SITREP 3/24/23: Offensive Paranoia!
Offensives, offensives everywhere. Or not.
Last time we left off, there was talk of the large AFU counter-offensive to unblock Bakhmut which was set to kick off wednesday or thursday of this week. Clearly it hasn’t come. There is now word that General Syrsky, the commander of AFU ground forces, has stated that the weather conditions are inclement. Rains are turning everything to mud and slush, and there are now whispers, including from Prigozhin himself, that the big counter-offensive has in fact been delayed to at least mid-April.
With that said, there’s still a lot to cover on that topic:
Thus, according to the PMC Wagner, in the area of Bakhmut, Konstantinovka, Slavyansk, Kramatorsk and Druzhkovka, up to 80,000 AFU personnel, about 280 tanks, over 1,000 armored vehicles, up to 300 pieces of barrel artillery, as well as 93 MLRS are concentrated. With this grouping, the Ukrainian command will try to knock out the assault forces of the PMCs from Bakhmut, and develop an offensive towards Donetsk.
In addition, the Wagner headquarters expressed its vision of the situation on the development of events in other areas. He noted the formation of a shock fist in the area of Dnepropetrovsk, as well as hotbeds of tension in the area of Kherson and Lyman.
Prigozhin then went on to say that: “Ukrainian troops have prepared about 200 000 reserve personnel,and also received a large amount of NATO equipment, Prigozhin said. According to him, Ukraine has concentrated a group of more than 80 000 soldiers around Bakhmut.”
By any accounts, Prigozhin’s estimate seem high, and he is certainly a man disposed towards exaggeration—for instance he said that 100,000 AFU troops have died just to Wagner alone. Keep in mind Wagner’s large-scale participation has chiefly been in the Popasna, Soledar, and Bakhmut battles. And while perhaps it is possible, it is also very likely an exaggeration to say 100k AFU died to Wagner alone in just these battles (and Prigozhin made certain to emphasize this figure was dead only, not counting wounded).
So, what are we to think about his claim of 200k AFU reserves with 300 tanks and 1000 armored vehicles? It’s unclear if he’s referring to Bakhmut specifically in this regard, and my suspicion is he’s not. Because the 200k reserves number fits much more closely the number we’ve been getting about AFU’s total reserves being prepared in the rear—this is for all coming offensives, including the big Crimean one (though the number typically bandied about is much lower, about 100-120k).
Given the fact that he also gives 80k as the number of AFU currently around Bakhmut, the 200k could be a reference to the total combination of Bakhmut numbers plus reserves currently being developed.
The problem with delaying a Bakhmut assault to April is that this means likely pushing back the grand southern counter-offensive to an even later date. Some on the AFU side have even stated that mid-July is the most ideal time, weather/ground conditions-wise, to launch the main southern attack.
The question is, can Bakhmut even hold out until mid-April? For now, it looks like it might, considering that Wagner forces have lost a little steam there this week, given that the AFU has poured in some of the reserves meant for the ‘counter-offensive’ to shore up defenses. Here are a few interesting maps:
These are two heats map, showing where the likely fighting is taking place based on satellite heat reception.
This is a map showing percentages of areas held, with the claim that Wagner holds nearly 64% of Bakhmut, Ukraine 17%, and 20% is ‘neutral’ gray-zone or no man’s land through which the shooting is taking place, but where neither side is stationing active troops or positions. Though another map has it like so, giving the neutral areas to Ukraine:
Also, via a video of a firefight, Russian positions were geolocated to this series of buildings circled in red:
Which means that the area boxed in blue is likely now taken, and so at the least a modest advance of several blocks/neighborhoods has occurred towards the center.
On a related note, we should mention that the AFU is good at sweeping its own failures under the rug. Some might recall that we were promised a ‘grand Winter offensive’ on Svatovo-Kremennaya region for the past few months. And what has it amounted to? The AFU not only has had massive losses there, failed to get close to either city—but has also been driven back where Russia now makes daily gains going the other way (west). Now they pretend like there was never a huge PR campaign for the mighty, unstoppable Kremennaya offensive that collapsed.
As for the ‘grand southern offensive’ to take place later, here is another interesting post from a top Telegram channel:
As mentioned in previous reports, many people are anticipating a mass drone attack to start off such an offensive. The AFU has been busy creating large company-level teams of FPV operators with each brigade.
