With Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) finding unprecedentedly extensive usage in the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, the Russian air defence system is underlining its efficacy and pivotal role by neutralizing these drones in huge numbers.
According to a special report published by the London-headquartered Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) on May 18, Russia is taking down about 10,000 Ukrainian UAVs a month mostly along the roughly 1,200 km of front along which the opposite forces are engaged at varying levels of intensity.
The UAVs are being neutralized by a dense network of Electronic Warfare (EW) systems—with approximately one major EW system on every 10 km of frontage— “usually situated approximately 7 km from the frontline, with more specialised EW capabilities sat at higher echelon.”
These EW systems usually aim to control and defeat the UAVs.
RUSI is the world’s oldest and the UK’s leading defence and security think tank.
The report has been prepared from interviews with and observations of Ukrainian military units in April and May 2023 that operated in the defence of Kyiv, Chernihiv, Kharkiv, Bakhmut and Avdiivka, and participated in offensive operations in Kherson and Kharkiv. Inputs were also taken from Ukrainian military officers involved in data collection, assessment and dissemination of lessons.
At any given point in time, Russia and Ukraine operate between 25 and 50 UAVs over the contested area between the forward line of own troops (FLOT) and the forward line of enemy troops (FLET) at any given time for each 10 km of frontage, the report says.
Among Russia’s military weaknesses, RUSI identifies the low morale among the forces as a key one. “Generally, it is low, with a rise in prosecutions for desertion, observed instances of wounded comrades being abandoned, and very little depth of junior leadership. Personnel are also rarely rotated and there is considerable weariness across the force.”
But at the same time, a certain resilience is coming to the fore. The report adds: “In theory, this (low morale) should make Russian units brittle. In practice, they appear to be able to take very heavy punishment without collapsing.”
But what should be of concern to Moscow should be the abundant use of artillery ammunition which is much more than the scale of manufacturing.
“The rate of Russian fire during the first quarter of 2023 fluctuated between 12,000 and 38,000 rounds per day. The number of days in which Russian fires exceeded 24,000 rounds is now much scarcer, and it is notable that – in terms of the allocation of fires – Russian artillery ammunition and barrel allocations are assigned to fewer priority axes.”
“Thus, whereas total ammunition expenditure in 2022 was approximately 12 million rounds, fluctuating between 20,000 and 60,000 rounds fired per day, Russian fires in 2023 are currently trending closer towards 7 million rounds if the current rate of fire is maintained for the remainder of the year. Ukrainian estimates place current Russian shell production at 2.5 million rounds per year>’ the RUSI report says.
A notable conclusion that the report draws is the shift in Russia’s use from 152-mm fire to 120-mm mortar fire.
An interesting finding is the way the Russians have modified their tanks using anti-thermal material to good effect thereby “reducing the effectiveness of anti-tank guided missiles (ATGMs).”
“Modification to the engine deck and thus the heat plume from the vehicle’s exhaust and engine is reducing the reliability of where certain ATGMs engage the target… (And) by fighting at dusk and dawn when the vehicle temperature is most similar to the ambient temperature of the surroundings—known as ‘thermal crossover’—the vehicles are harder to detect through thermal imagery,” the report reveals.
Another highlight of the Russian military capability proven in the ongoing conflict is the “efficiency of Russian long-range surface-to-air missiles (SAMs) against the Ukrainian Air Force”.
“The longest-known shoot-down against Ukrainian aircraft was at 150 km when the aircraft was flying lower than 50 feet,” the RUSI report added.