Russian troops to face new challenges due to ATACMS: ISW explained how the situation on the front will change
Ukrainian strikes with ATACMS missiles on major Russian airfields in the occupied territories will force the Russian Armed Forces command to disperse its air assets and withdraw some of them away from the front. Such long-range weapons in the hands of the Armed Forces of Ukraine pose a significant threat to the enemy's ammunition depots in the rear and will force them to choose between strengthening existing depots or further dispersing them.
The Russian information space has already panicked about the use of ATACMS by the Ukrainians, and the Kremlin is concerned about the possibility of future strikes. The Institute for the Study of War (ISW) analyzed how these missiles could change the situation at the front.
Ukraine uses American ATACMS missiles for the first time
On Tuesday, October 17, The Wall Street Journal and other Western media reported that the United States "secretly" provided Ukraine with long-range ATACMS missiles to hit Russian targets in the temporarily occupied territory.
"The range is 165 kilometers. Ukrainian forces have already used ATACMS to strike Russian-controlled airfields in occupied Berdiansk, Zaporizhzhia region, and the city of Luhansk, Luhansk region," the publications said.
On Tuesday evening, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky emphasized that ATACMS had "proven themselves" but did not directly confirm that such missiles had been used in the strikes.
Against this backdrop, numerous Russian sources claimed that the Ukrainian Armed Forces had used ATACMS in the strike on Berdiansk. They published photos of ATACMS M74 cluster munitions that were allegedly found at the site of the attack.
After analyzing all the statements, ISW concluded that the United States could indeed have secretly transferred long-range missiles to provide the Ukrainian Defense Forces with operational surprise. And the general shock in the Russian information space, experts say, suggests that Ukraine has achieved the desired effect.
The command of Ukraine's Special Operations Forces did not specify if it were ATACMS missiles used in the strikes but said that they destroyed nine Russian helicopters of various models, other unidentified special equipment, an anti-aircraft missile system, an ammunition depot, and damaged the runway infrastructure.
The footage from the airfield in Berdiansk showed heavy fires and explosions due to the detonation of ammunition. NASA's Fire Information for Resource Management System (FIRMS) data from October 17 also confirms heat signatures from the Berdiansk explosions but has not yet confirmed them at the Luhansk airfield.
ATACMS will force the occupiers to disperse their aircraft
ISW suggests that Russian troops used helicopters from the airfield in Berdiansk in the first months of the Ukrainian counteroffensive in the west of the Zaporizhzhia region. This helped the enemy during large mechanized Ukrainian attacks.
Previous satellite images of the airfield showed that the occupiers had dispersed their aircraft, so the Ukrainian Armed Forces were probably able to strike individual aircraft with the previously available long-range missiles only.
"The long-range version of ATACMS with cluster munitions will allow Ukrainian forces to strike Russian airfields, which can destroy aircraft and other targets on a wider scale," the analysts said.
They noted that Russian bloggers immediately drew parallels between the October 17 strikes and a series of HIMARS strikes on the Chornobaivka airfield in the Kherson region during the 2022 counteroffensive. Thus, repeated strikes in Chornobaivka led to significant losses of Russian aviation, after which the Russian Armed Forces command withdrew military equipment and aircraft from there due to their inability to withstand HIMARS "pressure."
The propagandists pointed out that Russian troops had already adapted their airfields to Ukrainian long-range capabilities, but now ATACMS have appeared and pose a new missile threat that will force the Russian command to look for ways to adapt again.
"The Russian military has consistently demonstrated that it can adapt to new Ukrainian strike capabilities but only after suffering initial and clear losses from Ukrainian capabilities that the Russian command really should have been prepared for," ISW emphasized.
Russian troops will face new challenges
It is noted that the dispersal of Russian aviation to airfields throughout the occupied part of Ukraine and the redeployment of aviation assets further from the front line is likely to undermine the enemy's support for its defense efforts and localized offensive operations.
For example, the relocation of aircraft to airfields in the rear will affect the downtime that Russian aviation will have to spend to support operations. This is likely to be especially important for helicopter aviation, which operated in relatively small sections of the front line for a long time to weaken attacks by mechanized Ukrainian forces at the beginning of the counteroffensive in June and July 2023.
The dispersion of air assets across more airfields will also create more serious coordination and logistical problems for the Russian Aerospace Forces.
In addition, ATACMS pose a significant threat to Russian ammunition depots in the rear areas and are likely to force the occupation command to choose between strengthening existing depots or further dispersing them throughout the occupied territory.
"After the appearance of HIMARS in Ukraine in June 2022, the Russian command reluctantly abandoned the use of highly-concentrated ammunition depots, expanding logistics over longer ground communications, which ultimately made the supply of ammunition to the front line somewhat more difficult. ATACMS is likely to pose a similar challenge to Russian forces, and they may focus on reinforcing their depots or create an even more dispersed and therefore overly expanded ammunition logistics system," analysts say.
Russians hysterical over ATACMS
The Russian information space is already expressing widespread fears about the use of ATACMS missiles by Ukrainians. Russia's concern about the possibility of future strikes is likely to influence its decision-making beyond Ukraine's current ability to withstand regular attacks.
The propagandists recognized the strikes on the airfields of Berdiansk and Luhansk as one of the most destructive Ukrainian strikes on Russian targets since the beginning of the full-scale invasion of Ukraine by Russian troops. They emphasized the seriousness of the damage caused by the use of ATACMS and expressed fears that the Russian command would not be able to adapt to the new missile threat quickly enough.
The analysts believe that the occupiers will have to take into account the potential use of ATACMS missiles by the Ukrainian Armed Forces when making operational and tactical decisions on the deployment of military assets, regardless of the frequency of such strikes.
"Russia's current level of concern suggests that this calculation may be particularly pronounced in the coming weeks. However, Ukraine is likely to have received only a limited number of ATACMS and will need more if it wants to maintain and enhance these initial effects," ISW stated.
As OBOZ.UA reported earlier, according to media reports citing the White House, Ukraine received less than 12 long-range ATACMS missiles from the United States. On October 17, Ukrainian Armed Forces Commander-in-Chief Valeriy Zaluzhnyi confirmed the use of these weapons by the defenders and showed a video of the first launches of ATACMS missiles.