A Blog by Jonathan Low


Apr 20, 2024

Russian Crimea Base Destroyed By 8 Ukraine ATACMS With 8,000 Submunitions

These rockets and their launchers were part of the last consignment of weapons the US sent to Ukraine. 

Given how much damage they can inflict on Russian targets, more could be on the way once the US aid package is approved. JL 

David Axe reports in Forbes:

On Tuesday, the Ukrainian army fired some—maybe all—of its M39 ATACMS at a single Russian air base in occupied Crimea. Each 100-mile-range rocket carried a thousand grenade-sized submunitions, meaning 8,000 individual explosions rocked the Russian Dzanskoy base. Imagery from the base, 100 miles south of the front, confirms the Russians lost four launchers (of) an S-400 long-range surface-to-air missile battery. They also  knocked out the S-400’s control center and four air-defense radars. Dozens of helicopters and three squadrons of attack jets also fly from Dzhankoy (so some were presumably damaged or destroyed).

On March 12, the administration of U.S. President Joe Biden unexpectedly gifted to Ukraine a $300-million consignment of weapons—the last consignment paid for with funds the U.S. Congress approved before Republicans gained narrow control of the U.S. House of Representatives in January 2023.

Five weeks later, the Ukrainian finally put the weapons to good use.

The arms package reportedly included a small number of long-range M39 rockets, also known as Army Tactical Missile Systems, or ATACMS. On Tuesday night, the Ukrainian army fired some—maybe all—of the M39 ATACMS at a single Russian air base in occupied Crimea.

The damage was extensive. Imagery from the ground at Dzhankoy air base, 100 miles south of the front line, confirms the Russians lost at least four launchers belonging to an S-400 long-range surface-to-air missile battery. The Ukrainian defense ministry claimed the rockets also knocked out the S-400’s control center and four precious air-defense radars.

According to the Ukrainian Center for Defense Strategies, a regiment of helicopters and three squadrons of attack jets—dozens of aircraft in all—fly from Dzhankoy. It’s unclear whether any of the aircraft were damaged or destroyed on Tuesday night, however. “The enemy carefully hides the number of affected aircraft,” the defense ministry in Kyiv noted.

A video the ministry released on Thursday seems to depict seven or eight M39s streaking into the night sky, presumably somewhere around the free city of Kherson. Each 100-mile-range rocket carried nearly a thousand grenade-sized submunitions inside its 13-foot body—meaning as many as 8,000 individual explosions rocked the Russian base.

While the Ukrainian army’s wheeled High-Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems can each launch a single two-ton M39, the M270s can launch two. Considering the Ukrainians tend to operate their HIMARS and M270s in platoons of four launchers, it’s likely the latter carried out the raid on Dzhankoy.

The speedy HIMARS are media darlings in Ukraine: symbols of one of the Ukrainian military’s few technological advantages over the bigger and better-funded Russian military. The Tuesday raid was a rare chance for the lumbering M270s to shine.

The first consignment of M39s from the United States arrived in Ukraine last fall, a few weeks before the initial U.S. funding for the Ukrainian war effort began to run out.

Considering that aid package included just 20 or so M39s, it’s likely the belated aid package in March—which the White House paid for with unexpected savings from a previous contract for weapons for Ukraine—included fewer of the 1990s-vintage munitions. It’s possible there were just eight rockets, and that platoon of M270s fired all of them at Dzhankoy in a single fiery barrage.

If the damage was as bad as the Ukrainian defense ministry claimed, it may have been worth it to fire all the M39s. The Ukrainians can take comfort in knowing it’s highly likely they’re about to get more ATACMS rockets—potentially a lot more.

That’s because the Republican Speaker of the House, Louisiana Rep. Mike Johnson, is finally bringing to a vote Biden’s proposal to spend $61 billion on weapons and other aid for Ukraine through the end of the year. The long-delayed vote, which is strongly opposed by a minority of Russia-friendly Republicans, is scheduled for Saturday—and is expected to pass.

A provision in the bill requires Biden to send more ATACMS to Ukraine. There are hundreds of the old rockets in the U.S. inventory, and their solid fuel is expiring soon. There’s no reason the White House couldn’t send all of them to Ukraine after the vote this weekend.

And there’s no reason the Ukrainian army can’t fire them at any Russian base within a hundred miles of the front line.


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