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[l] at 4/12/24 8:16pm
The Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps on April 13 launched multiple waves of cruise missile, ballistic missile and drone attacks on military facilities in Israel and the Israeli-held Golan heights, with these intended to “hit and destroy” multiple “important military targets.” The strikes have exclusively targeted military sites, primarily those in the Golan Heights and an air base in the Negev Desert, with the desert facility having reportedly been used to launch an Israeli air strike on an Iranian diplomatic building in Syria on April 1. An Iranian response to the attack has been anticipated for almost two weeks since, with the Israeli attack having killed a brigadier general in the elite Quds Force of the country’s Revolutionary Guard Corps Mohammad Reza Zahedi, and ten other Iranians including several long serving diplomats and General Zahedi’s deputy General Haji Rahimi. The Iranian retaliatory strike also came a day after an exchange of artillery and missile fire and drone strikes between Israel and the Iranian aligned Lebanese Hezbollah paramilitary forces. Hezbollah has reportedly launched limited rocket artillery attacks to support Iranian attacks on April 13, with this potentially intended to help overwhelm Israeli air defences.Footage of Iranian strikes has shown missiles having penetrated deep inside Israeli airspace, including over the country’s parliament building, the Knesset, in the heavily defended Sheikh Bar district of West Jerusalem. With the strikes launched under Operation True Promise, the Revolutionary Guard Corps reported regarding its scale: "The IRGC’s Aerospace Division launched tens of missiles and drones against certain targets" within Israel. Reports indicate that over 100 drones were used. While Israel widely jammed GPS across large areas of the country, Iranian cruise missiles are known to have inertial terrain following guidance capabilities allowing them to engage pre-programmed targets without inputs from satellites or supporting aircraft. Israeli authorities have pledged a "clear and decisive" response to the Iranian strikes, although it remains uncertain whether an escalatory spiral could lead to full scale war between the two states. While Iran is expected to continue to be supported by Hezbollah, neighbouring Syria, and various allied militia groups across the region, in particular in Iraq and Yemen, Israel is likely to be strongly supported by multiple NATO member states including Britain, Turkey and the United States.Spokesperson for the National Security Council at the White House Adrienne Watson stated following the first waves of Iranian strikes: “Iran has begun an airborne attack against Israel. President Biden is being regularly updated on the situation by his national security team and will meet with them this afternoon at the White House. His team is in constant communication with Israeli officials as well as other partners and allies… This attack is likely to unfold over a number of hours. President Biden has been clear: our support for Israel’s security is ironclad. The United States will stand with the people of Israel and support their defence against these threats from Iran." Multiple reports indicate that Israeli air defence efforts have been significantly bolstered by American support, including provision of data warning of the launch of drones and missiles shortly after they left the ground in Iran, and active responses by American air defences to shoot down incoming targets. Jordanian forces, which have been closely aligned with the U.S. and Israel against Iran and its allies have also contributed to shooting down missiles on course to Israel. U.S. President Joe Biden claimed regarding American involvement in air defence efforts: “At my direction, to support the defence of Israel, the U.S. military moved aircraft and ballistic missile defence destroyers to the region over the course of the past week. Thanks to these deployments and the extraordinary skill of our servicemembers, we helped Israel take down nearly all of the incoming drones and missiles.”American support is expected to be of particular value should Israel seek to mount a response by striking targets in Iran, with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps having explicitly warned the U.S. that “any support” Washington provided to Israel in “harming Iran’s interests” would be met with a “decisive” response. The United States began a sudden and very large military buildup in the Middle East from early October, which at the time included deployment of a Marine Rapid Response Force led by the amphibious carrier USS Bataan, two U.S. carrier strike groups led by Nimitz and Gerald Ford class nuclear powered supercarriers, A-10 attack jets from the 354th Fighter Squadron, F-15E strike fighters, Patriot and THAAD air defence systems, and a range of other aerial warfare assets. While American officers are confirmed to have been deployed to advise Israeli forces on the ground, and drones have been deployed for the first time for operations over the Gaza Strip, American special forces are also reported to have engaged Palestinian militias in combat in support of Israeli forces. While Israel’s capability for strikes on Iranian territory remains relatively limited, the U.S. retains a wide range of assets in the region capable of striking Iranian targets. Israel’s own independent strike capability against Iran is also set to be expanded considerably with the sale of F-15EX fighters which are by far the longest ranged in the Western world, with American approval for such a deal reported in early April to be imminent.

[Author: ibbs.8t@gmail.com (Military Watch Editorial Staff)] [Category: Middle East, Missile and Space]

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[l] at 4/12/24 4:27am
On April 12 the Lebanese paramilitary group Hezbollah fired several dozen rocket artillery rounds on targets in northern Israel, with the attack supplemented by strikes from single use ‘kamikaze’ drones. Approximately 40 rockets were fired, with Hezbollah stating that these were launched in response to Israeli air strikes on the villages of Aita Al Shaab and Al Taybeh earlier in the evening. The represents the latest in a series of hostilities between the two parties, with Hezbollah on April 6 having shot down two Israeli surveillance drones over Lebanon, the Hermes 900 and Hermes 450, in one of the most significant demonstrations of its air defence capabilities in its history. Protracted skirmishes between the two parties since October 2023 have seen Hezbollah demonstrate increasingly advanced military capabilities, including use of drones and artillery to suppress Israeli Iron Dome air defence batteries on multiple occasions, and the use of precision guided rocket artillery to disable a key airbase in early January. Hezbollah on January 25 for the first time also demonstrated the use of sophisticated ‘fire and forget’ anti tank weapons to strike Israeli armour. Hezbollah’s latest strike comes as U.S. and Israeli sources have warned of an imminent Iranian attack on Israel, in retaliation for an Israeli attack on an Iranian diplomatic building in neighbouring Syria on April 1. The attack killed a brigadier general in the elite Quds Force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps Mohammad Reza Zahedi, who had played a key role in overseeing and supporting paramilitary operations in support of the Syrian state and worked closely with Hezbollah. The militia has been credited with having dealt Israel the only defeat in its history during a 34 day war from July-August 2006, and subsequently from 2013 played a central role supporting Syrian government counterinsurgency efforts against militants supported by Israel and many of its allies within NATO including Turkey, France and the United States. Although Hezbollah’s forces are strongly influenced by North Korean military thought, and make extensive use of Korean weaponry, they have consistently coordinated closely with and are heavily funded by Iran.

[Author: ibbs.8t@gmail.com (Military Watch Editorial Staff)] [Category: Ground, Middle East]

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[l] at 4/10/24 5:26am
Russian defence conglomerate Rostec is developing a successor to the TOS-1A 220 millimetre thermobaric rocket artillery system, following the significant attention the asset’s combat performance in the Ukrainian theatre has gained. Rostec Industrial Director of Weapon Systems Bekhan Ozdoev stated on April 8 confirmed that the first prototype of the system had already been built, with the Omsktransmash factory having already filed an application to register the trademark TOS-3 ‘Dragon’ - the designation of the new system. Ozdoev revealed regarding the system’s ongoing development: "For example, everyone knows the TOS-1 Solntsepyok and TOS-2 Tosochka heavy flamethrower systems. These are powerful weapons that have performed well in the special military operation zone. We are now working on the creation of a new TOS-3 heavy flamethrower system. A promising vehicle on a tracked base will be equipped with a new launcher. This will increase the firing range and use new ammunition.”The TOS-1A’s capabilities have notably been improved significant over time, with CEO of the Signal Research Institute Vladimir Pimenov having revealed shortly before Director Ozdoev’s statement that a new navigation system had “improved operating accuracy to a few meters.” "CBR [Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Protection] troops asked whether we have research solutions for greater flexibility of Solntsepyok operation at firing positions. We offered our positioning system, which makes it possible to reduce combat time at a firing position without the combat vehicle leaving by a crew and a commander," he elaborated. The TOS-1A’s thermobaric ammunition works by dispersing a gaseous cloud of chemicals into the air which are then detonated by a vacuum explosive, releasing a high pressure shock wave that sucks air out of confined areas with tremendous force. This is optimal for neutralising enemy ground forces in fortified positions, and can destroy buildings, caves, trenches and other fortifications while rupturing the lungs of all present in the vicinity. The system has gained more attention in the Ukrainian theatre the arguably any other asset in the Russian ground forces, and has been supplemented by growing use of high payload thermobaric glide bombs such as the ODAB-500 dropped by Russian fighters to clear Ukrainian and allied forces out of fortified positions. 

