Wednesday, January 31, 2024

USAREUR-AF RWOW TROIKA Observations as of 12:00 CET, 24 January 2024

CLASSIFICATION: UNCLASSIFIED USAREUR-AF RWOW TROIKA Observations as of 12:00 CET, 24 January 2024 / 06:00 EST, Day #700 DISCLAIMER: The information provided in Troika Observations is for general informational purposes only and is gathered via Russian and Ukrainian open sources of information. The Troika Team makes no implied guarantee regarding the accuracy or reliability of the sources. The Troika Observations are normally published on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. All operational directions below are usually discussed from north to south and east to west. NOTE: There will be no Troika Observations on Friday 26 January as the Troika will be enroute to Garmisch, Germany for the 7th iteration of the Russian Way of War course for Eurasian FAOs and other select personnel. The Troika Observations will resume on Monday 29 January. Troika Insights (1): (1) Russian Adaptation in UAVs - experimentation from duct tape to supervised learning. The following is from a November 2023 Ukrainian Military EW analyst post on Telegram: Son -"Dad, do you honestly make airplanes?" Dad- "Yes son, and today I'll take you to work, we'll glue on grandma's phone and mom's power bank with duct tape, and we'll watch where the airplane flies." Although meant to be humorous and sarcastic, this post was referring to several Shahed 136 (Geran-2) UAVs which were downed by the UAF in November 2023. The UAVs had a 4G Kyivstar SIM Card, a LTE modem, and two flexible antennas secured to the UAV with black duct tape. While the quality of the rigging of these UAVs appeared to resemble a child's grade school science project, these UAVs reportedly maintained strong signal control while flying through several UAF air defense observation posts. In a larger sense, however, the post also encapsulated ongoing Russian efforts to adapt and test new ideas in UAV use in the Special Military Operation (SMO) while attempting to transcend the UAV technological parity between the two sides and find more effective and lethal UAV uses that can be implemented at scale.             "Judgment Night" - FPV UAVs for night attacks. In late November 2023, videos began to appear on the "Sudoplatov" Telegram channel showing RF AF night attacks against unsuspecting UAF forces using FPV UAVs. The RF AF reportedly purchased "budget" light-sensitive cameras "capable of seeing in the dark with minimal lighting," attached them to their kamikaze FPV UAVs, and experimented with conducting harassing strikes against static and moving Ukrainian soldiers, equipment, and vehicles. Later more expensive and better resolution thermal cameras were added, which increased the effectiveness of the attacks. Although these types of night cameras are well behind traditional UAV video cameras in resolution quality, the resolution seemed to be "good enough" for experienced RF AF UAV operators to acquire and engage targets and disrupt Ukrainian night operations. This presents a significant ongoing challenge for the UAF because of its reliance upon the cover of night to conduct the reorganization, relocation, rotation, and resupply of their units, as well as infiltration operations away from the peering eyes of military and commercial grade UAVs that saturate the battlespace in Ukraine by day. Although these UAV night attacks have not succeeded at a large-scale, they continue and the Troika expects to see more of these harassing types of attacks this year as the Russians continue to experiment with improvements to these UAVs, as well as how to deliver them in larger volumes.             FPV UAVs that learn. A bigger concern for both sides is the development of FPV UAVs with machine vision and automatic target acquisition, an advancement that both Ukraine and Russia are reportedly working on in earnest. FPV UAVs of this type have already been tested in small quantities in the SMO and several Russian enterprises are reportedly working on the development and large-scale implementation of this technology. In essence, it combines a commercial type of "supervised machine learning" with an advanced processor that teaches the UAV to "see" what it is doing and make quick decisions based on what it sees. In this case, the UAV is not deciding which target is to be engaged but making its own adjustments enroute to engage an already selected target. This includes allowing the UAV to detect and avoid obstacles or interference enroute to its target. The UAV operator would no longer have to play a FPV UAV version of "Mario Cart" to chase down targets over terrain and obstacles while being subjected to EW interference attempts to sever the signal between the UAV and the operator. In this case, the UAV operator simply must launch the UAV and fly it toward the desired target. Once the target is selected and "locked," the UAV remembers it and continues the flight on its own