May 28, 2023

Patriot Missile Defense system on its way to Ukraine.

On March 9, Russia directed a massive barrage of 81 missiles at Ukrainian cities, largely targeting civilian infrastructure and apartment buildings. That attack included cruise missiles, ballistic missiles, and six of Russia’s hypersonic Kh-47M2 Kinzhal missiles. Despite the donations of air defense systems that have reached Ukraine over the last year, only 34 of those missiles were shot down before reaching their targets. Multiple people died in at least four cities, and half of Kyiv was once again without power for days following the attack.

That attack, now over a month ago, was the last large-scale missile attack Russia has launched against Ukraine–which is notable. Before last month, attacks on Ukrainian cities and infrastructure were coming with much greater frequency. There were six such strikes last October alone as well as three in November, five in December, three in January, three in February, one in March, and then … pause.

But it’s not as if Russia’s missiles have gone silent. Smaller attacks continue almost daily, most of them using a mix of the S-300 missiles that constitute much of Russia’s remaining stock, often supplemented by Iranian-made drones. On Tuesday night in Ukraine, there were four reported missiles launched by Russia, causing explosions in Odesa and Vovchansk that resulted in at least two deaths.


In addition, shorter-range weapons were fired into towns and villages near the border in at least 60 locations. That’s a typical night—and exactly the kind of thing Ukraine needs to stop if it’s going to protect both its people and its infrastructure.

This week, Ukraine has received more major air defense systems that will help to protect cities and towns against this kind of attack. That includes both additional U.S.-made MIM-104 Patriot Missile Defense systems and German medium-range IRIS-T SLM systems. These systems will join a growing network of overlapping systems that have been centered around Ukraine’s major cities.


However, not only are some missiles continuing to run this gauntlet of defenses, Russia seems more than willing to expend a multimillion-dollar missile to knock down a few homes or take out an electrical substation in a small village. So long as that’s true, it’s unlikely Ukraine will ever have enough air defenses. There will always be gaps, places where Russia can drop a warhead that takes lives and damages property. The localized air defense systems allow Ukraine to be quite effective against any kind of strategic attack. They don’t allow Ukraine to protect from the sort of terror attacks Russia is delivering.

The decline in major Russian missile attacks may mean that phase of the war is over, though it’s almost certain Russia still has enough missiles, especially S-300 missiles, to launch many more significant attacks. The nightly horror in places like Vovchansk may continue so long as Russia’s invasion continues—or Russian forces are pushed back out of range of the town.

Ukraine will be seeking still more of these air defense systems at Ramstein as it attempts to minimize the impact of Russian missiles. However, thanks to Russia’s reduced scale of attacks and that growing network of systems already in place, they’re no longer the primary concern.

What Ukraine really wants–in large quantities and soon–from its Western allies are systems that are short-range and portable. That primarily consists of two kinds of systems:

  • Anti-aircraft guns, such as the Soviet 2K22 Tunguska.

  • Surface to air missile systems, such as the American MIM-23 Hawk.

  • Man-portable air defense systems, such as the French Mistral.

So far, documented losses show that Ukraine has lost nine anti-aircraft guns and 91 surface-to-air systems. In addition, they’ve expended hundreds, if not thousands, of the man-portable missiles. Their record for all this is pretty good, with at least 79 Russian jets and 81 Russian helicopters recorded as down. But when it comes to a counteroffensive, Ukraine needs to step up its anti-aircraft game.

Recent attacks around Bakhmut show that Russian pilots have become more daring in attacking close to Ukrainian positions rather than firing missiles from a distance. That doesn’t mean they’ve become immune to any of the anti-aircraft systems, including the skillful use of anti-aircraft guns.


Remember, Russia is willing to fly its planes behind its lines. Any Ukrainian counteroffensive will be pushing behind Russian lines, well inside the Russian air force’s comfort zone. Any attempted counteroffensive from Ukraine will inevitably be met with a concentration of Russian air strikes, with Russia willing to lose some planes to blunt a Ukrainian attack. Ukraine will be asking for more of all three classes of short-range surface to air defenses to help clear the skies ahead of its troops.

