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SITREP 3/16/23: Reaper Developments And Major Advances
First thing’s first, some important updates on the ‘drone incident’. The US has now released their version of the footage, which can be seen here: VIDEO 1.
They appear to still be tenuously clinging to the claim that the plane ‘struck the drone’s propeller’, yet that is not evident in the video at all. Much more likely the plane merely bucked the drone from sheer turbulence and jet-wash, causing it to flip over—but I’m not discounting that the prop was clipped. It is strange that the drone camera continues to ‘malfunction’ each time the planes come close. Is the turbulence jostling the camera electronics too much, or the Su-27’s giving off some type of jamming signals at such proximity? Hard to know.
Some have pointed to this before and after shot, showing what appears to be like a deformed prop blade after the Russian fuel dump. However, props can look that way on cameras depending on the sync between the camera framerate and propeller speed, and there’s a chance that the propeller changed speed (perhaps due to slight throttling down by the operator, etc.) causing it to appear differently at that point on video. Maybe there are some better video experts that can chime in. But perhaps a chance exists that the ‘heavy’ fuel load ricocheting off the propeller at such squirted speeds caused it to deform. This would lead to eventual catastrophic failure of the prop due to vibratory forces in the uneven distribution of weight/aerodynamics, etc.
What we do know now however is that the MQ-9 Reaper is from one of the latest and most advanced Blocks, equipped with a highly advanced/sensitive ‘Gorgon’s Stare’ electronics suite.
Along with the Gorgon Stare, the drone had a variety of sensors which could do everything from record pinpoint video footage, thermal footage, Synthetic Aperture Radar snapshots of Russian bases/assets, record electronic emissions and signal data from Russian command HQ’s (C3), radar sites, and their positions. The Gorgon Stare itself, if you read the supplied wiki article, is run through a devious DARPA A.I. program called Mind’s Eye, which does all the things I once described in this article—basically: neural-network ‘smart’ analysis of recorded ground data where the AI can track/locate/assess/transmit targets on its own, all while geo-tagging them with various meta-data, etc. With these tools the drone is said to transmit many gigabytes of data per minute.
“The spy mission here is not even 100% visible, but 1000%. This is tactical reconnaissance - a fairly powerful high-resolution video camera and equipment that allows you to record the frequencies of radio stations, missile guidance stations, radar stations, determine the location of air defense systems, air defense systems, determine the location of headquarters, command posts and, due to visual reconnaissance, take pictures of a sufficiently high permission, ” explained Knutov.
Getting their hands on this Gorgon suite would be a huge boon for Russia. Which is why they have now positioned their ships and as of this writing are getting ready to lift the drone from what is said to be 900m depth.
American drone MQ-9 found at a depth of 900 meters. Above it, the duty of the Black Sea Fleet ships was established in order not to let anyone near the crash site. The issue of its rise is being resolved.
There is a ship in the Black Sea Fleet that is capable of doing this - the legendary "Kommuna" built in 1913. Rebuilt many times and having a huge track record of underwater work (including the recovery of several submarines, as well as aircraft and ships), it has deep-sea vehicles capable of operating at a depth of up to 1 km.
By the way, Kommuna has experience in lifting foreign equipment. In 1928, it raised the sunken British submarine L-55 in the Baltic, which was blown up by mines while evading Soviet destroyers.
The US however has claimed that they’ve done a ‘remote wipe’ on the Reaper’s data. This is questionable for a variety of reasons. Firstly, wiping data just once will never delete it, recovery specialists, particularly Russian ones which are likely the best in the world, can easily recover the data. But full industrial data-stripping takes many recurring passes of data writes to the memory chip over and over for it to be truly irrecoverable. But this takes time—time that the drone likely didn’t have as it was going down into the sea, at which point its batteries would have been flooded and likely any ‘data wipe’ operation stopped. So, the verdict is: data is probably recoverable unless the US has a special detonating self-destruct device planted on the data chip just for these types of circumstances.
