CIT expert explains how HIMARS system might swing battles in Ukraine’s favor

·11 min read
Consequences of shelling of invaders in Donbass
Consequences of shelling of invaders in Donbass

NV: I'll start with one of the latest reports, an intelligence assessment by the UK Ministry of Defense. It was stated that the Russian army would switch to Donetsk Oblast as soon as they achieved their goals and captured Luhansk Oblast, but they needed a break. But during this break, they may lose everything they have gained in recent weeks. If you look locally at the east of Ukraine now, how do you see the events there and how can they develop in the coming days?

Read also: Russians’ offensive will culminate with battles for Severodonetsk, invader won’t have strength for attacks in Donetsk Oblast, ISW says

Mykhailov: We're now seeing some advance further into Severodonetsk, which is mentioned by both Russian and Ukrainian sources. But it became slower than the day before, than two or three days ago. And now Ukrainian troops have deliberately drawn the Russians into urban warfare.

I don't know whether it's true or not, but of course, the Ukrainian side is weaker now, both in Donbas and in Luhansk Oblast, unfortunately. It can use such tactics as imposing urban battles on the enemy who has a certain advantage in aviation, artillery, as it is in urban battles that this advantage diminishes and the battle has to be fought on an equal footing.

And here the disadvantages of the Russian army play a role – the lack of professional infantry, which is now being replaced primarily by those mobilized from some districts of Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts or some volunteers, contract soldiers from Russia or private military companies. With the exception of the Wagner mercenaries, this infantry is of very poor quality, inexperienced, and should lose to the Ukrainian infantry.

But there is another problem. Currently, Severodonetsk is almost cut off from the supply of ammunition, because the remaining bridges across the Siversky Donets River are under Russian shelling, which makes it very difficult to supply anything to the defenders of Severodonetsk.

NV: You said that street fighting is a weak point of the Russian army?

Mykhailov: Yes, the Russian army is very bad at street fighting, as we saw in Mariupol, in Rubizhne, and in Popasna. Here, the advantages that the Russian army has in artillery, aviation, are leveled, because in the urban environment there are many different means of shelter in the first place. And the battles are conducted at very short distances there. If it's outside the city, it's mainly an artillery war, as everyone says, and here Russia, unfortunately, has an advantage over Ukrainian artillery, at least until more artillery systems from the West are delivered. When it comes to urban battles, Ukraine has a certain advantage here, we have also seen reports that there are even some counterattacks.

Read also: Russia's offensive on Severodonetsk – what is known

NV: Now from local to global. The same report states that the Ukrainian command, the General Staff, made a very difficult but correct and strategically sound decision, when it did not replenish the Ukrainian army in the Severodonetsk direction, in the east, but on the contrary, strengthened defense in the south as this is strategic direction for the Ukrainian army. What can you say about this?

Mykhailov: It's not even a matter of the defense in the south, but about a limited Ukrainian offensive. Several experts say that Ukrainian troops have managed to build pontoon bridges over the Inhulets river, forcing, crossing and even liberating several villages on the south-eastern bank of the river, already near Kherson. The Russians were even forced to withdraw from one of the villages they had left on the north-western bank of the Inhulets river, and it is believed that this operation is aimed at cutting the highway leading to Vysokopillia. This is the only way by which the Russians can supply the group that occupies Vysokopillia and poses a threat to Zelenodolsk, Kryvyi Rih, etc. And if these troops are forced to withdraw, firstly, this threat will be reduced, and secondly, it will be a very good bridgehead for a large-scale offensive in a few months.

NV: Now about the weapons. In this new aid package, which was announced by the United States, there are many new names that we have not heard before. The media report that Ukraine may even receive MQ1C strike drones. Please tell me, what will be fundamentally new for Ukraine, and how could this change the course of the war?

Read also: Military expert explains what weapons West can provide to Ukraine and whether it can change the war

Mykhailov: In fact, there is nothing fundamentally new, it's a heavier drone than Bayraktar, it can also attack with guided missiles or bombs, like Bayraktar.

Unlike Bayraktar, it has very good optics, which is certainly good. While Bayraktar uses Turkish optics due to the embargo on arms supplies to Turkey from several countries, it can carry out much further reconnaissance. And this drone is not so much useful as a strike platform, but for reconnaissance. It can observe, for example, the results of HIMARS or M270 MLRS without any threat to itself.

NV: Is this a big plus in waging this war?

Mykhailov: Yes, of course. Drones are, if not crucial, then one of the most important tools used by both the Russian and Ukrainian sides. And if the Russians have almost stopped publishing footage of attacks from their strike drones, and there were a lot of them at the beginning of the war, but now there are almost no new videos.

In contrast, Ukraine receives these systems, as well as reconnaissance and strike ones, this is already an advantage in the air. In addition, this drone can also carry Stinger MANPADS, it has the ability to defend itself against air attacks. First of all, it makes a significant contribution to the struggle for air, and secondly, it greatly improves Ukraine's reconnaissance capabilities, so as not to expect any intelligence from Western partners, but to reconnoiter those areas that will be affected by the latest multiple rocket launchers. They can hit targets at a distance of 70-80 kilometers with the supplied missiles, and it will be very important to reconnoiter the results, adjust the fire, correct, because guided missiles will be used mainly against valuable targets, such as ammunition depots, fuel or command posts. And it's very important for the reconnaissance of these targets, these drones will be of great help here once they are delivered.

