A Blog by Jonathan Low


Sep 3, 2023

Ukrainian Weapons Modifications Increasingly Devastating To Russian Defenses

Ukrainian forces have not only learned quickly how to use western-supplied weapons, they have engineered innovations which make the vehicles, missiles and other systems more adaptive and effective. 

In particular, the Ukrainians have modified missiles intended to be fired from planes or ships - neither of which the Ukrainians possess in sufficient numbers, to be used as ground-based weapons targeting ground targets. The result is that Ukraine has expanded its arsenal by re-imagining how it can be deployed in ways that NATO is copying. JL 

RO 37 reports in Daily Kos:

Ukraine’s arms, armament, and training continue to accumulate, while Russia trends in the opposite direction. Ukraine's new domestically produced long-range cruise missile has a 280 km range, is comparable to the UK's Storm Shadow. Brimstone and Hellfire Missiles were designed to be deployed from aircraft, but have been modified to be ground-launch capable. The Swedish RBS-17 was intended as a mobile infantry anti-ship coastal defense weapon, but was found to be an effective surface-to-surface missile platform in the absence of attack helicopters or aircraft. The Neptune missile became famous when it sunk the Russian Black Sea flagship Moskva. Ukraine modified it to strike ground targets.

With Ukraine’s Summer Counteroffensive in full bore for weeks, inevitably writers will focus on what Ukraine is accomplishing with the weapons and munitions it has received, or what might be termed the “outputs” side of the spreadsheet of war. However, no less than in the weeks before the counteroffensive began, what both Ukraine and Russia are receiving as “inputs” are important.

The Russian side of the equation is always difficult to track, but there are strong indications that Russia’s equipment is heading for the worse. Russia made a big fanfare of sending the T-14 Armata to the front line in April. The tank was quietly withdrawn from the supposed front lines without any footage of one in real combat in late July.

Instead, Russia has brought in ancient Soviet tanks that were designed as far back as WWII, including the T-54/55 and the T-10 Heavy Tank following the arrival to the front of the 60-year-old T-62, of which Russia has already lost a visually confirmed 62.

Russia has seen similar degradations of its artillery arm with a growing reliance on low-survivability 1950s-era short-ranged mortar systems like the 2S4 Tyulpan, as well as the increasing ubiquity of barely upgraded BMP1 Infantry Fighting Vehicles from 1966.

Meanwhile, Ukraine is trending in the opposite direction. In the leadup to the start of the Summer Counteroffensive, Ukraine famously received hundreds of modern Western tanks, and well over 1,000 armored fighting vehicles along with modern self-propelled guns and top-of-the-line Western air defense systems.

This process has not stopped since June. Of course, Ukraine continues to receive massive quantities of artillery shells, cluster munitions, missiles, and rockets of all types, but this article will highlight new capabilities Ukraine has received through her allies.


Ukraine has now gotten both the British Brimstone-2 antisurface missile and the American-made AGM-114 American Hellfire Missile. Both missiles share a great many design features, employing a combination of laser guidance and active radar targeting, making them highly accurate against both fixed and moving targets. The dual targeting system makes them resistant to electronic defense systems aimed at disrupting laser or radar targeting individually. They are available with a variety of warheads, including fragmentation (anti-personnel), shaped charge (anti-tank), and thermobaric (anti-bunker).

Both the Brimstone and Hellfire Missiles were originally designed to be deployed from rotary or fixed aircraft (“AGM” stands for “air to ground missile), but have since been modified to be ground-launch capable. Hellfires arrived in Ukraine with Swedish RBS-17 ground launchers on October 2022, and now the United Kingdom has provided the Wolfram Armored Truck, capable of launching both missiles. 

RBS-17 ground based launcher of Hellfire Missiles.

The RBS-17 was intended as a mobile infantry anti-ship coastal defense weapon, but it was found to be an effective surface-to-surface missile platform in the absence of attack helicopters or aircraft capable of deploying the Hellfire missile, which is exactly the situation in Ukraine. Both Sweden and Norway supplied the launcher.  