To save face, John Kirby tried to pretend that US still has the ability to recover the drone. He hemmed and hawed and temporized when asked during a press conference if the drone can be recovered, stating that US “isn’t sure it can do it” in that region and at that depth, veiling the fact that the Russian fleet has already positioned itself entirely above the site and US isn’t even allowed to bring warships through the Bosporous as per the Montreaux Convention.
Satellite images of ships of the Black Sea Fleet of the Russian Navy near the crash site of the American MQ-9 Reaper UAV in the Black Sea.
Speaking of which—one very intriguing oddity should be mentioned. For the many months that US has flown its drones over the Black Sea, it has always strangely had to ‘go around’ Turkish territory.
Notice how the direct flightpath is always broken up by a necessary rerouting to the north into Bulgaria, just around the tip of Turkish territory near the Bosporous. It’s clear that Erdogan does not allow US war assets to bypass his territory enroute to monitor Russian SMO.
Now onto other things. One update as regards the last report about the purported Russian Kinzhal strikes on NATO assets. There is some chance that the drone incident is related.
As others have keenly noted, there is a strangely linked series of events which began with Russia’s very large missile strikes last week. There was something particularly painful and special about these strikes as several Ukrainian ministers/sources referred to the strikes with uncommonly strong words, some stating they were the most powerful strikes since the start of the SMO. Even Zelensky called it a ‘very strong signal to Ukraine’.
Then, as explained in our last report, we got word that 6 Kinzhals were used, and that a NATO HQ was possibly hit with 40+ dead. What is intriguing is, those strikes occurred on March 10th. Immediately following them on March 12th, the US sent an extremely provocative message by simulating a nuclear bombing run on St. Petersburg when they sent a B-52 bomber directly towards St. Pete in an unprecedented maneuver.
The nuclear-capable bomber cut away just before the Russian maritime border, down into Estonia. Why would they send such a direct and obvious message right after the March 10 attacks? It seems to me, those 6 confirmed Kinzhals were not sent in vain, or against unimportant targets. This likely confirms that 40+ NATO/CIA officers were infact liquidated as reports suggest, and the US deepstate is extremely bothered by this.
The US Air Force’s B-52H Stratofortress strategic bomber, capable of carrying nuclear weapons, developed the training for launching missiles into Russian territory, according to Military Observer.
About two hours ago, the plane entered a missile launch position in St. Petersburg in the region of the island of Gotland, located at a distance of about 200 km from the northern capital.
After this maneuver, the American bomber made a sharp turn and departed in the direction of Estonia. The plane is now entering Lithuanian airspace, the source said.
Only a day after that, they now suddenly send one of their most advanced drones directly toward Crimea/Sevastopol in another extremely aggressive and angst-ridden ‘message’.
They’ve never taken such a trajectory before, AND in darkmode with transponders turned OFF. Once again—it’s clear that the March 10th strikes really burned them badly and they are desperate to escalate or strike out like a wounded animal.
The logical explanation is that, there were some ‘unspoken’ agreements or red lines between the two Great Powers. And Russia finally broke that red line with the sextuple Kinzhal sneak attack.
War Front Updates
Let’s get into some updates on the ongoing battles.
In the Avdeevka direction: in the last full SITREP on March 8, I reported that Russia was pushing ‘toward’ Krasnogorovka/Krasnihirivka. Now Russia continues to break through AFU defense lines and there is reports of full Russian capture of this important town (Krasnogorovka).
Earlier, a report claimed that AFU abandoned the town but Russian forces had not yet entered it either due to it being under a powerful artillery assault by the AFU. However, there were new AFU reports which claimed fighting had already taken place by Stepove, which is a good ways west of Krasnogorovka.
So likely Krasnogorovka is in fact captured, which means the main supply road out of Avdeevka will be under either full or partial fire-control. There remains one more smaller road further to the southwest. Although head of DPR Pushilin has said this: “All roads from Avdiivka are controlled by gunners of the RF Armed Forces.”
In addition, our units are taking under fire control a section of the railway from the 437th kilometer station to the Khimik station, the latter is already located in the city itself.
This success opens the way for our fighters to continue the offensive towards the village of Stepovoe, thereby enveloping Avdiivka from the north and pinning down the enemy military group in the maneuver.
