A Blog by Jonathan Low


May 25, 2024

Why Ukraine's Strykers Are Beating Back Russians In Urban Vovchansk

The Stryker armored fighting vehicle has emerged as a key element in the urban fighting within Vovchansk as Ukrainian forces have stopped the Russian advance cold and are beginning to counterattack.

The vehicles are fast, highly maneuverable, armed with sensors and weapons designed to identify multiple threats and carry a full squad of infantry. All of which makes them ideal weapons for the close urban battle against Russian troops which lack armored support north of Kharkiv. The result is that Ukrainians are turning the Russians back. JL 

David Axe reports in Forbes:

Ukraine's 82nd Air Assault Brigade is deploying its Stryker fighting vehicles where its designers intended: a city, as Ukrainian paratroopers roll into battle in central Vovchansk to fight Russia's Kharkiv offensive. In Iraq,  the vehicles earned a positive reputation for its maneuverability, speed and quiet operation, making it (useful) for raids, patrolling and cordon-and-search operations in urban streets. Strykers are suited to a 360 degree fight. The nine-foot-tall vehicles are good observation and firing platforms with top-mounted sensors and weapons, making it hard for Russians to sneak up on them. The Russians ran into the paratroopers and their wheeled vehicles, and have almost stopped advancing at all.

In early 2023, the United States donated nearly 200 ex-U.S. Army Stryker fighting vehicles to Ukraine. The general staff in Kyiv assigned almost all of the eight-wheeled, 20-ton vehicles—each with a machine gun or grenade launcher and room for 11 people—to the Ukrainian air assault forces’ new 82nd Air Assault Brigade. An elite brigade in an elite branch of the armed forces.

More than a year later, the 82nd Air Assault Brigade is finally deploying its nimble fighting vehicles where its designers—the U.S. Army and American vehicle maker General Dynamics—intended when they drew up blueprints for the Stryker in the 1990s: a city.

Specifically, in Vovchansk, the current locus of Russia’s two-week-old northern offensive in Ukraine’s Kharkiv Oblast. In the days following the initial Russian assault across the Russia-Ukraine border north of Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-biggest city, there were rumors the 82nd Air Assault Brigade was rushing to reinforce the garrison in Vovchansk.

The 82nd Air Assault Brigade posted a video montage online on Tuesday that confirmed the deployment. In the montage—recorded by drones and GoPro-style helmet cameras—Ukrainian paratroopers roll into battle in central Vovchansk, one trooper even firing an anti-tank rocket from a Stryker’s open top hatch.

“The task was to take defensive positions and hold off the enemy,” one paratrooper said in a separate video, translated by Estonian analyst @wartranslated. It’s the fight the 82nd Air Assault Brigade was designed for.

The first American Stryker brigade to see combat was the U.S. Army’s 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division.

In October 2003, the unit deployed to restive Mosul in northern Iraq. “The unit served in several roles which quickly gave the vehicles a positive reputation from the soldiers for its maneuverability, speed and quiet operation, making it favorable for raids, patrolling and cordon-and-search operations in the urban streets of Mosul,” U.S. Army Maj. Walter Gray II wrote in a 2017 study.

The implications were obvious. The Ukrainian army should send its new Stryker brigade into urban fights.

It should avoid sending the brigade into a direct fight with a Russian mechanized or tank brigade, especially on open terrain where heavier tanks and tracked fighting vehicles can bring to bear their superior long-range firepower. A Stryker brigade’s “primary role is not destroying Russian vehicular formations,” Gray stressed.

But when the Ukrainian 82nd Air Assault Brigade saw combat for the first time last summer, it was on exactly the wrong terrain against exactly the wrong opponent—dug-in Russian mechanized forces on the open fields of southern Ukraine. The brigade lost at least eight of its Strykers that the analysts at Oryx could verify.

As the southern front stabilized and the Russians concentrated their forces on the urban east and north, the 82nd Air Assault Brigade finally had the chance to fight on favorable terrain.

The stakes were enormous when the first 82nd Air Assault Brigade teams deployed in Vochansk. Aiming to grind through Vovchansk in order to clear the way to Kharkiv, the Russian army’s new northern grouping of forces had adopted the infantry-first assault tactics that had worked for other Russian troop groupings elsewhere in Ukraine.

“Assault groups, typically the size of platoons [with 40 troops], engage with a stronghold before merging with other assault groups,” the Ukrainian Center for Defense Strategies explained. “This reduces losses during the approach to the target but slows the pace of advance.”

Platoons of Russians were spread across the urban no-man’s-land in central Vovchansk, blurring the front line and compelling the Ukrainian Stryker crews to fight along 360 degrees. “We held circular defense,” one paratrooper said. “They were coming from all directions.”

A clutch of Strykers is suited to a circular fight. The nine-foot-tall vehicles are good observation and firing platforms for their top-mounted sensors and weapons, making it hard for the Russians to sneak up on them.

More importantly, each Stryker carries an entire squad of nine infantry, meaning a platoon of four Strykers can deploy a full platoon of nearly 40 infantry—something a platoon of heavier but less capacious M-2 tracked fighting vehicles can’t do. It’s not for no reason a Stryker brigade “is best employed as a dismounted fighting force,” Gray explained.

That the 82nd Air Assault Brigade was ready for the urban battle in Vovchansk is evident. After advancing several miles to the south in the first few days of their northern offensive, the Russians ran into stiffening Ukrainian defenses in central Vovchansk—including the recently arrived paratroopers and their wheeled vehicles—and almost stopped advancing at all.

“There are indications that Russian troops are continuing to infiltrate forests and individual buildings further south in an attempt to establish a foothold,” Ukrainian analysis group Frontelligence Insight noted. “However, we are skeptical about their ability to advance deep [to the] south.”


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