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The war in Ukraine has been driven by artillery and drone capabilities Western defense officials have advised, but according to the U.K.’s Ministry of Defense Saturday, Russia may be running low on “pivotal” unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV).
The defense ministry said UAVs have proven vulnerable to both Ukrainian and Russian forces. But while Kyiv has relied on allied nations to continue providing military aid in its war against Moscow, heavy sanctions have prevented Russian forces from maintaining its drone needs.
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Russia’s limited domestic UAV production could be hindering key components of its reconnaissance strategy, the ministry noted.
“Russia has attempted to implement the concept of ‘Reconnaissance strike’ [that] it refined in Syria, which uses reconnaissance UAVs to identify targets to be struck by combat jets or artillery,” the ministry said. “Russia is likely experiencing a shortage of appropriate reconnaissance UAVs for this task.”
The defense ministry said that Russia largely continues to avoid sending crewed areal sorties over Ukraine as its air defense system remains intact.
“If Russia continues to lose UAVs at its current rate, Russian forces intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capability will be further degraded, negatively impacting operational effectiveness,” the ministry concluded.
Airstrikes and shelling have largely dominated Russia’s strategy in Ukraine, which it has pummeled for nearly 90 days.
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A senior U.S. defense official told reporters this week that the Pentagon has assessed a decrease in the number of sortie operations in eastern and southern Ukraine, though this was in part due to weather the official noted.
“We’re not seeing the same number of strikes on or near Mariupol and of course that we believe is tied to their view that the resistance has all but ended there,” the defense official told reporters Thursday.
“Even the Ukrainians have admitted that the combat operations in Mariupol have ended,” the official added, noting it made “logistical” sense why the Russians were hitting the port city less.
Airstrikes continue to play a large combat role outside of Kharkiv in the country’s northeastern region, where Ukrainian forces have pushed Russian troops back near their own border.
U.S. defense officials have assessed that Russia has made “incremental” gains in the Donbas region and along the Black Sea.
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Pentagon press secretary John Kirby told reporters Friday this progress is slow and Russia remains behind on where it hoped to be by now on strategic advancements.
“It is incremental, it is slow, it’s uneven, and the Ukrainians continue to push back,” he added.