikes, also learned a lesson.

Further customization took place at the combat unit level. For example, the all-important delay between the discovery of a possible target (for example, drones, but also infantry or another component) and the moment when cannons or rocket launchers start firing has been shortened – Russian artillery simply reacts more flexibly and its command structure is less vulnerable and fragile.

Which of course could be a big problem in the upcoming offensive. If the Russian artillery reacts quickly to the Ukrainian breakthrough attempt, they will most likely smash it. Especially when Ukraine does not have, for example, an abundance of armored infantry vehicles at its disposal, which would be able to protect the infantrymen at least to a certain extent.


The introduction of Storm Shadow could solve some of these problems, he thinks for example, analyst Jack Watling from the British think tank RUSI.

The Storm Shadow has a range of around 250 kilometers compared to roughly 90 kilometers for the GMLRS. In addition, it has a roughly ten times stronger warhead, which is designed to destroy fortified targets (i.e. bunkers). And it is also designed to be able to penetrate solid air defenses, both because it flies very low over the terrain and because it has only a small radar “footprint”.

The new missile therefore poses a direct threat to a number of important facilities of the Russian army: fuel and ammunition depots, command bunkers and other key targets. In Luhansk, it was apparently used both for repair warehouses and for buildings used by the army with a high concentration of senior officers.

The key question we don’t have an answer to is how many of these missiles Ukraine actually has at its disposal. During the last week, France, which uses a virtually identical missile under the name SCALP-EG, also promised additional pieces.

Both countries have together apparently roughly 1000 to 1500 pieces of this ammunition. It is not clear how much of their arsenal they will provide to Ukraine. If they were on the order of hundreds and Ukraine could deploy them really effectively, the consequences for the Russian rear could be devastating. But the stockpile of these weapons is unlimited, so Ukraine will undoubtedly have to choose its targets very carefully.

However, the deployment of Storm Shadow will also have other secondary effects, Watling reminds. Confronting Russian forces with a new system that can evade their defenses, that their operators cannot clearly distinguish from other targets, and that can be used in combination with other weapons (from drones to GMLRS or HARMS) will present Russian air defenses with unpleasant dilemmas.

For example, should they start tracking objects with a smaller “footprint” (reflective surface)? In that case, they would risk wasting ammunition and exposing themselves to a follow-up attack.

More important, according to Watling, is to instill fear and anxiety among Russian commanders. Not fear of defeat or loss of their units, but fear of their own lives – and as a result weaken their commanding abilities.

This was perhaps also the target of the strikes in Luhansk, which, as we have already said, were conducted, among other things, on buildings that are usually full of officers of the Russian army.

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2023-05-21 11:30:00

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