Ukraine at D+601: ATACMS used against Russian military targets.
N2K logoOct 18, 2023

ATACMS's success is seen as an instance of Russian intelligence failure.

Ukraine at D+601: ATACMS used against Russian military targets.

The UK's Ministry of Defence looked this morning at recent Russian attempts to regain the offensive. "There has been a significant increase in Russian offensive activity on the Kupiansk-Lyman axis in the last two weeks. Russian shelling has intensified and elements of the Russian 6th and 25th Combined Arms Armies (CAA) and the 1st Guards Tank Army have conducted attacks, but with limited success. It is highly likely that this activity is part of an ongoing Russian offensive being conducted on multiple axes in eastern Ukraine. The objective of Russian Ground Forces (RGF) on the Kupiansk-Lyman axis is probably to advance west to the Oskil River to create a buffer zone around Luhansk Oblast. RGF have built up combat capacity in the Kupiansk-Lyman direction in recent months. However, Ukrainian forces retain a significant defensive presence on this axis and it is highly unlikely RGF will achieve a major operational breakthrough."

Ukrainian forces continue their incremental advance in the general direction of the Sea of Azov.

ATACMS makes its Ukrainian combat debut.

US-supplied long-range ATACMS missiles have been used in combat, the Wall Street Journal reports. Strikes against Russian military targets in occupied Ukraine, "Operation Dragonfly," were conducted in Tuesday's predawn darkness. Comments from official sources have been sparse, but the Kyiv Post reports that attacks hit an airfield in occupied Berdyansk, on the Sea of Azov. The BBC does quote "Ukrainian Special Forces" on the strikes, and those sources say that nine helicopters, an air defense system, a munitions dump, and other military equipment were hit in the vicinity of both Berdyansk and Luhansk, in the occupied Donbas.

ATACMS had not been listed in any of the regular US Department of Defense announcements of military aid to Ukraine. Publicly at least the US had resisted providing ATACMS because it was reluctant to give Ukraine a weapon that might be perceived as escalatory: ATACMS's medium range--roughly 100 miles--puts significant portions of Russian territory at risk. POLITICO describes how the US decided to supply ATACMS, and to do it secretly. The planning began in July, and a decision was taken to supply the older, medium-range missiles, and to do so quietly. The Institute for the Study of War (ISW) wrote yesterday, "The US likely transferred the ATACMS systems in secret to provide Ukrainian forces operational surprise, and the overall shock in the Russian information space suggests that Ukraine achieved the desired effect."

ATACMS missiles can be fired from both MLRS and HIMARS launchers, which Western governments have delivered to Ukraine since early in the war. The missile is very accurate, and it's difficult to intercept. Troops who can fire an MLRS or a HIMARS, which Ukrainian artillerists can do, are easily able to fire ATACMS.

The ISW thinks ATACMS has immediately achieved significant operational mindshare among Russian commanders. "The Russian information space expressed widespread fear over the use of ATACMS," the ISW writes, "and Russian concerns over the possibility of future strikes will likely impact Russian decision-making beyond the current Ukrainian ability to sustain regular ATACMS strikes. Russian sources bemoaned the strikes on the Berdyansk and Luhansk City airfields as one of the most devastating Ukrainian strikes on a Russian target since the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.[15] Russian sources particularly credited the use of ATACMS for the severity of the strike and expressed fears that the Russian command would not adapt quickly enough to the new missile threat."

Private sector offers perspective on Ukrainian cyber defense in Russia's hybrid war.

At a conference this week a Mandiant executive characterized Ukrainian resistance to Russian cyber offensives in the early days of the war as "hand-to-hand combat." The cyberattacks occurred, and showed considerable capability, even though they fell short of achieving significant strategic or operational effects.

Finland sees increased Russian cyberespionage.

Finland, a new NATO member that shares a border with Russia (and was once a Russian province) is experiencing heightened attention from Russian cyberespionage services, the Guardian reports. In this case tghe spike may be compensatory: Finland has over the course of the last few months expelled a number of Russian diplomats for involvement in spying.

Hacktivist auxiliaries' operations tend to resemble one another.

ComputerWeekly observes that pro-Hamas hacktivism has followed a pattern established during Russia's war against Ukraine, concentrating on website defacements. The piece also notes that during the war between Hamas and Israel hacktivism has been relatively one-sided, with very few cyberattacks against Palestinian sites. The attacks haven't for the most part risen above the level of a nuisance, and concentration on defacements seems more opportunistic than strategic, more a matter of capability than of imitation. A Cambridge University researcher who's studied the conduct of the war told ComputerWeekly, “Lots of people talk up the idea that hacktivists could make a big difference in combat. What we are seeing in both the Ukraine work and the work now in Hamas is that this is over-egged. You do see some civilian activism around war outbreaks but its so low grade as to be of no security concern."