Ah, that’s too bad. I guess Russian media can stand only so much truth before they yank the leash.
I wrote Tuesday about former Russian air force officer Mikhail Khodaryonok’s surprising habit of straight talk about the war. He was skeptical before the invasion that it would be as easy as the Kremlin claimed and he’s been skeptical lately that Russia can muster enough troops to overcome a surprisingly effective, highly motivated Ukrainian military. Why Russian authorities kept putting him on TV to reality-check their own propaganda, I have no idea.
They may have had a chat with him privately after his previous appearance because his tone has suddenly grown more optimistic. I’m willing to believe that Khodaryonok is stating his honest opinion in the clip below rather than reading from a script when he says that Russia will successfully neutralize the American-made artillery Ukraine is now using. But it’s hard to maintain that belief when the video being used to illustrate his point shows Russia … not successfully neutralizing the artillery. As you’ll see, an explosive dropped by a Russian drone lands near a Ukrainian howitzer, not on it. The Ukrainians promptly scramble and drag the cannon into the nearest tree line for cover, at which point the drone drops several more explosives. It’s unclear if they hit anything at all.
The inescapable conclusion is that Russia has no evidence yet that they’ve successfully destroyed an American gun. If they did, it would have aired here.
Today retired colonel Mikhail Khodaryonok made another appearance on Russian state TV, just two days after he gave a damning assessment of Russia's war in Ukraine and its growing international isolation
It appears that someone's given him a bit of a talking to
(with subtitles) pic.twitter.com/M1u2q8L2Tn
— Francis Scarr (@francis_scarr) May 18, 2022
Retired U.S. Gen. Mark Hertling watched Khodaryonok’s analysis and was unimpressed. He calls the M777 that the Ukrainians are using a superb gun and likes the fact that it’s towed instead of mounted on a vehicle, the way Russia’s artillery is. That makes it simpler to use, easier to hide, and likely to produce fewer casualties if it takes a direct hit. More importantly, the M777 is a precision weapon that uses “a fire control computer that calculates wind, weather, data” when dialing in on a target. The Ukrainians simply have a more efficient howitzer than the Russians do, which is a nice thing to have in a long-range artillery battle that’s expected to last several months.
Three months, in fact, according to Ukrainian military leaders. Russia is scrounging for reserve troops and throwing newly formed units into battle in the Donbas, They began the war with 130 battalion tactical groups, which allegedly represented 75 percent of their total combat force, but the Ukrainians believe they may reconstitute another 55 BTGs by July as Putin goes all-in to salvage some sort of victory. Ukraine believes it’ll take the better part of the summer to wear down those Russian reinforcements via artillery warfare. If all goes well and the attrition strategy succeeds, they may be in position to make a major push eastward in August:
Ukrainian plans are to upgrade the quality and capabilities of its range weapons units to basically attrit down these forces first and foremost. Sounds like no large scale attacks (smart) until the new Russian forces are worn out.
— Phillips P. OBrien (@PhillipsPOBrien) May 18, 2022
Russia’s answer to this is a new “wonder weapon” — a laser they’ve supposedly deployed in Ukraine that’s capable of taking out Ukrainian drones in seconds. Does that technology exist? As a matter of fact, yes. Is Russia actually using it in Ukraine, and using it effectively? That’s a different matter. It would be surprising if a military that’s short on conventional precision-guided weapons suddenly produced a hyper-precise deus ex machina that changed the course of the war. But Russia says it’s happening:
Yury Borisov, the deputy prime minister in charge of military development, told a conference in Moscow that Peresvet was already being widely deployed and it could blind satellites up to 1,500 km above Earth.
He said there were already more powerful systems than Peresvet that could burn up drones and other equipment. Borisov cited a test on Tuesday which he said had burned up a drone 5 km away within five seconds.
“If Peresvet blinds, then the new generation of laser weapons lead to the physical destruction of the target – thermal destruction, they burn up,” he told Russian state television.
Asked if such weapons were being used in Ukraine, Borisov said: “Yes. The first prototypes are already being used there.” He said the weapon was called “Zadira”.
Zelensky laughed at the idea in his address to the country last night, comparing it to the Nazis’ promise of “wunderwaffe” that would snatch victory from the jaws of defeat after the tide turned against them in World War II. Retired Australian Gen. Mick Ryan told WaPo that a laser weapon could in theory take out Ukrainian drones and artillery(!) and even be used as an anti-personnel weapon to blind Ukrainian soldiers. But the U.S. hasn’t yet seen any evidence of its use in Ukraine and Ryan thinks this is more likely to be a Russian psy op than a gamechanging battlefield tool. They’ve tried from the start to “awe the Ukrainians and the West with their supposed superiority,” he said to the Post. “It hasn’t been working until now. It’s probably unlikely to work with an experimental laser system that’s yet to be proven to work.”
An Israeli missile expert is also skeptical, per the BBC. Why resort to lasers in this scenario when conventional weapons will work as well, he wondered?
“Zelensky is right – it’s no wonder weapon,” [Uzi Rabin] told the BBC. “It took them several seconds to shoot the UAV down. There are much better ways to do it, to use a Stinger or any anti-aircraft missile would have been cheaper, faster and longer range.”
Lasers work by sending out a beam of infrared light that heats up its target until it combusts. Dr Rubin said the power of even advanced laser weapons was still too weak to make a significant difference on the battlefield, and such weapons had a low “kill rate”.
If the laser can neutralize the artillery we’ve sent to Ukraine, it’ll be hugely valuable to Russia. Big “if,” though. In lieu of an exit question, read this analysis of how effective U.S. howitzers have already proved to be for the Ukrainians on the battlefield. Remember that Russian fiasco by the Donets River? That was probably the M777’s handiwork.
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