Meanwhile, the U.K.’s Ministry of Defense engineers strapped an eight-missile Brimstone 2 launch system onto an armored 6x6 AWD Supacat modular truck (pictured above as the title photo). This newly designed vehicle was named the “Wolfram Armored Truck” and adopted as standard weaponry of the British Army. Several dozen Wolrams had reportedly been sent to Ukraine by early August.

Both missiles' ranges are significantly shortened when fired from the surface compared to an aerial launch but are believed to approach a 20-kilometer range, making them deadly and sophisticated long-range anti-tank guided missiles. For context, the Javelin ATGM has a range of under 4 km.

Furthermore, compared to the RBS-17, which is a big heavy tripod, the Wolfram will provide far greater mobility. The Wolfram’s vehicle-mounted nature permits the mobile ATGM team to employ “shoot and scoot” tactics where the unit will quickly deploy the missiles, and then withdraw using the mobility of the unit. In a war where both sides have the power to bring massive firepower down on targets in short order, mobility is synonymous with survival. The armored design will further improve crew survivability in frontline combat.

Additionally, the Brimstone 2 Sea SPEAR variant was specifically designed to be launched from small boats and can target naval or land-based surface targets, further boosting Ukraine’s scrappy naval raid capabilities.


Proported destruction of an S-400 missile battery in western Crimea. 

On Aug. 23, 2023, an S-400 Triumf surface-to-air missile system, the Russian equivalent to a Patriot Missile System with a price tag to match, suddenly was engulfed in a massive explosion. With a range of at least 180 km and a claimed range of up to 400 km, the S-400 battery was located in Western Crimea but was a central part of Russian air defenses throughout the southern theaters of the Russo-Ukrainian War.

Longest verified S-400 interception range (180 km in red) and Russian claimed S-400 maximum range (400 km in orange).

Russia has only a few dozen of these S-400 systems, each costing an estimated $500 million, and had three batteries deployed on the Crimean Peninsula. Thus, if the strike destroyed an entire battery, as claimed by Ukrainian officials, it would represent a painful loss of a valuable and difficult-to-replace military asset for Russia. Russia claimed the strike destroyed just one of 12 launchers that compose an S-400 battery.

In any case, the explosion had clear secondary effects, indicating ammunition losses for Russia at a minimum, and the damage appeared large enough to have damaged or destroyed any nearby equipment.

So what hit it? Pro-Russian mil-blogger Rybar claimed that the damage had been caused by a navally launched Brimstone missile. The skeptics noted the Brimstone’s range is only 20 km, which would require a Ukrainian ship to approach very close to the S-400 complex undetected.

However, the plausibility of the claim was perhaps strengthened when, on the following day, Aug. 24, Ukraine launched a small-scale raid operation with its amphibious forces at the same location. This conclusively demonstrated that Russia lacks naval control over the northwestern Black Sea, perhaps lending credibility to the possibility that Ukraine was able to sneak a missile boat to within striking range of the Russian S-400 battery.

R-360 Neptune Cruise Missile

Ukrainian sources were more cryptic, with Secretary of Ukraine's National Security and Defense Council Oleksiy Danilov claiming an unnamed entirely new weapon had destroyed the S-400 battery. This was followed by a report from prominent Ukrainian journalist Yuriy Butusov that the destruction was caused by the Ukrainian-manufactured R-360 Neptune missile’s first operational use as a land-attack weapon. 

The Neptune missile became famous earlier in the war when it sunk the Russian Black Sea flagship Moskva in May 2022. There had long been rumors that Ukraine had been making what can be challenging modifications to a naval attack missile to permit it to strike land-based ground targets.

If true, these efforts may have finally borne fruit, giving Ukraine a new domestically produced long-range cruise missile with a 280 km range, comparable to the Storm Shadow missile.


Polish KTO Rosomak IFV

The KTO Rosomak (or “Wolverine” in Polish) is an 8x8 25-ton infantry fighting vehicle with the same powerful 30 mm autocannon that equips the Styker IFVs used by the U.S. Army. With excellent western digital day/night optics, a 500 horsepower diesel engine, and a 60 mile per hour top speed on roads, it is a high-mobility, high firepower IFV very similar to the American Stryker.

