Russia/Ukraine INTSUM 19MAR22–1; 1530 Eastern/2130 Kyiv
1.) Russian Ministry of Defense has claimed that it used a Kh-47 Kinzhal air-launched hypersonic ballistic missile to conduct a strike on a Ukrainian ammunition depot, which was located underground. This would mark the first time that the missile was used in combat operations, if confirmed. The Kh-47 is capable of traveling at Mach 10–12, or ten times the speed of sound (9,000+ miles per hour), and launched from either the MiG-31K interceptor or the Tu-22M3 bomber. It is capable of maneuvers throughout its flight, meaning that with its speed, the missile is very difficult for anti-missile/anti-aircraft systems, such as the Patriot or Ukrainian S-300 to intercept and destroy. It can carry either a conventional high explosive, as in this case, or a nuclear warhead with an approximate yield of 300 kilotons.
Analyst’s Comment: There’s been some speculative analysis regarding the use of this missile. One theory is that it is merely a technology demonstrator to let NATO know Russian capabilities, especially since this missile can carry a nuclear payload, and to suggest that the surface-to-air missile systems in use by both NATO and Ukraine (Patriot/S-300) will be of no use should Russia decide to switch from normal cruise missiles, such as the Iskander [Edit: Kalibr], to hypersonic missiles. Another theory, which is inadvertently backed up by some anecdotal and unrelated reports regarding shortages of conventional Russian cruise missiles that have been largely used to this point, is that Russia is running out of those types missiles. As of a few days ago, Russia had launched upwards of 1,000 missiles into Ukraine. Both of these theories are plausible and may be true to some extent. However, I think it at least equally likely that the Kh-47 was used due to the nature of the target. A hypersonic missile flying at 9,000 miles per hour has a vastly better ability to penetrate an underground ammunition storage facility than do other munitions used by Russian forces to this point.
That said, continued use of these types of hypersonic munitions in combat operations will allow NATO ISR assets an unparalleled opportunity to evaluate their effectiveness, both in terms of destructive capability and any potential ways to defeat them. NATO ISR, which is saturating the airspace above a number of NATO nations daily, undoubtedly has visibility on a significant portion of Russian activity. Such a missile launch, from airplanes located outside of Ukraine (the MiG-31s may be based in Kaliningrad), would not go unnoticed. NATO analysts and planners are paying very, very close attention to this sort of thing. It also seems nearly inevitable that, should Russia continue to launch hypersonic missiles like the Kh-47, one of them will suffer a malfunction that might allow foreign material exploitation (FME) teams to get a more hands-on look at one. The increased use of such advanced systems, like the previously mentioned decoy-equipped Iskander-M missiles, may reflect a growing frustration, as Russia would normally seek to limit exposure of such systems to near-peer adversaries like the US and NATO. One thing, however, is almost certain, and that is that Russia does not likely have expansive stores of the Kh-47, as the missile only entered serial production in 2017. End Comment.
2.) The Ukrainian territorial defense forces continue to aggressively target Russian rear areas and logistics, to include convoys. We’ve discussed this issue in the past. Russia has not adequately secured rear areas, and its supply lines run through territory with plenty of civilians and hostile actors. A key enabler for these territorial defense forces are internet communications that have, it seems, not been remotely eroded. The civilian populace in Russia’s rear and along Russian lines of supply provide a very convenient surveillance network, able to feed current, actionable intelligence to territorial defense forces, most of which are local and thus very familiar with a given region’s terrain. I can only think of how easy it would be for my fellow citizens to feed such information to armed groups in a similar situation in my rural county in New York. Not even a single enemy truck would be able to pass over any road — highway or otherwise — without being noticed. This information would be given to heavily-armed groups intimately familiar with every potential ambush point.
2.a.) These groups, Ukrainian territorial defense forces, are significantly eroding Russian logistical capabilities throughout Ukraine. Currently, 519 trucks/jeeps/vehicles, have been confirmed as destroyed, abandoned, or captured. The number is likely higher. In some cases, ambushes and UAV strikes are wholly ignoring tanks and armored vehicles in order to strike trucks carrying fuel or other supplies. At first glance, this might seem counterintuitive. But you can’t drive tanks if you don’t have fuel. Those tanks become very heavy paper weights, ripe for the picking or, it seems, abandoned by their Russian crews and captured by Ukrainian farmers.
