Hudson Institute

Ukraine Military Situation Report | July 3

Senior Fellow (Nonresident)
Ukrainian Army soldiers prepare a military intelligence drone for flight in the direction of Chasiv Yar, Ukraine, on June 10, 2024. (Photo by Jose Colon/Anadolu via Getty Images)
Ukrainian Army soldiers prepare a military intelligence drone for flight in the direction of Chasiv Yar, Ukraine, on June 10, 2024. (Photo by Jose Colon/Anadolu via Getty Images)

Below Senior Fellow Can Kasapoğlu provides a battlefield assessment and identifies three lessons North Atlantic Treaty Organization leaders can learn from the war.

Battlefield Assessment

As the Ukrainian Air Force awaits delivery of F-16 fighter aircraft, Russian forces struck Myrhorod Air Base in Poltava Oblast, reportedly destroying at least one Ukrainian Su-27 fighter and damaging other aircraft. The attack demonstrated that Russia possesses the advanced tactical intelligence and strike capabilities to conduct real-time drone reconnaissance over a target area before hitting it with SS-26 Iskander ballistic missiles. To combat these capabilities, Ukraine needs to hone a strategy to base and fly the NATO-grade airpower it is soon to receive.

Last week Russia also continued to push along multiple axes, focusing on critical hotspots including Kharkiv, Chasiv Yar, and areas adjacent to the Russian-held city of Avdiivka. On the front in southern Ukraine, Russian forces continued offensive efforts near Zaporizhzhia but failed to register meaningful territorial gains.

Fighting was deadlocked along the Kharkiv axis, where Russia faces a costly but sustainable war of attrition. The Kremlin has deployed additional personnel to the front lines to mitigate heavy losses in some of its most important units, such as the Russian Airborne Forces (VDV). Moscow is also taking losses in strategically important units such as the Phoenix engineering battalion, a key combat formation that specializes in drones and mines, which has reportedly mined northern Kharkiv to deny territory to the Ukrainian military. Unsurprisingly, Russia’s storm units, which it often uses as cannon fodder, also took heavy casualties.

Digital sources claimed this week that Russia’s 83rd VDV Brigade, operating near Kharkiv and Chasiv Yar, has become combat ineffective, a military term denoting that high losses prevent a combat formation from fighting under its doctrinal order of battle. Additional outlets supported this claim. Originally garrisoned in Ussuriysk in Russia’s far east, the unit has suffered significant losses since the outset of the invasion of Ukraine, particularly in the heated battle of Mariupol. Russian personnel from the 83rd Airborne uploaded posts to social media complaining about poor logistics in the fight for Kharkiv, but limited open-source intelligence makes it difficult to assess the unit’s combat fitness. Nonetheless, the Ukrainian military will likely seek to envelop the struggling Russian combat formation.

Meanwhile, Russia has begun fortifying its newly occupied territory. Russian forces have built trenches near Vovchansk, a town near Kharkiv that witnessed heavy positional clashes across multiple weeks. These defensive positions could soon expand and deepen with continued efforts. The Russian military has also relied on its engineering prowess to build hundreds of miles of deep trenches and anti-armor complexes. Ukraine’s efforts to stabilize Kharkiv and hold onto Chasiv Yar have made it more difficult for Kyiv to rotate exhausted combat units while generating new fighting forces.  

Yet despite continued Russian offensives, Ukraine’s resistance has remained steadfast, especially on the eastern front. Last week, Ukrainian forces reportedly recaptured positions in the Kreminna sector. Ukraine also continued to launch salvos on important assets inside Russia, striking an oil depot in Tambov Oblast and the Kremniy EI microelectronics plant in Bryansk, one of the largest microelectronics production facilities in Russia and a manufacturer of military equipment.  

In line with its previous long-range strike patterns, Ukraine also targeted several high-value strategic Russian assets in occupied Crimea. Ukrainian reports suggest that Kyiv launched Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS) salvos against the NIP-16 Deep Space Communication and Tracking Center and the 40th Separate Command and Measurement Complex in Vitino. They allegedly also struck the S-500 air defense system Moscow had recently deployed to Crimea. These attacks caused significant damage to the complex that hosts Russia’s infamous Krasukha mobile electronic warfare (EW) system. 