The only weakness of the Rosomak is its under-armored base model. The Polish army reportedly insisted that the Rosomak be capable of amphibiously fording rivers, placing sharp weight limits on the Rosomak’s design.

Subsequently, Polish military units have modified the Rosomak by adding additional applique armor plates that have substantially increased its protection at the cost of its amphibious capabilities. It’s not presently known which variant of the Rosomak Ukraine received.

However, even in its base form, it offers significantly greater protection than most Soviet IFVs in Ukrainian service like the BMP1 and carries offensive firepower that would only be exceeded by the best Western IFVs like the Bradley, Marder, and CV90.

Ukraine was pledged 200 KTO Rosomaks and began receiving deliveries in late July.


Vampire Weapon System
VAMPIRE System rocket launcher as attached to an Apache Helicopter.

The VAMPIRE Weapon System is an American-manufactured rocket launcher firing small 70 mm Advanced Precision Kill Weapon System laser-guided rockets. The launcher has been adapted to a variety of platforms, but in Ukraine’s case, it has been bolted to lightly armored pickup trucks.

The great advantage of the APKWS II rocket is that it is incredibly cheap for a precision munition. Whereas the Excalibur GPS round or the GMLRS rocket for the HIMARS costs around $100,000 or more, each laser-guided APKWS II round costs just $27,500, making it significantly more cost-effective.

It is described as extremely accurate through its laser guidance system, capable of striking windows or other small stationary objects with minimal risk of collateral damage.

Furthermore, it is rated as a Group III anti-air weapon, meaning it is capable of engaging drones and other aerial targets up to 18,000 feet in altitude and up to a speed of 250 knots. This would make it capable of engaging a wide range of Russian drones and low-flying helicopters.

An electro-optical laser sighting tool assists the targeting and laser designation of fast-moving targets.

The VAMPIRE system has an engagement range of around 5 km, limiting its ability against helicopters. But that is ample range for anti-drone and anti-personnel fire support weapon.

VAMPIRE systems first arrived in early August 2023 and is believed to have consisted of 14 units for $40 million ($2.9 million per unit including ammunition).


Czech Viktor SHORAD Systems in service with the Armed Forces of Ukraine.
Czech Viktor ZPU-2 14.5mm SHORAD systems equipped on Toyota Landcruisers in service with the Armed Forces of Ukraine.

In contrast to VAMPIRE’s high-tech approach to countering the drone threat, the Czech Viktor Short Range Air Defense System is brutal in its simplicity. Czech engineers welded the abundantly available Soviet-manufactured dual-barreled ZPU-2 14.5x114 mm anti-aircraft machine guns on a swivel mount on the bed of the Toyota Landcruiser 70. With day/night optical sights and firing 600 rounds/minute, the system can engage drones up to a range of 2 km.

The result is a highly reliable, highly mobile, and extremely inexpensive anti-drone system. The Czech Republic and the Netherlands jointly funded the purchase of 100 units, and they were manufactured by the Czech Excalibur Army corporation. The first deliveries arrived on or around June 13, and the order has been completed with additional units on order.

These inexpensive and mobile units can provide critical anti-drone air coverage to protect Ukrainian units, supplies, and artillery behind the immediate line of contact.

Protecting against enemy drones is particularly important for Ukrainian artillery. The think tank RUSI assessed that the declining availability of Russian 152 mm artillery shells has forced Russia to increasingly rely on Lancet suicide drones to fill the role of counterbattery fire. Protecting Ukrainian artillery units from such Lancet drone strikes helps to maintain Ukraine’s hard-earned advantage in the counterbattery war.


I previously wrote a bit about the ASRAAM launcher equipped 6x6 AWD Supacat modular trucks.

A vulnerability in Ukraine’s air defenses was identified through a deficiency of SHORAD (short-range air defense) units, cheaper highly mobile short-range anti-air units. Russia exploited this weakness in the early days of the counteroffensive by attacking Ukrainian armored columns with Ka-52 Alligator attack helicopters.

The UK has helped address this deficiency by delivering Supacat heavy trucks with ASRAAM IR Anti-air missiles strapped to them.