3.) Ukrainian forces continue to contribute to the flooding of areas in the Irpin River plain, which will dramatically degrade Russian freedom of maneuver north of Kyiv. The flooding was first mentioned around 04 March. Drone pictures from that day show what looked like a wetland landscape, making it virtually impossible for armor to advance cross-country. In other words, these vehicles will be limited to lines of communication (LOCs) such as roads. The village of Demydiv is under what looks to be about three feet of water. Unconfirmed reports state, further, that Ukrainian forces are using old Soviet fortifications around Irpin that date from WWII.
4.) The situation northwest of Kyiv may be developing in a very interesting way. Ukrainian forces look to be assaulting Russian forces’ right flank from the west, along the latter’s line of approach to Kyiv, and the Russians appear to be unable to advance further south. It is far too early to tell for certain how this will turn out. It is possible that Ukrainian forces are attempting to circle and cut off those Russian troops in and around Irpin, Bucha, and other areas to the immediate northwest of Kyiv. Those forces certainly cannot easily egress back the way they came, with the logistical issues they’ve suffered thus far. It will be very interesting to see what happens. An encirclement of Russian forces just northwest of Kyiv would be a significant blow to the Russian effort to encircle the city. Even without such an encirclement, I remain skeptical that Russia can accomplish an encirclement of Kyiy at all.
5.) The Kyiv Independent reports that ten humanitarian corridors, including to Mariupol and cities northwest of Kyiv, will be opened allowing humanitarian aid to flow into those cities. Given the previous issues with humanitarian corridors and cease-fires to allow civilians to leave certain areas, Russian commitment to this is dubious at best.
6.) Yesterday, I saw a couple of articles discussing the willingness of certain NATO countries to send “peacekeepers” to Ukraine. Poland was the first, which was reported in INTSUM 17MAR22–1. Also reported in the same was Ned Price, spokesman for the US Department of State, shooting the idea down entirely. Denmark, however, has indicated that it would be willing to do so, with Defence Minister Morten Bodskov saying, “…the Danish government is ready to send troops to Ukraine as part of a peacekeeping mission if it can contribute to ending this bloody war…We have decades of experience of this type of work and I definitely believe Denmark can contribute and make a difference.”
Analyst’s Comment: At this point, it is extremely unlikely that any senior NATO officials are seriously considering the notion. It is unclear what such a mission would entail, but it is significant that the idea is being floated. Nothing will come of it in the short term, but perhaps some shocking display of callousness toward Ukrainian civilians might get more nations interested, at which time there might be real conversations about potential scope. End Comment.
7.) Lieutenant General Andrei Mordvichev, commander of the 8th Guards Combined Army, was reportedly killed in southern Ukraine near Kherson. This may be the result of renewed Ukrainian counter-offensives in that area. A Lieutenant General is the equivalent to a US Army Major General (two star). If this is confirmed, it marks the fifth Russian general killed in just over three weeks of combat operations. There have been reports that these generals are being forced to go to the front lines in order to fix the myriad issues Russian forces are having with logistics and combine arms maneuver. The loss of generals, at this pace, certainly has a deleterious effect on Russian morale. Before the death of Major General Harold Green in 2014 due to an insider attack in Afghanistan, the US hadn’t lost a general grade officer in combat in forty years.
8.) The British government stated that it would not normalize relations with Russia at the conclusion of hostilities in Ukraine for as long as President Putin remains in the government in any capacity.
9.) The Ministry of Defense for the Netherlands will deploy Patriot surface-to-air missiles to Slovakia.
10.) Russia has reportedly mined sea-lane approaches to Odessa. Russia has also claimed that naval mines deployed by Ukraine to defend port cities have begun to drift. In either case, the risk to vessels in the region will remain high. The risk posed to unexploded ordnance (UXO) of all types will be something Ukrainians will likely have to face for a considerable period of time.
11.) Ukrainian Tochka-U ballistic missiles continue to engage in periodic fire against Russian targets. Since these missiles are fired from mobile launchers, they are much harder to destroy. The transporter-erector-launchers (TELs) set up, fire, and flee.
12.) Unconfirmed reports from hospitals in Gomel, Belarus, roughly due north of Chernihiv, Ukraine, state that roughly 2,500 Russian KIAs have moved through the region, probably from Kyiv. The corpses are reportedly being moved only at night.
13.) On Thursday, 17 March 2022, the House of Representatives passed a bill to revoke Russia’s normal trade status with the United States, 424–8. The bill will now go to the US Senate, where it will likely pass easily and then go to President Biden to sign into law. It will allow the Biden Administration to enact tariffs on Russian goods. The list of GOP Representatives who voted against this bill is interesting.
If my estimates are correct, I’ve now written more about this war in a bit over three weeks than I did for the novel that took me eight years to write. More as the situation develops. Thanks, as always, for reading.