According to a Russian source, Taiwan gave Ukraine almost a thousand unmanned aerial vehicles that have a swarm function and are able to automatically interact with each other.
Ukrainian forces want to use them in a counter-offensive against Crimea to create an effect of surprise and panic among the enemy.
But Russia has not sat idle, either. There are several new very promising reports that Russian authorities have been taking the drone warfare very seriously of late.
Firstly, there’ve been reports of a new mysterious Russian microwave weapon taking out Ukrainian drones several kilometers away, and AFU are strongly complaining about it. Some believe it is the Ranets-E system, presented long ago at Russian military trade-shows, but has gone ‘off-grid’ since then.
“They seem to be burning down”: reports began to appear in the Ukrainian segment of the network about UAVs shot down at a distance of 6-7 kilometers
According to the authors, the Russian Armed Forces can use Ranets-E combat complexes of electromagnetic radiation during a special military operation.
"Ranets-E" is a powerful microwave generator on wheels designed for non-contact destruction of enemy aircraft. The installation station is able to detect enemy equipment using the "friend or foe" system, aim and automatically guide the target, constantly "frying" its electronic insides with powerful microwave radiation.
The Economist even highlighted the ‘black magic’ of Russia’s recent capabilities in this regard in a recent article days ago:
In Ukraine, they called "black magic" how the Russian Armed Forces manage to shoot down drones, writes the Economist, citing Ukrainian sources in the field of defense.
"The Russians ... are doing black magic in electromagnetic defense. They can jam signals, affect GPS, send drones to the wrong height, just to make them fall from the sky," a Ukrainian source quoted the publication as saying. According to the source, the Ukrainian troops will receive "significant and high-tech capacities" in the coming months. However, according to him, it will still not be easy for them to fight the Russian Federation.
And Russia has created a Defense Innovation Support Center at the level of the State Duma to help facilitate new technologies to Russian troops. This is partly in response to all the complaints about how inefficient and bureaucratic the Russian military system has been in the first year of the SMO in terms of allowing Russian troops to procure the latest needed items like drones etc.
There has been much talk about how civilian crowd-funded efforts had to get drones to Russian troops because the byzantine bureaucratic process of the Russian military simply held everything up and didn’t allow for the timely ‘authorizations’ and various red-tape / paperwork to smoothly conduct these procurements.
So, slowly, things are changing and these are very promising signs:
Waiting for the enemy to attack: the Defense Innovation Support Center was created at the State Duma to help the troops with new technologies with the participation of RVvoenkor
The need for it has been brewing for a long time, the need to promote new developments to the troops has been discussed for many months at different levels in our society.
The initiative of the public was actively supported and is helping to implement it, deputy Dmitry Kuznetsov , who constantly helps the front:
“Given the expectation of a counteroffensive by the Armed Forces of Ukraine, there is very little time. At the site of the State Duma, we have created a public Defense Innovation Support Center. It is important to have time to provide our guys with anti-drone protection and everything that saves lives. And one cannot do without activists and private initiative. Civil society in Russia is forced to conduct a Social Military Operation, and war, as always in history, stimulates technological progress.
We were supported by our colleague Gusev, a representative of the Ministry of Defense Sergey Egorov, from the Sergei Mikheev Foundation Anton Samarin, the Union of the Fathers of Russia and A. Zaremba, the GOZ Platform and D. Tarasov, Russian Spring and Artyom Potapov, general directors of manufacturing enterprises.
This comes on the heels of Dmitry Medvedev’s leading charge of visiting more Russian MIC plants, holding new meetings with arms developers/suppliers, such as this curious one where he invoked a famously threatening Stalin speech from WW2: Video 1 (Alternate Link)
It’s up to you to decide whether this was a serious speech or slightly tongue in cheek.
Also it should be said that Medvedev announced that Russia is now building 1,500 tanks per year. I’ve covered this in depth before, and to summarize: Russia was building upwards of 200-250 brand new tanks per year, and modernizing/refurbishing/upgrading an additional 600-650+. But last year Shoigu ordered Uralvagonzavod to double their production of just new tanks alone, and two new Russian factories for modernizations (such as turning T-72’s into T-72B3M’s, T-90A’s into T-90M’s, etc.) were planned to be established, which would greatly expand refurb/upgrades per year.