NV: Summarizing the topic of drones we talked about: The Reuters news agency reports that the United States plans to sell Ukraine four MQ-1C Gray Eagle drones and that the MQ-1C is a much larger aircraft with a max take-off weight around three times that of the Bayraktar-TB2, here is the news. To date, Ukraine has been using several types of smaller shorter range unmanned aerial systems. Yesterday, there was news that Russia had already launched over 500 cruise missiles at Ukraine. Tell me, are there still many missiles left in Russia?

Mykhailov: This is a question that no one has an answer to. We still need to remember what kind of cruise missiles are in question.

Read also: Western weapon already helps Ukrainian troops, but there’s never enough during war

As we see, according to Ukrainian sources, Russia is switching from Iskander and Kalibr missile systems to air-to-air missiles, which are used from bombers or fighter jets. There are many Soviet missiles among them, which are not very accurate. And Iskander or Kalibr missiles aren't very accurate. We have seen some misses 70-80 meters from what can be considered the target. And these X22- and X30-type missiles – if I'm not mistaken – have old electronics and they can hardly hit targets. For example, we have seen that (the Russians had to carry out) five or six attacks with several missiles each so that it was impossible to rebuild the bridge across the Dniester estuary. First of all, this indicates the quality of these missiles.

NV: Quality or not quality, but even if they miss, they hit something, and as a rule, people die.

Mykhailov: Yes, but on the other hand, the Russians have so far failed to use aircraft and bombs for such attacks on civilian or military infrastructure, as was done in Syria. With the exception of a few territories in the east, Russian aviation is currently unable to carry out attacks with the use of unguided aerial bombs.

NV: They still have this opportunity, can they still use it, as in Syria?

Mykhailov: Only in those territories where the Ukrainian air defense cannot resist it. At the moment that’s only in certain areas in the east. As for other areas, they can use at most unguided missiles from Russia, as we have seen in Sumy and Chernihiv Oblasts. It’s now almost impossible to drop on Kyiv such destructive bombs, which were used, for example, in Mariupol, and if it were done, it would mainly lead to the loss of the aircraft.

NV: Another news: the newly-designated U.S. envoy to Ukraine, Bridget Brink, said yesterday that the command of the Ukrainian Armed Forces would decide on its own on the range of strikes from HIMARS, which the U.S. government plans to transfer soon. These HIMARS can hit targets at a distance of up to 300 kilometers. What opportunities does Ukraine have in this case?

Read also: Ukrainian forces begin training on HIMARS, says journalist

Mykhailov: As far as I know, those 300-kilometer missiles are a slightly different type of ammunition for HIMARS. This is an army tactical attack missile, and as far as I know, these missiles will not be supplied. We’re talking about missiles with ranges of up to 80 kilometers, which is also very good. Because, unlike Soviet MLRS, these missiles are guided – almost all of them. This means that, first of all, not so many of them are needed to hit targets as those Soviet Grad or Uragan MLRS; and secondly, the effect and tactics of these missiles can be compared with the Tochka-U missile system. It hits 120 kilometers and has its warhead is larger than that in the HIMARS missile, but unlike these missiles it's not accurate.

These missiles have a deviation of about five meters in range, and if they carry cluster warheads, five meters is enough to hit a command post or a howitzer artillery unit, or a warehouse of fuel or ammunition. And even if they are not used on Russian territory, as Ukraine allegedly promised, they can confidently strike at operational depth, hitting a Russian headquarters on the territory of the so-called "DPR" or "LPR." This makes it possible to stop Russian offensives, to attack such targets that will bring chaos, problems with supply, logistics, especially for the Russian army.

HIMARS may hit the route by which supplies are made to Izyum, without even leaving Kharkiv. This gives Ukraine a certain advantage, because Russia has few such systems so far. Yes, they have Iskanders, but using Iskanders to hit some Ukrainian unit is like using a microscope to hammer in nails. HIMARS, in contrast, is designed for such attacks: for counter-battery, for attacks on very valuable enemy targets, to bring chaos and discord to Russia's offensives, and thus stop them, even if the missile is not hitting a target 300 kilometers away. There are more than enough targets for HIMARS or M270 in the occupied territory of Ukraine.

Read also: Biden confirms Ukraine will be getting U.S.-made MLRS

NV: Tell us, please, from what you observe, how, where and who is moving from Russia? Can you somehow determine what are Russia's strategic goals now and, most importantly, how they converge or diverge from the real situation, the real capabilities of Russia?

Mykhailov: We are witnessing the formation of certain reserve regiments in Russia, which will be used to replace those who have suffered very heavy losses. We have seen that the goals reduced from eliminating Zelensky to capturing Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts over these 100 days. If it's quite possible that they will succeed with Luhansk Oblast, but the capture of Donetsk Oblast is a very big issue. But we remember how they stood a few kilometers from Kyiv three months ago. And I believe that this reduction of goals is the main result of these 100 days.

NV: And how can events develop in the long run? Will they capture Luhansk Oblast, and then take over the south?

Mykhailov: In the long run, the advantage is on the side of Ukraine, because more and more new systems will be supplied, even some local retreats will not mean a break in the Ukrainian army. And the Ukrainian army will hold the defense until it can go on the offensive in certain areas. We don't know when it will happen, within several months – yes, but here we need to take into accountthe losses that Ukraine, unfortunately, is now suffering in the Donbas.