More to ignore, Book 50..........

Ten Thousan Marbles

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Ukraine update: American artillery headed to Ukraine
kos

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Iraqi forces fire a M109 howitzer at ISIS positions 20 miles away. Ukraine needs this ASAP.

Have you read Mark Sumner’s Ukraine update on
luck on the battlefield? It was excellent! I sure do love a well-written history education!

With rain fixing the battlefield in place, last night’s big news was the United States’ announcement that its next big shipment was being formulated. Both the $800 million aid package and the $100 million in Javelin anti-tank missiles will be fully delivered by the end of the week, thus the Pentagon is now formulating its next package, this one delivering $750 million worth of equipment. This package does not require congressional approval. Here are the two headliners of this new package:


HMMWV (Humvee)

As I previously wrote, Humvees are a fantastic addition to the Ukrainian army, and the United States has thousands of them sitting in storage as they get replaced by a new-generation vehicle. Ukraine already fielded the vehicle, so they have expertise running and maintaining them. It’s not a new system, and given that Humvees were included in the previous $800 million package, this is adding to an existing and growing stockpile.

The Humvee will be far more mobile than some of the rickety commandeered civilian vehicles currently used by many Ukrainian units, and could be of particular use to Ukrainian special operation forces operating behind enemy lines at night. But to be clear, they’re not immune to mud, as this particular crew found out while patrolling the Rio Grande valley down at the Mexican border.

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Humvees can be modded out to no end—including mounting anti-tank missiles for fast shoot-and-scoot ambushes. Ideally, every Ukrainian infantry squad would have several of these. It’s impossible to deliver too many of them.

But even more exciting …

ARTILLERY

I’ve argued that the United States should facilitate the transfer of the nearly 1,000 Soviet-era 2S1 Gvozdika self-propelled artillery guns in NATO stock, as Ukraine already operates them in its arsenal. Remember, having to learn a new system delays deployment and makes it exponentially harder to maintain and support. While the United States doesn’t have any of these in its arsenal, it can “backfill” allies with more modern western NATO-standard options.

At yesterday’s press gaggle, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said: “We’re working to provide the Ukrainians with artillery systems that they have recently requested in conversations between our governments. And we’re working to provide them with artillery from U.S. stocks but also to facilitate the transfer from other allies and partners as well, as we did with the S-300 and the backfill of the Patriot battery system.”

This is quite the surprise. Yes, the U.S. is working on getting Ukraine the same systems they’re already familiar with, but—and this is critical—they’re also sending American artillery. Any fears about sending “heavy” equipment or “offensive” equipment have evaporated. The only question now is, “Can Ukraine make use of this ASAP?” The United States has thousands of M109 self-propelled howitzers in storage, and the system is ubiquitous in NATO armies, many of which are in the process of replacing them. Germany alone has reportedly phased out 570 of them, Italy 221, the Netherlands 126, and Belgium around 100. If Ukraine has to learn any new system, with dramatic potential impact on the battlefield, this is it. Nothing else comes close.

The M109 (and all NATO heavy artillery) aren’t compatible with the munitions currently in Ukrainian hands. A whole new logistical chain will have to be built to support these in the field. On the other hand, it allows Western NATO countries to help supply ammunition, including smart rounds like the GPS-guided Excalibur artillery shells. Ukraine has a home-grown laser-guided artillery round it has used to great effect (examples here).

These guided shells are an even bigger game changer than the Switchblade suicide drones we’re so excited about. Ukraine is only getting 100 of the tank-busting Switchblade 600, likely because it’s a new weapon and the U.S. simply doesn’t have many in its arsenal. But laser-guided artillery munitions? Thousands are sitting in American and allied storage depots. The Excalibur has a range of 22 to 35 miles depending on variant, and is designed specifically to be used in civilian areas (like cities) where minimizing collateral damage is of paramount importance. Imagine how useful that will be in liberating cities like Kherson and Melitopol, and hopefully more down the line. New variants have additional laser guidance.


And if you’re fantasizing about taking out murderous Russian artillery, the 2S1 Gvozdika howitzers that make up the bulk of Russia’s heavy artillery have a range of 9 to 14 miles. Russian GRAD MLRS have a range of 12 to 19 miles, depending on the ammo. All of those would be well within range of guided 155mm rounds. Dumb rounds have a range of 8 to 13 miles depending on variants.

