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Defense & Security
President Xi Jinping shaking hands with Vladimir Putin

The Chinese are not “tolerant”: they are preparing a global counteroffensive

by Yuri Tavrovsky

Moscow-Beijing: combat coordination is growing. Powerful cold currents from the West determine the political atmosphere of the planet. Efforts are being made to counter them with warm currents from the East. Only the synergy of actions between Russia and China prevents the the consolidated camp of hegemony from entering the "final and decisive battle" against each of these recalcitrant powers individually. We are well aware of the situation on the western front of the global Cold War. However, on the eastern front, where there is no Ukrainian-scale conflict yet, tensions are approaching critical levels. Defense-related Chinese trade publications have published some very disturbing material in recent weeks. ... To destroy the latest American nuclear aircraft carrier Gerald Ford and the battle group accompanying it from a cruiser and 5 missile frigates, 24 hypersonic missiles without nuclear warheads were enough. In a computer simulation, rocket launches were carried out from 6 different areas, including even the Gobi Desert in Northwest China. Considered unsinkable, the carrier group was completely destroyed by a series of launches of distracting and damaging missiles. The Chinese took into account the capabilities of both the standard set of anti-aircraft weapons and the latest American SM-3 anti-missiles. According to the scenario described in the Chinese-language Journal of Test and Measurement, the American armada entered the waters of the South China Sea and continued to move in a menacing course, despite warnings. Similar scenarios play out regularly near Chinese shores. Another Chinese publication spoke about the mortal danger of such actions. The South China Morning Post, published in Hong Kong in English, reported that the war between China and the United States could begin in the South China Sea. On January 5, 2021, three US Navy anti-submarine aircraft searched for Chinese submarines near the Dongsha Qundao (Pratas) archipelago. Reconnaissance aircraft, as always, dropped electronic buoys and tracked the routes of Chinese submarines that were participating in major exercises. However, one plane flew too close to China, and Chinese fighters flew in from there. The Chinese regarded the situation as a huge threat to national security. There was a possibility of an armed conflict, and the Americans, taking into account the unfolding actions of the PRC Air Force and Navy, began to prepare for the worst and even destroyed expensive buoys with top-secret equipment. The description of the conflict in the Chinese specialized magazine Shipboard Electronic Countermeasures does not give details of the confrontation. However, everything was very, very serious. No wonder the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the United States, General Mark Milley, made a phone call to the Chinese Minister of Defense a couple of days later, assuring him that the Pentagon had no intention of provoking a real war. He even promised to inform his counterparts in Beijing in advance about the intentions of policymakers in the event of a critical situation. These two sensational publications did not appear by accident. One can only guess how many dangerous situations arise on the line of contact between the military of China and America in the Asia-Pacific basin. But, as the Chinese proverb says, “Heaven proposes, Xi Jinping disposes.” The Supreme Commander, acting at the strategic level of planning and decision-making, is responding to Washington's growing aggressiveness by demonstrating readiness for retaliatory actions on the battlefield and intensifying combat coordination with Russia. Planned for April, Xi Jinping's visit to Moscow was postponed to the end of March, and negotiations with Vladimir Putin lasted a total of 8 hours. Even not so much the published documents as the subsequent events showed qualitative changes in the partnership between Moscow and Beijing. The time has come for all-round combat coordination. It began with hours of face-to-face talks between the two supreme commanders. Soon, Chinese Defense Minister Li Shangfu came to Moscow. After the visit of an experienced and energetic military commander, Chen Wenqing, curator of internal and external intelligence services, arrived in Moscow. Reports of his meetings with the secretary of our Security Council, Nikolai Patrushev, showed the resolute attitude of the chief intelligence officer of the Celestial Empire towards the West. For its part, the Kremlin decided to reinforce the dynamics of combat coordination with a "volley of the main guns." A delegation of high-ranking officials and business leaders headed by Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin headed to Beijing, unprecedented in size and level. The visit was prepared in a hurry and took place under the vigilant eye