Ukraine Situation Report: Russian Navy Wary Of Anti-Ship Missile Threat
While Western-donated ship-killing missiles can’t end the blockade, they have been enough to prevent an amphibious landing near Odesa.
Recent Russian missile strikes on the port city of Odesa likely were aimed at taking out Western-donated anti-ship missiles that threaten Moscow’s Black Sea Fleet and have prevented an amphibious landing by Russian troops in the region, according to the U.K. Ministry of Defense.
The July 24 attacks hit Odesa’s docks and while Russia claimed to have hit a Ukrainian navy ship and a stockpile of anti-ship missiles, there “was no indication that such targets were at the location” where Russian missiles landed, according to the U.K. MoD’s latest intelligence assessment of the war.
“Russia almost certainly perceives anti-ship missiles as a key threat which is limiting the effectiveness of their Black Sea Fleet,” the U.K.’s assessment for July 26 said. “This has significantly undermined the overall invasion plan, as Russia cannot realistically attempt an amphibious assault to seize Odesa.”
Russia has been contending with Ukrainian anti-ship missiles since at least April, when a pair of domestically-produced Neptune missiles struck the Russian Navy’s Project 1164 Slava class cruiser Moskva, directly contributing to its sinking in the Black Sea. So influential has the historic sinking of that ship by Ukrainian forces been, that U.S. Chief of Naval Operations says it has reshaped his thoughts on terminal defense of U.S. Navy warships.
NATO nations began sending other anti-ship missile designs in May when Denmark promised Ukraine two shore-based RGM-84 Harpoon missile launchers and an unspecified number of rounds for the system. Also in June, the U.S. Defense Department announced its own shipment of two Harpoon missile systems. Although only for short-range defense, like repelling an amphibious landing, Sweden announced it would send, as part of its third aid package to Ukraine, Robot 17 short-range coastal defense systems, in June.
The same month, Ukraine claimed to have damaged the Russian rescue vessel Vasily Bekh, striking it twice with what several Ukrainian officials said were U.S-donated Harpoon missiles while the ship was transporting personnel, weapons, and ammunition to heavily contested Snake Island. The strike was Ukraine's first use of Harpoon missiles in combat.
Part of the reason for flooding Kyiv with donated anti-ship missiles was to help alleviate the pressure on Ukraine’s ports by Russian naval vessels. Millions of tons of harvested grain are sitting in Ukrainian ports, which are being kept closed to the rest of the world by the Russian Navy. In doing so, Moscow is effectively weaponizing a food shortage by cutting off the world from Ukraine’s agricultural bounty.
With a relatively potent arsenal of anti-ship missiles at its disposal, Ukraine can still hold Russian ships blockading its Black Sea ports at risk, though it cannot eliminate Moscow’s Black Sea fleet. Harpoon missiles have a range of about 70 miles and can keep Russian ships far enough from shore to keep them from launching an amphibious operation, but are not able to go after them throughout the Black Sea.
Still, Russia will continue to seek out and strike Ukrainian anti-ship missile systems as a top priority. But Russia’s efforts to target them and other weapons are “routinely undermined by dated intelligence, poor planning, and a top-down approach to operations,” according to the U.K. MoD.
Before we get into the details on what has transpired in Ukraine and at the fringes of the war over the past 24 hours, catch up on our previous rolling coverage of the conflict here.
The Kyiv Independent news service reports that Polish-donated PT-91 Twardy tanks are now in Ukraine. The PT-91 is a modernized version of the T-72 developed domestically in Poland, which is said to have had about 230 of them. How many of those PT-91s are in Ukraine is unknown, but Poland early in the war transferred 240 T-72s to Kyiv and is buying U.S.-built M1 Abrams tanks, as well as South Korean models, to backfill the capability gap opened up by that gift.
Also now confirmed in Ukrainian service are German Mars II M270 guided multiple launch rocket systems and three more PzH 2000 tracked howitzers. German Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht announced the deliveries on July 26. The transfers were later confirmed by Andriy Yermak, a member of President Volodymyr Zelensky’s cabinet.
