A large group of Russian troops violated ‘military operations 101’ and paid the price in a deadly Ukrainian HIMARS strike, experts say

A still from the video showing an explosion on a sandbar.

Ukraine uploaded a video on Tuesday of a HIMARS strike on a sandbar.Screenshot/National Resistance Center

  • Ukraine said it launched a deadly HIMARS attack on five Russian units gathered on a beach.

  • Russia seriously misjudged its soldiers’ proximity to Ukrainian HIMARS, two experts told Insider.

  • “Lesson for the Russians: your adversary is clever,” one said. “Don’t cut your range calculations too closely.”

The Russian units targeted in a Ukrainian HIMARS attack this week flouted a key wartime rule, experts told Insider: Don’t gather in big, open spaces.

Ukraine on Tuesday said it launched a HIMARS attack on five Russian units gathered on a beach resulting in 200 casualties and destroyed equipment. Insider could not independently confirm the number of soldiers killed in the attack.

Ukrainian media outlets reported that the strike took place on Dzharylhach island, a 26-mile sandbank in the Black Sea located in the Russian-occupied Kherson region. The country recently set up training grounds for active military units to recover and train on the island, according to The Institute for the Study of War.

The country’s National Resistance Center, overseen by the Ukrainian Army, posted drone footage of the strike on Facebook, showing Russian soldiers who appear to be stretching and standing in plain sight on the shore just moments before HIMARS munitions struck.

“Massing your troops within striking range of the Ukrainians is unwise,” said Simon Miles, an assistant professor at Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy and a historian of the Soviet Union and US-Soviet relations.

“I don’t know whether the Russian military believed themselves to be far enough away that they enjoyed some kind of sanctuary, but obviously that was not the case,” Miles told Insider.

Dzharylhach island is located about 40 miles from the nearest frontline, said Mark Cancian, a retired US Marine Corps colonel and a senior advisor with the Center for Strategic and International Studies’ security program.

The American-made High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems or HIMARS is an advanced missile launcher that sits mounted on a truck and can fire missiles that reach up to 50 miles. The weapons systems typically sit a bit behind the front line itself, Cancian said, possibly providing Russia a false sense of security on Dzharylhach island.

“The Ukrianians either moved a HIMARS up close or figured out a way to put it on an island or on a barge that would get it in range,” he said.

Miles notes that the Russian training grounds at Dzharylhach island appear to have been established relatively recently and it takes time for military leaders to establish perimeters and safeguard a new facility — a challenge likely made even more difficult by Russia’s mounting manpower problems.

“In a world where anyone with a smartphone can snap a picture and put it on Telegram, that becomes a really serious challenge for operational security,” he said.

The Ukrainian National Resistance Center said the strike was aided by intelligence provided by local sources.

Still, there is an element of complacency on the Russians’ part in this attack, experts said. Ukraine has been using HIMARS for months to destroy high-value targets far beyond the frontlines. Russia certainly knows the range of the weapons system and should have been able to reasonably predict that their units were in striking distance, Miles said.

“Lesson for the Russians: your adversary is clever,” Cancian told Insider. “Don’t cut your range calculations too closely.”

The attack comes just weeks after reports suggest Ukraine executed a similar strike. A Ukrainian official in June confirmed reports from a Russian military blogger that Russian soldiers were hit by Ukrainian HIMARS while standing still for two hours for a commander’s speech, rendering them sitting ducks.

The sandbank where Ukraine said it executed HIMARS strikes against Russian soldiers this week.

The sandbank where Ukraine said it executed HIMARS strikes against Russian soldiers this week.Screenshot/National Resistance Center

The shockingly similar strikes indicate a serious communication problem within Russia’s military, Miles said, blaming the country’s top-down approach to disseminating information for the repeated mistakes.

“At a basic tactical level, we can see the Russian military is learning from its mistakes,” Miles said. “But it’s one thing to learn on a basic level and another to disseminate that knowledge across a big force spread far geographically.”

Plus, many of the key logistical decisions are being made by people far from the frontlines in Moscow who are operating without timely, accurate information about what’s going on on the ground, he said.

Regardless of who made the call to keep soldiers out in the open and in range of Ukrainian HIMARS, the strike this week is likely to worsen already depleted morale among Russian soldiers, especially those who thought they were enjoying a period of relative respite at Dzharylhach island, Miles said.

“Ukraine is denying Russian troops at training grounds the sanctuary to train and rest and refit,” Miles said. “This is going to have pretty potent macro effects in the long-term.”

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