There have not been any hard figures to confirm how close they’re hitting to that mark this year, yet. But Medvedev’s new statement appears to be the first such indication. It would mean that Russia would theoretically be producing upwards of 400-500 brand new tanks this year and upgrading/refurbing an additional 1000, most likely.
Recall that even at the worst most improbably inflated loss estimates (i.e. those of the infamous Oryx list), Russian-Allied forces combined have lost 1600+ tanks total in the SMO. This would be further confirmation that Russia has more than made up any losses or will soon, as they likely have produced 800-1000 total tanks last year, and are set to produce another 1,500 this year. By next year, they could be back up to Soviet production numbers which ran as high as 2500-3500 per annum (still nothing compared to WW2 where the USSR could pump out 50-100k tanks per year, though).
Also, on this topic. Many people have expressed the concern that if the AFU is accumulating such vast forces, why isn’t Russia working on the concentration points? Well, there’s a new report which claims Russia is doing exactly that:
On March 23-24, the command of the Armed Forces of Ukraine planned to launch a counteroffensive in the Zaporozhye direction. According to the enemy's plan, the main blow was to come to the Orekhovsky site: a strike force of up to a reinforced battalion-tactical group was created in the city.
According to @ZSU_Hunter_2_0, the command of the 58th combined arms Army of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation decided to inflict massive fire damage on the enemy's exposed positions and warehouses. The offensive was thwarted before it even started.
From 21.00 to midnight on March 22, hotels and schools used to house personnel of both the Armed Forces of Ukraine and the recently formed assault brigade of the National Guard of Ukraine "Chervona Kalina" were hit in the city — in total, over 20 targets were covered.
Several warehouses with ammunition, artillery shells, anti-tank missiles, parking equipment were put out of action.
It is estimated that the enemy's losses reach half a thousand people killed and wounded. The Internet was turned off in the city to prevent information leaks. The wounded are taken out through Zaliznichnoye towards Gulyai-Pole.
Another report from a Ukrainian Air Force command spokesman confirms the mass attacks by Russian aerial precision guided munitions:
At night, the Russian Aerospace Forces carried out more than 10 airstrikes on targets in the Sumy region.
“The Sumy region was attacked by guided bombs launched from about 10 aircraft. More than 10 of these guided bombs attacked targets in the region. Losses are being specified there…” Yuriy Ignat, a spokesman for the Ukrainian Air Force command, said in a press release.
It is known that objects in the city of Belopolye (pictured) and the village of Viri of the Rechkovo community fell under airstrikes. Targets in the Nikolaev territorial community were also attacked, the distance from which to the Russian border is about 40 kilometers.
This is the largest attack by Russian aircraft on border facilities of the Ukrainian army in recent times. What is also noteworthy is that the Ukrainian military notes the use of precisely guided bombs, and not missiles, which may indicate a gradual buildup of this type of weaponry in the Russian Aerospace Forces
And on this topic, in the last reader’s mailbag I answered a question about why the Russian airforce has been seemingly not as active as some expected. I explained, how the Russian aerospace forces are actually averaging higher sortie rates than US in many of its conflicts, giving the exact numbers break downs from confirmed sources so no one can accuse me of exaggeration.
And here today we’ve had another such confirmation, when Shoigu stated the following interesting information in an update:
During the special operation, the Russian Aerospace Forces destroyed more than 20,000 enemy facilities, making over 140,000 sorties – Shoigu
If you divide that by 392 days of combat of the SMO thus far, you get almost 360 total sorties per day average. In my mailbag article I quoted above, I gave NATO’s own cited numbers that showed in the 1999 Serbian bombings, all NATO forces combined flew 250 sorties per day on average, and the US flew 150 strike sorties per day, as a comparison. The detractors of course will balk and say Russia’s making up their numbers, well then so is the US—and the US is far more likely to make up numbers as they’ve been proven to do it far more often throughout history.
Next, a quick note to clear something up: a lot of people post out of context photos/videos of various equipment going to the front and ask why/how it is that Russia isn’t taking it out.
Firstly, much of those photos/videos are taken in Poland/Germany (showing trains streaming ahead full of armor) and not inside Ukraine. In fact, 90% of light/heavy armor that floods into Ukraine is done at night—so if you see a daylight photo of a train full of gear, it’s likely not in Ukraine.
