Days after Ukraine rattled Russia by carrying out long-range precision strikes using its newly acquired ATACMS, Russian airborne forces withdrew their attack helicopters guarding the frontline and conducting assaults on Ukrainian positions.
Speaking on Ukrainian national television, Oleksiy Danilov, secretary of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council (NSDC), said that the Russian forces have reduced their use of attack helicopters on the battlefield in the wake of Ukrainian ATACMS missile strikes on Russian airfields in occupied Luhansk and Berdyansk, New Voice of Ukraine reported.
“When we began receiving ATACMS, the application of the first batch exceeded all expectations,” said Danilov. “Note that air attacks, particularly by helicopters, against our troops have diminished following this.”Furthermore, Danilov said the Russians withdrew a sizable number of their helicopters from seized Crimea to other “safe places.”
Ukraine employed ATACMS to target two air bases in areas that have been under Russian control since last year. In the aftermath of the attack, it was confirmed by intelligence agencies and OSINT groups that strikes destroyed nine Russian attack choppers, including seven Ka-52 Alligator attack helicopters and two Mi-8 transport helicopters. In addition to these, another 15 were claimed to have received some damages.
The Russians have since withdrawn and relocated their helicopters beyond the range of ATACMS, according to claims swirling in Ukrainian media. A former Ukrainian Aidar Battalion platoon commander, Yevhen Dykyi, said, “The greater significance lies in the fact that they’ll now be compelled to relocate to more distant airfields, as these two could become targets again at any given moment.”
This may be significant given that Russia has extensively deployed choppers along the frontline. The Ka-52 Alligator became one of the biggest impediments for Ukraine’s western-grade main battle tanks (MBTs) and Infantry Fighting Vehicles (IFVs), with their lethal gunships aiming mercilessly at Kyiv’s ground troops as they tried advancing to retake occupied territory.
A Ukrainian army company drove into a minefield and came under fire from Alligators in one of the early clashes of the operation near Orikhiv in the Zaporizhzhia region. They lost six Bradley infantry fighting vehicles supplied by the US and a German-built Leopard 2 tank.
Military experts have noted on multiple occasions that Ukraine was unable to match Russia’s “potent technique” of using helicopters to strike hostile armor, due to which it needed better air support, including by NATO’s F-16 and preferably by Apache helicopters.
Berdyansk, which the ATACMS targeted, lay 100 kilometers from Orikhiv and was used as a leading base for rotary wing operations by Russia, especially at the time when Ukraine embarked on its counteroffensive in June. The Alligators that took off from these frontline bases gained a tactical advantage as they fired longer-range missiles against ground targets.
The impact was such that a senior research fellow, Justin Bronk, of the London-based think tank Royal United Services Institute, observed that Russian helicopters equipped with anti-tank guided missiles “were always going to be a much greater threat to Ukrainian forces during a counteroffensive than during periods when Ukraine was defending against Russian attacks.”
“They can hover, spot for targets, and fire anti-tank guided missiles from beyond the range of shoulder-fired Manpads or anti-aircraft fire,” Bronk said.
Although Ukraine eventually started using longer-range missiles supplied by the UK and France to hit targets farther from the frontline, the initial advantage was skewed in Russia’s favor.
This might explain why Kyiv’s forces chose to strike Russian attack choppers parked at the airfields, going by the same old mantra of destroying them while they are on the ground, as observed in previous attacks on other Russian airfields.
The ATACMS Advantage Is Finally Home!
The White House refused Ukraine’s demands for these long-range missiles for more than a year since the war started. The apprehension mainly stemmed from the fear that Ukraine might employ the long-range missile versions to target deep within Russian territory, triggering an escalation with Russia and the US itself becoming party to the conflict.
But this view has now changed, in part because France and Britain have relinquished their inhibitions and provided comparable long-range air missiles. Their deployment in combat did not elicit a substantial reaction from Russia, as was warned by the Kremlin, prompting a rethink of the situation in the Pentagon.
As previously noted by EurAsian Times, as compared to the Su-24M launch platform of the Storm Shadow, the HIMARS launch platform of the ATACMS is also significantly affordable. ATACMS is also more convenient since the HIMARS can launch it anywhere.
Moreover, Since the ATACMS launchers are highly challenging to find and destroy, the supply of ATACMS to Ukraine will present a significant challenge to Russian forces, making their delivery to Kyiv all the more reasons to worry for Russian troops.
A small quantity of these missiles have already arrived in Ukraine, where they are being used against Russian forces. The type of ATACMS missile sent to Ukraine, reportedly in limited quantities, has been designed as a cluster munition, releasing 950 small bomblets capable of causing widespread damage.
The repercussions of the recent attacks have been felt as far as in the Kremlin. President Putin questioned the US decision to supply Kyiv with rockets, particularly the Army Tactical Missile Systems (ATACMS).
He pondered, “If Russia loses the war, why would [Washington] supply [Kyiv] with ATACMS missiles? Let them take back ATACMS and all other weapons, sit down to pancakes, and come to us for a tea party.
“If the war is lost, what are we talking about? Why ATACMS? Ask them this question. Well, it’s ridiculous,” the Russian president added. The president of Russia also denounced the United States for intensifying its intervention in the Ukrainian crisis, saying that arming Kyiv with long-range ATACMS missiles was a mistake.
This is not the first time that the Ukrainians have managed to hit high-value targets. Russia’s Black Sea Fleet headquarters in Crimea has come under attack several times, forcing Moscow to withdraw submarines and frigates much as it has now withdrawn the Sevastopol port in Crimea.