Russian artillery is falling quiet in Donbas, if observations by NASA’s fire-detecting satellites are any indication.
Well, quieter. Battered Russian battalions have paused in eastern Ukraine following their successful, if costly, capture of the twin cities of Severodonetsk and Lysychansk earlier this month.
Less intensive operations in Donbas means less demand for supporting artillery. At the same time, the war’s center of gravity could be shifting south as the Ukrainian army—taking advantage of the Russian army’s exhaustion—attacks from Mykolaiv toward the Russian-occupied port of Kherson.
But there could be another reason Russia’s guns are quieter. Ukraine’s new American-made rockets have been blowing up their ammunition.
It wasn’t long after the first of the wheeled, six-round High-Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems arrived in Ukraine than their freshly-trained Ukrainian crews aimed their GPS-guided M30/31 rockets at Russian supply dumps as far as 50 miles behind the main line of contact.
In a month of precise strikes, the Ukrainians’ slowly-growing arsenal of HIMARS—the Americans have pledged 18 of the launchers—has destroyed a hundred high-value targets, an unnamed senior U.S. defense official told CNN on Friday.
It’s not hard to find, on social media, photos and videos of the huge fires resulting from Ukrainian attacks on Russian supplies.
“Judging by the size of those fires, they were brigade, divisional and corps level supply dumps, which are predominantly fuel and ammo,” explained Mike Martin, a fellow with the Department of War Studies at King’s College London.
“Specifically for the Russians and the way that they conduct war—it means a lot of artillery ammunition,” Martin added.
To preserve what’s left of their ammo, the Russians are pulling back supply dumps farther from the front line. A lot farther. “This has one very simple effect,” Martin wrote. “The Russians now have to transport all those supplies, say, 100 kilometers [62 miles] rather than 30 kilometers [19 miles].”
The Russians had too few trucks before losing nearly 1,300 of them in five months of intensive fighting. Now the remaining trucks must travel farther to shift supplies from rear areas to the front.
There’s no getting around it. Russian logisticians are probably beginning to feel the combined tyranny of HIMARS and distance.
Yes, the Russian army deliberately has paused in order to rebuild its front-line battalions. But its artillery batteries have no choice but to pause as their ammo blows up … or at least takes longer to reach them.