[Author: ibbs.8t@gmail.com (Military Watch Editorial Staff)] [Category: Eastern Europe and Central Asia, Ground]

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[l] at 4/10/24 4:23am
On April 9 following years of speculation regarding the future of the Serbian fighter fleet the country’s president Aleksandar Vucic said that had “reached concrete agreements regarding the purchase of the Rafale fighter jets” during talks with his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron. “The contract is expected to be signed in the next two months and in the presence of the president of France,” he stated. It remains uncertain whether these aircraft will replace or serve alongside the country’s current fleet of 14 MiG-29 fighters, the newest of which were donated in 2017 from Russian stocks and modernised to a ‘4+ generation’ standard. If the MiGs are retained it would open up the possibility that Serbia will operate both Russian and NATO standard fighters simultaneously, as many neutral states such as India, Egypt, Malaysia and Indonesia have done. Neutral states including Serbia have come under considerable pressure from across the Western world not to purchase of Russian military hardware, with Belgrade having been threatened with American economic sanctions much as India, Egypt, and several others have been. These threats notably derailed plans for the acquisition of S-400 air defence systems from Russia, although in that case Serbia avoided fostering reliance on Western equipment and instead purchased HQ-22 systems from China. It was previously speculated that Serbia could seek to acquire Chinese fighters to avoid either reliance on NATO equipment or Western sanctions. Where Serbia’s location in Europe has left it vulnerable to sanctions threats, in 2023 Kazakhstan and Ethiopia both decided against the Rafale to acquire Russian Su-30 fighters, following Algeria’s prior decision to do the same, with none of these countries being economically as dependant on or as geopolitically vulnerable to the Western Bloc states.Fighters and air defences are a particularly sensitive issue in Serbia due to the recent historical memory of intensive bombardment by NATO forces, which occurred on a limited scale throughout much of the 1990s but escalated very significantly from March 1999 with devastating effects on public health and civilian infrastructure. Nevertheless, as Serbia has sought accession into the European Union, European officials have drawn a particularly hard line against neutrality and made clear that converting to NATO standard military hardware is required from the country. Operating Rafale fighters will leave Serbia dependant on France for spare parts and munitions, with the country known to have installed kill switches on its aircraft and air launched missile to prevent them from being used against French interests. French long range air launched weapons are also reliant on American GPS guidance, meaning guided strikes will not be possible should Washington cut off support. With the announcement coming shortly after the 25th anniversary of the beginning of the NATO bombing campaign, the purchase indicates an intention by Serbia to move further into the Western sphere of influence. The future of the country’s MiG-29 fleet, however, remains uncertain, as do the details of the Rafale contract agreed on including the kind of munitions that will be supplied. The acquisition also raises significant questions regarding how the NATO standard aircraft will be integrated into the country’s Soviet, Chinese and Russian air defence network. 

[Author: ibbs.8t@gmail.com (Military Watch Editorial Staff)] [Category: Aircraft and Anti-Aircraft, Eastern Europe and Central Asia]

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[l] at 4/9/24 4:25am
The Russian state run missile system specialist enterprise KB Mashinostroyeniya has continued to maintain production of the 9K720 short range tactical ballistic missile for the Iskander-M system at a much increased wartime rate, as the country continues to expand its arsenal and to use the assets in considerable quantities in the Ukrainian theatre. Chief Designer at the KB Mashinostroyeniya Design Bureau Valery Kashin stated regarding the expansion that “the missiles are being produced in much larger quantities than in previous years.” Deliveries in 2023 were made at several times the rates seen in all preceding years, with the design bureau’s CEO Sergey Pitikov having stated accordingly at the Army-2023 Forum in August that year that “supplies surged by several times.” An air launched counterpart to the 9K720 produced on the same production lines, the Kinzhal ballistic missile, saw output quintuple. Increased supplies of 9K720 missiles has allowed Russian units to employ them far more widely, and to conduct ‘double strikes’ to significantly increase casualties among Ukrainian frontline units. Each Iskander-M brigade is comprised of 51 vehicles, including 12 transporter erector launchers, 12 reload vehicles, 11 command vehicles, 14 personnel support vehicles, one data preparation vehicle, and one service and repair vehicle. Each can deploy 48 missiles simultaneously and quickly re-equip if near to missile storage facilities. Brigades are divided between three battalions, each with two batteries of two launchers. Although heavily relied on since the outset of hostilities in February 2022, the Iskander-M gained renewed publicity after it was used on March 9 to destroy Ukraine’s most costly military asset, an American MIM-104 Patriot missile system, as well as a Soviet S-300 air defence system, with footage showing both being engaged in the disputed Donetsk region. The loss of these very high value and scarce assets paved the way for expanded use of Russian air power in the region. In parallel to expanded Iskander-M production, a number of sources including multiple reports from U.S. government sources have indicated that Russia has further increased its capacity to launch short range ballistic missile attacks by acquiring North Korean KN-23 systems. These have many similar characteristics and similar appearance to the Iskander-M, but have significantly longer ranges and in the case of the particularly large KN-23B variant also much higher payloads. 

[Author: ibbs.8t@gmail.com (Military Watch Editorial Staff)] [Category: Eastern Europe and Central Asia, Missile and Space]

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[l] at 4/8/24 10:23pm
New footage of from a Russian test range has shown personnel training to operate T-14 Armata main battle tanks during exercises, fuelling speculation that the class may be intended to belatedly enter service in the Army in the foreseeable future. The release of the footage was closely followed by a report from state media outlet TASS indicating that the tank was currently undergoing state and troop trials, and was set to join the Army’s active inventory before the end of the year. "The Armata [tank] is currently undergoing state and troop trials, and, if they are successfully completed, the tank may enter service with the Russian Army before the end of 2024," one source stated, with the other confirming this information to TASS. During the trials, "particular attention is paid to the performance of those systems and mechanisms which previously drew criticism from the client,” namely the Defence Ministry, according the second source. Although the T-14 was first unveiled in 2015, and is closely based on the Soviet T-95 tank that had been scheduled for service entry in the early 2000s, its development has been hampered by very significant delays. As Russian forces have engaged the Western world’s most capable tank classes and anti tank weapons in Ukraine, officials have offered multiple explanations for why the T-14 has not been deployed to the theatre.  On February 22 Security Council Deputy Chairman Dmitry Medvedev explained "the Armata is a new tank, which has not yet fully passed all trials,” and was also "not the cheapest of tanks,” with the official strongly praising the T-90M currently in service as sufficiently capable. The following month the head of the Russian state-owned defence conglomerate Rostec, Sergey Chemezov, stated: “in terms of its functionality, it certainly surpasses existing tanks, but it’s too expensive, so the army is unlikely to use it now. It’s easier for them to buy the same T-90s.” The T-14 has nevertheless reportedly seen limited use in Ukraine for testing purposes, with an unnamed Russian defence industry source quoted by state media outlet TASS on August 21 stating: "The Armata tank was used several times in the zone of hostilities in Ukraine. Based on the results of its use in the special military operation, the vehicle is now being fine-tuned.” The source added that the tanks would be improved based on the results of its use in Ukraine, and that multiple T-14s were deployed by Battlegroup South to assess their performance in a real war zone. Footage released on May 16 that year allegedly showed a T-14 firing on Ukrainian positions in the theatre, providing the first indication of these test deployments.The T-14’s performance is considered to be in a different league to existing NATO and Russian tanks, with its stated engagement range standing at triple that of top Western tanks while its Vacuum-1 APFSDS projectiles having a greater penetrative capability than any other known tank rounds. The vehicle makes use of an innovative unmanned turret allowing all crew to be housed in a highly protected separate compartment. Its frontal base armour protection of over 900mm, paired with Malachit explosive reactive armour and the AFGHANIT active protection system, provides a degree of survivability that on paper had no close rivals elsewhere. The T-14's turret and crew seating arrangement, with three crew protected in an armoured compartment made from composite materials isolated from the remainder of the vehicle, is a key facilitator of the unmanned turret design isolating the gunner from the gun and the ammunition. This is also a key facilitator of a lighter weight for the vehicle despite the large size of its main gun and its rounds and the weight of its armour protection, as it forgoes the need to heavily armour a manned turret to protect a gunner.

[Author: ibbs.8t@gmail.com (Military Watch Editorial Staff)] [Category: Eastern Europe and Central Asia, Ground]

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[l] at 4/7/24 11:14pm
The Russian Air Force has received a new batch of Su-34 strike fighters, following reports in October that the Defence Ministry had given directives to expand production. Little is known about the size of the latest batch, although units delivered since July 2022 have been produced to the enhanced Su-34M standard, which according to Russian sources has double the combat capacity of the baseline Su-34. Notable new features include a dedicated interface for three different types of sensors, namely the UKR-RT pod carrying electronic search measures, the UKR-OE camera pod and the UKR-RL which integrates a synthetic aperture radar. Lightly modified specialised variants including an electronic attack jet equipped with the L700 Tarantul ECM pod, and an intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance variant may have also been included in the latest batch, and are being produced in parallel to standard Su-34M models. The Su-34 has been by ordered in much greater numbers by the Russian Defence Ministry than any other post Cold War fighter class, with the fleet currently estimated to number over 120 aircraft despite combat losses in the Ukrainian theatre. It is expected to reach close to 200, and remain in production into the 2030s in parallel to the new Su-57 fighter.In the first week of October 2023 Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu visited the Chkalov Aircraft Factory in Novosibirsk, Siberia and gave orders to expand production of the Su-34. The minister stressed at the time: “This warplane is the main workhorse, they have four, five sorties every day, so we need to step up, hurry up. We have enterprises that are ahead of schedule for the 2024 program this year. So we need to organise work here as well.” The aircraft has proven particularly effective when deploying precision guided glide bombs in Ukraine, including in a close air support role. The delivery of a new batch of Su-34s closely coincides with a report that Russian defence conglomerate Rostec and the state owned Tactical Missiles Corporation are increasing output of such glide bombs, which allow fighters to engage targets at ranges of approximately 70 kilometres. These can deliver much larger payloads than air launched missiles and at a very small fraction of the cost, and can carry not only conventional payloads but also thermobaric rounds optimised for neutralising ground forces in fortified positions. A more capable new class of glide bomb, the PBK-500U Drel, is set to enter production before the end of the year and could provide a potent complement to the Su-34M. 

