April 14, 2024

Institute for the Study of War:  Russia causes severe damage to energy infrastructure in Ukraine as US-supplied air defenses now exhausted

Institute for the Study of War

Israel’s success in defending against large-scale Iranian missile and drone strikes from Iranian territory on April 13 underscores the vulnerabilities that Ukrainian geography and the continued degradation of Ukraine’s air defense umbrella pose for Ukrainian efforts to defend against regular Russian missile and drone strikes. The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) Aerospace Force launched roughly 170 Shahed-136/131 drones, 30 cruise missiles, and 120 ballistic missiles at targets in Israel in a strike package similar to recent Russian strike packages against Ukraine. Russian forces have experimented with cruise missile, ballistic missile, and drone strikes of varying sizes and combinations, and are now routinely conducting large, combined strikes against targets in Ukraine. Iran’s similarly large, combined strike package was far less successful than recent Russian strikes in Ukraine, however, with Israeli air defenses intercepting almost all of the roughly 320 air targets except several ballistic missiles. Iranian drones and missiles had to cross more than 1,000 kilometers of Iraqi, Syrian, and Jordanian airspace before reaching Israel, affording Israel and its allies hours to identify, track, and intercept missiles and drones on approach to Israel. Russian forces launch drones and missiles from throughout occupied Ukraine and in close proximity to Ukraine from within Russia, affording Ukrainian air defenders a fraction of the time that Israel and its allies leveraged to successfully blunt the mass Iranian missile and drone strike. Israel also has a robust air defense umbrella that is responsible for responding to potential attacks across shorter borders with its neighbors, the Gaza Strip, and the West Bank; whereas, Ukraine has increasingly degraded air defense capabilities to employ against missile and drone strikes across a much wider frontline in Ukraine as well as its international borders with Belarus and Russia. Ukraine also currently lacks the capability to conduct air-to-air interception with fixed wing aircraft as Israel and its allies did on the night of April 13. Ukraine’s large size compared to Israel makes it more difficult for Ukraine to emulate the density of air defense coverage that Israel enjoys, especially amid continued delays in US security assistance.

The exhaustion of US-provided air defenses resulting from delays in the resumption of US military assistance to Ukraine combined with improvements in Russian strike tactics have led to increasing effectiveness of the Russian strike campaign in Ukraine. Without substantial and regular security assistance to Ukraine, Russian strikes threaten to constrain Ukraine’s long-term warfighting capabilities and set operational conditions for Russia to achieve significant gains on the battlefield. Ukraine requires significant provisions of Western air defense systems and fighter jets capable of intercepting drones and missiles in order to establish a combined air defense umbrella that is even remotely as effective as the one Israel and its allies successfully used on April 13.

Russia’s strike campaign against Ukraine demonstrates that even a limited number of successful ballistic or cruise missile strikes can cause significant and likely long-term damage to energy and other infrastructure, highlighting the need for an effective and well-provisioned air defense umbrella capable of a sustained high rate of interception. Recent large-scale Russian strike packages using drones, cruise missiles, and ballistic missiles against Ukraine have caused significant damage to Ukrainian energy infrastructure. All 15 ballistic missiles and seven of the 44 cruise missiles that Russian forces launched against Ukrainian energy facilities on the night of March 21 to 22 successfully penetrated Ukrainian air defenses. Some of the missiles significantly damaged the Dnipro Hydroelectric Power Plant (HPP) in Zaporizhzhia City and took it completely offline, and it will take some time to repair the plant. Three of seven ballistic missiles and eight of 30 cruise missiles that Russian forces launched against Ukrainian HPPs on the night of March 28 to 29 successfully penetrated Ukrainian air defenses, damaging HPPs and thermal power plants (TPPs) in central and western Ukraine. All 18 ballistic missiles and six of the 24 cruise missiles that Russian forces launched against Ukrainian energy infrastructure on the night of April 10 to 11 successfully penetrated Ukrainian air defenses, of which five missiles completely destroyed the Trypilska TPP in Kyiv Oblast. The Russian strikes against Ukrainian energy facilities on the night of April 10 to 11 also damaged energy facilities in Zaporizhia and Lviv oblasts. The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reported on April 11 that Russian strikes, not including the April 10 to 11 strike series, have disrupted 80 percent of the generation capacity of DTEK, Ukraine’s largest private energy company, which supplies about 20 percent of Ukraine’s power.

Ukrainian Deputy Energy Minister Svitlana Hrynchuk told CNN in an article published on April 14 that successful Russian strikes over the course of just a few days in the past few weeks have destroyed a year’s worth of Ukrainian repairs to energy facilities following the winter 2022-2023 Russian strike campaign. A Ukrainian source told CNN that Russian forces have changed their strike tactics to launch a large number of missiles and drones simultaneously against a limited number of targets. DTEK Head Maksym Timchenko stated that Russia began targeting Ukrainian energy generation infrastructure, instead of transmission systems, in late March 2024. DTEK previously warned that more accurate and concentrated Russian strikes are inflicting greater damage against Ukrainian energy facilities than previous Russian attacks did. Israel, the US, and their allies and partners should be cognizant of the risk that even small numbers of missiles penetrating defense umbrellas can cause nonlinear damage to modern societies if they hit the right targets.

Key Takeaways:

  • Israel’s success in defending against large-scale Iranian missile and drone strikes from Iranian territory on April 13 underscores the vulnerabilities that Ukrainian geography and the continued degradation of Ukraine’s air defense umbrella pose for Ukrainian efforts to defend against regular Russian missile and drone strikes.
  • The exhaustion of US-provided air defenses resulting from delays in the resumption of US military assistance to Ukraine combined with improvements in Russian strike tactics have led to increasing effectiveness of the Russian strike campaign in Ukraine.
  • Russia’s strike campaign against Ukraine demonstrates that even a limited number of successful ballistic or cruise missile strikes can cause significant and likely long-term damage to energy and other infrastructure, highlighting the need for an effective and well-provisioned air defense umbrella capable of a sustained high rate of interception.
  • The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) is falsely equating the April 13 large-scale Iranian strikes targeting Israel with the April 1 Israeli strike targeting Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) officials in Damascus, amplifying Iran’s “justification” for the April 13 strikes.
  • Russian milbloggers largely responded to the April 13 Iranian strikes against Israel by suggesting that the increased threat of military escalation in the Middle East will likely draw Western, specifically US, attention and aid away from Ukraine.
  • Ukrainian Commander-in-Chief Colonel General Oleksandr Syrskyi reported that the senior Russian military command aims to seize Chasiv Yar, Donetsk Oblast by Russia’s Victory Day holiday on May 9.
  • The Russian military’s ongoing restructuring of the Western Military District (WMD) into the Moscow and Leningrad military districts (MMD and LMD) is reportedly shifting areas of operational responsibility (AOR) for Russian force groupings in Ukraine.
  • The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) has reportedly fired the commanders of a combined arms army and motorized rifle regiment operating in southern Ukraine likely for failing to recapture areas lost during the Ukrainian summer-fall 2023 counteroffensive.
  • Ukrainian forces advanced south of Kreminna and southwest of Donetsk City and Russian forces recently made confirmed advances near Chasiv Yar (west of Bakhmut) and Avdiivka. 

For full report:  https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-april-14-2024

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