Espreso. Global

New Shahed-238 jet drones and Russia’s attempts to reshape Bakhmut situation. Column by Serhiy Zgurets

10 January, 2024 Wednesday

Russian troops are currently focused on Klishchiivka and Andriivka. They are also trying to attack north of Bakhmut, towards Bohdanivka and Ivanivske. After brief pauses, Russian aviation and artillery have now become more active

Military assistance to Ukraine from Germany

In contrast to the United States, where military aid to Ukraine is currently on hold, Germany is actively engaged in providing weapons and military equipment, while also extending projects in our country. The German defense company Flensburger Fahrzeugbau Gesellschaft (FFG) is establishing a repair center in western Ukraine dedicated to the restoration of various German weapons and equipment already in service with the Ukrainian Armed Forces.

Perhaps this information should have been kept secret, but it has already been reported by a member of the German Defense Committee, Marcus Faber, He specifically mentioned one type of weapon - Leopard 1A5 tanks, which are already in use by our military. It is worth mentioning that the German company FFG has about 99 Leopard tanks in its arsenal, which are already partially transferred to the Ukrainian Armed Forces. All these weapons are desperately needed at the front line. We hope that foreign repair companies will further establish their presence on our soil, enhancing our capabilities to counter the enemy.

Frontline situation: Bakhmut

I'd like to highlight the situation in Bakhmut, where Russian troops are attempting to reverse the tide after the Ukrainian Armed Forces successfully liberated the settlements of Klishchiivka and Andriivka. Ongoing attacks persist in these frontline areas, and the enemy is directing efforts towards the north of Bakhmut, targeting Bohdanivka and Ivanivske. There has been an increase in the activity of Russian aviation and artillery following brief pauses in hostilities.

Yuriy Syrotyuk, junior sergeant and grenade launcher of the 5th separate Kyiv assault brigade, emphasized the relentless nature of the conflict in the Bakhmut direction, stating that it's challenging to recall a time when there was a pause. The dynamics shifted last May when Russian forces were advancing, but the Ukrainian Armed Forces seized the initiative, pushing the occupiers back from Ivanivske. Collaborating with the 80th Airmobile Brigade, they reclaimed Klishchiivka, while the 3rd Assault Brigade recaptured Andriivka on the right flank. Subsequently, Ukrainian forces sought to capitalize on their success by bypassing Bakhmut from the south and advancing toward Odradivka. The focus was on securing forest strips, with five captured and intense fighting still ongoing in the sixth. 

Map of fighting in Bakhmut sector

Photo: Map of fighting in Bakhmut sector

The junior sergeant reported that Russian forces managed to partially dislodge the Ukrainian Defense Forces from the gardens of Bakhmut. Attempting to capitalize on this success, they advanced towards Ivanivske but were unsuccessful. Currently, they are making efforts to advance near Klishchiivka, aiming to seize the heights. However, the terrain lacks even forest strips, posing challenges for both sides. Faced with difficulties in gaining a foothold, a rational decision has been made to hold the line. Let Russians run across the open countryside at a time when the front is saturated with drones, kamikaze drones, and reconnaissance drones.

The serviceman highlighted that the dynamics shifted when FPV drones and drones with payload drops assumed a significant role, performing functions traditionally carried out by assault infantry. This development has allowed a considerable portion of the reconnaissance duties handled by the reconnaissance battalion to be conducted by drones. The war is now broadcast live. Maintaining an active defense strategy is now more rational and logical. Moreover, the Ukrainian forces benefit from holding dominant heights behind them, with Chasiv Yar situated on the Donetsk ridge at a high elevation. Dominant heights are also maintained beyond Ivanivske and near Klishchiivka.

Syrotyuk additionally mentioned that Russia perceived the pause in the supply of weapons by Western allies as an opportunity to exploit the psychological factor. Unfortunately, due to the extended logistical process, there are delays in the delivery of ammunition, particularly foreign-made ammunition, which is less available compared to the summer. This makes holding the line a rational decision at the moment. Furthermore, Ukrainian units are well-equipped with UAVs, with personnel proficient in operating both night and day drones. Currently, the enemy has also intensified the line with nighttime drops featuring thermal sights.

The gunner said that the Russians do not spare their infantry, throwing them into “meat” assaults. In our case, it is reasonable to do what we are doing now - to take up a strategic defense in order to competently knock out the enemy. We have observed and targeted all possible locations, familiarizing ourselves with the invaders' anticipated routes. The only hindrance lies in the insufficient ammunition supply. In our area, we know that the enemy has concentrated huge offensive forces, but they are not having any serious success. We hope that Russia’s relentless, indiscriminate assaults will prove futile, ultimately leading to their exhaustion without substantial accomplishments.

Modernized Shahed drones

Now, shifting our focus to the technological realm, reports suggest Russia might be deploying upgraded or newly developed Shahed drones. However, Ukraine’s Air Force has yet to officially confirm these claims.

Ivan Kyrychevskyi, a military expert at Defence Express, said that this may have been the first time the Shahed-238 was used since the drone was presented by the Iranians in the fall of 2023. The characteristics of this drone are not known for certain. We can only estimate that the flight speed is claimed to be up to 600 km/h, the dimensions of the propeller are approximately 3 m and the fuselage is 2 m long. There is also no information about its equipment. It is only known that a jet engine that can be installed on this jet Shahed costs more than $50,000. And this creates the first problem, posing a challenge for mass production compared to propeller-driven counterparts.

The military expert from Defence Express highlighted that the Russians attempted to divert Ukraine’s air defense using drones constructed from plywood. The introduction of jet drones could represent the next phase in Russia's strategy to challenge Ukrainian air defense. Drones with a speed of 600 km/h pose a challenge to anti-aircraft machine guns or automatic guns. However, being jet-powered, these vehicles emit a distinct heat trail, making them susceptible to targeting by man-portable air defense systems equipped with infrared heads, not to mention more advanced laser-guided systems. This sets the stage for a competition of sorts: either the Russians will innovate in this direction, or Ukrainian air defenders will swiftly devise an effective method to intercept Shahed jets. And then Russia will have to look for a new wunderwaffe (German for "amazing weapon") to deplete Ukraine’s air defense.

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