There are already some systems, like the British Stormer HVM and U.S. AN/TWQ-1 Avenger, present in Ukraine in some quantities. Other systems are there in quantities of one or two. It’s likely Ukraine is going to be seeking more of what it already has since this seems like a poor time to be introducing another element to its logistical spaghetti, or to be sending crews off to train on a new system. The highest priority of all may simply be refilling the numbers of man-portable systems, which have been used heavily against aircraft, helicopters, and drones.

Ukraine has received fresh Mig-29 fighters to bolster its air force, but as it moves forward it will be moving into areas where Russia is able to scramble numbers of aircraft that will exceed anything Ukraine can get into the sky. That includes Russian jets that can stand well back from the front to deliver missiles aimed at advancing troops. Russia has also been sending messages that it intends to get out the equivalent of daisy cutters to hit Ukrainian forces.


Ukraine needs protection from Russian aircraft to break Russian lines, make significant gains, hold them, and retain enough force to do it again the next day. Giving them these systems is likely to be one of the least controversial asks that the allies have fielded.

The questions are going to be what they can get, and how fast can it arrive?

An 11-minute slice of hell

The Honor Squad from Ukraine’s DaVinci Wolves battalion has filmed 11 minutes’ worth of a first-person experience in the trenches outside of Bakhmut. In this video, the members are trying to clear trenches and protect the area east of Khromove along what has been called alternately the “Road of Life” and the “Road of Death.” It’s the only paved road that can bring men and materiel in and out of the area of Bakhmut still in Ukrainian hands. However, it’s also under fire control from Russian forces to the north, making every run down the road a contest against a rain of artillery shells while dodging the burned-out hulks of vehicles that failed.

Take a deep breath before watching this, because it’s intense. And here’s a big and serious warning: There is some very close-range exchange of fire in this video. People get shot. People get killed. Those people are sometimes up close and in daylight, not distant shapes on a thermal screen. Combat takes place at a shockingly short range. All of it is set on a nightmare landscape where not a leaf on a tree or a blade of grass has survived.

Think about whether you want to see that before clicking play.

Even with everything this clip reveals, some of the soldiers who participated say that this was only a tiny fraction of the action that unfolded. That day also reportedly included the Honor squad enduring what was described as “the most intense artillery bombardment” ever seen around Bakhmut.

There’s a reason this group has become famous, even among all those fighting in the beleaguered city.

Mixed doubles

It’s been clear that the mixture of equipment being sent to Ukraine was going to create some odd pairings. It’s not as if the U.S. has simply loaded up a battalion, or the British asked the Coldstream Guards to politely move aside so all their gear could be packed up. Systems have come in fits and starts, and they’ve been delivered in odd numbers. Sometimes, as with older M113 armored transports, those numbers support wide deployment; other times it means tucking a few oddballs into an existing unit. Often, those low-number bits of hardware won’t actually go to the front because the added complexity to the logistics chain isn’t worth it. They’ll get the honor of holding off the Belarus jugglers.

However, some of the pairings are kind of … unexpected. Like the newly formed 47th Airborne Assault Brigade, which has paired U.S. Bradley fighting vehicles with upgraded T-55 tanks given to Ukraine by Slovenia.


Yes, these are the same 1950s era T-55s that we’ve been laughing over as Russia began bringing them into Ukraine to replace their destroyed T-72 fleet. However, the M-55S includes some highly significant upgrades. It’s not just a T-55 with new paint and a nicer radio. It’s a super upgraded tank with new armor, a new engine, and perhaps most importantly, a new gun that can punch way above the weight of a regular T-55.

Be watching for the exploits of the 47th Airborne. It should be interesting.

Russia may have thermobaric bombs, but Ukraine has brought their own terror weapon to Bakhmut, April 18, 2023.

How a 15-year-old kid helped win the Battle of Kyiv


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