At night, light armor like APC’s, IFV’s, IMV’s, ICV’s, MRAPs, howitzers, etc., can be, and are, easily transported by way of civilian vehicles, in the backs of tractor trailers that go along civilian highways, indistinguishable from other food carrying trailers around them.
Heavy armor like main battle tanks (MBT’s) generally can’t fit in tractor trailers so they are the only ones which usually have to be shipped in on trains or HETs at night. So why isn’t Russia hitting those?
Well, firstly, the previous Russian tactic has been to wait for them to accumulate at a concentration point, and then hit them all there. For instance, long ago it was announced that Poland would supply over 250+ T-72M1 variants, and not surprisingly for some reason, only a small handful (less than a dozen or so) of them were ever seen on the real playing field, why do you think that is?
Now onto the next. Speaking of Poland, there has been a lot of talk and material recently indicating a real build up of arms with the intention of Poland becoming the next battleground or combatant after Ukraine falls. Let’s review some of the materials that’ve made themselves known recently:
Polish President Andrzej Duda announced plans to create the largest land army in the EU.
Recruitment centers are opening all over the country.
Armored vehicles, rocket and artillery systems are now being purchased. But there is no one to operate military equipment. Therefore, it was decided to recruit more people in order to double the size of the Polish army (now it has 150,000 troops).
South Korea is ready to sell 980 K2 Black Panther tanks to Poland. The contract is valued at $14.5 billion. Warsaw will also buy 600 self-propelled howitzers and 50 combat aircraft. https://t.me/russtrat/19981
They are simply preparing Poland for war with Russia, as they once prepared Ukraine. And they sit across the ocean. But the Poles seem to be happy about it. As the Ukrainians were once happy.
This is not the restoration of the USSR. This is a return to the frontiers after WWII. The West wanted to tear Ukrainian territory away from Russia. It will not happen. Poland would do well to stand aside.
This comes on the heels of the announcement by the US of the creation of the first permanent garrison of the US Army on Polish soil.
The first permanent garrison of the US Armed Forces will appear in Poland. As the Ministry of National Defense of the Republic reported on Monday, a ceremony will be held on March 21 to "transform the regional support group of Poland into a US army garrison in Poland."
"The US Army garrison in Poland will become the eighth permanent garrison of the US Armed Forces in Europe and the first permanent garrison of American troops in Poland. The unit is being created thanks to the decision of the US president in 2022 and will be engaged in providing infrastructure for American soldiers stationed in Poland.
The tasks of the garrison will also include the management and management of advanced outposts of American troops in Poland," the report says. Camp Kosciusko is the name of the forward command of the Fifth US Army Corps operating in the city of Poznan since 2020.
"Its main task is to coordinate the actions and supervision of the US ground forces in Europe, operational planning, as well as cooperation and synchronization of US forces with the troops of other NATO countries. The command plays a key role in integrating the American troops stationed in Poland and synchronizing their interaction with our armed forces," the Polish Defense Ministry said in a statement. More than 10 000 US military personnel are currently stationed in Poland.
The US Army made the reveal on their official Twitter:
As one Polish user on Twitter wrote, with the following image:
Today, a permanent US Army garrison has been established in Poland. On this occasion, I would like to inform you that we now have full enslavement, economic, financial and now military, by the USA. I don't know whether to laugh or cry.
On top of which, articles like this one are beginning to outright call for NATO troops inside Ukraine, albeit in this case as a post-settlement peace-keeping force. But they stress heavily the fact that US troops must be on the ground to ensure any future peace, opening the Overton Window of the conversation, and arguably conditioning the public for the acceptability of such solutions.
Numerous headlines also have highlighted Poland’s plans to become the largest and most powerful army in Europe in a few years’ time:
So it leads many analysts to conclude that the Atlanticists are clearly prepping the way for Poland to take Ukraine’s place, after Ukraine’s fall.
Rogozin said the following several days ago:
Dmitry Rogozin, Russian Deputy Prime Minister in 2011-2018, while on the line of contact in Zaporizhzhia Region, said that the Polish Armed Forces were engaged in military actions on the side of Ukraine. "Regular units of the Polish army are operating here. We can see them by their uniforms, they are dressed alike," Rogozin said, adding that "the Poles have become professional pilferers, their statements cause consternation even among their NATO colleagues."