to engage the target. The advantages of such an innovation in the current situation in Ukraine are numerous. EW domes and other trench EW systems would be rendered mostly ineffective provided the UAV operator selects the target and releases the UAV at a range beyond the effective range of these EW systems. It also increases both the accuracy of hits on moving targets and the flight range of the UAV, as the loss of communication with the operator once the target is acquired would no longer be a concern. Finally, it would eliminate the need for weeks and even months of FPV UAV operator training required to successfully fly UAVs "manually" to the target. The training time varies among the various types of commercial UAVs, with the more sophisticated FPV UAV models requiring more extensive training to achieve operator proficiency. The RF AF has made a significant investment over the past year in recruiting and training UAV operators for its various military grade and commercial UAVs. Based on recruitment ads that came out in late December 2023, those numbers will continue to grow in 2024. This new capability, whether on a new UAV model or on one or more of the various Russian commercial UAV models already being used (e.g., "VT-40," "Ghoul," or "Gadfly"), could create an additional dilemma for the UAF with minimal personnel recruiting or training investment on the Russian side.             From "Beta" to Production at Scale. Ukraine and Russia have been experimenting at length with UAV development and implementation. The Ukrainians were well ahead of the Russians at the outset of the SMO in commercial UAV use, however the Russians learned (copied from) from the Ukrainians to narrow the gap over time. The key to incorporating these experimental UAV ideas and technologies is to be able to develop and produce them at scale. This is where the Russians have the edge. The Russians have fully mobilized their defense industry and have 20+ years of experience developing and producing military grade UAVs - UAVs that include samples of the best of Israeli and Iranian UAV technologies. There are also well-organized and well-coordinated networks across Russia that have been particularly effective in obtaining, producing, and providing very large quantities of various types of commercial UAVs and FPV UAVs to the RF AF over the past year, and that will continue in 2024. Finally, Russia plans to "double-down" on UAV development and production in 2024 with the commencement of the "Unmanned Aircraft Systems" national project. The plan includes allocating 64 billion rubles ( ~$715 million USD) to the project from 2024 to 2026, for a total of 900 billion rubles (~$9.9 billion USD) investment until 2030. That buys a lot of duct tape. *       NOTE: After the 2008 Russia - Georgia war, Israeli UAV companies partnered with Russian companies and produced UAVs in Russia. By 2010, Israeli Aerospace Industries had a $400 million UAV investment transferring UAV technologies to Russia. The earlier Russian-produced Forpost UAV (a copy of the Israeli Searcher II UAVs built on license) was a result of this bilateral cooperation. Israeli - Russian UAV collaboration slowly died after 2015 when Israeli-designed, Russian-produced UAVs which had been transferred to the Assad government in Syria were shot down by Israeli IDF air defenses on Israel's frontiers. General Observations: - Russian missile attacks on Ukraine. The RF Aerospace Forces (VKS) conducted another predawn missile attack on 23 January against several cities in Ukraine, including Kyiv and Kharkiv. According to the UAF, a total of 41 x missiles were launched in multiple directions. These included the following: 4 x S-300/S-400 missiles launched from the Belgorod region of Russia towards the Kharkiv region; 15 x Kh-101/Kh-555/Kh-55 cruise missiles launched from 6 x TU-95M3 bombers near Engels, Russia; 8 x Kh-22 missiles launched from TU-22M3 bombers operating in the Bryansk and Oryol regions in the direction of Kharkiv and Sumy regions; 12 x Iskander-M ballistic missiles launched from Belgorod and Voronezh regions; and 2 x Kh-59 guided missiles launched from 2 x Su-34 aircraft operating out of the Belgorod region. UAF air defenses reportedly successfully intercepted 21 of the 41 x missiles launched. - The Commander of the RF VKS IL-22M aircraft damaged over the Sea of Azov on 14 January reportedly KIA. Information about the death of MAJ Viktor Klimov appeared on the Facebook page of Russian test pilot Alexander Garnaev, who claimed to have studied with MAJ Klimov's father, Ivan Klimov (also a pilot). MAJ Klimov apparently died from shrapnel wounds suffered during the strike against the aircraft. The co-pilot of the aircraft, also injured in the strike managed to crash land the plane in Anapa, Russia. There has been no official confirmation of Klimov's death. - RF AF continues to look for better anti-UAV protection solutions for armored equipment and other vehicles. The