Photos show two of the Storm Shadows onboard a Ukrainian Su-24M Fencer, which we previously assessed as the likely launch platform for the British standoff missiles. That assessment was proven accurate just two weeks ago.
Unlike the previous photo showing Storm Shadows on a Ukrainian Fencer, this appears to be a Su-24M strike variant, not an MR reconnaissance variant, in service with Ukraine’s 7th Tactical Aviation Brigade.
The Su-24M makes perfect sense to carry these relatively large and heavy cruise missiles both in payload and mission profile. Designed as the preferred tactical strike aircraft for the Soviet Air Force, standoff strikes with Storm Shadows are a walk in the park for the Fencer.
Compared to the low-level interdiction strikes missions once foreseen in the Cold War, the Storm Shadow’s range allows much greater survivability for Ukrainian Fencer aircrews. Given the limited supply of Ukrainian Su-24s and the number of losses in this war already, each airframe is precious.
While not the only far from traditional East-West collaboration in Ukrainian service, be that Sparrows on Buks or HARMs on MiGs, Storm Shadow-armed Su-24s are indeed strange bedfellows. There’s no way the designers at Sukhoi OKB ever believed their creation would one day carry British cruise missiles used to make precision strikes on Russian targets.
Before we head into the latest news from Ukraine, The War Zone readers can catch up on our previous rolling coverage here.
The British Ministry of Defense reports regular Russian units, namely VDV Airborne forces, have continued to redeploy to positions in the Bakhmut sector as Wagner Group PMC forces complete their withdrawal to reorganize after heavy losses fighting for the city.
In its daily intelligence report, the British MoD assessed elements of the 76th Guards Air Assault Division, the 106th Guards Airborne Division, and two separate VDV brigades are now deployed in increasingly important positions in and around Bakhmut.
Ground down from heavy combat losses over more than a year of operations against Ukraine, the Russian VDV is far from its pre-war “elite” status, the report noted. Despite that attrition, Russian commanders appear to still rely on some of the relatively capable VDV units as an uncommitted reserve. Their deployment to Bakhmut suggests the larger Russian force in the area could be less flexible to react to operational changes if they have indeed committed the VDV to the front.
On the opposite side of the frontline, Ukrainian Gen. Oleksander Syrskyi, commander of the Ukrainian Ground Forces, visited commanders in the Bakhmut area to plan further operations in the sector.
Fighting around Bakhmut has slowed, per an assessment from the Institute for the Study of War (@TheStudyofWar), which reported no combat engagements in the Bakhmut direction on June 2, with Russian forces instead prioritizing the Marinka direction west of Donetsk proper.
However, Russian mil-bloggers are growing increasingly concerned with developments in the Zaporizhzhia direction. Heavy artillery fire has been reported, with one account claiming Ukraine has fire superiority with Russian guns conducting little to know counter-battery fire in response to barrages.
Further south near the strategic city of Melitopol, an explosion was reported along a rail line used by Russian forces to transport troops and material to the Zaporizhzhia frontline from Crimea.
The rail line turns toward Melitopol just before crossing the Tashchenak River and Tashchenak station, a small junction with several sidings. It’s unclear what caused the explosion, or whether the station and/or the bridge were targeted.
Further explosions were reported Saturday evening both in Meltiopol and on the Sea of Azov at Berdyansk near the port, where a reported Storm Shadow missile struck on Friday. Satellite imagery showed the targeted warehouses were destroyed in Friday’s strike.
Partisan attacks continue behind Russian lines, with the latest reports claiming the assassination of Sergei Didovidyuk, a collaborator in the Zaporozhye region. Didovikdyuk and his 33-year-old daughter, Vyacheslav Bednyak, were killed by an improvised explosive device placed on their car.
Bednyak was reportedly the deputy head of the military-civilian administration in the occupied village of Mikhailovka. Didovikdyuk’s wife was reportedly injured in the attack.
Fighting between Russian forces and Ukrainian-backed groups along the northern border continues, with reported shelling in the Belgorod region. Fires broke out in the Belgorod village of Novaya Tavolzhanka amid reported shelling by Russian forces.
The success of Ukrainian and 'partisan' hit-and-run raids in the border regions has drawn Wagner Group PMC leader Yevgeny Prigozhin’s ire. Fresh off the Bakhmut frontline, Prigozhin claimed Wagner would deploy to the Belgorod region to “protect our Russian people” should the Russian Ministry of Defense fail to stop the attacks.