[Author: ibbs.8t@gmail.com (Military Watch Editorial Staff)] [Category: Aircraft and Anti-Aircraft, Eastern Europe and Central Asia]

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[l] at 4/7/24 4:47am
The Lebanese militia group Hezbollah on April 6 shot down two Israeli surveillance drones, the Hermes 900 and Hermes 450, in one of the most significant demonstrations of its air defence capabilities in its history. It remains uncertain which kind of asset was responsible for the shootdowns, but the Iranian 358 loitering surface to air missile was widely credited with the kills by Western sources. The 3 meter infrared guided missile has a low speed and is optimised for shootdowns of drones and helicopters. The Hermes 900, with an estimated cost of $30 million, is among the most high value unmanned aircraft in the Israeli inventory, and can be outfitted for combat including with anti tank missiles, as well as for multiple kinds of surveillance. The Hermes 450 is a direct predecessor to the Hermes 900, and has taken multiple combat losses to Hezbollah in the past. Hezbollah has been engaged in protected skirmishes with Israeli forces since October 2023, with the militia credited with having dealt Israel the only defeat in its history during a 34 day war from July-August 2006. The Lebanese force has demonstrated increasingly advanced military capabilities, including use of drones and artillery to suppress Israeli Iron Dome air defence batteries, use of precision guided rocket artillery to disable a key airbase in early January, and use of sophisticated ‘fire and forget’ anti tank weapons to strike Israeli armour. Hezbollah has in the past also operated its own drones within Israeli airspace at length.

[Author: ibbs.8t@gmail.com (Military Watch Editorial Staff)] [Category: Aircraft and Anti-Aircraft, Battlefield, Middle East]

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[l] at 4/5/24 7:19pm
The U.S. Air Force has redeployed F-22 Raptor fifth generation air superiority fighters under the 199th and 19th Fighter Squadrons to Kadena Air Base, Okinawa, as part of a broader effort to maintain a continuous fighter presence at the facility. The deployment coincides with earthquake warnings on Okinawa which have disabled Japanese F-15J fighters based it nearby Naha Air Base, forcing the approximately 40 aircraft to be temporarily redeployed to higher ground. The position of facilities on Okinawa are particularly sensitive due to ongoing tensions with neighbouring China in the Taiwan Strait, with the Japanese island providing one of the closest locations for a potential response by Washington and Tokyo to contingencies in the area. The F-22 was for over a decade considered the prime air superiority fighter in the United States and wider Western world, although the age of its avionics and less stealthy airframe materials have led it to be considered increasingly out of date particularly when compared to American F-35 and Chinese J-20 fighters currently in production. Multiple new Chinese J-20 brigades have been deployed near the Taiwan Strait over the past two years. The deployment of F-22s to Kadena Air Base follows the phased withdrawal of F-15C/D Eagle air superiority fighters, the Raptor’s direct fourth generation predecessor, which were kept on permeant deployment there for over four decades. With the F-15C/D considered almost totally obsolete if confronting cutting edge Chinese ‘4+ generation’ and fifth generation fighter units, the U.S. has struggled to find a replacement for the aircraft suitable for a permanent deployment. Wider ranging issues with the F-22 mean that it has consistently had by far the lowest availability rates in the U.S. Air Force, which is particularly dangerous when forward deployed to such a sensitive location. Although the F-22 was initially required to have almost double the range of the F-15, its actual range is significantly lower making it by far the shortest ranged heavyweight fighter class operated anywhere in the world. This is a particular hindrance over the vast territories of the Pacific, with rivals such as the Chinese J-20 having over double its range. The F-22 saw orders to terminate production given less than four years after the fighter class began to enter service, with the class seen to have failed to provide a viable successor to the F-15, and the Air Force currently pressing to gain congressional approval to begin retiring the aircraft from service several decades ahead of schedule. 

[Author: ibbs.8t@gmail.com (Military Watch Editorial Staff)] [Category: Aircraft and Anti-Aircraft, North America, Western Europe and Oceania]

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[l] at 4/5/24 5:50am
Footage released by the Russian Defence Ministry on April 5 showed Su-34 strike fighters employing ODAB-500 500 kilogram glide bombs with thermobaric warheads against fortified Ukrainian positions in the disputed Donetsk region. Such warheads are well optimised for neutralising well fortified enemy positions, and function by dispersing a gaseous chemical clouds into the air which are then detonated by a vacuum explosive to release a high pressure shock wave. The effect is that air is sucked out of confined areas with tremendous force, destroying buildings, caves, trenches and other fortifications and rupturing the lungs of all present in the vicinity. Thermobaric rounds have been employed extensively on the frontlines from TOS-1 rocket artillery systems, with their deployment from guided glide bombs representing part of a broader trend of such bombs being used to supplement Russian forces’ already significant artillery superiority, and thereby provide a greater firepower advantage.  Russian ODAB-500 bombs are equipped with universal planning and correction modules with wing and rudder controls, allowing them to correct course during flight for greater accuracy. Despite the bombs’ high weights, the Su-34 has the highest endurance of any fighter class in the world today and can carry up to four per sortie without strain on the airframe. The Su-34 has been acquired in much greater numbers than any other post-Cold War fighter class in Russia, with production reported in 2023 to be further expanding. The increasingly widespread use of glide bombs had been highlighted with growing concern by Western and Ukrainian sources, with multiple Ukrainian personnel in January 2024 having informed the New York Times that a new Russian strikes using these bombs imposed “additional devastating power,” and with 500kg of explosives could thus obliterate their underground bunkers. One serviceman compared the impact of Russian glide bomb strikes to “hell’s gates,” stressing that the Russian Air Force “would send them two by two by two, eight in an hour… It sounds like a jet coming down on you.” The use of thermobaric warheads has reportedly made Su-34 sorties significantly more lethal still when targeting fortified positions, with this kind of ammunition having been widely likened in Russia to flamethrowers for their special function clearing trenches and bunkers.

[Author: ibbs.8t@gmail.com (Military Watch Editorial Staff)] [Category: Aircraft and Anti-Aircraft, Eastern Europe and Central Asia]

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[l] at 4/3/24 11:23pm
The United States has reportedly come close to approving the sale of up to 50 F-15 Eagle heavyweight twin engine fighters to Israel, under a contract estimated to be worth up to $18 billion. At $360 million per fighter, these will be some of the most costly fighters ever exported, with the F-15 having significantly higher production and operational costs than the only other fighter class currently being produced for the U.S. Air Force the F-35A. Although lacking the F-35’s stealth capabilities, the latest variant of the F-15 the F-15EX is prized as by far the longest ranged fighter class in service in the Western world. While still much shorter ranged than most Russian and Chinese fighters currently in production, including Su-35 fighters recently sold to Israel’s regional rival Iran, the F-15’s relatively long range is still valued by Israel as a facilitator of potential strikes against targets on Iranian territory. Although the F-15 is by far the oldest fighter class still in production anywhere in the world today, having first flown in 1972, the F-15EX boasts what may well be the most powerful fighter radar in the Western world the APG-82, and cutting edge avionics and weaponry paired with a modern high composite airframe. Israel last acquired F-15s in the 1990s with the purchase of 25 F-15I strike fighters, forming a single squadron, although it acquired several dozen older F-15A, B, C and D models during the Cold War. Israel’s F-15s are by far the oldest fielded anywhere in the world, and largely rely on obsolete AIM-7 air to air missiles and radars while lacking access to many modern classes of guided weapons that the F-15EX can deploy. New F-15s sold to Israel are expected to differ from those being produced for the U.S. Air Force, and integrate locally produced avionics and weapons. The U.S. Department of State has sent an informal notice to two congressional committees urging them to begin legislative consideration, with five separate sources having stated an F-15 sale is currently under consideration. Although Israel’s economy has contracted very considerably due to ongoing hostilities with Palestinian militia groups in the Gaza Strip, billions of dollars in American military aid to the country, which receives more than any other than Ukraine, is expected to offset many of these costs. Israel is reported to have made sent an official Letter of Request for 25 F-15s as early as January 2023, with the option for 25 more, with House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Michael McCaul having approved the deal in late January 2024 and notified relevant congressional offices. During a visit to Washington in the final week of March Israeli Minister of Defence Yoav Gallant called for F-15 deliveries to be accelerated, although America’s ability to deliver the aircraft remains in serious question even if much needed F-15EX acquisitions by the U.S. Air Force itself are delayed to expedite the transfer. F-15 deliveries have faced multiple delays, with the fleet having stood at just two aircraft in early 2023 when Israel first expressed interest. It is likely to take at least until 2032 for delivery 50 aircraft to be viable. This contrasts to the Cold War era when Israel received its first F-15s, at which time the U.S. defence industrial base was considerably larger and fighter production was far less prone to delays. The Israeli Air Force has enjoyed a surge in spare parts for its F-35 fifth generation fighter fleet allowing them to increase the intensity of operations against targets in Gaza and neighbouring Lebanon and Syria. The F-35 benefits from a number of unique avionics features as well as stealth capabilities, but is hampered particularly for contingencies for a high intensity conflict with Iran by ongoing performance issues and by its much more limited range. 