And as this video attests, the AFU is taking major losses in Avdeevka as usual.
The fall of Avdeevka would be important in similar ways to that of Bakhmut: beyond Avdeevka is mostly flat plains/steppes only dotted with tiny settlements that haven’t had the same massive eight year fortification as Adveevka had.
And most importantly, capturing all of Avdeevka and the little padded room of flatland just north of it, would secure the northern flank of Donetsk—putting most of it out of reach of AFU artillery from that vector. So this would be a key achievement in stopping the shelling of Donetsk.
In news from the even-further south/west, yesterday the AFU carried out a fairly large scale recon-by-fire in the Zaporozhe region. This was the AFU’s largest organized assault here in months, consisting of mechanized armor groupings as a precursor to the mass ‘hail mary’ attempt they’re being pushed into taking in this region sometime in ‘Spring’.
They attacked on quite a broad front, showing decent organizational and coordination skills.
Unfortunately for them, the attack was repulsed everywhere, with many armored vehicle losses: VIDEO
At least two dozen were killed, some were captured, and 5-6 armored vehicles were destroyed.
However, the attacks could be worth it for them because the whole point of recon-by-fire is to uncover the defender’s positions, which perhaps they now have. This is all part of the pre-offensive probing tactics to find Russian weak-points they can later try to exploit in their full offensive.
On the topic of that offensive, Ukraine has allegedly taken delivery just today of the French AMX-10RC systems:
And US pilots are reportedly eager to sign up to start helping Ukraine, particularly if F-16’s are eventually handed over.
The big whisper-in-the-grapevine is that the AFU is looking to launch a massive cross-Dnieper amphibious landing assault at the same time of its future Zaporozhe offensive to cut Crimea off. You might think this is crazy talk. But there are several reasons why it’s looking likely.
Firstly, the purpose would be to obviously stretch Russian forces, requiring emergency reinforcements to be sent from the Zaporozhe direction. The intention is to attack on a very broad length of the Dnieper, all the way from the Kinburn Spit at the very southern end of Kherson, up toward Vasilevka, halfway between Energodar and Zaporozhe city.
Not only have they been testing and probing this for months now, with the occasional special forces probe attacks toward the Energodar nuke plant and elsewhere. But residents in the local region (Khakovka, etc.) report hearing mass movements of armor and troops during the night; they can hear the loud engines whirring all the time recently.
Further, there have been secret sightings of a lot of boats and one confirmed transport of a large, armored special forces attack boat in the region. Also Russian intel has observed them gathering new ‘barges’ around Nikopol and elsewhere (the same place they gathered the barges in previous assaults on the nuke plant).
Lastly and most critically, there is the ongoing rumor that they plan to begin draining the Dnieper River in that region, creating areas where the river can actually be forded with engineering bridges.
Personally I haven’t been able to yet figure out how they could possibly drain the river, considering Russians control the Khakovka dam—unless they first plan an assault to capture it, or perhaps tool with the dams further up river near Zaporozhe, etc.
All indications are that one of the offensives will be just across the Dnieper River, as the west is massively handing over bridge pavers to be used to pass blown up bridges. Of course, these bridge pavers can not pass wide spills, but narrow spills can be easily overcome.
Earlier, the source indicated that the Kherson direction is one of the first points, as there are many floodplains and islets, and it is also the end point, the river, which the Office of the President will try to drain closer to the summer.
Though one must recall they successfully cut water to Crimea so they’re likely capable of it.
Vladlen Tatarsky (Maxim Fomin) predicts that the new offensive of the Armed Forces of Ukraine will begin with a massive raid of FPV kamikaze drones on our equipment and positions: 200-300 units. There is no full-fledged protection against them, although our experience with the jammer, which we have already sent to the Marines, was not in vain and this issue will soon be resolved and worked out.
A silencer can be installed on each piece of equipment and the tank / bmp/APC will be protected from a raid. For more information on how to help, see the article.
Andrey Medvedev: "I absolutely agree that the main attack of the Armed Forces of Ukraine will be carried out in the south. Probably not even one. They have enough strength for two main strikes. Without any problems.