of the Western intelligence services. Therefore, the number and quality of signed agreements disappointed the optimists. But the bilateral meetings of officials, bankers and experts of the two countries that took place on the sidelines advanced the ongoing negotiations on strategic areas of cooperation and prepared serious deals. During the visit, influential publications noted the mutual interest of both countries in the accelerated growth of trade. Thus, the Global Times, which is close to the CCP Central Committee, noted the synergy of the two trends. Russia needs to increase the export of raw materials, especially energy. Against the backdrop of a rapid economic recovery, China needs to expand imports of the same oil and gas, agricultural products and other types of raw materials. The development of China's relations with the West repeats the history of the deterioration of Russia's relations with the West. The sanctions already imposed on China will be tightened. Access to sources of raw materials and markets will become a priority for Beijing for the foreseeable future. We should not turn a blind eye to the reaction of some Chinese experts and blogosphere activists to the arrival in Beijing of Mikhail Mishustin at the head of a thousandth army of the Russian elite. The emphasis is not even so much on the vital need for Moscow to receive income from trade with China as on the desirability of not offending the West, leaving the door open for relations with America. However, after 40 years of Chinese-American marriage of convenience, it would be naive to expect a quick change of shoes. There does not seem to be any improvement in relations between America and China, despite Biden's hints and the visit of Chinese Commerce Minister Wang Wentao to the United States. Overcoming the pathological hatred of politicians for China, business people in Washington continue to do business even in the most adverse conditions. In 2022, bilateral trade reached an all-time high of $691 billion. At the same time, the Americans were able to sell their goods to the Chinese for less than 154 billion. The reduction or abolition of duties, which President Trump began to introduce back in 2018 and President Biden is increasing, could help improve the quality and further increase trade. They cost each American family $1,000 a year. However, the prospects for curtailing the trade war are very illusory. The White House and both houses of the US Congress are on the warpath. Any attempt to improve US-China relations ends in scandal—Pelosi's scandalous trip, the big white ball... The same fate awaits current hopes. The visit of Pelosi's heir, Speaker of the House of Representatives Kevin McCarthy to Taiwan is being prepared. At the G7 summit in Tokyo, there was a military coordination between NATO and Japan. China, along with Russia, is designated in the final documents as the main enemy. The bloc's regional headquarters is to be opened in Tokyo. It is impossible to get rid of historical parallels. Similarly, in 1936, Japan concluded the Anti-Comintern Pact with Nazi Germany, directed against the Soviet Union. A few months later, the emboldened Japanese began an all-out war against the Celestial Empire, capturing Beijing, Shanghai, Wuhan and Nanjing in 1937. Only the diplomatic, military and financial assistance of the Soviet Union prevented the capitulation of the Republic of China along the lines of France. Stubbornly resisting China, in turn, prevented Tokyo from attacking the USSR at the already appointed time - August 29, 1941. Then there were two fronts - Soviet and Chinese. Now the situation is repeating itself. The Chinese were not patient. They were defending then. Now, relying on a reliable Russian rear, they launched a counteroffensive. Thanks to Beijing's 12-point peace plan for Ukraine and Xi Jinping's phone call with Zelensky, China is destroying the Yellow Threat stereotype at minimal cost in the European theater and strengthening its image as a peacemaker. There is competition with America. The first study trip to Kyiv, Paris, Berlin, Brussels and Moscow of Special Representative Xi Jinping, Ambassador Li Hui, has just ended. It was preceded by trips of "heavyweights" - Chinese Vice President Han Zheng, foreign policy curator on the party line Wang Yi, Foreign Minister Qin Gang. Another area of China's global counteroffensive is to prevent the West from filling the strategic vacuum in Central Asia. That was the task of the summit of the five countries of this region and China in Xi'an, the ancient capital of several Chinese dynasties. This also meets the strategic interests of Moscow. The combat coordination of the two mighty powers of the Eurasian continent is gaining momentum and taking on new forms. How can one not recall that in March, Xi Jinping, when saying goodbye to Vladimir Putin on the steps of the Grand Kremlin Palace, said: “Now there are changes that have not happened in 100 years, and we are driving these changes.” Putin's answer was short but meaningful: "I agree."