[Author: ibbs.8t@gmail.com (Military Watch Editorial Staff)] [Category: Aircraft and Anti-Aircraft, Middle East]

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[l] at 4/3/24 5:23am
The Taiwan-based Republic of China Air Force has seen eight of its F-16V fighters based at Hualien Air Base damaged during a major earthquake, putting the aircraft out of service at around 8:00 am local time. The 7.4 magnitude earthquake could reportedly be felt as far as Shanghai, and killed nine people, with earthquake resistant structures credited with having reduced casualties significantly. Buildings at Hualien Air Base were also damaged with bunkers, hangars and barracks facing cracks and in some cases wall collapses. Located on Taiwan’s east coast facing the Chinese mainland, the base is very heavily relied on to shoulder air defence and cruise missile strike duties in the event of a new conflict between the two rival Chinese governments in Beijing and Taipei, with both having been in a state of civil war since the 1940s and each claiming to be the sole legitimate government of the Chinese nation. While the People’s Liberation Army Air Force on the mainland deploys primarily indigenous fighters, including the world’s only non-American fifth generation fighters fielded at squadron level strength, the Republic of China Air Force has for decades operated primarily U.S.-supplied combat jets reflecting Taipei’s close alignment with Washington. The Republic of China Air Force first sought to acquire F-16s in the 1980s, and gained permission to acquire 140 airframes the following decade to form two large fighter units. These were lower end F-16A/B Block 20 variants, however, and were delivered after they had long since been superseded by newer variants in the American fleet. Arms sales to the Republic of China government have long been highly controversial, as Taipei has no recognition at the United Nations and is not recognised by the overwhelming majority of UN member states including the United States itself. Arms sales have thus been widely equated with sales to a non state actor. Nevertheless, while continuing to deny Taipei’s requests from the early 2000s to order F-35 fighters, which would place its fleet technologically broadly on par with the mainland’s, the Barak Obama administration in 2012 authorised a program to upgrade ageing F-16A/B fighters to the F-16V standard from 2016, with the first unit of 64 of these commissioned in November 2021. The first loss among these aircraft occurred two months later amid a spate of fighter crashes across Taiwan. The most significant improvement these fighters benefit from is the integration of the Northrop Grumman AN/APG-83 Scalable Agile Beam Radar, which is both much more difficult to jam and considerably more powerful than the obsolete AN/APG-66 mechanically scanned array radar first delivered in the 1990s. 

[Author: ibbs.8t@gmail.com (Military Watch Editorial Staff)] [Category: Aircraft and Anti-Aircraft, Asia-Pacific]

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[l] at 4/3/24 2:45am
North Korea on April 2 made the first ever test launch of a new class of intermediate range ballistic missile with hypersonic glide vehicle, the Hwasong-16B, with this intended to confirm its designed technical specifications and verify its reliability. The test closely follows the U.S. Air Force’s first launch of a hypersonic missile from Guam in the mid-Pacific, which was tested from a B-52H nuclear capable bomber on March 19. The Hwasong-16 is a direct successor to the Hwasong-12 which entered service in 2017, and the Hwasong-10 which joined the country’s arsenal in the preceding years, both of which established the country’s capability to strike American military facilities on Guam. As the U.S. has invested heavily to expand its missile defence capabilities on the territory, the Hwasong-16B’s introduction of as hypersonic glide vehicle will make Korean strikes far more difficult to intercept - and potentially effectively impossible to shoot down depending on the vehicle’s characteristics. Regarding the latest test, the state run Korean Central News Agency reported: “It was conducted in the way of verifying the characteristics of gliding-skip flight orbit and cross-range manoeuvring capability of the hypersonic glide vehicle (warhead) while confining its range to less 1,000 kilometres, in consideration of safety, and forcibly controlling the speed and altitude by means of delaying the start-up of the second-stage engine and rapidly changing the flight orbit in the active region.” The development of the new missile class is highly valued by Pyongyang as the country remains officially in a state of war with the United States, and has seen tensions between it and the Western superpower rise as Washington significantly expands its military presence in East Asia. Ballistic missiles, some of them tipped with nuclear warheads, provide an effective means for North Korea to deter American military action against it and if necessary neutralise U.S. and allied forces across much of the Pacific. This was particularly strongly prioritised by Pyongyang following the end of the Cold War War.A major advantage the Hwasong-16B retains over older generations of intermediate range ballistic missiles is its use of solid fuel composites, which allows it to be stored fully fuelled and thus launch far more quickly from mobile transporter erector launcher vehicles. This is a highly prized capability which minimises vulnerability to destruction on the ground by Western and allied air and missile assets in the event of conflict on the Korean Peninsula. North Korea made its first ever test of a solid fuelled intermediate range ballistic missile with a hypersonic glide vehicle on January 14, although the design is thought to have been a stopgap to reach the technology level of the Hwasong-16B. This followed reports in November 2023 that the first and second stage engines for a solid fuelled intermediate range ballistic missile had already begun ground testing in North Korea. Ground testing of solid fuelled engines for an intermediate range hypersonic missile was reported on March 20 just 13 days before the recent launch, with Chairman of the ruling Korean Workers’ Party Kim Jong Un having stated at the time that “the military strategic value of this weapon system is appreciated as important as an intercontinental range ballistic missile from the security environment of our state and the operational demand of the People's Army, and the enemies know better about it.” The East Asian state had first flight tested a hypersonic glide vehicle in September 2021, albeit using a liquid fuelled intermediate range missile for testing at the time.North Korea began to field solid fuelled short ranged tactical ballistic missiles in the 2000s, and in February 2018 unveiled the first of a new generation of missiles with such engines later designated KN-23 in the West. This was followed by the successful development of the Hwasong-18 as the country’s first solid fuelled strategic ballistic missile, which was successfully tested on April 13, July 12 and December 19, 2023. Intermediate range ‘Guam Killer’ missiles are the last major category of ballistic missiles in the North Korean arsenal where older classes have been succeeded by new solid fuelled designs. The development of the Hwasong-16B is expected to be followed by renewed efforts to develop a hypersonic glide vehicle capable of intercontinental range fight, comparable to the Russian Avangard system which entered service in 2019. North Korea is the only country other than Russia and China currently thought to field missiles with hypersonic glide vehicles, with the United States having accelerated development from the late 2010s but facing setbacks from multiple failed tests. In parallel to a significant expected expansion of North Korea’s surveillance satellite network, the Hwasong-16B could potentially be used as a basis to develop a long range anti ship ballistic missile class which could interdict American supplies across the Western Pacific and pose a serious asymmetric threat to U.S. and allied warships. 

[Author: ibbs.8t@gmail.com (Military Watch Editorial Staff)] [Category: Asia-Pacific, Missile and Space]

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[l] at 4/2/24 6:08am
Russia has restored at least one An-124 heavy airlifter to service after decades in storage to meet rapidly expanding requirements, as the country reverses its post-Cold War demilitarisation in the face of wartime conditions. The airlifter fleet is one of multiple areas of the country’s air and ground forces which are being expanded significantly as the country faces both a protected war in Ukraine and fast escalating tensions with an expanding NATO alliance and with Western-aligned Japan. Attention was drawn to this expansion when an An-124 transport was brought out of storage at Ulyanovsk-East Airport for extensive refurbishment and modernisation. The An-124 is a highly prized asset for Russia and represents by far the heaviest aircraft in the country’s fleet. It is relied on to serve as a larger complement to the lighter but more widely used Il-76. While the Il-76 is produced domestically in Russia, after factories were moved there from Uzbekistan where they had been built in the Soviet era, the An-124 was produced in Ukraine during the Soviet era which has been a key impediment to further acquisitions. Aside from the An-124, it remains uncertain which other aircraft may be restored and in what quantities.Alongside support for logistics within Russia, two An-124s were reportedly recently deployed for flights to North Korea, fuelling speculation of high value arms transfers either from the East Asian state to the Russian Armed Forces or vice versa. The aircraft are optimal for delivery of fighter planes and other valuable assets. The An-124 is notably operated not only by the Russian Air Force, but also for civil purposes air carrier Volga-Dnepr Airlines, with one of these aircraft lost on June 10, 2023 when it was appropriated by the Canadian government with questionable legality. The airliner had been chartered by the Canadian government and landed in Toronto on February 27, 2022, carrying rapid tests for Covid-19 from China. It is expected to be delivered to Ukraine as Canadian aid. Russia is currently developing a successor to the An-124 domestically, although this is not expected to be ready for service until the mid-2030s. Russia and Ukraine were previously jointly developing a successor intended to enter service around 2020, before the overthrow of the Ukrainian government in 2014 and the country’s pivot towards close alignment with NATO ended the program. Russia currently lacks a means of acquiring airlifters of comparable size other than through restoration of Soviet built airframes in storage. The United States has faced similar issues after retiring its own heavy airlifters the C-5 Galaxy and C-17 Globemaster from service in 1989 and 2015 respectively.