The catch? Cost. A dumb 155mm NATO-standard artillery shell costs around $1,000. The Excalibur costs $112,000 per round. So a mix of smart and dumb shells is the most likely outcome. Germany has its own guided 155mm shells, the SMArt 155 laser-guided artillery round (17 mile range), which could also find its way into Ukrainian hands if Germany ever gets its head out of its ass and commits fully to the war effort.

Now check this out:



Nah, these M109s and supporting vehicles aren’t going to Ukraine. This is American gear, deploying to Poland or one of the Baltic nations as part of NATO’s reinforcement of its eastern flank. But soon, hopefully, one of these will truly be Ukraine-bound.


Wait, did someone say something about helicopters?

Original reports claimed that the Pentagon was looking at adding attack helicopters to this package. Not long after, the helicopters were struck from the list. Considering that they were talking about Mi-17 transport helicopters modded with attack systems, that makes sense. First of all, any such modification would take time (and could be included in a future package, ready to roll), and second of all ... the United States has Russian-built helicopters? Turns out yes, from back in 2011:

In a turnabout from the Cold War, when the CIA gave Stinger missiles to Afghan rebels to shoot down Soviet helicopters, the Pentagon has spent $648 million to buy or refurbish 31 Russian Mi-17 transport helicopters for the Afghan National Army Air Corps. The Defense Department is seeking to buy 10 more of the Mi-17s next year, and had planned to buy dozens more over the next decade.

The 2014 Russian annexation of Crimea would’ve ended such purchases, but there are reports that the U.S. Army operates the helicopters for its special forces, obscuring their activities in locations where Soviet-era gear predominates. And it turns out that the U.S. already handed over five Mi-17s to Ukraine that previously belonged to the Afghan military. I couldn’t find information on what might be left in U.S. hands, but it’s clearly something if they were under consideration.

Still, without air cover, helicopters are terribly vulnerable to Russian aircraft and missile systems, and especially so on the Donbas front, close to Russia’s one zone with bona fide air superiority.

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Russian Mi-17 helicopter.


And the ‘Coastal Defense Drones’?

The Washington Post reported that “coastal defense drones” could be part of the package. No clue what that’s about. Never heard of such a thing, and some quick googling came up with nothing. I honestly don’t think they exist, and I’m guessing the reporter misunderstood (like calling a howitzer a “tank”). So … maybe regular drones? Or more Switchblades? More of those would be nice.

Next on the wish list?

Now that the taboo against “heavy” weapons is shattered, let’s get the M2 Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicle into Ukrainian hands. It is being phased out of the U.S. Army, and there are thousands available for gifting.


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The Bradley is nowhere near as difficult and complicated to maintain and supply as a modern combat tank, it can be mounted with tank-killing missile systems, it can protect infantry during the kind of open ground combat we’re seeing in south and east Ukraine, and it can more safely transport infantry to combat zones than softer-skinned vehicles (including through defensive Russian artillery barrages). To get a sense to how much simpler the Bradley is, the training program to maintain it is 12 weeks, while it’s six months for the M-1 Abrams tank. And the Bradley uses regular diesel, not jet fuel like the Abrams.

(In case you’re wondering, a U.S. Army artillery mechanic has a 15-week training program. Maintaining the Bradley is simpler than the M109 system. It does mean fielding the M109 has a real training curve.)
 

Ten Thousan Marbles

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Wednesday, Apr 13, 2022 · 9:16:42 AM EDT · Mark Sumner
Information is everything. Watch what these MLRS systems are able to do when they have an accurate target. The systems firing the missiles themselves are not even in sight of the target, but thanks to the to-the-meter information provided by the drones, they are able to direct the fire from miles away with absolutely astounding accuracy.

Plus … Ukrainian music.

 

Ten Thousan Marbles

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Wednesday, Apr 13, 2022 · 9:19:31 AM EDT · Mark Sumner
And speaking of information, these images from commercial satellite imagery firm Maxar show some incredible detail. They give a sense of just how much information U.S. intelligence is able to provide the Ukrainian defense ministry when it comes to the movement of Russian forces.

