Russian Weapon System Tactics Changes in Invasion of Ukraine 

Russian Weapon System Tactics Changes in Invasion of Ukraine 

In the past 90 days, Russian forces in Ukraine have significantly altered their tactics, increasing the use of guided glide bombs, infantry-heavy assaults, and drone warfare. These strategic shifts demand vigilant monitoring and adaptive responses to ensure effective defense and stability.

Over the past 90 days, the conflict in Ukraine has seen significant shifts in Russian weapon usage and tactics, reflecting both strategic adaptations by Russian forces and their responses to evolving battlefield dynamics. Key changes include an increased reliance on guided glide bombs, a shift towards infantry-heavy frontal assaults, sustained long-range precision fires, strategic adaptations to Western weaponry, enhanced drone warfare, and persistent nuclear and asymmetrical threats. These adjustments profoundly impact Ukrainian defenses and the broader strategic landscape, underscoring the evolving nature of the conflict. 

Increased Use of Guided Glide Bombs 

One of the most notable changes has been the increased use of guided glide bombs by Russian forces. This shift has enabled Russia to conduct strikes from a distance, minimizing the risk to their aircraft while delivering precision hits. The FAB-1500 (see FAB-1500 design in Figure 1), a Soviet-era bomb modified with a glide kit, has been particularly devastating, creating craters up to 15 meters wide and inflicting severe damage on Ukrainian defenses. [Guardian, WSJ] Videos from the Donetsk region show these bombs hitting power plants, factories, and coordination centers, significantly disrupting Ukrainian operations. 

To counter this threat, Ukraine and its allies have focused on enhancing air defense capabilities. The United States has prioritized the delivery of Patriot air defense interceptors to Ukraine, with hundreds of Patriot and National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile Systems (NASAMS) munitions expected to be delivered over the next 16 months. [BBC

Figure 1: FAB-1500M54 freefall bomb design. Source: defence-blog.com

Infantry-Heavy Frontal Assault Tactics

The Russian military has increasingly relied on infantry-heavy frontal assault tactics. This approach, characterized by mass infantry movements supported by artillery and limited armored support, has blurred the distinctions between various Russian combat services, reducing the operational efficacy of frontline troops. Despite high casualty rates, this tactic has allowed Russian forces to maintain pressure on Ukrainian defenses.

This shift in tactics has also led to significant losses among Russian infantry units, which are often deployed with minimal preparation and support (see estimates of Russian losses in Figure 2). The over-reliance on infantry assaults has been a notable trend in recent Russian military operations in Ukraine, exacerbating the already high casualty rates and straining Russian military resources. [ISW]

Figure 2: Ukrainian published estimates of Russian losses. Source: Ukrainian MoD

Use of Long-Range Precision Fires

Russia continues to employ long-range precision fires, including ballistic and cruise missiles, to target Ukrainian forces and infrastructure. Despite Western sanctions, Russia has managed to maintain a steady supply of electronic components necessary for producing these precision weapons. Russian factories are reportedly producing over 100 long-range precision ballistic and cruise missiles per month (see changes in Russian spending in Figure 3).

The sustained use of these weapons has had a devastating impact on Ukrainian infrastructure and civilian areas, further complicating the humanitarian crisis in the region. The ability to produce and deploy such a high volume of precision munitions highlights the resilience of Russia’s military-industrial complex despite ongoing international efforts to disrupt its supply chains. [ISW]

Figure 3: Russia’s reported spending before and after its invasion of Ukraine. Source: Pravda

Adaptation to Western Weaponry

In response to the evolving conflict, Ukraine’s allies have adjusted their policies regarding the use of Western-supplied weapons. The Biden administration has covertly authorized Ukraine to use U.S.-supplied weapons for retaliatory strikes against Russian forces, particularly around Kharkiv (U.S. supplied systems include the HIMARS depicted in Figure 4). This policy shift allows Ukraine to better defend its territory and respond to Russian aggression. [AP, BBC]

This adaptation has already yielded positive results, with Ukrainian forces pushing back Russian positions and fortifying their own defenses. However, Ukrainian commanders continue to request the lifting of restrictions on the use of long-range guided missiles, such as ATACMS, to further enhance their operational capabilities. [AP]

Figure 4: U.S. HIMARS system included in Ukrainian military assistance. Source: Getty Images

Drone Warfare

To sustain its invasion, Russia is ramping up production at drone factories to ensure a sufficient supply of systems like the Shahed-136, which has been used extensively as a cheap cruise missile (see Figure 5 for Shahed production over time). These drones have played a crucial role in both reconnaissance and offensive operations, targeting Ukrainian positions and infrastructure from a distance. The Shahed-136, in particular, has been integral to Russia’s strategy, allowing for persistent surveillance and precision strikes without risking manned aircraft. [Defense News Army 2024]

In response to this evolving threat, Ukraine has also been enhancing its drone capabilities, but the scale and speed of Russian drone production pose a continuous challenge. The mass production of drones is aimed at maintaining a steady supply to support ongoing operations, making drone warfare a central element of Russia’s strategy in Ukraine. [Al Jazeera]

Figure 5: Russia has been ramping up production at drone factories to sustain its invasion of Ukraine. Source: ResearchGate

Threats of Nuclear and Asymmetrical Responses

Russian President Vladimir Putin has reiterated Moscow’s readiness to use nuclear weapons if it perceives a threat to its sovereignty and territorial integrity. Additionally, Putin has warned of potential asymmetrical responses, such as arming other nations to strike Western targets, in retaliation for NATO allies supplying Ukraine with long-range weapons (see Russia’s ICBM arsenal in Figure 6).

These threats have added a dangerous dimension to the conflict, increasing tensions between Russia and NATO countries. The potential for escalation underscores the importance of careful diplomatic and military strategies to manage the situation and prevent further instability in the region. [ISW]

Figure 6: Russia’s ICBM arsenal. Source: YouTube, The Buzz

The recent shifts in Russian weapon usage and tactics in Ukraine highlight the dynamic and evolving nature of the conflict. These changes not only reflect Russia’s strategic adaptations but also underscore the persistent threat posed to Ukrainian defenses and the broader regional stability. From guided glide bombs and infantry-heavy assaults to enhanced drone warfare and nuclear threats, these tactics illustrate the complexity and severity of the ongoing conflict.

To stay ahead of these evolving threats, it is crucial for defense professionals and analysts to have access to timely and accurate intelligence. 3GIMBALS offers cutting-edge persistent monitoring through our OMEN™ solution, providing comprehensive insights into these changing dynamics. By leveraging OMEN™, you can stay ahead of adversaries, ensuring informed decision-making and robust defense strategies. Contact 3GIMBALS today to learn more about how our innovative technologies can help you monitor and respond to evolving threats, enhancing your operational capabilities and strategic planning in the face of modern conflicts.

Curious? Read more

We saw you looking. Contact us.