[Author: ibbs.8t@gmail.com (Military Watch Editorial Staff)] [Category: Aircraft and Anti-Aircraft, Eastern Europe and Central Asia]

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[l] at 4/1/24 2:57am
An Israeli air strike on an Iranian diplomatic building in Damascus on April 1 killed a brigadier general in the elite Quds Force of the country’s Revolutionary Guard Corps Mohammad Reza Zahedi, who had played a central role in overseeing and supporting paramilitary operations in support of the Syrian state as well as coordination with the Lebanese militia group Hezbollah. Ten others were killed in the Israeli attack, including several long serving diplomats and General Zahedi’s deputy General Haji Rahimi. Unconfirmed reports have indicated that a third general, Brigadier General Hossein Amirollah, who serves chief of general staff of the Quds Force in Syria and Lebanon, may have also been either among the victims or the intended targets of the strike. The attack appears to have been timed specifically to neutralise the senior Iranian military leaders, and was conducted using long range missiles fired from outside Syrian airspace, as has been the norm for Israeli attacks since 2018 following the loss of an F-16 fighter to Syrian air defences in February that year.  Following the attack Iranian Ambassador to the Syrian Arab Republic Hossein Akbari stated that the consulate in the Syrian capital had been hit by six missiles launched by F-35 fighters, with bodies at the time still being identified in the rubble. He pledged that Iran’s response to the attack would be “at the same magnitude and harshness,” without disclosing further details. Israeli F-35s have received particularly large quantities of spare parts and others support since October from NATO partners in the F-35 program, most notably the Netherlands and the United States, which has allowed units to maintain an uncharacteristically high tempo of operations. F-35s are reported to have engaged Syrian and Hezbollah targets as well as a range of civilian and military targets in the Palestinian Gaza Strip. Launching missiles from outside Syria did not test the F-35’s stealth capabilities against Syrian air defences, although with other Israeli fighters using near obsolete mechanically scanned array radars and much older data links the new aircraft were well optimised to conducting a time sensitive operation and maintaining very high situational awareness while doing so.The latest Israeli strike on Syrian targets comes as Iranian backed paramilitaries in the region have gained growing successes launching drone, artillery and missile strikes on a range of Israeli and U.S. targets, with a drone strike on an Israeli naval base having also been successfully carried out by Iraqi militia groups on April 1. The attack on Damascus also follows Israeli air strikes on March 29 against Syrian Arab Army forces in the Aleppo governate near the Turkish border, causing close to 40 deaths. These attacks coincided with escalated offensives by Turkish backed Islamist militia groups against Syrian forces in the region, allowing jihadist militias on the ground to escalate their offensives as part of a general trend of parallel assaults on Syria being launched by Israel and Turkey. While providing close air support to Turkish sponsored insurgents, Israeli strikes have focused on neutralising key military and political leaders. Recent attacks of this nature have included the killing of Revolutionary Guard Corps Brigadier General Seyed Razi Mousavi, a longtime advisor for local forces in Syria, in a precision strike on Damascus on December 25. It also included the assassination by drone strike of Hamas deputy leader Saleh Al Arouri in the Lebanese capital Beirut on January 2. Israel also provided intelligence support to the CIA operation to assassinate Iran’s most senior and decorated military official General Qasem Soleimani on January 2, 2020, with the country’s intelligence agencies and its air force between them having been credited with multiple successful assassinations between that time and the escalation of regional hostilities in October 2023.

[Author: ibbs.8t@gmail.com (Military Watch Editorial Staff)] [Category: Aircraft and Anti-Aircraft, Battlefield, Middle East]

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[l] at 3/31/24 1:49am
The United States Army’s most capable class of attack helicopter, the AH-64 Apache, has taken two losses to accidents within just three days, and four losses in under 44 days, causing major concerns for personnel safety and leading to repeated grounding of parts of the fleet. The first of the two recent incidents took place during a routine drill on March 24 at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington State, injuring two pilots, while the second took place on March 26 when an Apache operating at Fort Carson, Colorado, went down during training and also injured its pilots. The prior incidents occurred on February 12 and February 23, with the second killing both its pilots. Approaching 40 years in service, the Apache is by far the oldest class of heavy attack helicopter still in production, and belatedly provided the U.S. and NATO more broadly with a general performance equivalent to the Soviet Mi-24, which had for the preceding 15 years been effectively in a league of its own in terms of capabilities with no foreign rivals. The cause of recent incidents involving the Apache fleet remains uncertain, although in 2023 the Army disclosed a significant increase in failures of electrical power generators on the aircraft which could cause "potentially hazardous" smoke buildups in the their cockpits. There have been no indications, however, that any of the recent crashes was caused by generator issues. Questions have also been raised regarding flight conditions, the quality of maintenance provided, and personnel training levels, although with the aircraft manufactured by Boeing, which has seen many of its aircraft face significant issues in recent years, a number of sources have been quick to speculate that the manufacturer is at fault. The U.S. Military currently fields over 700 Apache helicopters, with the class in production to meet the stated Army Acquisition Objective of 812 helicopters, as well as orders from foreign clients most significantly a Polish order for 96 of the aircraft placed in September 2023. The U.S. Army’s reliance on the Apache has increased significantly due to the cancellation in February of the Higher Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft program intended to produce an aircraft that could replace close to half the Apache fleet. As a result meaning many of the Apaches currently in service will be expected to remain operational for considerably longer. The growing vulnerability of even well armoured helicopters in a range of roles, which has been demonstrated in the Ukrainian theatre, was a key reason for the cancelling the new program. In the fleets of potential adversaries the Apache faces significantly newer helicopter designs, including in Russian service the successors to the Mi-24 the far more capable Mi-28 and Ka-52. These are both a full generation ahead of their predecessor, and of the Apache itself, in terms of design sophistication. The Chinese People’s Liberation Army’s first class of heavy attack helicopter was first seen on March 21, and while clear images of the aircraft have yet to emerge the program has the potential to rob the U.S. and its allies of one of their most significant few remaining capability advantages. The Russia Mi-28 is currently the primary attack helicopter of the Algerian Army, which there have been multiple indications is a potential adversary of the U.S. and remains a leading power in Africa outside Washington’s sphere of influence. The Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, which Washington has designated a terrorist organisation, is also speculated to be the recipient of Mi-28s ordered by Iran in 2023. Losses among the Apache fleet, and concerns regarding the operational viability of remaining aircraft, are particularly concerning as the U.S. grapples with growing security challenges across multiple theatres. These include the Russian-Ukrainian War where American and allied NATO personnel and contractors have played extensive and growing roles on the ground, and in the Middle East, where ground and naval engagements with local militia forces have occurred frequently since October 2023. Tensions on the Korean Peninsula and in the South China Sea have placed further strain on American capabilities, as the balance of power in both theatres has become increasingly unfavourable for U.S. interests due to rapid modernisation of Chinese and North Korean forces. The Apache faced significant maintenance issues during its combat deployments by the U.S. during Operation Desert Storm and in NATO’s 1999 assault on Yugoslavia, and has seen 16 of its number in U.S. Army shot down in combat. No more capable successor is expected to be developed within the next decade anywhere in the Western world, and before the revelation of a new Chinese platform on March 21 such heavy attack helicopters had otherwise only been developed and brought into service by Russia.

[Author: ibbs.8t@gmail.com (Military Watch Editorial Staff)] [Category: Aircraft and Anti-Aircraft, North America, Western Europe and Oceania]

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[l] at 3/30/24 5:30am
On March 29 the Israeli Air Force deployed F-16 fighters to conduct multiple air strikes against Syrian Arab Army forces in the Aleppo governate near the Turkish border, with the attacks coinciding with escalated offensives by Turkish backed Islamist militia groups against Syrian forces in the region. The attack caused close to 40 deaths and many more casualties, among them both civilians and military personnel. British sources reported that Lebanese Hezbollah ground units and a weapons depot near Aleppo International Airport were also targeted. The attack allowed jihadist militias on the ground to escalate their offensives, although they were reportedly successfully repelled by the end of the day despite the Israeli air support provided. Israel previously supported a range of militia groups fighting the Syrian government operating near the Syrian-Israeli border regions, which was confirmed by video footage in the late 2010s and subsequently stated by Israeli Defence Forces Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot in January 2019. With these having diminished in strength, Turkish sponsored jihadist militias have maintained an important frontier for Tel Aviv and its allies within NATO to continue to place pressure on Syria.Israel and Turkey have waged parallel campaigns to support Syrian insurgents and provide them with air support, with the two U.S. allies both flying F-16s for the large majority of these missions. Remaining jihadist militias in Syria are heavily concentrated in the Idlib governate near Aleppo and straddling the Turkish border, with Syrian efforts to expel these forces having consistently been halted by Turkish interventions including major air strikes similar to those recently launched by Israel. As Turkey is set to play a key role in supporting allied American efforts to expand production of artillery rounds, which will allow increased deliveries of much needed 155mm shells to Israel, the Turkish Air Force is also set to receive a major upgrade to its fighter capabilities with the sale of F-16 Block 70/72 fighters, which will further increase pressure on Syrian defences. Israeli strikes on Syrian targets far from its own territory near the Turkish border highlights the close integration of the multiple frontiers on which Syria’s defences continue to be challenged, with Israel and Turkey remaining the two leading regional challengers to the Arab state’s security.

