June 5, 2023
Ukrainian forces are on the move in southern Ukraine. On June 4 and June 5, the army’s 23rd and 31st Mechanized Brigades with their T-64BV tanks reportedly pushed back Russian defenders, potentially including the 71st Motor Rifle Regiment and 37th Guards Motor Rifle Brigade, in and around Novodonetske in southern Donetsk Oblast just east of Zaporizhzhia Oblast.
It’s unclear how big and determined the Ukrainian attack is—whether, in other words, it’s a small-scale raid or probe or the start of a wider, country-wide counteroffensive.
If it’s the latter, look for Ukrainian reinforcements to roll into Novodonetske in order to exploit the gap the 23rd and 31st Mechanized Brigades are opening in the Russian line.
It’s possible one reinforcing unit already is in place: the Ukrainian navy’s 37th Marine Brigade. As it happens, the brigade is uniquely equipped for exactly the kind of fast-moving exploitation operation that should follow an initial mechanized breach of enemy defenses.
That’s because the 37th Marine Brigade operates some of the 40 AMX-10RC reconnaissance vehicles France donated to Ukraine this spring. A Russian drone seems to have spotted a couple of the AMX-10RCs tucked into a treeline somewhere in Zaporizhzhia on Monday.
It’s unclear whether the Russians followed up the drone reconnaissance with a missile or artillery strike on the recon vehicles.
To be clear, the Ukrainians wouldn’t want to expose the four-person AMX-10RCs to heavy Russian fire. The speedy, wheeled AMX-10RC with its 105-millimeter main gun and day-night optics is a “sniper rifle on fast wheels,” Oleksii Reznikov, the Ukrainian minister of defense, crowed after test-driving one of the vehicles back in April.
French firm GIAT specifically designed the 15-ton, aluminum AMX-10RC for exactly the attributes the defense minister singled out. Fighting range. Situational awareness. Speed.
But not protection. The AMX-10RC has just enough armor to resist machine-gun fire and shell fragments. An autocannon—to say nothing of tank fire, a mine or a close hit by artillery—would chew it right up.
If the Ukrainians have launched a major attack in the south, perhaps aiming to execute a left hook from Zaporizhzhia toward Russian-held Crimea, the 37th Marine Brigade’s AMX-10RCs could find themselves in their element.
The vehicles’ simplicity, reliability and fuel efficiency—500 miles on a single tank of diesel for their 280-horsepower engines—could help the 37th Marine Brigade to move long distances, fast.
The lightly-equipped brigade would need help, of course. It’s the job of heavier army formations to break through Russian defenses so that the marines can roll into the Russians’ thinly-fortified rear area and make a mad dash for Mariupol, Kherson, Crimea or some other objective deeper inside Russian-occupied Ukraine.
We may already be observing this sequence of operations playing out in southern Ukraine. Or not. The fog of war is thick across Ukraine right now as both sides fire off claims and counterclaims amid conflicting evidence of what Ukrainian forces are trying to do, and whether Russian forces effectively are responding.