Troika has seen these vehicle protection kits develop over time. These kits include range from basic screens, grills and racks ("BBQ grills") on the top of the vehicle, to complete metal cages over the top of the vehicle with metal screens on the sides. In some cases, the metal cages on the top of RF AF tanks are installed with very little space between the cage and the top of the tank, making it not only extremely difficult for the crew to get in and out of the vehicle through the hatches. Additional explosive reactive armor (ERA) bricks are sometimes applied in select locations. This technique is seen in a recent video where a RF AF T-90M tank not only had the top of the tank completely encased in a large metal protective cage installed very close to the top of the tank (to include over the two top hatches), but the surface of the cage was also completely covered in Kontakt-1 ERA bricks, with the exception of the cage part directly above the two top hatches. - New RF MoD two-year contract scheme for Russian prisoners "opting" to serve in the SMO. Copies of a two-year contract signed in December 2023 by a 27 year old prisoner from Dagestan were posted recently on social media by the Russian Human Rights Organization "" The prisoner was arrested in 2020 for distributing narcotics and sentenced in 2022 to a 14-years in a maximum security penal colony. He was released from the penal colony in December 2023, only after signing a multiple page contract with the RF MoD with an extensive list of obligations to fulfill and was immediately assigned to the RF GF 488th MRR. According to relatives of the prisoner, he had previously resisted serving in the SMO when recruited by PMC Wagner and later when the RF MoD came looking for personnel to fill Storm-Z units. Previously, contracts for prisoners serving in PMC Wagner were 6 x months in length, which then increased to one year for prisoners recruited by MoD to serve in Storm-Z units. *       NOTE: There has been various reporting in recent months of the Federal Penitentiary Service of Russia creating "conditions" in the penal colonies to incentivize prisoners into signing contracts with the RF MoD. Prison officials work closely with the FSB (which has overall authority of the process), the MoD which coordinates recruitment, and the Ministry of Interior which fast tracks required documentation. In the case of the prisoner from Dagestan, his new passport was issued on 15 December 2023, eight days before he signed his two-year contract. Operational Directions. Sloviansk Operational Direction (Belgorod, Valyuki, Kupyansk, Svatove, Kreminna, Lysychansk, Bakhmut, Donbas North): - RF GF 47th TD reinforced itself at Krokhmalne and 5.5 km to the northwest which 153rd TR / 47th TD captured last Saturday, 19 January. 47th TD cut the P-07 road east of Tabaivka, the main road between Kupyansk and Svatove, 25km southeast of Kupyansk, 20 km northwest of Svatove, and 5 km northwest of Novoselivske. This left isolated UAF units defending west of RF GF 1st GTA-controlled Novoselivske, 17 km northwest of Svatove. - Back-and-forth fighting continued Monday, south of Bilohorivka, north-northeast of Bakhmut at Vesele, Spirne, and Rozdolivka between RF GF 2nd Guards Army Corps and UAF. Donetsk Operational Direction (Donetsk, Vuhledar, Donbas South, Mariupol): - On the RF GF 8th GCAA's northern axis to double envelop Avdiivka, 2nd GCAA attacks west toward Stepove have temporarily stopped. Based on recent videos, UAF has spent several days clearing RF GF 15th Motorized Rifle Brigade bunkers, abandoned WIAs, and abandoned stay-behinds. - On Monday, 22 January, RF GF continued to attack south at Kamianka (3 km northeast of Avdiivka) as part of an apparent shallow envelopment of east Avdiivka. - Friday through Sunday, 19 through 21 January, RF GF 87th Rifle Regiment attacked and advanced north in intense fighting to the "Hunter's Lodge," 500m south of Avdiivka's southernmost neighborhood (north of Spartak). UAF controls the area to the northeast in "the Winery," between 87th Rifle Regiment and RF GF 1st Motorized Rifle Brigade ("the Sloviansk Brigade) /1st Army Corps in the industrial area ("the Promka") 1 km southeast of downtown Avdiivka. The fight at the Hunter's Lodge seems to have the UAF's complete attention. - Southwest of Avdiivka, RG GF 9th Motorized Rifle Brigade / 1st Army Corps continued its attacks west towards downtown and northwest toward downtown from Pisky. Zaporizhzhia Operational Direction (Zaporizhzhia, Melitopol, Berdyansk): NSTR South Kherson Operational Direction (Mykolaiv, Kherson, Nova Kakhovka): NSTR Supplemental Observations: - RF VKS aircraft accidentally dropped a bomb in Belgorod Oblast: On 21 January, a RF VKS aircraft accidentally dropped a FAB-250 bomb on a dam near the village of Ionovka, Belgorod Oblast, Russia causing partial destruction of the dam. No casualties were reported.


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