[Author: ibbs.8t@gmail.com (Military Watch Editorial Staff)] [Category: Aircraft and Anti-Aircraft, Middle East]

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[l] at 3/28/24 9:33pm
The United States is set to significantly expand acquisitions of military grade explosives from Turkey in order to support efforts to expand American artillery production, following growing concerns regarding the serious depletion of domestic stockpiles. An expanded capacity for artillery production would allow the United States Washington to more sustainably arm Ukraine, as well as Israel which has expended munitions at considerable rates since October 2023, where currently U.S. domestic stockpiles have been critically depleted leaving Ukraine in particular very seriously outgunned. Explosives acquisitions from Turkey will follow increased dependence by Washington on its NATO ally to replenish munitions stockpiles and supply much needed propellants trinitrotoluene and nitroguanidine required to support arms manufacturing in the U.S. Both NATO members have been leading suppliers of military equipment to Ukraine, with Turkish drones hailed in the West in the initial weeks of the Russian-Ukrainian War, as a game changer before their severe performance limitations were revealed in combat. Turkey and the U.S. have also played a leading role in supporting Israel during its currently conflict with Syria, Hezbollah various Palestinian militia groups, with Turkey continuing to engage in hostilities with Syria and support Islamist militia groups. Jihadist militias backed by the Turkish state have also specifically targeted both Russian and Hezbollah military positions in Syria. In January U.S. Deputy Secretary of State and Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Victorian Nuland stated that the Washington would be willing to provide F-35 fifth generation fighters to Turkey should Ankara meet American conditions in regards to ensuring it does not operate Russian S-400 air defence systems alongside the assets. These fighters would also be capable of using American-supplied B61 nuclear warheads in wartime as part of a nuclear sharing agreement between Ankara and Washington, making Turkey an effective nuclear weapons state in wartime. This combined with significant European support for the Israeli nuclear weapons program has ensured that the Western Bloc’s two primary security partners in the Middle East both retain a significant advantage over challengers to their interests in the region. Turkey signed an agreement to acquire S-400 air defence systems in 2016 during a period of more positive ties with Moscow, although calls for the return of these systems to Russia, or even for an illegal sale of the assets to Ukraine or to other NATO members, have continued to grow. Turkey notably gained considerable benefits as a member of the F-35 program, with its low labour costs when manufacturing components for the aircraft contributing to lowering the aircraft’s costs for multiple NATO members and a small number of non-NATO export clients such as Israel and Japan. The U.S. has notably refused to sell F-35s to any Middle Eastern states other than Israel and Turkey, reflecting the former’s special defence ties with Washington since the mid-1960s and the latter’s position as a leading NATO member and key guarantor of Western Bloc interests in the region. Western condonement of the two states’ nuclear weapons statuses has also been a significant reflection of their importance to Western interests in the region, with the F-35 being an optimal fighter class for delivery of nuclear weapons.

[Author: ibbs.8t@gmail.com (Military Watch Editorial Staff)] [Category: Aircraft and Anti-Aircraft, Middle East]

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[l] at 3/28/24 6:30pm
Two Russian An-124 heavy airlifters, which are by far the largest in the country and are among under two dozen in service, have reported made multiple flights to North Korea. These follow a preceding reported flight by a Tupolev Tu-154 aircraft from Vladivostok to Pyongyang. While lower value cargo has usually been transferred by sea or rail, the recent flights have been speculated to be facilitating the transfers of higher value armaments either from North Korea to Russia or vice versa - and possibly both ways. Western and South Korean sources have indicated that the aircraft could be transporting North Korean short range ballistic missiles for use by Russian forces in the Ukrainian theatre, which were first reported by the White House be in use on January 2. Multiple subsequent reports have highlighted these missiles’ expanding role in the Russian war effort. While Russia has already seen deliveries of 9K720 missiles for the Iskander-M ballistic missile system surge to several times their pre-war rates, allowing the missile systems to be used in new ways against Ukrainian targets, Korean KN-23B ballistic missiles provide significantly greater ranges and carry much larger payloads than their Russian counterparts. Adding part of the capacity of Korean industry to Russia’s own allows for a significantly greater rate of launches. Although valuable in the Ukrainian theatre, ballistic missiles are not usually considered sufficiently costly assets to transport by air, leaving the possibility that the airlifts either involve higher end Korean hardware or high value Russian equipment being sent to its neighbour. A significant possibility which has been widely speculated in the past is that the aircraft are delivering new air defence equipment or fighter aircraft, with the latter being an area where North Korea’s own defence sector is particularly deficient. Russian Su-35 and Su-57 fighters were inspected by North Korean officials including chairman of the ruling Korean Workers’ Party Kim Jong Un on a visit to Russia in September, with the possibility having also been raised that new batches of MiG-29 fighters which the country already fields may be sought out by Pyongyang. North Korea has significantly modernised the equipment of frontline units across its armed forces since the mid 2010s, with the new Pyongae-5 air defence system and its unnamed successor unveiled in 2020 having replaced modernised variants of the Soviet S-75 to form the backbone of its surface to air missile network. Much like Russia, North Korea relies primarily on ground based systems to protect its airspace, but can still use fighters to play important supporting roles for secondary air defence duties, as well as launching standoff missile attacks from within the country’s airspace.

[Author: ibbs.8t@gmail.com (Military Watch Editorial Staff)] [Category: Aircraft and Anti-Aircraft, Asia-Pacific]

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[l] at 3/28/24 6:10am
Russian Permanent Representative to the United Nations Vasily Nebenzya on March 28 warned the United States and other NATO member states against continued military intimidation of North Korea, in particular using their nuclear assets. "Of particular concern is the increasingly blatant involvement of Washington’s nuclear potential in the allied manoeuvres. Such dangerous development in the region affects Russia’s core national security interests," he stated, stressing that Washington and other NATO member states "located tens of thousands of kilometres away from North Korea” were rapidly militarising the region surrounding the country. "In this context, it is obvious that, in the past years, sanctions failed to contribute to the achievement of the goals, set by the international community, and have not led to normalisation of the situation around the peninsula. This situation does not encourage dialogue, especially after Washington demonstrated unfair play for the entire world to see," he added.The Russian representative’s criticisms of Western Bloc states’ policies towards its East Asian neighbour follow Moscow’s blocking on March 28 of a U.S. drafted sanctions resolution intended to further escalate Western-led economic warfare efforts against the country. It also follows major expansion of America’s military presence in East Asia and lesser but still significant expansions of the presences of other NATO members - notable examples including Italy’s first deployment of F-35 fighters to Japan in late 2023 and the U.S. Air Force’s testing of an AGM-183A hypersonic missile in a show of force on Guam on March 17. There have been growing signs of improving security and economic ties between Moscow and Pyongyang, which have included multiple reports of major North Korean arms exports to bolster the Russian position in its ongoing war with Ukraine. This has helped to counterbalance NATO members’ major material supplies and personnel contributions to bolster Ukraine. North Korea has a long history of strongly supporting states waging war against NATO members or their security partners, ranging from Cuba and Vietnam which received considerable support in the 1950s and 1960s, to Syria, Iran and the Lebanese militia group Hezbollah which continue to rely on Korean support from tunnel networks to ballistic missile technologies in their ongoing confrontations with the United States and European NATO members. 

[Author: ibbs.8t@gmail.com (Military Watch Editorial Staff)] [Category: Aircraft and Anti-Aircraft, Asia-Pacific]

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[l] at 3/27/24 5:54am
The Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) Air Force deployed JH-7A strike fighters to provide close air support to ground forces as part of cross service exercises in southern China. Supporting special forces from the army, navy and air force, JH-7s in an aviation brigade under the Southern Theatre Command practiced close range aerial fire support and reportedly demonstrated their versatility in attack roles. In red on blue engagements Red Team cross service special forces were slowed by Blue Team suppressive fire when launching an assault at a hostile vantage point. They subsequently called in Red Team JH-7 strike fighters, and provided coordinates to allow them to quickly locate them and engage opposing Blue Team assets. The JH-7s operated under cover of electronic warfare assets, and were able to quickly report battle damage evaluations after striking. The strike fighters continued to work closely with Red Team special forces on the ground, and when the aircraft were locked onto by blue team man portable surface to air missile systems, the special forces alerted pilots allowing them to release jamming flares and withdraw from the area. The Southern Theatre Command stated that the exercise enhanced the aircraft's close range aerial fire support capabilities, leading to the formulation of a standardized procedure for future combat operations. The recent exercises were particularly significant considering that the Southern Theatre Command is responsible for potential operations in the Taiwan Strait, during which the ability to coordinate operations between special forces and combat aircraft is expected to be particularly valuable. China notably lacks manned aircraft optimised for close air support equivalent to the Russian Su-25 and American A-10, although both countries are set to retire these classes without replacement and like China rely on strike fighters and drones to support ground forces. Although not designed for the role, the JH-7 is one of the best optimised aircraft in China’s fleet for providing close air support. A leading threat to such aircraft remains enemy man portable surface to air missile systems, which have no radar signatures, and can thus be concealed in infantry formations leaving little warning when used to engage. Coordination with special forces on the ground provides one potentially effective means of reducing the danger from such attacks. 

