April 10, 2024

Institute for the Study of War: Ukrainian drones destroying Russian tanks across the battlefield

Institute for the Study of War

The Ukrainian military’s effective use of drones on the battlefield cannot fully mitigate Ukraine’s theater-wide shortage of critical munitions. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky stated in an interview with German outlet BILD published on April 10 that Ukraine is successfully domestically producing drones, but that drones cannot replace air defense systems, long-range missile systems, or artillery. Ukrainian forces have partially mitigated ongoing artillery ammunition shortages by using first-person view (FPV) drones to blunt Russian infantry and armored vehicle assaults, although artillery systems can deliver much more powerful strikes than loitering munitions and drone-dropped munitions. An unnamed NATO official told Foreign Policy in an article published on April 9 that Ukrainian forces have used FPV drones to “destroy” over two-thirds of the total number of Russian tanks that the Ukrainians have “destroyed” in recent months. Ukrainian FPV drone pilots reportedly target a Russian tank’s ”open hatch, the engine or ammunition stored in the turret.” Ukrainian FPV drones are likely able to temporarily render armored vehicles hors de combat during a combat operation, but current FPV drones with relatively light payloads are unlikely to destroy armored vehicles rendering them irretrievable and irreparable very often. Electronic warfare systems and increased armor on armored vehicles can also make it difficult for FPV drones to strike a specific target location on the vehicle, although technological and tactical competition can create periodic windows of opportunity for offense or defense to gain an advantage. Reuters reported on March 26 that Ukrainian FPV drone pilots acknowledged that they would be unable to hold the frontline without artillery and infantry. Ukrainian forces have managed partially to repel an increased tempo of Russian mechanized assaults in recent weeks despite ammunition shortages. Ukraine’s ability to repel mechanized assaults with FPV drones is a partial mitigation, however, continued shortages of artillery deprive Ukrainian forces of the ability to destroy armored vehicles rapidly and in large numbers.

US European Command (EUCOM) Commander General Christopher Cavoli warned on April 10 that Russian forces currently have a five-to-one artillery advantage along the frontline – a statement consistent with Ukrainian officials’ reports – but that Russian forces could have a 10-to-1 artillery advantage “in a matter of weeks” if the United States continues to delay the provision of military aid to Ukraine. Zelensky and senior Ukrainian military officials have recently warned that delays in Western military assistance have forced Ukraine to cede the battlefield initiative to Russia and that the Ukrainian military cannot plan a successful counteroffensive or defensive effort without knowing when and what kind of aid Ukraine will receive. ISW continues to assess that delays in Western military assistance have forced the Ukrainian military to husband materiel and that Ukrainian forces must make difficult decisions prioritizing certain aspects of its defense at the cost of lives and lost territory as well as at the expense of contesting the initiative to constrain Russian military capabilities or planning for future counteroffensive operations.

Key Takeaways:

  • The Ukrainian military’s effective use of drones on the battlefield cannot fully mitigate Ukraine’s theater-wide shortage of critical munitions.
  • Zelensky stated that there are no mitigations for insufficient air defense systems and indicated that Russian strikes are forcing Ukraine to reallocate already scarce air defense assets to defend Kharkiv City.
  • Zelensky warned about the threat of a potential future Russian ground offensive operation targeting Kharkiv City, which would force Ukraine to reallocate some of its already-strained manpower and materiel capabilities away from other currently active and critical sectors of the front.
  • The Ukrainian Verkhovna Rada considered and adopted provisions from Ukraine’s draft mobilization law on April 10 as part of an ongoing effort to increase the sustainability of Ukrainian mobilization over the long term.
  • Russian officials continue to indicate that they are not interested in any meaningful negotiations on the war in Ukraine amid Switzerland’s announcement that it will host a global peace summit on the war on June 15 and 16.
  • Kremlin Spokesperson Dmitry Peskov attempted to downplay tension in Armenian-Russian relations amid Armenia’s continued efforts to distance itself from political and security relations with Russia.
  • Russian Investigative Committee Head Alexander Bastrykin claimed that Russia has no economic reason to import foreign labor, a direct contradiction of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s recent efforts to justify Russia’s current migration laws to his xenophobic ultra-nationalist constituency.
  • Russian forces recently captured Ivanivske, a settlement east of Chasiv Yar, and advanced near Avdiivka.
  • Eight Russian senators and 16 State Duma deputies submitted a bill to the Russian State Duma that would likely allow Russian authorities to deploy Russian Federal Penitentiaries Service (FSIN) employees to Ukraine, amid reports that Russia is intensifying its crypto-mobilization efforts.

For full report:  https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-april-10-2024 

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