News Region & Country Ukraine

US-provided ATACMS destroyed several Russian helicopters, UK says

The attack on two Russian air bases could make Russia move its forward operating bases away from the front, the British said.
Nicholas Slayton Avatar
ATACMS missiles launch from Ukrainian positions. (Screenshot via Twitter/Ukrainian Armed Forces)

Earlier this week Ukraine’s military announced it was using American-provided Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS). Yesterday, the British military confirmed the weapons are being used, and that they took out more than a dozen Russian aircraft in two strikes at Russian air bases in Ukraine. 

According to a statement posted to Twitter by the British Ministry of Defense on Friday, Oct. 20, the two attacks “likely ” destroyed 14 Russian helicopters in total. The attacks were in the Berdyansk and Luhansk regions of Ukraine. The Berdyansk base, the MOD said, has been a major forward operating base for Russian forces in the southern end of the country. 

“If confirmed, it is highly likely these losses will have an impact on Russia’s ability to both defend and conduct future offensive activity” the British MOD said .

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Word of the strike was first announced on Tuesday, Oct. 17 when Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelensky confirmed the missile systems were being used in combat. Valerii Zaluzhnyi, the top Ukrainian commander, posted a video to Twitter showing ATACMS being fired on the battlefield. Initially the attack was said to have destroyed only nine Russian aircraft. The British military’s report on Friday provides more details and a wider picture of how the weapons are being used in the war. 

The ATACMS are the latest Western weapon to be sent to and utilized by Kyiv. The U.S. government provided versions of ATACMS that have a limited range, so that they cannot be used to hit targets inside Russia itself. This has been a common modification with American weapons sent to Kyiv, such as when the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System or HIMARS were sent to Ukraine. 

Following this week’s attack on the two air bases, Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday said that the missiles won’t significantly change the course of the war. He called the ATACMS “another mistake by the United States.”

According to the British military, the ATACMS attacks had an additional result beyond the initial destruction. Rotary aircraft such as helicopters have been one of the main parts of the Russian strategy in the skies, and the 14 allegedly lost helicopters will be very difficult to quickly replace. The MOD also said that the successful attack on the two bases means that Russian forces are likely to move its FOBs farther away from the front lines to protect its assets. 

The U.S. publicly promised the ATACMS to Ukraine a month ago. Additional military aid to Ukraine remains stalled after Congress failed to approve additional funding for it in September. The ongoing struggle for the House of Representatives to choose a new Speaker means Congress is essentially at a gridlock, and no new expenditures can be approved. On Friday the Biden administration requested $61 billion to go to Ukraine’s defense, as part of a wider defense request.

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