The ASRAAM is not radar-based, but is instead a heat-seeking missile, making it more autonomous than a radar-based anti-air missile. Thus it’s well suited to be used as an improvised SAM missile.

The system does appear highly improvised, with a simple launcher welded onto the rear of the high-mobility vehicle. It’s unclear if it has its own radar, but it’s likely a very inexpensive and weak system if so. the ASRAAM normally has a range of 25 km, but this assumes being fired from a fighter jet flying at Mach 1 or greater,  and at high altitudes. But when the 50 km-ranged AIM-120A AMRAAM is fired from a NASAMS, its range drops to under half to around 25km. Thus, the 25km ASRAAM will likely only sport a horizontal range of 10-15km at most.

Russian Ka-52 attacks have sharply reduced in effectiveness since the early days of the counteroffensive in June. The introduction of additional SHORAD forces to help cover forward elements of Ukrainian advances from attack helicopters has been a key element of greater Ukrainian successes, and it appears ASRAAM Supacats may have played a role.

The ASRAAM Supacats appear to have arrived in Ukraine some time in mid-July, and were publicly covered by the press in early August.


9K330 Tor surface-to-air missile system, rehearsal for the Independence Day military parade in Kyiv, 2018.  Uploaded by VoidWanderer to Wikicommon under CC4.0
9K330 Tor surface-to-air missile system, rehearsal for the Independence Day military parade in Kyiv, 2018.

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy arrived in Athens on Aug. 21 as part of a broader European diplomatic blitz. Three days later, the Greek government announced that it was terminating its maintenance contract with Russia for its Tor M1 and Osa-AKM SHORAD batteries.

A substantial proportion of Greek voters, particularly Greek conservatives, have strong pro-Russian sympathies. Among NATO nations, the Greek government had been among the most reluctant to provide overt Ukrainian support (though not to be equated with the overt hostility displayed by, say, Hungary).

Nonetheless, Zelenskyy appears to have successfully persuaded the Greeks to sever a significant spare parts and maintenance contract worth €102 million over the next few years. Furthermore, the Greeks intend to decommission their 21 Tor M1s and 38 Osa-AKM batteries and to give them to Ukraine through a third-party intermediary.

Greece also agreed to provide trainers for Ukraine’s F-16 training program.


F-16 RIAT 14 July 2008

Denmark and the Netherlands have pledged a total of 61 F-16s to Ukraine. Unfortunately, Ukraine only had a reported nine Ukrainian pilots with sufficient English language skills to begin F-16 training. Others will require months of English language training before even starting pilot training.

The USAF has agreed to commence F-16 training with Ukrainian pilots and crews in Arizona as soon as October. These pilots are reported to have prior Soviet non-fighter aircraft flight experience, thus Ukraine appears to be aiming to expand its airpower rather than retrain its current fighter pilots on new aircraft. The initial pilot training is expected to take five months; a small handful of Ukrainian pilots and crews may be ready for action around March or April of 2024.

This is also partly due to the fact the USAF presently faces a shortage of F-16 training instructors to meet its own needs, let alone training a large number of Ukrainian pilots.

The bulk of Ukrainian pilots are expected to undergo a crash English-language course through January 2024, when F-16 training centers in Romania and the Netherlands will be ready to take on a greater number of Ukrainian pilots with instructors from a coalition of eleven nations.

These pilots likely will not be ready, however, until summer 2024.

I discussed the possible impact of F-16s on the Russo-Ukrainian air war here.


The Defence Secretary Ben Wallace met UK trainers and Ukrainian soldiers learning how to operate the UK
The Defence Secretary Ben Wallace met U.K. trainers and Ukrainian soldiers learning how to operate the U.K.’s Challenger 2 tank in the South-West of England.

The U.K. government first began training Ukrainian soldiers shortly after the illegal Russian annexation of Crimea, in what was called Operation Orbital. From 2014-2022, Operation Orbital trained 22,000 Ukrainian soldiers, many of whom went on to become Ukrainian trainers themselves. Along with President Barack Obama’s initiative to send U.S. Special Forces trainers in 2015 to help Ukraine establish its elite special forces units in 2015, these efforts helped Ukraine prepare for its existential war against Russia.

