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Commentary
Hudson Institute

Ukraine Military Situation Report | October 18

Senior Fellow (Non-Resident)
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Caption
A Ukrainian serviceman stands on a German-made Flakpanzer Gepard, a self-propelled anti-aircraft gun, after military exercises in the Odesa region on October 17, 2023. (Oleksandr Gimanov/AFP via Getty Images)

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.

Executive Summary

Ukraine’s counteroffensive has momentarily plateaued, though its forces retain a bridgehead along the Dnipro River in the Kherson region.

While Russia’s large-scale offensive in Avdiivka has failed to deliver results, heavy fighting continues there.

Belgium has committed to send Ukraine within two years F-16s that Brussels would otherwise retire.

New efforts ramp up to protect Ukraine’s skies by integrating legacy Soviet air-defense systems with Western short-range interceptor missiles.

Ukraine has reportedly used US-supplied ATACMS for the first time, but Kyiv will need many more of these missiles.

1. Battlefield Update: The Paradox of High-Tempo Fighting and Static Battlefield Geometry Continues

Another week of fighting between Ukraine and Russia has produced few meaningful changes in territorial control. The situation on the ground has remained largely positional, continuing this war’s paradoxical dynamic of high-tempo warfighting and static battlefield geometry. 

Ukraine’s counteroffensive in the south has plateaued for the moment. Battlefield indicators show that Kyiv’s forces have ramped up their efforts in Bakhmut, but they have made no major advances. Nonetheless, Ukrainian units have managed to keep a small bridgehead on the left bank of the Dnipro River in Kherson. While these units have not yet used this bridgehead to mount a large-scale river crossing—one of the most daunting combat operations an army can undertake—holding it could present the Ukrainian General Staff with interesting options in a reloaded counteroffensive effort, possibly in late spring 2024.

Russia’s probing efforts in Kharkiv have also produced no major changes to date. In the coming months, the latest Russian draftees will join combat formations, some no doubt in Ukraine. Hudson Institute’s Ukraine Military Situation Report will carefully monitor any subsequent effects these new conscripts may have on force-on-force and force-to-terrain ratios. It remains to be seen whether the Kremlin will have to resort to a new wave of mobilization to stabilize the front even after its latest round of draftees joins the fight. 

Russia also continued shelling civilians and non-military targets this week, though with less intensity than it did in September. On October 13, for example, Russian units launched three missile attacks and 59 air strikes on Ukrainian combat formations and civilian infrastructure.

2. Avdiivka Witnesses Heavy Combat

The exception to the widespread battlefield stasis has been Avdiivka, where open-source intelligence suggests Russian forces have been mounting large-scale envelopment efforts aimed at encircling the city. The ongoing offensive there marks Russia’s largest military operation since the Vuhledar clashes of early 2023. The recent push in Avdiivka may also hint at upcoming Russian offensive efforts during the winter.

According to the Ukrainian General Staff, three Russian battalions assaulted the city this week. Their large-scale ground offensive introduced new combat vehicles to the theater, such as the BTR-90 and BTR-50 armored personnel carriers. Russia’s strike package also included FAB-1500 heavy aerial munitions, featuring unified gliding and correction modules (UMPK) for enhanced flight range and precision. Firms that manufacture Russia’s armored vehicles have begun incorporating add-on armor protections and roof screens in their designs to shield the vehicles from drone strikes and other top-attack systems.

Open-source intelligence shows that the Avdiivka offensive has cost Russia at least 30 main battle tanks, along with a significant loss of heavy armored vehicles, while returning only marginal gains. Satellite imagery and footage obtained from the battlefield shows that detachments from Ukraine’s 59th53rd, and 110th Mechanized Brigades and 116thTerritorial Defense Brigade orchestrated most of the counterattacks against Russian armored vehicles and main battle tanks. In all, the Ukrainian Armed Forces (UAF) have repelled over 15 Russian reloading assaults in the city’s vicinity. In addition, Ukraine’s strategy of disrupting Russian logistics has also been stalling Russia’s offensive combat operations in the Avdiivka sector. 

Russia’s Avdiivka operation currently remains short of its objectives. Inadequate concepts of operations (CONOPS) and command troubles hobble Moscow’s best-laid plans, as they have often done before.

3. Promising Developments Occur in Military Assistance Programs

As Washington wraps up preparations for its F-16 pilot training program, to be led in coordination with Denmark and the Netherlands, efforts to bolster the Ukrainian Air Force are picking up in many NATO capitals. Belgium, notably, agreed this week to transfer its retiring F-16 jets to Ukraine beginning in 2025, though significant details, such as the number of F-16s to be transferred and the exact delivery date, remain unknown. In addition, Norway, Sweden, and Denmark launched the Nordic Ammunition Initiative, a joint ammunition procurement project designed to support Kyiv in its protracted war in Ukraine.

Kyiv’s allies and partners have introduced other innovative air defense solutions for Ukraine. The “FrankenSAM” project aims to develop a short-range surface-to-air missile (SAM) system using the AIM-9M Sidewinder by modifying the air-to-air Sidewinder missile for surface-to-air roles. The FrankenSAM initiative also seeks to modify existing Soviet air defense systems, such as the Buk, and make them compatible with Western missiles, for example, the RIM-7 naval surface-to-air missile.

The idea of integrating twentieth-century Soviet solutions with high-end Western missiles to boost Ukraine’s air defense deterrent is designed to help Kyiv maintain its arsenal for the long war ahead. The modernization project also provides an opportunity to put weapons that are collecting dust on NATO capitals’ shelves—such as the AIM-7, RIM-7, and AIM-9M—into practical use.

4. Ukraine Uses ATACMS for First Time

Ukrainian strikes against Russian bases in occupied Berdyansk and Luhansk on October 17 made headlines because the UAF reportedly used US-supplied ATACMS (Army Tactical Missile System). Both Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and the American press confirmed that Kyiv has acquired this new strategic capability.

The missiles’ targets, Russian airfields and helicopters in occupied territory, were of crucial military importance. These aircraft have, since the outset of Ukraine’s stumbling southern counteroffensive, proven dangerous as they prey on exposed heavy armor.

The ATACMS—with its effective range of some 186 miles, quasi-ballistic trajectory, and robust warhead configurations—is a beast on the battlefield. The missile offers the UAF a variety of CONOPS options, ranging from pounding the Kerch Bridge to striking the Russian military’s rear.

Nonetheless, numbers matter in missile warfare, and the upcoming winter operations will require many long-range strikes. So far, no one has disclosed how many ATACMS Ukraine has. To make a meaningful change in the battlefield geometry, the Ukrainian military would need at least a few hundred.

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