It’s not clear how serious Prigozhin is about sending Wagner to Belgorod, the PMC having quickly withdrawn from Bakhmut to reorganize and regenerate its combat capability after horrendous losses in the city. Prigozhin could be using the rather embarrassing strikes on Russian territory to keep up his criticism of the Russian Ministry of Defense.
Partisan operations on the Russian border are no longer solely kinetic, as a reportedly hacked radio broadcast claimed a looming Sunday referendum for establishing the breakaway “Belgorod People’s Republic.”
The fallout from the initial cross-border attacks’ use of U.S.-provided equipment continues, however. The Washington Post reported U.S. intelligence assesses that Russian fighters aligned against Moscow used at least four tactical vehicles given by the U.S. and Poland to conduct the raid.
Three of the International MaxxPro mine-resistant ambush-protected (MRAP) vehicles used in the raid reportedly came from the U.S., while a fourth came from Poland. The incident has reportedly raised doubts about Ukraine’s commitment to secure weapons and equipment provided through Western aid.
On the other side of Ukraine, there are rumors Kyiv may move against Russian forces garrisoned in the Moldovan breakaway state of Transnistria. Some 1,500 Russian soldiers have been in the country as “peacekeepers” since the Transnistria War during the Soviet Union’s collapse, and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said they should flee if they want to survive.
Concerns about Russia using Transnistria as a springboard for covert or direct attacks against Ukraine have subsided since the war’s early months. All sides pointed fingers after a series of explosions in Transnistria in March 2022 as fears grew the war could expand west.
Pictures show a train carrying some rather rusty T-80BV tanks through a Russian railyard, ostensibly retrieved from storage and headed to a repair facility for reactivation. Notably, these T-80BVs have been stripped of their Kontakt-1 explosive reactive armor (ERA) bricks.
We’ve seen Kontakt-1 bricks slapped onto other tanks pressed into service, as well as a few cope cages, since Russia started thrusting its old equipment service. It’s unclear whether these rusty T-80s will have their ERA bricks put back on or receive some other variant.
Speaking of cope cages, there are two new entries in the list of Russian vehicles sporting the improvised armor. Video from within Donetsk shows a Russian 2S19 Msta 152mm self-propelled howitzer heading down city streets with an overhead canopy.
On the smaller scale, pictures from Kherson show a hatchback with all sorts of improvised armor used by Russian soldiers. Given the lack of attention paid to the sides and wheels, it’s clear this vehicle’s crew feared drone-dropped munitions.
Video shows the aftermath of a Russian ZALA Lancet loitering munition strike on a Ukrainian 2S5 Giatsint-S 152mm self-propelled gun, the drone having penetrated the overhead screen and punched through the roof armor.
Ukrainian drones had a field day against Russian air defense systems this week, with strikes destroying a Buk-M1 (NATO: SA-17 “Grizzly”) surface-to-air missile system and three 9K330 Tor (NATO: SA-15 “Gauntlet”) SAM systems. One of the Ukrainian drones narrowly avoids a missile from the Tor during the engagement.
Drones also captured successful Ukrainian artillery strikes on Russian vehicles, including a T-90M tank. Gun crews using the M777 155mm howitzer with Excalibur guided shells also struck and destroyed a Msta-B howitzer and a BTR-82.
Video also shows Ukrainian crews using a lightweight Spanish-supplied OTO-Melara Mod 56 105mm pack howitzer. Although lacking the same firepower of the larger NATO 155mm guns, the Mod 56’s light weight allows it considerable mobility for fire and maneuver to avoid counter-battery attacks.
Also on the topic of artillery, a video shows a Ukrainian mortar crew firing 40mm high-explosive dual-purpose grenades from its modified 60mm mortar. It looks as though the gunners use a sleeve to keep the 40mm projectile steady on its way out of the barrel, with the entire sleeve dropped into the tube and reloaded for each shot.
That’s not the only Ukrainian improvisation this week. Video shows Ukrainian engineers having rigged a bridge for destruction with stacks of TM-62 anti-tank mines strapped to the pilings.
Lastly, there’s a rather unnerving moment from a Ukrainian all-terrain vehicle crew at a training ground. During maneuvers, the off-road vehicle loses control and rolls as the front-seat passenger films, the dazed crew ending up on their sides.
That’s all for now. We’ll update this story when there’s more to report on Ukraine.
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