One of the German howitzers was seen firing alongside a Soviet-era Ukrainian 2S7 artillery cannon, demonstrating the variety of both NATO and Soviet equipment that is active in the war zone.
Having seen the weapon’s effectiveness against neighboring Russia by Ukraine, Latvia has now joined a growing number of eastern European nations requesting permission to buy High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, or HIMARS, systems from the U.S., according to Defense News. Poland formally requested 500 M142 HIMARS launchers in May.
Ukraine continues to use its Western-donated artillery systems to pound Russian logistics operations and ammunition storage facilities behind its frontlines. Most recently an oil facility was set ablaze in the Budonivskyi district of Russian-occupied Donetsk. Video of the aftermath of the strike, reportedly a Ukrainian HIMARS, also surfaced, showing extensive damage to the facility.
Ukraine has relatively few guided multiple launch rocket systems (GMLRS) launchers — both HIMARS and the M270 fire the same missiles — but they have been put to devastating use against superior Russian artillery numbers. This handy graphic tallies the number and type of vehicles, long-range artillery, small arms, and other military equipment in use by both sides so far in the war.
The U.S. Mission to NATO on July 26 pledged to “respond swiftly and severely” should Russia continue with its plans to annex the areas of eastern and southern Ukraine currently under its control. Russia has stated its goal of adding both Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts to the Crimean Peninsula it already has taken from Ukraine.
Russia has occupied most of the Donbas region for several weeks but has made only slow progress westward since its major offensive in the east began. The map below from the U.K. MoD is largely unchanged from previous assessments of the ground war in the east since Russia closed the Severodonetsk pocket of resistance in recent weeks.
Much of the area in and around the city of Severodonetsk has been destroyed in heavy fighting that went on for weeks before Ukrainian forces pulled out of a salient there. Russian forces appear to have completed the occupation of the city, which is full of bombed-out buildings, as seen in the below video.
Russian forces appear to have captured the hulk of one of Ukraine’s beloved Bayraktar TB2 drones, but the lone photo available of the allegedly shot-down drone shows only the tail section and a few other components in Russian hands. The Turkish-built unmanned aerial systems (UAS) have proven effective against numerous Russian ground targets and naval vessels. At least two of the drones, which have been immortalized in song, have been purchased through crowdfunding efforts on behalf of the Ukrainian Army.
As a result of tensions with the U.S. and NATO caused by the ongoing war, Russia has pledged to quit participation in the International Space Station “after 2024,” according to Agence France-Presse. NASA apparently is not aware of Russia’s withdrawal from the multinational science and exploration endeavor, but the move could hamper manned flights and resupply missions to the station, some of which are launched using Russian rockets. The Russian modules are also critical to the station's operations. Russia could potentially disable them, creating the station uninhabitable.
WARNING GRAPHIC CONTENT: More footage has emerged of a U.S.-donated Switchblade 300 loitering munition homing in on a Russian checkpoint. Though a relatively small munition, the last half of the video shows the suicide drone's effectiveness against personnel in the open. The drone flies to within several feet of the target personnel and then deonates a small fragmentation warhead.
The Ukraine Weapons Tracker twitter account claims the Switchblade 300 was deployed for the first time on Russian soil to target agents of the FSB, the main successor to the KGB. That would be the first documented instance of Ukrainian forces using a U.S.-supplied weapon to strike inside Russia, a capability the Biden administration has sought to keep from Ukraine in an effort not to escalate NATO's direct role in the conflict. With a range of about 6 miles and a loitering time of 15 minutes, the Ukrainian forces who launched the drone would have to be very close to the border to launch a Switchblade 300 attack 2km into Russian territory. Once again, this remains an unconfirmed claim, but it would be significant if true.
We will continue to update this post until we say otherwise.
Contact the author: Dan@thewarzone.com