Two Russian military airbases were struck overnight in what appears to be the first use of the US-supplied Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS). The attack targeted the base of Russian helicopters, and reports indicate that at least nine helicopters, as well as supporting re-arming and refueling points, were hit. The Russian airbase at Berdyansk in Occupied Zaporizhzhia Oblast was hit at 4 a.m. local time. The airbase at Luhansk in occupied Luhansk Oblast was hit at 11 a.m.
The strikes were reported by prominent Russian milbloggers, including one of the regime’s favorite milbloggers, Ilya Tumanov, who runs the influential Fighterbomber Telegram channel.
It’s not a good morning.
At night, Khokhly [streiff: this is the equivalent of the “n-word” used by Russians to describe Ukrainians] struck our airfield with ATACMS missiles, where the Army Aviation was based.
One of the most serious blows during the entire NWO [streiff: “Northern Military District”]. If not the most serious one.
There are losses in both people and equipment.
It makes no sense to write about the fact that “it is necessary to draw conclusions so that this does not happen again”. This will happen again as long as the war continues. You have to be ready for that.
Though all information on the attacks is from Russian sources and is considered tentative right now, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky seems to have admitted the use of ATACMS in a nebulous statement.
Zelensky just vaguely confirmed that ATACMS were used to tear a hole of historical proportions in the ass of the Russian air force this morning.— Jay in Kyiv (@JayinKyiv) October 17, 2023
Ukrainian Armed Forces always uses given weapons as agreed with donors. pic.twitter.com/w0a4ehyu7I
Images from Berdyansk seem to validate that ATACMS hit it. Berdyansk is about 55 miles from the front lines, and Luhansk is about 62 miles. Both are outside the range of the current missiles used by Ukraine, even if the launchers were parked on the front lines. They are within range of the British Storm Shadow and French SCALP-EG, but they have a unitary warhead that is not the best choice for striking an airbase.
The kicker is images of dud bomblets associated with the ATACMS dual-purpose improved conventional munition (DPICM) warhead.
Biden promised Ukraine a small number of ATACMS in September (Putin’s War, Week 83. Zelensky Gets ATACMS From Biden and a Cold Shoulder From McCarthy). The missiles were limited to the M39 model, which has a DPICM warhead that makes it unsuited for attacking things like the Kerch Strait Bridge but is death-on-the-highway for airfields, supply points, anti-aircraft installations, and troop concentrations. There is also a provision in our arms transfers that prevents them from being used inside Russia’s internationally recognized borders.
While not a miracle weapon, ATACMS can change the war. For instance, the Ka-52 helicopter gunship, along with a bazillion anti-tank mines, is what prevented significant Ukrainian gains during its spring offensive. The Russian Army started the war with an inventory of 133. During the course of the war, there have been 42 catastrophic losses recorded on video (Putin’s War, Week 77. The Ruble Nosedives, a Breakthrough Looms, and Crimea Faces Isolation). This means there are 91 in existence, an unknown number of which are undergoing repairs or have been written off as losses due to accidents and combat damage. The nine helicopters known lost in the ATACMS strikes were Ka-52. This is a loss of 10% of the fleet in one attack.
The transfer of the M39 should’ve happened over a year ago. These warheads are scheduled for decommissioning because the US Defense Department cares more about what the “international community” thinks than it does about winning wars (US Releases Cluster Munitions to Ukraine in Stopgap Effort to Aid Ukraine’s Offensive). They allow Ukraine to strike at logistics and troop targets without creating political facts like sinking the Black Sea Fleet at its moorings or dropping the Kerch Strait Bridge.