What you need to know about the weapons of the Ukrainian arsenal
Russian war machines, from tanks to helicopters to artillery, have figured prominently in the war in Ukraine since it began a week ago. In fact, as of October 2021, it was the assembly of these weapons along the border with Ukraine that first suggested to the outside world that Russia was planning a bigger invasion than just its continued support. to the breakaway republics in the east of the country.
Since the invasion, Ukrainian forces have destroyed many of these tanks, helicopters and artillery pieces. It is difficult to get an accurate number of destroyed equipment. Governments in a war have every interest in exaggerating the achievements of their own forces and minimizing their own losses. This is compounded by “fog of war”, a military term for the uncertainty of information in the event of conflict. This uncertainty can cover the location of enemies, whether the militias are friendly or not, and even whether an abandoned tank was destroyed in combat or simply left on the road because it ran out of fuel.
Despite the uncertainty, understanding some of the weapons used by forces fighting in Ukraine can help shed light on the wider conflict. Here are three weapon systems and how they have been observed so far.
The Strela anti-aircraft missile
Germany, which before the invasion had promised military support of only 5,000 helmets to Ukraineannounced on March 3 that it would send 2,700 Strela anti-aircraft missiles to the Ukrainian army.
First developed by the Soviet Union, Strela weapons are a kind of MANPADS, or man-portable air defense system. They are fired from a shoulder-mounted tube. The first Strela missiles were deployed in 1968, and the weapons were fielded by many Soviet-aligned armies, including East Germany, a different nation from the rest of Germany from 1949 to 1990. weapons that Germany gives to Ukraine date back to this East German arsenal, which makes them at least 31 years old.
There are three main variants of the Strela missile, and all use infrared sensors to track targets. The first version of the Strela, the Strela-2, used an infrared sensor to track the engines of helicopters and other aircraft. (Confusingly, the Strela-1 is an unrelated anti-aircraft weapon vehicle that also debuted in 1968.) Because it had to seek out engines and their heat, the missile was primarily used for shoot at the rear of the planes, after they had already passed on an attack run. This sensor was easily confused by flares, which an aircraft could set off to divert the missile from its course. The Strela-2M and Strela 3 versions are sophisticated enough to somewhat distinguish aircraft and flare engines, and can also be fired at approaching or fleeing aircraft.
As the most advanced version, the Strela 3 can strike aircraft from altitudes as low as 33 feet up to 9,800 feet and range as close as 1,600 feet at 2.6 miles. This makes the weapon most useful against helicopter or low-level jet attacks, and possibly of some use against drones as well, although when the Strela was developed, drones from modern military combat were still decades in the future.
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The age of these weapons means the batteries used to power the missile launcher may have worn out and degraded since they were built. In 2014, The New York Times reported that the Rebels using Strelas had resorted to recharging the batteries themselves.
The NLAW anti-tank weapon
Luxembourg, a small country in Western Europe and a founding member of the NATO military alliance, announced on February 28 that it was Sending in progress “100 NLAW anti-tank weapons, jeeps and 15 military tents to Ukraine.” The 15 tents, sent from a country with a smaller population than the city of Louisville, have attracted a lot of attention and humor on the internet, but the anti-tank weapons stand out as direct aid of the type sought by Ukrainian forces.
The NLAW, for “Next generation Light Anti-tank Weapon”, is produced by the Swedish defense firm SAAB and the British defense giant Thales. It’s portable, with a manufacturer-promised range of 65 feet to nearly half a mile.
NLAWs have been seen in use before, with Russian media reporting the capture of one by Russian soldiers, and with a widely circulated clip of a Ukrainian soldier holding an NLAW and walking through a street full of destroyed vehicles.
The NLAW is just one of many anti-tank weapons used in the conflict. US-produced Javelin shoulder missiles are popular among militaries who have access to them, including Ukraine. These missiles have already been turned into memes for their use in destroying tanks and the people inside.
The TB-2 Bakraytar drone
Manufactured by the Turkish defense company Baykar, the TB-2 Bakraytar was used during the war by Turkey, Azerbaijan and Ukraine. The drone is a remotely operated vehicle, with a ground crew of three operating it.
The TB-2, used by Azerbaijan, contributed to that country’s success in the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh War against Armenia. Part of that comes from the usefulness of the drone: the TB-2 can fly for up to 27 hours, at a distance of more than 90 miles from where it was launched. In addition to optical and infrared cameras, the TB-2 can carry up to 330 pounds of laser-guided missiles and rockets, including anti-tank rockets.
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As Ukraine has used TB-2 drones in its long war against separatists in the east of the country, drones have taken on new importance in the invasion, thanks in large part to spectacular recorded footage by drones. A such videoapparently recorded from the ground control station of a TB-2, shows the drone dropping weapons on a Russian Buk anti-aircraft missile truck.
For operators, the drone also offers another tool: the military has chosen to selectively broadcast the images recorded by the TB-2. This imagery, in part, may exaggerate the influence of drones on battlefield outcomes, building the mythology of the weapon apart from its actual importance.
What has this meant for the war so far?
It is difficult to know which weapons caused which deaths during the war. While drone video footage offers clear evidence, a full understanding of the impact of bombs and missiles on people, vehicles and buildings will come later.
For now, broad estimates of the dead and wounded offer a first assessment of the human cost of war. As of March 2, the United Nations reported 752 confirmed civilian deaths in Ukraine and noted that this was likely an undercount. Russia’s Defense Ministry has confirmed that at least 498 of its soldiers have died so far in the war, while Ukraine claimed to have killed at least 5,300 Russian troops as of March 1. The US government has estimated the war dead so far at 2,000 Russian troops and around 1,500 on the Ukrainian side.