Three Lessons NATO Can Learn from the Russia-Ukraine War

The war in Ukraine has provided ample learning opportunities for NATO as its leaders prepare for the alliance’s summit in Washington. Three lessons stand out.

Lesson 1: Unmanned Surface Vehicles (USVs) Can Be Critical Asymmetrical Power Multipliers

Having lost a significant portion of its navy during the Russian invasion of Crimea in 2014, Ukraine has employed low-cost, kamikaze unmanned surface vehicles (USVs) to combat Russia’s naval forces. Kyiv’s naval drones, combined with indigenous Neptune anti-ship missiles and British-French Storm Shadow / SCALP-EG air-launched cruise missiles, have rendered combat-ineffective some 30 percent of the Russian Black Sea Fleet. These capabilities have provided Kyiv with a cost-benefit advantage against Russia’s larger and more expensive naval assets that NATO would do well to heed.

As previous Hudson assessments have documented, Ukraine’s combat-tested asymmetric naval warfare capabilities change the calculus for the future of coastal defense in the Black Sea, where three NATO nations—Bulgaria, Türkiye, and Romania—keep watch. Lessons from the Ukrainian campaign can inspire “a new generation of coastal defense and new CONOPS [concepts of operations]—centered on robotic warfare capabilities, information superiority, and an anti-ship missile edge,” the report states. NATO decision-makers would also be wise to apply these lessons to the Baltic Sea.

Lesson 2: Cheap and Expendable Drones Are Here to Stay 

Drone warfare has been a key component of the war in Ukraine and will remain central to future conflicts. First-person-view (FPV) drones have become indispensable assets for both Russia and Ukraine, which use these unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) for tasks from direct strikes on tactically important assets to artillery spotting. Russia is even using FPV drones to supply its frontline troops with food rations and other essential goods.

The versatility of drones is increasing the demand for the systems. Russia and Ukraine are forming  specific production units focused solely on small FPV drone manufacturing; according to some Western assessments, Ukraine currently produces 3,000 FPV drones per day. Reports circulating on social media suggest that commercial technologies such as 3D printing have bolstered military production efforts. This rise in dual-use capabilities—technologies that have both civil and military applications—portends the future of warfare.

Russia’s production of loitering munitions highlights a similar trend. Reports suggest that the Kremlin has significantly increased production of its Lancet kamikaze drones since the war’s outset. Moscow has also relied on its military partnership with Iran to bolster its drone warfare capabilities. The Russia-Iran drone manufacturing plant in the Alabuga region of Russian Tatarstan can produce approximately 6,000 Shahed loitering munitions per year.

Lesson 3: Conventional Warfighting Assets Still Matter

Despite technological advances, conventional warfighting assets are still indispensable on today’s battlefield. In future wars, robotic warfare and satellite imagery will likely feature alongside traditional components of armed conflict such as artillery, large combat formations, main battle tanks, and trench systems.

The August 13, 2023, edition of this report assessed how the same considerations that informed twentieth-century wars will still feature prominently in the wars of tomorrow. Geography remains one of the most critical elements of armed conflict, and battle plans need to abide by the constraints of terrain and topography. The Dnipro River, which provides a natural border on the southern front lines, illustrates how geography dictates fighting. And around Avdiivka, a city that saw weeks of heavy clashes before falling to the Russians, the Durna River formed a natural barrier that slowed the Kremlin’s advances. Trench warfare will also remain a critical aspect of contemporary warfighting. In Ukraine, both sides have taken to the trenches to slow their adversary’s advances.

Main battle tanks still matter, too. Tanks have yet to lose their decisive role in successful and swift ground operations, though most remain vulnerable to top-attack assets such as FPV drones. Artillery will also remain critical for military success. Though heavy and intensive firepower remains vital to break deadlocks on the battlefield, today’s fire networks feature sophisticated systems such as counter-battery radars, precision shells, and spotter UAVs, turning artillery operations into complex networks featuring a fusion of the old and the new.

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