A Blog by Jonathan Low


Jul 7, 2023

Ukraine Is Using Long Range Weapons To Destroy Russian Lines, Logistics

The Ukrainians are using artillery, rockets and other accurate long range weaponry to degrade both Russian frontline defenses and rear area logistics in order to wear down the enemy troops waiting in prepared positions. 

The goal is to reduce the initial defenses while also eliminating as much ammunition and many supplies as possible in order to wear down the defenders as Ukrainian troops advance. JL 

Ian Lovett reports in the Wall Street Journal:

Ukrainian forces are using long-range Western weapons to hit Russian supply lines deep in occupied territory. They are also trying to degrade the first lines of Moscow’s defenses along the front using cheaper weaponry to hit Russian artillery pieces, ammunition depots and electronic jammers, and mapping which fields are mined. They have also continued probing attacks. "We’re trying to save troops. It takes time to prepare the ground. We need to destroy as much as possible before sending troops in.”

The Russian soldiers scurried into a building carrying a rocket-propelled grenade launcher. From his command post a few miles away, Ukrainian Sgt. Heorhiy Volkov was watching a live feed from an aerial drone.

Volkov, the drone team’s commander, called an artillery unit.

“Smash it,” he said. 

Ten minutes later, a shell crashed through the roof of the house, 2 miles south of the front line in the southern Zaporizhzhia region. Three Russians ran out, tracked by the drone as they fled down the street. 

This is what the pause in Ukraine’s counteroffensive looks like. After encountering stiff Russian resistance to their initial ground assault earlier this month, Ukrainian commanders have largely held off sending large infantry formations and Western tanks to assault Russian positions.  

Instead, Kyiv is making targeted strikes, trying to soften Russian defenses for the next attack.

Ukrainian forces are using long-range Western weapons to hit Russian supply lines deep in occupied territory. Last week, British cruise missiles struck a key bridge that the Kremlin has used to move supplies from Crimea—which Moscow seized in 2014—to the front lines in southern Ukraine.

But they are also trying to degrade the first lines of Moscow’s defenses along the front—using cheaper weaponry to hit Russian artillery pieces, ammunition depots and electronic jammers, and mapping which fields are mined. 

They have also continued probing attacks, retaking the village of Rivnopil this week, although some other forays yielded little. Ukrainian officials have offered mixed assessments of how the assaults are faring so far. Some have pointed to the gains, promising more to come as the bulk of Western-trained and -equipped forces are still in reserve. Others say they are proceeding slowly to avoid heavy losses amid a lack of European and American weaponry, making clear the importance of more deliveries for both Kyiv and its allies.

“The offensive isn’t going very fast because we’re trying to save the troops,” said a 49-year-old member of Volkov’s drone team, who goes by the call sign Bourgeois. “It takes some time to prepare the ground. We need to destroy as much as possible before sending the troops in.” 

Russian-held area








Ukraine has made limited gains in these areas in June










Sea of Azov


100 miles

100 km

Black Sea

Note: As of June 29
Sources: Institute for the Study of War and AEI’s Critical Threats Project (areas of control); staff reports

After striking the house with the RPG-launcher, half a dozen men crowded around a large screen in the nondescript farmhouse that they had turned into a command post. Six other men hunched over on benches looking at feeds from other drones. The windows were blacked out and the walls covered with notes: Call signs, code words for reporting enemy activities, children’s drawings of Ukrainian soldiers, a KFC sign. One man slept on a bunk bed in the corner. 

 They watched as the three Russian soldiers ran into another house. The camera zoomed in. 

“That’s a satellite dish,” one skinny soldier who goes by the call sign Vito said, leaning forward toward the screen. “And the windows are covered.” It was a Russian command post. 

They sent new coordinates to the artillery unit, then watched as shells began hammering the area around the house—one struck a nearby house; several others landed in an adjacent field—but not hitting it.

Finally, a shell hit the command post. “Jackpot!” Bourgeois said. 

The Clear Eyes drone team has spent the past month trying to prepare the ground in a few villages in the Zaporizhzhia region. Kyiv is hoping to break through Moscow’s defenses in the region and cut off the land bridge that connects Russia to Crimea.

In the weeks before the counteroffensive began, the team set up the farmhouse command post more than 10 miles from the front line and began mapping the area. If a drone caught sight of a tank driving through a field, that meant the field wasn’t mined. If a truck came and went from one house, they suspected it was an ammunition depot. They marked all of it on maps on tablets that are shared with a brigade working in the area.

Still, when the ground assault began early this month, Volkov said, the Ukrainians were “kind of shocked” by the extent of the Russian defenses. At least three defensive lines were prepared. Trenches had been dug with tractors and reinforced with concrete. Hiding spots had been prepared for tanks and other vehicles. Paths were paved with gravel, so heavy vehicles wouldn’t get stuck in the mud during rainstorms. 

“It was simple stuff, but when it’s all combined, it’s a big defensive system,” Volkov said. 

After taking a few villages in the area, Ukraine paused the large-scale ground assaults. Since then, the Clear Eyes team has been part of a nonstop cat-and-mouse game: The drone operators try to find and hit Russian equipment, while the Russians try to take the drones down.

Before the sun comes up each morning, the team has several drones in the air—usually several small commercial propeller drones, plus sometimes more advanced drones, including an American-made RQ-20 Puma, which looks like a tiny airplane and can fly much further. Pilots fly the drones from a couple of miles behind the front line. 

At the command center, five TV screens show feeds from half a dozen drones, some of them controlled by other nearby Ukrainian units.

A Russian prisoner, captured in the first days of the counteroffensive, drew Ukrainian forces a map of the village the team is surveilling. But they don’t call the artillery teams unless they have confirmed the target with drone footage. Ammunition is limited, according to Ukrainian commanders.

“It’s a very long process—watching, analyzing, over and over,” Volkov said. “The enemy is also learning, changing places, hiding underground more.”

Last week, one propeller drone hovering low over the village caught sight of a hole in the roof of a building. Inside it, the operators saw tank ammunition. When the artillery team hit the house, it set off a massive explosion. 

“It was burning until the next morning,” Bourgeois said. It was the fourth storehouse the team had hit in the area, he said. The previous week, they had hit another one, after the Puma drone with thermal vision had spotted two trucks at the edge of a tree line and soldiers unloading supplies. 

Last week, however, the team lost the Puma when Russian jamming equipment cut off their contact with it, leaving them without any advanced night vision.

The Clear Eyes members were civilians when the war began, and most knew little about drones. Volkov worked in marketing. Another 41-year-old team member was a metallurgist and competitive bicyclist. Bourgeois ran a chain of sex shops. 

They buy the drones with donations and are reluctant to send them out in conditions where they are likely to be lost. 

One night last week, Volkov called an artillery team, asking if someone would be available early the next morning. Vito had gone through satellite footage and found a few spots in an area a dozen miles from the front where he thought Russians could be firing heavier artillery that was hitting Ukrainian units at the front. 

Volkov wanted to send an A1-CM Furia—which can fly farther before it needs a battery change—to take a look at the area, but told them he wouldn’t do it unless an artillery team was prepared to strike if they found something. They promised him they would be ready. 

The next morning, a three-man team launched the Furia from a field several miles from the front. As it flew south, deeper into Russian-held territory, its camera caught sight of the next line of Moscow’s defenses: miles of barriers called dragon’s teeth, along with more antitank trenches.


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