At the same time, it is clear that the information and media component of the war is very important for Kiev. And so, yes, Crimea can become one of the destinations. Even if the APU is washed in blood, it is a blow to the Crimea that will justify any losses in the inner field.
And therefore, it is very likely that the second strike will be delivered not in the Zaporozhye direction, but a little to the west. That is, the impact on Melitopol with access to Berdyansk looks like an obvious one.
But a strike on Volnovakha with access to Mariupol may be more effective. There is a shorter throw distance. And from the point of view of the infowar, the second battle for Mariupol is exactly what Kiev needs. And that, again, will justify any losses."
So, for the ‘grand hail mary’ Spring Offensive of the AFU, what we’re looking at is a possible mass amphibious distracting/fixing assault all along the Dnieper from Kherson up towards Energodar.
Then a possible two-pronged attack toward Tokmak-Melitopol but another further east in the Volnovakha direction.
The reason Volnovakha was always so important to the AFU, by the way, is because it’s a major railway hub that can allow them to transport large amounts of materials toward the offensive effort much more efficiently if captured. The yellow line above represents the one and only main highway that serves as the ‘land bridge’ from Russia proper to Crimea, by way of Rostov-Mariupol-Melitopol. This is the road the AFU must cut in order to completely cut Crimea off (provided that they also destroy the Kerch bridge).
There are many conflicting reports internally from within the AFU. A recent Washington Post article is getting a lot of controversy and circulation, as it paints a very grim picture for the AFU at the front. The article quotes an anonymous senior AFU official, who says:
One senior Ukrainian government official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to be candid, called the number of tanks promised by the West a “symbolic” amount. Others privately voiced pessimism that promised supplies would even reach the battlefield in time.
“If you have more resources, you more actively attack,” the senior official said. “If you have fewer resources, you defend more. We’re going to defend. That’s why if you ask me personally, I don’t believe in a big counteroffensive for us. I’d like to believe in it, but I’m looking at the resources and asking, ‘With what?’ Maybe we’ll have some localized breakthroughs.”
“We don’t have the people or weapons,” the senior official added. “And you know the ratio: When you’re on the offensive, you lose twice or three times as many people. We can’t afford to lose that many people.”
So, as can be seen here, privately and off the record, even senior officials know the absolute hopelessness of AFU’s chances.
A highly experienced and decorated battalion commander, codenamed ‘Kupol’, was also interviewed in the article. His words were so pessimistic that it has led to the current biggest controversy of the week in the AFU. Kupol was ‘canned’—i.e. demoted, and many are now up in arms, including all the top pro-Ukraine analysts in the Twittersphere, indicating an extremely low morale level.
So what did Kupol say that got him fired? Many pejorative things about the state of the AFU and his unit in particular. Amongst them:
“I get 100 new soldiers,” Kupol said. “They don’t give me any time to prepare them. They say, ‘Take them into the battle.’ They just drop everything and run. That’s it. Do you understand why? Because the soldier doesn’t shoot. I ask him why, and he says, ‘I’m afraid of the sound of the shot.’ And for some reason, he has never thrown a grenade. … We need NATO instructors in all our training centers, and our instructors need to be sent over there into the trenches. Because they failed in their task.”
He further goes on to say 100 out of the 500 men in his battalion have died, the remaining 400 have all been wounded, creating a complete turnover of new men.
Kupol said he was now the sole military professional in the battalion, and he described the struggle of leading a unit composed entirely of inexperienced troops.
WashPost goes on to describe similar situations elsewhere:
Dmytro, a Ukrainian soldier whom The Post is identifying only by first name for security reasons, described many of the same conditions. Some of the less-experienced troops serving at his position with the 36th Marine Brigade in the Donetsk region “are afraid to leave the trenches,” he said. Shelling is so intense at times, he said, one soldier will have a panic attack, then “others catch it.”
The first time he saw fellow soldiers very shaken, Dmytro said, he tried to talk them through the reality of the risks. The next time, he said, they “just ran from the position.”
