The invasion of Ukraine began on February 20, 2022
Ukraine continues to make “small gains” in its counter-offensives in both the east and south, with the biggest gains in Kherson Oblast, a senior US military official said on Friday. The advances are allowing Ukrainian forces to spare their expenditure on Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System, or GMLRS, rounds fired by the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) and M270 launchers. But there has been a “pretty high impact” in terms of troop losses on both sides.
The Russians, meanwhile, have fired “hundreds” of missiles at Ukraine in retaliation for last week’s Kerch Bridge attack, the official said, speaking to reporters.
“The use of very imprecise precision-guided munitions has continued over the course of the week,” the official said. “In most cases, they have been used against civilian targets, either indiscriminately or deliberately in regards to infrastructure targets like electricity or bridges, or otherwise.”
On the battlefield, “there is probably more movement in Kherson than anywhere else in the battle space,” the official said.
Ukrainian forces “keep advancing… just north of the town of Mylove and then spread essentially north and west, with a number of small towns and villages that the Ukrainians have been able to clear from the Russians.”
The Russians “have fallen back from their reestablished front lines after the start of this [Ukrainian counteroffensive] six weeks ago, and are establishing defenses further south.”
The Ukrainians are also making “incremental progress on that central access,” the official said. “It’s not a breakthrough – we’re talking about miles as they move.”
That has led to “two overlapping axes that are starting to force the Russians to make some decisions in terms of how they want to choose defense.”
There has not been “a large number of movements out of the city of Kherson in terms of the Ukrainians, but certainly no Russian gains in that part of the battlespace,” the official said.
Ukraine had been making huge gains since launching its counteroffensive in Kharkiv in the east.
But things have slowed down for Ukraine, which has made “limited” progress there over the past week, the official said. The Russians, however, “continue to strengthen their defenses” there. There has been some “small progress, really from the northern part of the Kharkiv area of operations to Lyman,” the official said. “But really limited in terms of movement this week.”
In Donetsk, “the situation is similar, but in reverse. We have seen that the Russians are still working to attack the Ukrainians around Bakhmut. Those advances have also been very small for the Russians. And at times, we have seen the Ukrainians fight back effectively to retake ground that the Russians had previously taken.”
“All these attacks on both sides are having a pretty high impact in terms of artillery employment and losses for the sides that are making those advances.”
According to the official, there was no real change in the Russian advances in the Zaporizhzhia region.
“Like all of you, we continue to watch this operation with greater attention, just taking into account the nuclear power plant. We have seen artillery that has landed in and around Zaporizhzhia, but nothing that has caused us great concern this week” regarding the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, the largest in Europe.
Although Ukraine has only made gradual gains this week, its counteroffensives have gained enough ground that it does not have to use GMLRS, which has a longer range and is much more accurate than standard howitzer rounds.
Although the Pentagon has jealously guarded the number of GMLRS it has provided to Ukraine, Ukraine has received orders of magnitude more howitzer rounds, according to Pentagon records.
Ukrainian counteroffensives “have put a good chunk of that battlespace under standard artillery range, not GMLRS, so they’ve been seen employing fewer GMLRS recently because they just don’t need it,” the official said. “They can hit the Russian targets they want to attack with standard artillery.”
In the area of maritime operations, the Russians have about half a dozen ships in the Black Sea, including about three that are capable of firing Kalibr cruise missiles, the official said.
Those ships fired on four Kalibrs on Thursday, which the Pentagon believes were intercepted by Ukrainian air defense systems, according to the official.
Since Russia began its missile and drone bombardment of Ukraine in the wake of last week’s attack on the Kerch Bridge, Ukraine’s air defenses have been able to shoot down about half of the 80 incoming missiles in the first 24 hours. hours, the senior Pentagon official said.
What is not known, the official said, is how many air defense missiles Ukraine had to expend to do so.
Pentagon leaders spent much of this week in Brussels with NATO allies working on plans to improve Ukraine’s air defenses, which you can read more about here.
Given the number of high-precision missiles Russia has fired this week alone, questions have been raised about how many they have left.
Oleksiy Danilov, secretary of the National Security and Defense Council, told Ukrainian media that Russia has less than 30% of its stockpile of high-precision missiles left since it launched its all-out invasion on February 24.
Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov said Russia has just over 600 high-precision munitions left in its arsenal.
The US official could not confirm those figures, but said “the number of precision missiles that the Russians have fired since the beginning of the fighting is quite large.”
The fact that Russia has turned to Iran for drones “speaks to their concerns related to precision munitions. So each one of them fired is probably a very careful consideration for the Russians.”
The economic sanctions imposed on Russia since its full invasion have likely reduced its ability to regenerate its stockpile of precision-guided missiles, the official added.
“We have to believe that the sanctions are having an impact on their defense industrial base and the ability to regenerate those precision munitions in particular.”
As for the accuracy of Russia’s missile strikes, “I would love to think that missiles that are aimed at the side of apartment buildings are not meant to hit apartment buildings,” the official said. “I don’t know if you can make that claim because we’ve seen pretty indiscriminate attacks [by] the Russians.”