Ukrainian Combat Formations Cherry-Pick High-Priority Russian Tactical Assets – Analysis


Russia hit Ukraine with an unprecedented barrage of Iran-manufactured loitering munitions. Ukrainian forces demonstrated notable innovations in robotic warfare. Mounting armor losses in Avdiivka forced the Russian military to alter its offensive operations there.

By Can Kasapoğlu

1. Battlefield Update

The Ukrainian front lines held firm this week, with defensive operations dominating the battlefield everywhere except in the Kherson sector. There, Ukraine’s counteroffensive picked up steam at the tactical level along the Orikhiv assault axis. 

Ukrainian combat formations have begun to cherry-pick high-priority Russian tactical assets, predominantly using first-person view (FPV) drones to inflict damage. Ukraine’s target set includes TOS-1A thermobaric rocket launcher systemsRussian drone warfare command-and-control nodes, and air defense systems. In reporting on their TOS-1A kills, Ukrainian sources drew attention to this weapons system’s role in disrupting Ukrainian bridgeheads along the Dnipro River. 

Russian forces sustained their push near Avdiivka and the eastern sector, escalating combat action near Bakhmut despite achieving limited advancements. The intensity of the shelling there remained high, suggesting that Russia is likely relying on supplies of shells from North Korea. Nonetheless, there have been no strategic alterations in the overall battlefield geometry. 

In the northeast, Russian assaults continued without territorial gains. Elsewhere in this region, ground activity was minimal, with no significant changes evident. In the south, both sides registered some progress, leading to limited changes of territory. Russian air strikes sustained their assault on civilian targets, with a continued focus on Ukrainian infrastructure in Kharkiv Oblast.

Importantly, Ukrainian detachments held their bridgeheads along the Dnipro’s left bank, indicating that Russian efforts to halt the cross-river operation have failed for now. Yet Ukrainian forces also made no significant territorial advances in the region, raising the possibility of another stalemate. It seems that the Ukrainian General Staff is willing to maintain its Dnipro bridgeheads at a tactical scale in preparation for a reloaded offensive, when it could deploy a meaningful number of follow-on forces to exploit the opportunity that the bridgeheads provide. 

2. Heavy Armor Losses Force Russia to Change Tactics in Avdiivka

After sacrificing a multitude of armored vehicles in the push to capture Avdiivka, the Russian military has been forced to change tactics, opting now for dismounted infantry assaults to attempt to take the city. The Russian high command’s initial armored assaults led to substantial attrition, with estimates suggesting a loss of over 200 tanks in three weeks by early November. In contrast, Ukrainian losses have remained comparatively minimal. 

Russia may also be experiencing similar levels of personnel losses. According to US estimates, several thousand Russian troops have lost their lives in the push for Avdiivka since early October; open-source intelligence also points to a rise in the number of small tactical infantry groups deployed in the region. Nonetheless, Russia’s offensive has made only minimal progress. And despite heavy losses, Moscow continues to pursue marginal gains at a high human cost, as it did in executing the meat grinder strategy it employed in the fight for Bakhmut.

Ukraine’s strategic deployment of the 47th and 53rd Mechanized Brigades, alongside artillery units, has fortified Avdiivka’s flanks. Combined with constant surveillance by Ukrainian drones married to a boosted artillery presence in the field, this has challenged Russian advances through an exposed, flat battleground. Ukraine’s effective anti-armor weaponry, mines, and cluster munitions have also impeded Russia’s efforts around Avdiivka. 

3. Kyiv Suffers Large-Scale Attacks by Iran-Designed Kamikaze Drones

On November 25, Russia attacked Kyiv with over 70 Iran-designed kamikaze drones, marking a new record since the outset of the ongoing war. The Ukrainian Air Force announced that it successfully intercepted 71 of the 75 Shahed-136 and Shahed-131 loitering munitions. Yet despite the high interception rate, around four kamikaze drones breached Ukrainian defenses, injuring five civilians and damaging dozens of buildings.

Open-source intelligence suggests that Ukraine conducted a large-scale drone attack of its own against Russia on November 26, most likely in retaliation for the strikes on Kyiv. Reportedly, Ukraine’s attacks targeted various cities, including Tula, Bryansk, and Moscow itself. 

As the drone plant operated jointly by Russia and Iran ramps up its activities and likely delivers thousands of loitering munitions, Russian drone salvos targeting Ukraine will likely increase. 

4. The Ukrainian Military Generates a Fast and Lightweight Combat Formation

German Leopard 1A5 tanks are now flowing into the Ukrainian Armed Forces’ arsenal in significant numbers. Recent open-source intelligence confirms the 44th Mechanized Brigade as the first recipient of the light but agile tanks. 

Scheduled to operate both the Leopard 1A5 and the Polish Wolverine armored vehicle by next year, the 44th Brigade has become a key unit in Ukraine’s evolving military strategy. An alliance of German, Dutch, and Danish contributors has supported the refurbishment and deployment of nearly 200 Leopard 1A5s, a remnant of the 1980s, to support Ukrainian troops on the front lines.

But even when these tanks arrive, Ukraine’s brigades will be unevenly equipped. The Leopard 1A5’s 105-millimeter guns are efficient, but its armor, only 70 millimeters thick at its broadest point, presents a significant vulnerability. Similarly, the Wolverine’s design prioritizes mobility over armor, compromising its defensive capabilities. Therefore, while the 44th Brigade will feature high mobility and agility, it may be ill-equipped for heavy combat scenarios. 

Yet Ukraine’s success on the battlefield will depend on more than armor. Other critical factors will also play a vital role, including artillery ammunition supply, mine-reconnaissance capabilities, and command leadership. Without establishing a clear advantage in artillery firepower, Ukraine’s reloaded counteroffensive will risk remaining slow and fragile. Mine detection and clearance are also vital for armored operations. Therefore, advanced reconnaissance techniques and engineer support will be crucial for maneuvering beyond defensive lines.

5. As Ukraine Innovates with Drones, Russia Attempts to Follow Suit 

Ukraine’s robotic warfare concept of operations (CONOPS) is becoming increasingly innovative. Kyiv’s use of mobile and silent remote-controlled ground drones demonstrates this progress. Hidden in trenches, these drones reportedly feature a heat sensor that detonates when Russian troops range within its impact radius. Another remarkable innovation in unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) recently unveiled by Ukraine’s Ministry of Digital Transformation is the Backfire drone. Mykhailo Fedorov, the head of the ministry, has praised the UAV, which possesses a range of 35 kilometers, for being impossible to jam.

Russia will undoubtedly continue trying to outmatch Ukraine’s efforts in the electromagnetic spectrum. To counterbalance Kyiv’s growing prowess in unmanned warfare, Moscow is now incorporating portable radio jammers into its assault tactics, as recent footage of two destroyed MT-LB armored vehicles featuring these assets demonstrates. While the jammers didn’t prevent the vehicles’ destruction—which could have been caused by mines, artillery, or battery failure—they may have temporarily impeded Ukrainian drone operations.

  • About the author: Can Kasapoğlu is a Hudson Senior Fellow 
  • Source: This article was published by the Hudson Institute

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