Interestingly, they offered us a rare, stage-managed glimpse of casualties:
A German official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said that Berlin estimates Ukrainian casualties, including dead and wounded, are as high as 120,000. “They don’t share the information with us because they don’t trust us,” the official said.
More and more western MSM publications are now letting the casualty cat out of the bag:
Ukraine’s head of the SBU also mentioned in the article that Russia has 325k total troops currently deployed in Ukraine, but another 125k waiting outside, still yet to be committed. Whether true or not, it gives an interesting insight for us to file away. It’s not too far off from my personal assessment in early February where I stated that Russia likely had 225-250k still outside. Perhaps more have been committed since then, or Budanov is exaggerating.
The likelier explanation is this: he said Russia has 325k ‘inside Ukraine’. But that doesn’t mean in combat or on the frontline. Many mobilized were still training in the rear areas of LDNR. So my numbers from early February could still hold true. I.e. maybe 150-200k total on frontline and another 250k still not committed, but that latter portion split between being ‘outside of Ukraine’ and in rear areas of the Donbass.
The article also states:
Ukraine has lost many of its junior officers who received U.S. training over the past nine years, eroding a corps of noncommissioned officers that helped distinguish the Ukrainians from their Russian enemies at the start of the invasion, the Ukrainian official said. Now, the official said, those forces must be replaced. “A lot of them are killed,” the official said.
So, as I began to mention earlier: there are diverging opinions. Some believe this grand Spring Offensive can still be pulled off, but others—the soldiers and commanders on the frontlines themselves—are skeptical.
The fact of the matter is, unless it’s a grand maskirovka campaign of their own, the trickle of promised armor that Ukraine is actually getting is no where near enough for an offensive that could conceivably dislodge the types of fortifications Russia has built up on the Zaporozhe line. Frontline correspondent Sladkov recently visited them and said he’s never seen such powerful fortifications before.
And with Germany facing such humiliating army conditions of its own:
One is inclined to ask, how good is the stuff they’re delivering to Ukraine really, anyway?
Now let’s turn to the final and most important subject: the ongoing Bakhmut battles.
Here Russia continues to get important breakthroughs. The latest of which occurred in the southwest sector where the famous Mig-17 monument was.
And from the north of the city, Wagner fighters have breached into the industrial district, and already taken a foothold in some of the HQ areas that Zelensky himself had only recently visited.
Another Ukrainian defense line collapsed in northern Bakhmut. Wagner forces managed to secure the northern industrial quarter including the "Vostokmash" plant, where Zelensky made a speech to Ukrainian troops, in December. Despite reinforcements by Kiev, Wagner still advances.
The situation is getting worse and worse in Bakhmut, and most of even the top pro-Ukrainian ‘taste-makers’ and influencers on Twitter and elsewhere are now vehemently questioning the command’s decisions to keep defending with such grotesque losses and lack of manpower, materiel, etc.
I for one believe that the Ukrainian command isn’t completely stupid, and there’s a reason they’re so desperately clinging on apart from simply ‘buying time’ for the supposed Spring Offensive. The harder truth is, they likely know that the fortifications and secondary/tertiary defensive lines west of Bakhmut are not up to the task, and that when Bakhmut falls, there’s a strong chance of a mass cascade-effect collapse to precipitate onto the AFU in the region.
Plainly speaking, there’s a chance that command knows their lines will completely collapse west of Bakhmut, and for them to stand any chance at all in even organizing a southern offensive in the Spring, they have to make sure that Slavyansk/Kramatorsk are not already being sieged. If by that time the Wagner rottweiler is already nipping at the heels of Kramatorsk then the AFU command would have no choice but to utilize all those newly NATO-trained/equipped reserves they’ve been preparing for such a long time to reinforce the Kramatorsk direction and plug the ensuing gaps there.
Not to mention that a rapid style collapse of the region west of Bakhmut could lead to massive demoralization that would hamstring any future efforts to begin with.
There were other successful Russian advances in the Svatove-Kremennaya line as well, but for now we’ll keep it at this and update those on the next turn around, after a few more updates have accumulated for that direction.
For now I leave you with a small look at Bakhmut: Video