Within days of Russia’s broader invasion on Feb. 24, 2022, Operation Orbital was replaced by a new multinational, British-led initiative to train Ukrainian soldiers to NATO standards called Operational Interflex. 

From February 2022 to February 2023, Operation Interflex trained 10,000 Ukrainian troops, enough to staff three to five brigades with combat troops. The effort now has over 1,000 instructors from 10 nations. Operation Interflex aimed to roughly double its output and train over 20,000 additional troops in the last 10 months of 2023, or roughly 2,000 soldiers per month—enough to staff a completely new Ukrainian brigade every month.

Operation Interflex is the largest of the NATO-led training programs for Ukrainian soldiers, but not the only one. U.S. and German instructors are training Ukrainians on a wide variety of weapon systems in Germany, like the Bradley and Marder IFVs; various tanks like the Abrams, Leopard 1, and Leopard 2; the Geppard air defense system; the Pzh2000 self-propelled howitzer; and other U.S. and German weapons.

Other training programs are known to exist in Sweden, Spain, Poland, and Estonia, among others.

The scope of training operations for Ukrainian troops has not only continued from 2022, but it has substantially picked up in 2023, possibly as much as doubling the number of NATO-trained troops provided every month.


TOWNSVILLE, AUSTRALIA - JULY 27: An Australian M1 Abrams tank participates in an Urban assault as part of Exercise 'Talisman Sabre 21' on July 27, 2021 in Townsville, Australia.  Exercise Talisman Sabre 2021 is the largest bilateral training activity held every two years, forces undergo complex warfighting scenarios between Australia and the United States. This year it includes forces from Canada, Japan, Republic of Korea, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom. (Photo by Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images)
TOWNSVILLE, AUSTRALIA - JULY 27: An Australian M1 Abrams tank participates in an Urban assault as part of Exercise 'Talisman Sabre 21' on July 27, 2021 in Townsville, Australia. Exercise Talisman Sabre 2021 is the largest bilateral training activity held every two years, forces undergo complex warfighting scenarios between Australia and the United States. This year it includes forces from Canada, Japan, Republic of Korea, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom. 

On July 27, Politico reported that American officials dispatched Abrams tanks to Germany, where they were expected to arrive in August. American officials commented that the Abrams tanks would undergo a further refurbishing process in Germany that would take about a month, before being sent to Ukraine for deployment.

Thus, the arrival of the first M1A1 Abrams tanks to Ukraine may be a week or two away, and likely no more than a few weeks.

The original plan had been to send 31 of the most advanced M1A2 Abrams tanks to Ukraine, but the procurement process for these tanks may have taken until summer 2024. Given a choice between receiving older M1A1 Abrams in fall 2023 or M1A2 Abrams in summer 2024, Ukraine chose to receive the M1A1s earlier.

Ukrainian tank crews and maintenance personnel have been training to operate the Abrams since May 2023.

Even more heavily armored than the heavily protected Leopard 2A6 tanks, the Abrams represents world-class armor protection, and some of the best day/night digital optics in the world. It will be an instant contender for Ukraine’s best tank alongside the Challenger 2 and Leopard 2A6 tanks.

These are merely some of the highlights of weapons and ammunition provided to Ukraine to fuel the counter-offensive, focusing on purely new equipment. I discussed the importance of the German LUNA Reconnaissance drone, DPICM cluster munitions, Hensoldt COBRA Counterbattery Radars, Taiwanese HAWK SAM batteries, and more in the past months, without even getting into the Bradley Fighting Vehicles and Leopard 2s that have served as the spearhead of the offensive.

The U.S. ability to replace every Bradley Ukraine has lost and into the indefinite future means that Russia can’t attrit Ukraine into submission. Meanwhile, Western gear is both tough—only five visually confirmed destroyed Leopard 2 tanks in nearly three months of continual fighting at the front—and designed for crew survivability. Equipment can be replaced; crews cannot. 

Ukraine’s arms, armament, and training continue to accumulate, while Russia trends in the opposite direction.


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