Despite the label that the forces shown here are moving toward Ukraine in western Russia, the fourth image actually appears to be inside of Ukraine, southeast of Kharkiv.



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Ten Thousan Marbles

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Wednesday, Apr 13, 2022 · 9:53:53 AM EDT · Mark Sumner
A lot of the satellite imagery indicates that Russia has formed a large camp near Borovaya, Russia. This location is about 70 miles farther away from the Ukrainian border than the two of Belgorod, where much of the equipment moving into eastern Ukraine has previously been based. Belgorod has been subject to at least one attack from Ukrainian helicopters, and an earlier explosion that may have been a missile launched from within Ukraine (or may have been a screw up by Russians).

The Borovaya base is likely intended to allow Russian forces to gather within a couple of hours drive of the border, without being subject to attack from Ukraine.

It’s also notable that the U.S. DOD reports that Russia is scrambling GPS signals in the area, making it difficult for drones or missiles that use GPS to operate.

However, there are reports from the area that bad weather is currently making travel difficult, and that some vehicles are mired up along the route. As Kos has been noting for some time, the forecast over the next two weeks calls for frequent heavy rain in the area, which could postpone any major push by Russia. An extended period of rain is expected to begin this weekend.

For those units that can move, as in those still progressing to the front along major highways, both in Ukraine and in Russia, the bad weather may offer an opportunity to shift positions while not immediately revealing every movement to satellites.
 

Ten Thousan Marbles

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Wednesday, Apr 13, 2022 · 10:08:27 AM EDT · Mark Sumner
The T-72M1 and T-72M1R actually have significant upgrades in fire control systems, communications, and both thermal imaging and night-vision systems. They are, however, based on the original T-72M, which is an export version of the original tank, rather than the T-72B, which had a new main gun, new engine, new stabilizers, etc. So a unit that’s carrying tanks based on the T-72M and the T-72B essentially has two very different tanks to support.

Details on the T2-M1R can be found here. They’re upgraded at a factory in Poland,



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Ten Thousan Marbles

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Ukraine update: Mariupol gave its all, but now it needs a miracle
Mark Sumner

On Wednesday, Russian officials reported that over 1,000 Ukrainian marines belonging to the 36th Brigade had surrendered in the besieged city of Mariupol. Reuters reports that these Ukrainian forces had been in the Azovstal industrial district, one of three much-reduced pockets of resistance remaining inside the battered remains of what was once a city of almost half a million people. If this area is captured, there may be no large organized force remaining to oppose Russian control of the city.

This report may be false. The number of Ukrainian forces surrendering is almost certainly exaggerated. However, there have been other surrenders in the area in the last week, along with messages indicating that surviving forces were low on food, supplies, and ammunition. Cut off from resupply, battered by weeks of constant shelling, and hectored by Russian forces now entering the rubble with armor, there’s legitimately not much more that Ukrainian forces in Mariupol can do, barring a miracle.

Almost since the beginning of the Russian invasion, we’ve been writing about the situation in Mariupol. Russia desperately wants to take the city as part of a land bridge between the Donbas region and Crimea, and thanks to its location, Russia is able to mount immense force against Mariupol. Nearly surrounded by the second day of the war, a combination of territorial defense, fighters from the far-right Azov battalion, and regular Ukrainian military have waged a fierce resistance even as Russia shelled, bombed, and directed missiles into the city. Every single hospital in Mariupol was bombed. So were major shelters, like the opera house that Russia bombed in spite of—or because of—a sign indicating that there were children inside. We’ve come back to Mariupol again, and again, and again, both because of the strategic importance of the city and because of the genuine horrors happening there.

As kos covered last week, Ukraine was apparently slipping supplies to Mariupol in an amazing way: using helicopters to swing around above the Sea of Azov, then landing at a remote location on the outskirts of the city. In that way ammo kept coming in and the wounded were carried safely away. However, the reason the report came out when it did was that Russia had discovered this secret supply route and brought down two Ukrainian helicopters.