Earlier, it was reported that the number of nuclear warheads of the nuclear deterrent force intended for strikes on Poland has been increased given that a garrison of US troops will be permanently stationed on its territory from March 21 with the aim of becoming a key link in the offensive infrastructure of NATO troops
American Lieutenant General Keith Kellogg reportedly stated that Ukraine stands no chance, and should be split between Poland and Russia:
In the United States some have proposed to divide Ukraine between Poland and Russia Many senior US military and intelligence officials believe that Ukraine will no longer be able to emerge victorious from the current conflict. At the same time, they continue to advocate arms deliveries and cash payments to Kiev, although they admit that this aid will still not help Ukraine, since Russia vastly outnumbers it in resources, money and alliances with other major powers such as China and India.
“Most of the Ukrainian army is already dead. Its best soldiers, trained in the United States, have either died or are out of action. Nobody cancels Ukrainian prowess, but Russia is likely to win anyway, thanks to overwhelming resources,” said the co-chair of the Center for American Security (AFPI), Lieutenant General Keith Kellogg. He believes that the most likely outcome of the conflict is a humiliating truce for Ukraine, as a result of which the country may cease to exist: "It's time to divide Ukraine: everything east of the Dnieper will go to Russia, and everything to the west - to Poland. Historically, these two countries controlled present-day Ukraine."
And to briefly comment on the MQ-9 Reaper situation. Yesterday, the UK decided to provocatively overfly a similar route with an RC-135W Elint/Sigint plane, which was escorted by two RAF Typhoons out of Romania:
As can be seen on the right, they were inside Russia’s EEZ (Economic Exclusion Zone) although still technically in international airspace/waters. However, seeing as how they were tracked on opensource flight-trackers, they appeared to fly with transponders on, which was the chief point of contention that led to the MQ-9 Reaper’s downing.
Either way, it is clearly a ‘strong message’ sent by the UK. Some might say Russia backed down by not intercepting them, yet Russia never intercepted the endless technically ‘legal’ previous Elint flights—they only intercepted the Reaper when it flew with transponders off, something even the wily British did not dare.
On the other hand, Russia continues to respond asymmetrically to these provocations. In March, the US claims that Russia ‘violated their airspace’ by directly overflying US bases in Syria on almost every single day of the month:
And what’s more, yesterday an Iranian militia strike on a US base has actually caused casualties—the death of a contractor and wounded servicemen:
The two are likely connected, and Russian overflights can be assumed to be providing reconnaissance information to the Iranians in a tit-for-tat show of force. So for all those complaining why Russia doesn’t shoot down more US drone flights near Crimea, you can see the payback being enacted asymmetrically as US servicemen are now taking casualties.
And to add a humorous finishing touch, the US is now wondering why their much vaunted air defense (the very same supplied to Ukraine…) didn’t work in the attacks:
The US military does not know at present why the system did not work as it should and the circumstances are under investigation, the report said, citing two officials.
One of the officials explained that the Avenger missile defense system on the base, named RLZ, may have been experiencing some unexpected maintenance issue, despite the fact that the troops were on high alert given that Iranian-backed groups had conducted 78 attacks in the past two years, US media reported.
Another point of business:
More evidence of Russia’s new domestic ‘JDAM-ER’ glide-bomb version is turning up.
This new photo appeared showing what is being called the UMPC (Unified Module for Planning and Correction). I.e. these are the wings and presumably guidance section which attaches to the bomb. This time they were found at the wreckage site of a destroyed Ukrainian police station used as a barracks by the AFU, which means it hit its target.
This article even conveys the following statement from the famous Russian Fighterbomber channel (officially linked to the Russian airforce, which always posts exclusives directly from the RuAF):
For four months now, bombers, fighters and long-range aircraft have been operating with guided weapons from distances inaccessible to enemy air defense. Only aviation of "musicians" goes purely for classic bombing with "uncontrolled cast iron"
So what they’re saying is, the actual Russian airforce has for months now been using exclusively guided weapons, which are launched at distances that Ukrainian AD can’t reach. And only the aviation of Wagner (Su-25’s, etc) continues to still use the classic dumb-bomb drops, like this here:
But this is a very promising confirmation.
