The Ukrainian army systematically is demolishing Russian ammunition supplies. The strategy could have big implications as Russia’s wider war in Ukraine grinds into its fourth month.
Firing new, American-supplied GPS-guided rockets—plus a few old, ex-Soviet ballistic missiles—the army in just the last two weeks has targeted no fewer than a dozen Russian ammo dumps.
The Ukrainians have concentrated their ammo strikes in the east, where Kyiv’s brigades have been staging a fighting withdrawal west along a 40-mile-deep pocket of Ukrainian-held terrain anchored in the east at Siversk.
On June 16, Kyiv’s forces blew up an ammo dump in Krasny Luch. Strikes on ammo stockpiles in Iyzum and Svatove followed on June 25. Two days later they hit dumps in Zymohiria and Rodakove. Ukrainian troops hit Russian ammo supplies in Perevalsk on June 28 and in Stakhanov on June 30. July 4 was a banner day for attacks on munitions stocks in Snijne and Donetsk.
Not to be outdone, Ukrainian forces in the south hit a Russian ammo dump at Melitopol airport on July 3.
To be clear, Ukrainian and Russian forces have targeted each other’s logistical infrastructure since Russia widened its war on Ukraine on Feb. 23. But the Ukrainians have stepped up their raids in recent weeks—and they’re getting more accurate, too, as more Western-made rockets arrive at the front lines.
The first four American-made High-Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems—truck-mounted, six-round launchers for 44-mile-range, GPS-guided rockets—reached the eastern front the last week of June. Not coincidentally, that’s when the Ukrainians narrowed their focus on Russia’s ammo supplies.
The wheeled HIMARS shoot farther, faster and more accurately than Ukraine’s ex-Soviet rocket-launchers can do. Traveling along roads and firing mostly at night, the four HIMARS are having an effect that’s entirely out of proportion to their small numbers.
“We’re watching Ukraine’s use of the HIMARS,” an unnamed U.S. defense official told reporters, “and we’re seeing them having a good deal of success in employing these—these HIMARS.”
Russian logistical nodes 30 miles or farther from the front, which once were relatively safe from Ukrainian attack, now frequently come under fire.
“The Ukrainians are able to carefully select targets that will undermine, you know, the effort by Russia in a more systematic way, certainly more than they would be able to do with the shorter range artillery systems,” a different, unnamed U.S. official added.
Russian deep strikes meanwhile are getting less accurate as the Russians draw down their pre-war stockpiles of modern missiles. The Russian armed forces don’t possess a wheeled rocket-launcher with the speed and accuracy of HIMARS, but they do possess a wide array of air-launched, long-range guided missiles.
But the Russians have fired so many hundreds of their best missiles that they’re now running low. More and more, Russian air force bombers are lobbing old and inaccurate missiles—and missing their targets as often as they hit them.
On June 27, a Russian bomber crew fired what appeared to be a Kh-32 anti-ship missile—which has a secondary land-attack role—at Kremenchuk in southern Ukraine. It’s unclear what the crew was aiming for. There are industrial and logistical sites in Kremenchuk that have military value.
In any event, the Kh-32—an upgraded version of a 1960s-vintage weapon—struck a shopping mall, killing 20 people.
It’s likely more Ukrainian civilians will die as Russia’s strikes get less accurate. “Russia’s shortage of more modern precision strike weapons and the professional shortcomings of their targeting planners will highly likely result in further civilian casualties,” the U.K. Defense Ministry explained.
Ukraine’s own deep strikes meanwhile are getting more accurate as more launchers arrive from foreign donors. Four more ex-American HIMARS are on the way. The Ukrainians also are getting 18 tracked Multiple Launch Rocket Systems from the United States, Germany, The Netherlands, the United Kingdom and Norway.
The MLRS are somewhat less nimble and reliable than the HIMARS are, but their rockets are the same—and travel just as far and strike just as accurately.
The Ukrainians also are squeezing every possible mile they can from the HIMARS and MLRS’s GPS-guided M31 rockets. Forty-four miles is the official max range, but with careful planning it’s possible to squeeze an extra six miles from the rockets.
Indeed, the HIMARS launcher that blew up the Russian ammo dump at Melitopol on July 3 apparently did so from 50 miles away.
As strikes escalate and losses mount, Russian logisticians could struggle to keep front-line units adequately supplied. Don’t underestimate how heavily this could weigh on the Russian war effort.
Ukraine’s interdiction of Russia’s supply lines after all doomed the Russian army’s attempt to encircle Kyiv back in February and March. Zeroing in on ammo dumps deep inside Russian-held territory, the Ukrainians clearly are hoping to repeat that winning strategy.