[Author: ibbs.8t@gmail.com (Military Watch Editorial Staff)] [Category: Aircraft and Anti-Aircraft, Asia-Pacific]

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[l] at 3/19/24 9:26pm
On March 20 the Russian Foreign Ministry was confirmed to have issued a warning to the Japanese government of consequences should the country transfer Patriot missile systems to the United States, after which they are expected to be forwarded to the Ukrainian Armed Forces. The White House in December confirmed Japanese authorities had decided to the transfer of Patriot missiles, with the use of the U.S. as an intermediary rather than sending the missile systems to a war zone directly serving to lower resistance in Japan. Director of the Russian Foreign Ministry's Third Asia Department, Sergey Zhestkii observed regarding the warning issued: "When in December 2023 the administration of [Japanese Prime Minister] Fumio Kishida achieved a legislative relaxation of national rules for the export of military products - for the sake of supplying Patriot missiles assembled in the country under license to Washington - we directly warned the Japanese side through Ambassador to Moscow Muto [Akira] that we have no doubt about the ultimate beneficiary of such a decision - the Kiev regime.” “Such an assistance in further pumping up the Ukrainian armed forces with weapons will be unequivocally regarded as Tokyo's complicity in Kiev's criminal actions, which only lead to an increase in the number of victims,” he stated, reflecting the general consensus in the Russian government in line with multiple official statements over the past two years. The possible delivery of Patriot missile systems from Japan to Ukraine comes as the weakening of the Eastern European country’s air defence capabilities has been cause for growing concern in the Western world. Most recently, Ukrainian forces on March 8 lost MIM-104 Patriot and S-300 air defence systems near the town of Pokrovsk in the disputed Donbas region to a precision strike by a Russian Iskander-M ballistic missile systems. Russian forces previously reported two successful strikes destroying Patriot systems over the past year, although unlike the March 8 strike these were not as clearly confirmed by drone footage as their reported locations were much further from the frontlines and were achieved using longer ranged assets. U.S. officials speaking to the Washington Post following the March 8 strike warned of a “catastrophic breakdown of Ukrainian lines in the grimmest contingency and the likelihood of massive casualties in the best,” with sources speaking to the paper stressing that a lack of air defence missiles would “have a significant effect on life in Ukraine’s urban centres.” As early as April 2023 leaked Pentagon documents revealed rising concerns regarding the state of the Ukrainian Air Force’s surface to air missile network, which was at risk of becoming “completely reduced.” The ability to acquire Patriot systems from Japan is highly valuable as the United States has struggled with severe shortages of air defence systems for its own forces. The United States Military’s growing involvement in ongoing hostilities between Israel and Palestinian militia groups in the Gaza Strip and a broader surge in the country’s regional military presence highlighted the growing strain on its air defences. An insufficient number of American Patriots have been thinly stretched between the Middle East, Eastern Europe and the Pacific - all theatres where adversary missile capabilities have grown considerably. The U.S. Army deployed two of its 15 frontline Patriot battalions to the Middle East, with two more battalions dedicated to training, and at least four more deployed in Germany, Japan and South Korea. The donation of Patriot systems to Ukraine was already a point of controversy because of this, making diversion of any more of the U.S. Army’s arsenal to the country appear unlikely. Japan’s willingness to dispatch Patriot systems for use in Ukraine has been interpreted by a number of analysts as an indication of Washington and other Western countries’ considerable influence over Tokyo, which not only has a much more limited direct interest in the outcome of the Russian-Ukrainian War, but itself faces challenges from fast modernising Russian, Chinese and particularly North Korean missile forces near its territory. 

[Author: ibbs.8t@gmail.com (Military Watch Editorial Staff)] [Category: Eastern Europe and Central Asia, Missile and Space]

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[l] at 3/15/24 5:26am
America’s largest defence contractor Lockheed Martin has begun full scale production of the F-35 fifth generation fighter, following several years of delays due to issues with the program and qualitative issues with the aircraft itself. Pentagon acquisition executive William LaPlante approved this production increase “after considering the results” from operational test and evaluation, live-fire testing, the System Development and Demonstration exit criteria, applicable laws, and future production strategy. The announcement of this milestone in the F-35 program elaborating that this new stage “requires control of the manufacturing process, acceptable performance and reliability, and the establishment of adequate sustainment and support systems.” The F-35 is forecast to be produced at a rate of 156 aircraft for year for the remainder of the decade, and possibly into the 2030s. This remains far lower than previously projected production numbers, with the U.S. Air Force alone having previously intended to acquire 110 fighters per year. Significantly more were to be acquired by the Navy, the Marine Corps and foreign clients, resulting in production of close to 250 per year. With the Air Force having cut acquisitions to 80, then 60, and finally just 48 aircraft per year, however, production is not expected to exceed 156, despite exports having significantly exceeded expectations. Approval for full scale production of the F-35 was initially expected to commence from 2017, but has been consistently delayed multiple times over several years. In November 2019, for example, the Pentagon’s leading weapons tester Robert Behler noted that the fighter was still  far from ready for combat, particularly highlighting the fact that all variants of the aircraft suffered from low reliability and were prone to breakdowns more often than previously anticipated. While Lockheed Martin's F-35 Programme Manager Greg Ulmer notably voiced his disagreement with the Pentagon’s assessment at the time, the military ultimately had the final say over the company’s production schedule. In October the following year ongoing issues with the aircraft and with its test simulator led to a further delay to plans to approve production. Subsequently in December the Pentagon postponed a review of its combat capabilities which was a necessary prerequisite to increase the scale of production. The Defence Department’s undersecretary for acquisition and sustainment Ellen Lord cited "technical challenges" as the cause of the delay, alongside the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic. Although full scale production has been approved, a separate question remains whether Lockheed Martin can meet production targets, with a range of issues having caused significant production shortfalls including in 2023, while clients ranging from the Belgian Defence Ministry to the U.S. Marine Corps have continued to complain of serious qualitative deficiencies with those aircraft that are produced. A key point of issue raised by lawmakers and officials within the United States has been the aircraft’s very low availability rates and high maintenance requirements, which have allowed even Cold War era F-15 and F-16 fighters worn out by decades of service to remain available at far higher rates than newly built F-35s. While delays developing and procuring the F-35 have forced the U.S. Air Force to rely on Cold War fighters far longer, forcing availability rates down as they have aged in service, the new stealth fighter’s own flaws have meant that those which do transition have often fared little better. This and multiple other issues, including the F-35’s tremendous overruns in operational costs which have reduced the viability of a larger fleet, have led the U.S. Air Force to plan significant cuts to acquisitions and look to alternatives, with one of the most recent options being a derivative of the T-7 trainer.

[Author: ibbs.8t@gmail.com (Military Watch Editorial Staff)] [Category: Aircraft and Anti-Aircraft, North America, Western Europe and Oceania]

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[l] at 3/15/24 3:21am
The Chinese People's Liberation Army is expected to unveil the first intercontinental range strategic bomber in the country’s history, the H-20, in mid-late 2024, with new insight into the program having been provided by the service’s deputy commander Wang Wei. The bomber, he stated, would meet expectations and be worth the excitement that has surrounded its imminent unveiling, with the program having faced no technical difficulties in development. He made these comments at the second session of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference 14th National Committee when asked about the program by the Hong Kong based Commercial Daily. “There is no bottleneck, and all problems can be solved. Our scientific researchers are progressing well, they are fully capable," the deputy commander added, stating that it would be unveiled to the public shortly, and that its commissioning and mass production would closely follow test flights. The development of an intercontinental range bomber had long been speculated, and was first confirmed by the head of the air force Ma Xiaotian in 2016. It was subsequently confirmed that the aircraft was built as a flying wing stealth design similar to the GJ-11 drone or the American B-2 bomber. The significance of the H-20’s development has increased both as tensions between China and the Western world have continued to rise, and as the United States first flew its own intercontinental range stealth bomber the B-21 Raider on November 10, 2023. Making its maiden flight more than three years behind schedule, and with the United States having in the past required more than twice as long between the beginning of flight testing and service entry of its manned stealth aircraft, it remains uncertain whether the B-21 or the H-20 will enter service first despite the former’s lead in beginning flight testing. While all previous American intercontinental range bombers were developed with a potential conflict with the Soviet Union primarily in mind, the B-21 was designed specifically to meet the requirements for a capability to strike nuclear missile silos in western China, and other targets across the Chinese mainland. China and the United States are by far the best positioned countries to pursue a stealth bomber programs, and are the only two countries to field indigenous fifth generation stealth fighters at squadron level strength. With China having overtaken the U.S. in spending on defence acquisitions in 2020, Chinese J-20 fighters are currently being acquired by the country’s air force at more than twice the rate at which the U.S. Air Force acquires its closest technological counterpart the F-35. 

