This report first appeared as a part of Hudson's Re: Ukraine newsletter series. To subscribe, click here.
Below Hudson Senior Fellow Can Kasapoğlu offers a military situational report about the war in Ukraine.
1. Ukraine Campaigns for the F-16 Fighter Jet and Sends a Warning to the West
Ukraine’s Air Force has initiated an online campaign on its official Twitter account to acquire F-16 fighters. The campaign explains the rationale behind Kyiv’s push for the F-16, arguing that the aircraft would equip Kyiv to repel the Russian Aerospace Forces (VKS) and stymie Russia’s drone and missile salvos. It further highlights the necessity of maintaining aerial control over the Black Sea theatre, while emphasizing the F-16’s potential role in counteroffensive operations due to its potent beyond-visual-range (BVR) weapons systems and advanced sensors suit.
With this campaign, the Ukrainian Air Force has sent a subtle warning to the West. Its Twitter thread explains that Ukraine has been depleting its already scarce supply of spare parts, and reminds readers that some Ukrainian aircraft are twice as old as their pilots. These claims ring true: Ukraine’s arsenal has been running on cannibalization, using older platforms to feed operational ones, and while a recent supply of Polish Mig-29s offered some temporary relief, the situation is unsustainable in the long term.
The Ukrainian Air Force’s claims carry weight for two reasons. First, of all Western aircraft available, Kyiv prefers the F-16. Previous editions of this report explained why it prefers the aircraft for political, military, and logistical reasons.
Second, and more important, Ukraine’s air deterrent could soon be in jeopardy. Kyiv is experiencing heavy attrition of its Soviet-remnant air and air-defense equipment. Worse, Ukraine has taxed the arsenals of ex-Warsaw Pact countries to their limits.
Recently leaked Pentagon documents confirm these concerns, warning that since Ukraine is running out of antiaircraft missiles, Russia could soon achieve its long-sought objective of air superiority in Ukrainian skies. This is no surprise: field reports released in late 2022 underlined that the West would need to boost Ukraine’s air capabilities in the face of Russian airpower.
Air and air defense operations, by nature, remain very vulnerable to any disruptions in the supply of spare parts and ammunition. Russia’s resort to low-cost missiles, modified dumb bombs with gliding wing-kits, and Iran-made Shahed baseline loitering munitions have already put extra stress on the operational tempo of Ukrainian air defenses. Sustaining Kyiv’s post-Soviet arsenal of S-300 strategic defenses, as well as its Su-27 and Mig-29 fighters, is not a feasible option for the West. The future of Ukrainian airpower lies in a comprehensive transition to Western systems.
2. Russia Improves a Key Weapons System, to Potentially Lethal Effect
Recent updates from the battleground showcase important developments concerning a critical weapons system used by the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, the TOS-1 thermobaric rocket launcher.
The TOS-1is a self-propelled multiple launch rocket system (MLRS). The weapon comes with a long combat record, ranging from Afghanistan and Chechnya to Syria and finally Ukraine. The TOS-1 is designed to pound heavily fortified positions in closed and semi-closed settings such as caves, strongholds, and urbanized terrain. The MLRS possesses 220mm-class thermobaric rockets that spark fuel-filled aerosol clouds ignited at their centers, drawing oxygen from the surrounding area while delivering powerful burns—making it, in effect, a kind of high-powered flamethrower. Some analysts consider the weapon to be almost as devastating as tactical nuclear weapons.
Open-source defense intelligence suggests that the Russian military has been employing TOS-1 heavy flamethrower MLRS systems in the invasionfor quite some time. Yet visuals obtained from the front indicate that Russia has now equipped its TOS-1 launchers with roof screens to protect them from tactical drone strikes. Furthermore, British defense intelligence reported this week that Russian airborne troops (VDV) operate TOS-1 heavy flamethrowers in the fight for Bakhmut.
The Ukrainian Armed Forces have made Russian TOS-1 systems high-priority targets in their increasing use of first-person-view kamikaze drones. Because the destruction of a TOS-1 unit’sfuel-air explosive rockets risks causing catastrophic damage to nearby units, it remains a potent and unpredictable asset in urban warfare settings such as Bakhmut.
3. Yevgeny Prigozhin of Wagner Accumulates Political Capital
Yevgeny Prigozhin has taken his political ambitions to new heights by engaging in flamboyant exchanges with members of the Russian foreign and defense ministries, going so far as to dictate the agenda for Russia’s United Nations Security Council presidency.
Of these exchanges, Prigozhin’s criticisms of the Russian Foreign Ministry on African strategic affairs were of greatest importance. From Mali to Libya, Prigozhin’s Wagner Group has an extensivepresence in Africa. Prigozhin’s strategy there rests on offering security assistance to fragile local governments in exchange for political and economic support. Wagner’s involvement in these countries includes military training, VIP protection and escort, and anti-insurgency operations. In return, Prigozhin secures lucrative business deals in high-profit sectors such as mining and critical-facility ownership.
To further Prigozhin’s ambitions, Wagner has introduced mobile recruitment centers in different corners of the Russian Federation. Its timing is spot-on, as the Russian Ministry of Defense is now initiating the spring conscription period to draft some 147,000 personnel for the fight in Ukraine. Prigozhin’s Wagner is now entering into open competition with the defense ministry of Sergei Shoigu in force-generation efforts.
Finally, the Meduza news outlet reported this week that Prigozhin has taken control of the pro-Kremlin political party A Just Russia — For Truth (SRZP) to advance his ambitious plans. While Vladimir Putin may not allow Prigozhin to secure an official foothold in domestic politics, Prigozhin’s interest in the SRZP speaks volumes regarding his aims.
4. The Russian Military Intensifies Its Efforts in Marinka
Recent weeks have seen increased Russian combat activity in Marinka, Donetsk Oblast. Updates from the Ukrainian General Staff confirm that Russia’s efforts there have only grown in intensity.
Visual evidence obtained from the Marinka front highlights that the clashes have featured heavy artillery, following the broader pattern in the overall war. Russian testimonies suggest that the efficiency of Ukrainian artillery makes it difficult for Putin’s forces to advance. In late March, the Ukrainian Armed Forces even used US-supplied HIMARS MLRS to target Russian armor concentrations in the area. At the time of writing, a Russian Su-25 attack aircraft had also been downed over the city.
The Donetsk Oblast has been at the center of Russia’s troubled winter offensive. Marinka has proven highly attritional for both sides, with the Russian military losing hundreds of servicemen within the span of a few days at the time of writing.
Our open-source defense intelligence efforts will continue to monitor every flashpoint of the Russian offensive until the conflict’s end. We anticipate that Ukraine’s long-awaited counteroffensive will soon pick up where the Russian push leaves off.