Satellite photos reveal aftermath of ATACMS attack on Russian airbases

Credit: US Department of Defense

Ukrainian forces have used US-supplied Army Tactical Missile System missiles, or ATACMS, for the first time in a large-scale assault against Russian-occupied territories. 

The strikes on October 17, 2023, targeted two airbases. One near Luhansk in eastern Ukraine and the other in Berdiansk in the southern Zaporizhzhia region, both of which are under Russian control​. 

The aftermath of the attack was clearly depicted in satellite photos released on October 18, 2023.  

The photographs, which were distributed by Schemes, a project from Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s, (RF/ERL’s) Ukrainian service and Planet Labs, showed destroyed runways and the burnt ruins of where Russian helicopters had formerly been stored. 

The strikes resulted in the elimination of nine Russian military helicopters, an ammo depot, and an air defense missile launcher, with heavy losses inflicted on Russian forces. 

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy expressed his gratitude towards the United States, stating that the missiles had “proven themselves” during the attack. 

“Our agreements with President Biden are being implemented. And they are being implemented very accurately,” Zelenskyy wrote on his Telegram channel on October 17, 2023. 

US support came in response to Kyiv’s repeated requests for ATACMS with the promise that the missiles would not be used within Russian territory. On October 18, 2023, it was revealed that the US had secretly supplied Ukraine with 20 ATACMS in order to avoid alerting Russian soldiers to their location.  

“The debut test drive of the missiles alone resulted in the loss of about a dozen Russian helicopters and an ammunition depot,” Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak wrote on X, (formerly known as Twitter) on October 19, 2023.  

“Long-range missiles save lives. Literally. They allow us to destroy the logistics of the occupation forces with surgical precision and alleviate the situation on the front line. The more long-range missiles of various modifications the Armed Forces have, the fewer shells will hit Ukrainian defenders and cities. The more people will return home alive,” Podolyak continued.  

The ATACMS is a long-range guided missile developed by the US, capable of hitting targets up to 300 kilometers away depending on the variant. Ukraine has an earlier version of the ATACMS, with a range of up to 165 kilometers. 

They are designed to be launched from Multiple Launch Rocket Systems (MLRS) and are utilized to neutralize or destroy key targets like enemy installations, assembly areas, and equipment, significantly impacting the adversaries’ capabilities on the battlefield. 

Equipped with a GPS/INS (Global Positioning System/Inertial Navigation System) guidance system, the ATACMS missile provides precision strike capabilities.  

Ukraine employed cluster bomblets rather than a single warhead to hit targets in Berdiansk, on the Azov Sea coast, and in the seized eastern Luhansk province. 

Cluster munitions have the ability to disperse bomblets over a large area, effectively targeting personnel, light vehicles, and other military assets.  

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