Now let’s turn briefly to the other front of Avdeevka. Some reports today (including from the AFU side, which lends further credibility) claim that Russian forces have struck a deep breakthrough advance into Avdeevka’s western flank.
On the northern end of Avdeevka, Russian troops have reportedly crossed, or at least gotten hold of the critical railroad beside Stepove. So as can be seen the Avdeevka situation is getting critical for the AFU and at this rate could very well fall even before Bakhmut.
The last bit of promising developments: as some have heard, Russia has launched a new military recon satellite once more into space two days ago:
What is most critical about this is that the satellite launched is a Bar-M low-earth-orbit Electro-Optical recon satellite, i.e. a spysat with a telescopic camera. And significantly: this puts Russia’s total EO recon satellite in space number at 5 now. The US only has 6 Keyhole EO satellites. That means Russia has now almost achieved parity with the US at least in the specific sphere of electro-optical recon satellites.
This doesn’t count the dozens of other non-EO ones like various SARs radar, signals spy sats, etc. US has more total of these (reportedly ~120+ to Russia’s ~70-80), but in many ways the EO ones are the most expensive and important. The famed and secretive American Keyhole satellites are more expensive than the Nimitz/Gerald R. Ford class aircraft carriers. The satellites are roughly $5+ billion each. They are the size of the Hubble Space Telescope, and roughly similar in makeup—so basically, imagine a Hubble telescope pointing downward toward Earth.
In fact just last week, Russia had already launched another military satellite, this one a geostationary signals intelligence sat for intercepting signals and military comms. And according to the previous source, the same Plesetsk Cosmodrome is already scheduled for another military recon satellite launch next wednesday. Clearly, Russia is absolutely pumping them out.
So, does this mean Russian space ISR is now equal to all of NATO combined? Well, just because Russia has almost full parity with the U.S. in the crucial area of electro-optical sats doesn’t mean it has equalized things in regards to the AFU. Ukraine uses a lot of privatized/commercial satellites like Maxar, as well as those of US/NATO/Five-Eyes. So all of them combined still have quite a bit more than Russia.
Just today, a new article highlighted how some of this works:
Soldiers of Ukraine’s ‘Thor’ special operations group are using satellite data provided by the CIA to choose targets when conducting drone strikes against Russian forces, the unit’s commander told The Times.
The unit’s commander, whose name is said to also be Thor, claims he uses a special application on a tablet that is synced to a CIA satellite to select potential targets for their attacks.
“We select targets in the program, and targets can be placed there both by the CIA satellite and by our own satellite, which our volunteers pay for. Information is collected from all kinds of sources there. We choose, then we arrive and conduct our own reconnaissance,” Thor told the outlet.
Here they are clearly talking about the various systems I’ve covered numerous times before, from the DELTA, Nettle, GIS Art, etc. These systems are used to input tracking data from US satellites/AWACs/etc. and distribute them to any unit throughout the AFU.
It should also be mentioned that this Ukrainian team makes a disturbing admission in the article:
Another member of the group told the Times that Thor also intentionally uses drones to maim – rather than kill – Russian servicemen. “These ones are to wound the Russians,” Aleksander, 30, told The Times as he armed a 3D-printed drone with mining explosives. “Take an arm or a leg, he will be a burden on the state forever,” he said.
Either way, this latest satellite development shows how hard the Russian state is working to bring itself up to parity, and that it is only getting stronger by the day in the area of ISR, as well as everywhere else.
As a last point of humor, General Milley has recently stated, that if Ukraine loses to Russia, it would result in the US military budget having to ‘double’.
What’s most hilarious about that, is it was recently revealed that Biden has already requested an astonishingly unprecedented, near $1 trillion defense budget from Congress:
So, you’re telling me, little ol’ Russia, mocked as such a shambolic, inept foe, would require the mighty ‘1st Army’ of the world to double their already $1 trillion defense budget to an ineffable $2 trillion? Someone cue the laugh track!
It’s quite something that the country so often derided as a mere gas station masquerading as a nuclear power (a charge recently repeated by Republican hopeful Desantis), is sending such frissons of pearl-clutching, nail-biting, hand-wringing terror throughout the mighty NATO-sphere.
That’s some gas station!