[Author: ibbs.8t@gmail.com (Military Watch Editorial Staff)] [Category: Aircraft and Anti-Aircraft, Asia-Pacific]

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[l] at 3/14/24 7:16pm
The Ukrainian Armed Forces’ frontline positions in the disputed Donbas regions have been left increasingly vulnerable to Russian air strikes following the loss of MIM-104 Patriot and S-300 surface to air missile systems near the town of Pokrovsk, 67 kilometres northwest of the Donetsk regional capital. Both systems were destroyed on March 8 in precision strikes by Russian Iskander-M ballistic missile systems. A surge in production of 9K720 missiles for the Iskander-M to several times pre-war rates has made them highly available for engagements in the theatre, while growing drone surveillance capabilities has made it more difficult for Ukrainian forces to conceal their assets. The S-300 and Patriot are the longest ranged air defence systems in Ukrainian service, and were already few and far between in the country’s inventory. Ageing S-300s from the 1980s inherited when the USSR disintegrated still have much greater mobility and much wider arcs of fire than newly built Patriots, while the Patriots built much more recently and delivered in 2023 have much more modern electronics and sensors. The strain which the loss of these systems has incurred was highlighted by a number of Western and Ukrainian sources. The losses comes as sources on the ground have widely the growing effectiveness of Russian precision bombing, supplementing its increasingly vast superiority in artillery on the frontlines, with the diminishing of Ukrainian air defences further reducing the risks to Russian aircraft providing such support. Concerns regarding growing shortages of air defence systems in Ukraine have been raised since late 2022, and continued to worsen since. In November 2022 Ukrainian Air Force chief spokesperson Colonel Yury Ignat informed the London based Financial Times that an inability to procure additional missiles for the S-300 and shorter range BuK systems posed a major threat, with the service’s ability to continue to fire two missiles at each incoming Russian target, as was standard practice for many countries’ air defence units, set to be seriously undermined in future. Leaks of secret documents from the U.S. Department of Defence five months later in April 2023 showed that there were rising concerns within the Pentagon regarding the state of the Ukrainian Air Force’s surface to air missile network, with Pentagon officials assessing that Ukraine’s ability to protect forces on the frontlines would soon be “completely reduced.” With Ukraine unable to procure new S-300s, which are produced exclusively in Russia, supplies of more Patriots remains unlikely as the U.S. Military faces serious shortages for its own use, which was highlighted by the sudden increase in requirements for such systems from October 2023 following an escalation of attacks on American facilities across the Middle East. Russia by contrast has an extremely large and fast growing arsenal of modern ground based air defence systems, having invested several times as much into acquiring these than it has in acquiring new fighters or interceptors. The country in the 2010s expanded its productive capacities for surface to air missiles very considerably to not only keep up with wartime demand in Ukraine, but also continue to expand its arsenal and to maintain exports to states such as India and Belarus. 

[Author: ibbs.8t@gmail.com (Military Watch Editorial Staff)] [Category: Aircraft and Anti-Aircraft, Eastern Europe and Central Asia]

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[l] at 3/10/24 6:47am
South Korea has deployed some of its last operational F-4E fighters for an ‘Elephant Walk’ show of force, as tensions between the country and neighbouring North Korea have continued to rise. The F-4s were deployed as part of the joint Freedom Shield exercise with the United States, which simulates a major air assault against North Korea. Pyongyang has responded to the exercises with its own major artillery drills, demonstrating a massive capacity for retaliation, although its inability to acquire modern fighter aircraft due to a UN arms embargo has forced it to rely on assets such as ballistic missiles, artillery and mobile air defence systems to counter enemy air power. The F-4s were deployed alongside F-15 and F-16 fourth generation and F-35 fifth generation fighters, with Air Force Chief of Staff General Lee Young Su stating regarding the operation: “As the elephant walk training demonstrated today, (we) must become an Air Force that instils trust in the people and fears in the enemy, with capabilities and a posture to overwhelmingly respond to any enemy provocation.” The fighters taxied in formation fully armed to rehearse routine pre-takeoff procedures. South Korea’s fighter fleet is considered the most formidable of any U.S.-aligned state, and while F-4s were previously widely deployed they have been mostly phased out of service, with only a single squadron remaining. Two other squadrons have been replaced by new F-35 stealth fighters, with the final unit of approximately 20 aircraft similarly expected to be phased out once F-35s are delivered. Neighbouring Japan phased its own F-4s out of service in 2020, with the class’ retirement from the Korean fleet leaving only clients in the third world as remaining operators - namely Turkey, Greece and Iran. When previously deployed to Korea by the U.S. Air Force F-4s saw multiple engagements with North Korean air defences and fighters, with several units lost in combat during skirmishes in the 1960s, and several more shot down over North Vietnam by North Korean volunteer MiG-21 pilots. The F-4 today is considered less capable than the MiG-23ML and MiG-29 fighters in the North Korean fleet, particularly when considering their flight performances and the power of their radars, although South Korean pilots are estimated to have considerably more training hours which is expected to help compensate. South Korea has faced difficulties replacing the F-4, as not only have significant production shortfalls with the F-35 meant deliveries have been slow, but the class has also suffered from significant operational issues. Air Force data obtained by member of the South Korean National Assembly’s National Defence Committee Shin Won Min in 2022 confirmed that inspections found F-35s to have suffered from 234 flaws over 18 months from January 2021 to June 2022, including 172 ‘non-flying status (G-NORS)’ and 62 ‘cannot perform specific mission status (F-NORS)’ cases. 117 flightless and 45 mission-specific failures in 2021 saw little improvement in the first half of 2022, and over six months 55 and 17 failures of these types occurred. Specific mission failure rates are notably more than twice those of the country’s Vietnam War era F-4 and F-5 fighters, despite these having seen decades of wear while F-35s were new off production lines. Shin warned regarding the implications of this for aerial warfare capabilities against North Korea: “The F-35A was introduced with a very large budget to solve the issue of obsolete fighter jets and strengthen combat effectiveness against North Korea. In the case of the escalation of North Korea's nuclear and missile threats, it cannot be permitted that this core combat force cannot function properly.” Issues with the F-35 have also led the Pentagon to continue reducing orders, with the U.S. Air Force currently considering commissioning a much cheaper and lighter fighter based on the T-7 trainer to makeup for the shortfall in F-35 deliveries. 

[Author: ibbs.8t@gmail.com (Military Watch Editorial Staff)] [Category: Aircraft and Anti-Aircraft, Asia-Pacific]

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[l] at 3/9/24 3:36am
New footage published by the Russian Defence Ministry on March 9 has shown the destruction of mobile launch vehicles from an Iskander-M tactical ballistic missile system near the town of Pokrovsk, 67 kilometres northwest of the Donetsk regional capital. Drone footage showed a large explosion after the strike. Although the Iskander-M was not an asset designed for air defence suppression, and uses inertial and satellite guidance rather than homing in on radar emissions, its high precision has made it an effective asset for neutralising such systems. Targeting was achieved despite the S-300’s famously high mobility, which has made it particularly difficult to target since early versions began to enter service from 1979. An air launched variant of the Iskander-M’s 9K720 ballistic missile, the Kh-47M2 Kinzhal, was reportedly used in May 2023 to neutralise Ukrainian Patriot missile systems - an American analogue to the S-300. Although Russian forces initially suffered from limited supplies of 9K720 missiles, a surge in production to several times pre-war rates has made them highly readily available allowing for new tactics to be utilised which involve the expenditure of more missiles during attacks. Ukrainian forces in frontline areas in the disputed Russian speaking Donbas regions have relied very heavily on ground based air defence network built around the Soviet S-300 and BuK systems to blunt the capabilities of Russian air power. While air defences have proven highly successful despite their age, the inability to replenish stocks with new production has resulted in their depletion - the first serious warnings of which were given in December 2022. Pentagon officials early the following year concluded that Ukrainian air defences assigned to protect forces on the frontlines would “be completely reduced” by May, allowing Russia’s very large air power advantage to potentially play a much more decisive role. By the end of the year Western and Ukrainian sources were increasingly highlighting the seriousness of the damage caused by Russian air strikes, particularly using precision guided glide bombs, on Ukrainian frontline positions. Ukrainian Army frontline personnel speaking to the New York Times in January lamented that while long having suffered from near constant artillery attacks, since the spring they had endured “the additional devastating power” of these glide bombs. They stressed that these bombs were obliterating their underground bunkers and carried up to 500kg of explosives each. One serviceman compared the impact of glide bomb strikes to “hell’s gates,” stressing that the Russian Air Force “would send them two by two by two, eight in an hour… It sounds like a jet coming down on you.” Further suppression of Ukrainian systems, which are near impossible for the country to replace, is expected to serve as a further force multiplier for its air campaign as ground forces boast mounting successes on the frontlines. This has recently included a disordered retreat from the strategically located town of Avdiivka in late February, where extreme casualties were taken, and afterwards rapid and significant losses among new M1A1 Abrams tanks deployed to slow Russian advanced in the area in the first ever engagements by these assets. Intensive bombing facilitated by Ukraine’s weak air defences were a key facilitator of a Russian victory in Avdiivka, with extreme ammunition shortages among even the most elite Ukrainian frontline units deployed in the area having been another major factor. 

[Author: ibbs.8t@gmail.com (Military Watch Editorial Staff)] [Category: Eastern Europe and Central Asia, Missile and Space]

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