Without that stream of supplies, it seems that some units have quickly come to the end of their rope. Several hundred Ukrainian marines surrendered last week in a report that Ukraine first disputed, but which turned out to be true. Now it seems even more may have laid down arms.

Still, there are a few reasons why this still isn’t over. Reports of locations of engagements between Ukrainian forces and Russian invaders over the last week show that the Ukrainian forces were still able to move relatively freely around large areas of the city and contest even more. And if the large group of marines did surrender, that doesn’t seem to include other members of the 36th Marine brigade, who first announced that they had no choice but surrender because they were on their last legs, but then managed to fight their way through a Russian cordon within the city to join the Azov fighters.

How can we be sure this isn’t the same group? If Russia had captured the Azov fighters, they would definitely be talking about it. On Tuesday, Ukraine War Maps (@War_Mapper) reported that Ukrainian control in Mariupol remained in three areas.



Based on the site of the reported surrender on Wednesday and the site of reported Azov attacks over the last week, it’s possible to deduce that the Azov fighters are primarily operating in that southwest area, while the 36th Brigade was mostly to their east. Looking at the situation from a satellite view, it gives a sense of where these forces are located.

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Approximate remaining areas of Ukrainian control on Tuesday.

Based on the reported site of the surrender (the red triangle on the right) and the GPS location of recent Azov activity (blue stars on left), it can be theorized that some elements of the 36th Brigade fought their way across that roughly 2-mile gap between the area of Ukrainian control in the southeast to that area where Azov forces have been fighting in the southwest. This area, as well as the area in the north of the city, may still be controlled by forces loyal to Ukraine. However, if the surrender reports are accurate, Russia may now hold the city east of the Kal'mius River (though scattered fighting should be expected everywhere in Mariupol).

These areas of Ukrainian control are still large areas. They’re measured in miles, not blocks. So despite Russian proclamations, it seems unlikely that Mariupol will be entirely within their hands real soon now. However, it can be expected that all the Ukrainian forces in the city are suffering the same problems: lack of supplies, lack of food, lack of ammo, and plain exhaustion. Without a change in that situation, whatever Ukrainian forces remain in Mariupol can’t be expected to be there forever.

Meanwhile, horrible rumors and claims continue to circulate about the fate of civilians in the city. Russia has admitted to taking thousands to “filtration” camps inside Russia, where some former Mariupol residents have been forced to record propaganda videos thanking the Russian forces for saving them from a city that was peaceful and growing two months ago.

The mayor of Mariupol indicates that there are still as many as 120,000 people inside the city, trapped among the ruins and the rubble. The mayor indicates that as many as 20,000 people may have already been killed. Meanwhile, the Ministry of Defense reports that Russia wants to get the capture of Mariupol over with so that Russians can hold a parade there on May 9.

And this claim keeps popping up.



To be clear, images of a supposed mobile crematorium in Mariupol that have circulated on social media appear to be taken from a video that’s at least eight years old. That doesn’t mean the story of these mobile crematoriums isn’t true, but it certainly means that the images are false and the whole story is suspect. Despite claims that have continued since the beginning of the invasion, there doesn’t seem to be visual evidence of these units being deployed in Mariupol, or anywhere else at this point. Let’s hope it stays that way, but considering what’s already been seen in Bucha and elsewhere, it’s all too easy to believe.

Right now, Mariupol needs a miracle. What shape that might take is hard to imagine. But hopefully someone has a plan that isn’t a Russian parade.
 

Ten Thousan Marbles

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Wednesday, Apr 13, 2022 · 2:37:07 PM EDT · kos
OMG, the White House just announced its new package, back up $800 million, up from $750 million reported yesterday. And helicopters and armored personnel carriers are included!

This new package of assistance will contain many of the highly effective weapons systems we have already provided and new capabilities tailored to the wider assault we expect Russia to launch in eastern Ukraine. These new capabilities include artillery systems, artillery rounds, and armored personnel carriers. I have also approved the transfer of additional helicopters. In addition, we continue to facilitate the transfer of significant capabilities from our Allies and partners around the world.

This morning I hoped that M2 Bradleys would soon make their way to Ukraine, and while this statement doesn’t clarify what we’re sending, not sure what else the Pentagon would send.