Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko met with defense-industry engineers and designers in Zhytomyr, on March 11, and stressed that Ukraine “needs high-precision missile weapons capable of striking targets far into the rear of the enemy” (President.gov.ua, March 11). In fact, however, the Ukrainian military has been successfully employing such weaponry in the Joint Forces Operation (JFO) area, along with the Donbas frontline, for the past two months.
The Ukrainian war is evolving. What began as an invasion of small groups of Russian special forces, later turned into repeated clashes at checkpoints, and eventually became an almost full-scale war involving heavy artillery, tanks, tactical missiles, and the air force. But following two (Minsk) ceasefire agreements, the conflict in Donbas now resembles World War I–style trench warfare, with both sides dug into fixed, well-equipped positions. In such conditions, high-precision weapons like sniper rifles and guided anti-tank missile systems have become particularly prominent. It is also worth pointing out, however, that unlike heavy artillery or mortars, anti-tank missile systems are not prohibited under the aforementioned Minsk agreements.
Since January 2019, the Armed Forces of Ukraine (AFU) operating in the JFO area have begun to employ greater numbers of domestically produced anti-tank missile systems, including the Stugna-P, Fagot, Bar’er and Corsar. This shift was undertaken in response to two prominent attacks on Ukrainian military vehicles. The first of these attacks, on January 16, near the village of Troyitske (Luhansk region), involved Russian-backed separatists firing off an anti-tank missile, which struck a Ukrainian truck carrying military personnel. Ten soldiers of the AFU’s 72nd mechanized brigade were wounded (Mil.gov.ua, January 17). The second attack occurred near the Luhansk region village of Katerynivka, on January 25. One Ukrainian soldier was killed and four were wounded as a result of this strike on their vehicle (Mil.gov.ua, January 26).
Following these incidents, the Ukrainian Armed Forces launched a massive counteroffensive. On January 29, the AFU destroyed a separatist KAMAZ truck with a Fagot anti-tank missile, near the village of Krymske (Luhansk region) (Mil.gov.ua, January 30). On the same day, a Ukrainian Stugna-P missile destroyed a rebel/Russian armored personnel carrier (APC) armed with a mounted anti-aircraft gun (Facebook.com/generalstaff.ua, January 31). The Ukrainian retaliatory strikes continued with series of successful attacks on bunkers, fortified positions and armored vehicles on February 3, 4, 11, 12, 14, 15, and on March 5 and 11. According to information posted to online social networks, even some separatist field commanders recognized that the AFU had gained a new level of mastery of anti-tank missile systems, even without Javelins from the United States having yet reached the frontlines (Censor.net, March 11).
At the same time, on March 5, the US Senate Armed Services Committee held a hearing to review the administration’s defense authorization request for FY2020, which includes military assistance to Ukraine. Speaking before the committee was, in particular, General Curtis M. Scaparotti, the commander of US European Command who simultaneously serves as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s (NATO) Supreme Allied Commander Europe. General Scaparotti declared that he was “impressed” with the level of training Ukrainian soldiers have already undergone with the Javelin and stressed this anti-tank missile system’s contribution to Ukraine’s security (Eucom.mil, March 5).
During a trip to the JFO area last month, General Viktor Muzhenko, the head of the AFU General Staff, reported that the “newest Ukrainian-made weapons systems have proven their high-precision and quality” (Facebook.com/v.muzhenko, February 14). This was later reiterated by the commander of the JFO effort, General Serhiy Nayev. In a recent interview, he argued that increased use of anti-tank missile systems has been a deliberate part of the rearmament strategy for Ukraine’s mechanized brigades operating on the frontline. According to this strategy, every military unit will be equipped with modern Ukrainian-made anti-tank weapons, and soldiers will be receiving special instruction at the 184th training center, run by the National Academy of Land Forces. In General Nayev’s opinion, the high effectiveness and accuracy of these anti-tank missile systems makes them a particularly strong argument for the two sides to quickly conclude hostilities (Tyzhden.ua, March 1).