Ukraine Military Situation Report | June 5

Senior Fellow (Nonresident)
Ukrainian infantrymen during training in Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine, on May 28, 2024. (Diego Herrera Carcedo/Anadolu via Getty Images)
Ukrainian infantrymen during training in Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine, on May 28, 2024. (Diego Herrera Carcedo/Anadolu via Getty Images)

Below Senior Fellow Can Kasapoğlu offers a military situation report about the war in Ukraine.

Executive Summary

  • Ukraine and Russia continued to engage in drone-on-drone warfare, resulting in what may be the first documented instance of a first-person-view drone destroying an unmanned surface vehicle.
  • Reports emerged that the joint Russian-Iranian drone plant in the Russian Republic of Tatarstan exploits Tatar child labor and female African students to meet its production goals.
  • Ukraine struck a Voronezh-DM radar site deep inside Russia, destroying a key asset that supports Moscow’s strategic nuclear early warning capabilities.
  • The United States and many European nations signaled a growing willingness to allow Kyiv to use Western-supplied weapons to strike targets within Russia, albeit with restraints.

Battlefield Assessment

This week, Russia’s offensive continued to focus on eastern and northeastern Ukraine. Russian combat formations pummeled the Kharkiv front and the Donetsk and Luhansk regions and mounted a smaller attack in southern Ukraine. In Donetsk and Luhansk, positional fighting persisted. Moscow achieved marginal territorial gains around important contested towns such as Chasiv Yar and areas adjacent to Avdiivka, a city already occupied by Russian forces.

Open-source intelligence indicates that Russian and Ukrainian drones have saturated the airspace over Kharkiv, constantly tracking the city and its surrounding environs. Reports suggest that Ukraine’s drone presence is pushing Russian troops to adopt alternative concepts of operations (CONOPS) using smaller armored vehicles, motorcycles, and all-terrain vehicles rather than bulkier main battle tanks supporting large combat formations. This adjustment is slowing Russia’s offensive by dispersing its troop concentrations and reducing its effectiveness in mechanized warfare.

Yet Russia is sending waves of glide bombs and missiles to wreak destruction on Kharkiv. While Russia’s strikes have produced only incremental advances and minimal territorial changes, these salvos often hit the city’s civilian population, in an echo of the Kremlin’s massacres in the restive Chechnya during the 1990s.

Ukrainian officials suggest that Moscow is preparing to deploy additional regiments and brigades around Kharkiv to bolster its push in the region. With force-on-force and force-to-terrain ratios that already favor the Kremlin, this move would stress Ukraine’s defenses even further.

Battlefield developments this week served as a reminder that drone-on-drone warfare is now a permanent feature of this conflict. Both sides are using first-person-view (FPV) drones to hunt their opponent’s own unmanned systems. Ukraine preys on advanced Russian robotic systems like the Lancet and Orlan. This week, a Russian FPV drone destroyed a Ukrainian unmanned surface vehicle (USV), providing the world with perhaps the first documented instance of an FPV drone destroying a naval platform of this kind. It remains to be seen whether Ukraine will use its USVs, some of which possess R-73 aerial missiles, to attack Russian aerial drones.

The Russia-Iran Drone Plant Uses Coercive Child Labor to Meet Its Production Goals

Russia is quickly—and bloodily—improving its arms production capabilities, likely by using abusive child labor. Western assessments suggest that the joint Russian-Iranian drone factory in Alabuga in the Russian Republic of Tatarstan can now produce up to 6,000 Shahed loitering munitions per year. The Kremlin has achieved this gruesome milestone by forcing the local underaged Tatar population into child labor.

Some of Russia’s victims are as young as 14 years old. Moscow is also recruiting female students from Africa for its war efforts. The Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps is the critical enabler of the child abuse in Tatarstan, supporting drone production there in return for critical arms deals and the flow of $1.7 billion, some of it in gold bars, from Russia. Following Russia’s mass abduction of Ukrainian children, a war crime it perpetrated jointly with Belarus, Moscow and Tehran are using child abuse to advance their growing partnership.

Ukraine’s Asymmetric Strikes Now Target Russia’s Most Critical Radar Assets

Ukraine has continued to asymmetrically target the Russian Black Sea Fleet with growing success. Kyiv’s indigenous, combat-proven Sea Baby unmanned surface vehicles have pioneered robotic naval warfare efforts. Recent visual imagery suggests that a Ukrainian Sea Baby attacked two Russian warships, reportedly KS-701 Tunets patrol boats, off the coast of occupied Crimea.

Ukraine has used its naval and aerial unmanned vehicles to prey on Russia’s critical naval assets and strategic oil refineries, such as the Port Kavkaz oil depot next to the Kerch Bridge. Recently, Kyiv has added a new target to its hit list: Russia’s strategic radar architecture.

Last week, Ukrainian forces conducted a bold strike on the Voronezh-DM early warning radar deep inside Russia. This sensor complex was one of the main pillars of Russia’s nuclear deterrence infrastructure and a key component of Moscow’s nuclear alert warning system. In another incident near the Luhansk region, Ukrainian forces targeted a site reportedly hosting a Nebo-M high-band anti-stealth radar. Russia had used this system primarily to detect fifth-generation tactical military aviation assets.

Ukraine Attains Greater Freedom to Use Western-Supplied Weapons inside Russia

Responding to Ukraine’s pressing operational needs, a growing number of European nations have given Kyiv the go-ahead to use European-supplied weapons to strike critical assets inside Russia. This signals that several North Atlantic Treaty Organization members are changing their approach, which was clouded by wariness and skepticism in the early stages of the war. The main factor driving this new perspective is the NATO allies’ belated admission that international law allows Ukraine to attack military targets in Russian territory to defend its sovereignty.

Perhaps signaling this political change, Europe’s most recent military assistance packages for Ukraine have included high-value strategic assets. Sweden, for example, recently sent two ASC 890 airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) aircraft to the Ukrainian Air Force. The ASC 890, the first long-range high-end intelligence aircraft Ukraine is set to receive, carries immense strategic value for Kyiv.

Sent as part of a $1.3 billion military aid package, the aircraft will be a valuable force multiplier for the F-16s Ukraine is set to receive. The ASC 890’s advanced sensor systems will allow Kyiv to detect enemy assets such as helicopters, fighter jets, cruise missiles, and naval targets from a significant distance. The generous Swedish assistance package also includes other critical supplies such as 155mm artillery shells and long-range aerial missiles. Copenhagen also announced that it will allow Ukraine to use soon-to-be-delivered Danish F-16s to strike military targets inside Russia.

The wind of change sweeping Europe is also affecting the United States. The Biden administration recently announced a new policy that allows Ukraine to use US-provided artillery and short-range rockets from High Mobility Artillery Rocket (HIMARS) launchers to strike command posts, arms depots, and other military targets Russia uses in its attacks on Kharkiv. Although Washington will continue to limit Kyiv’s use of long-range weapons, such as the Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS), the Biden team’s recent adjustment is an important step in the right direction. Washington’s new policy also prevents Ukraine from using US-provided weapons to strike parked fighter aircraft and bomber jets inside Russia, leaving room for improvement in the push to fully enable Kyiv to defeat the Russian war machine.

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