Defense & Security
Kim Jong Un with Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu during the ceremonies marking the 70th anniversary of the end of the Korean War

This is how likely North Korean arms shipments to Russia are

by Frederic Spohr , Jannik Krahe

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and Russian President Vladimir Putin have met at the Vostochny Cosmodrome, a spaceport in eastern Russia. Since Russia's war of aggression against Ukraine, the two states have grown significantly closer – and could now agree on arms supplies for Russia's war of aggression against Ukraine.  Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korea's strongman Kim Jong Un held four hours of consultations. According to state media, the two leaders agreed on several cooperation projects and assured each other of solidarity. Most explosively, Russia plans to assist North Korea with its satellite program. Such support would almost certainly violate UN sanctions. Fittingly, the meeting took place at the Vostochny spaceport. Putin and Kim immediately went on a tour of inspection. Kim has "great interest in rocket technology and a focus on progress in space," Putin said. "I plan to acquaint him with the latest technologies during our tour of the base." The U.S. even assumes that an even hotter topic was on the agenda: ammunition deliveries to Russia for the war of aggression against Ukraine.  According to John Kirby, spokesman for the U.S. Security Council, Russia wants to order missiles and artillery shells from North Korea. Analysts believe it is realistic that North Korea will indeed supply arms. The composition of Kim's delegation also points to talks on arms deliveries. The head of state is being accompanied to Russia by high-ranking military officials, including Defense Minister Kang Sun Nam and Jo Chun Ryong, the head of the Munitions Industry Agency. It is the first foreign visit of Kim Jong Un in four years. The North Korean leader came to Vostochny in his luxury armored train. The meeting with Putin is another sign of rapprochement between the two states. North Korea is interesting to Russia not only as a possible munitions supplier. The Asian country is also one of the few states that diplomatically support Russia's invasion. With only six other states, North Korea voted against a resolution for Russia's withdrawal from Ukraine at the recent UN General Assembly. Even Iran, which supports Russia with drones, abstained from the vote. The North Koreans, on the other hand, are securing the support of a veto power in the UN Security Council by cooperating more closely with Russia. At the same time, they reduce their one-sided dependence on China, which is actually their most important partner. Moreover, closer cooperation could improve the desolate economic situation. In particular, the supply of food has deteriorated massively since the beginning of the Corona pandemic. The U.S. assumes that North Korea could probably pay for arms deliveries with food, among other things. In addition, North Korea will ask for raw materials and defense know-how in return. In addition to weapons, North Korea would also be able to send workers to Russia. Russia also has a labour shortage due to conscription because of the war. North Koreans could fill this gap – and bring foreign currency into the North Korean treasury. As early as last November, the U.S. had accused North Korea of supplying the Russian mercenary force Wagner with weapons. In January, Security Advisor John Kirby showed satellite images of a freight train allegedly delivering missiles to Russia.  However, this was not conclusive evidence of North Korean arms shipments to Russia. In the summer, the Financial Times published a report about North Korean weapons in Ukraine – but they were in the hands of the Ukrainian army. The Ukrainian Defense Ministry suggested in the report that the weapons had been captured by Russia. At present, however, there is nothing to suggest that North Korean weapons are being used on a large scale in Ukraine – the USA also admits this. Both states have denied reports of arms deliveries. Russia in particular could lose credibility if it actually obtains weapons. The UN Security Council has banned North Korea from exporting weapons with Russia's consent. If Russia were to actually import weapons now, it would undermine its own sanctions. However, there are many indications that Russia no longer feels bound by the rules in the Security Council anyway and is pushing ahead with an arms deal.  In July, Russia's Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu had already travelled to North Korea. Kim gave him a tour of a weapons display there featuring the latest North Korean military technology, including combat drones. At a military parade, Shoigu also inspected ballistic missiles actually banned by the UN Security Council. Also taking part in the tour was Deputy Defense Minister Aleksei Krivoruchko, who is responsible for Russia's ammunition and weapons procurement.  According to analysts, Russia is primarily interested in artillery ammunition: North Korea has shells compatible with Russian guns in 152mm and 122mm calibres.  Short-range missiles could also be on the Russians' shopping list. The North Korean KN-23, for example, is a further development of the Russian Iskander missile. Accordingly, Russian soldiers are likely to be familiar with the handling of the weapon. According to military experts, the KN-23 has a range of almost 700 kilometres. The KN-23 was also on display at the weapons exhibition Shoigu visited in North Korea. The United States is threatening North Korea that it will have to pay a "heavy price" if it actually supplies weapons. However, the U.S. has little opportunity to put North Korea under further pressure. However, bilateral sanctions, as well as sanctions imposed by Western allies, can hardly be increased. Russia, and presumably China as well, are preventing global sanctions in the UN Security Council - and seem unlikely to implement current sanctions. However, the Americans can act against companies that support secret trade between North Korea and Russia. For example, in mid-August, the U.S. Treasury Department imposed sanctions on three Slovak companies. They allegedly tried to organize secret arms deals between Russia and North Korea.

Defense & Security
Flags of North Korea and Russia

How North Korea Could Affect the War

by Can Kasapoğlu

As Kim Jong Un arrives in Russia for arms talks with Vladimir Putin, Hudson Institute Senior Fellow Can Kasapoglu offers a defense intelligence assessment of North Korea’s potential to affect Russia’s stumbling invasion campaign. Executive Summary Having failed to quickly conquer Ukraine, the Kremlin now pursues a war of attrition to wear down the will of Kyiv and NATO nations supporting the Ukrainian military. In this attritional fight, Russia enjoys a manpower advantage over Ukraine but faces setbacks in sustaining the necessary firepower. North Korea, which possesses an arsenal compatible with Soviet-Russian systems and the production capacity to augment it, could provide Moscow with the armaments it seeks. Pyongyang could also support Moscow in cyber warfare and training new recruits by dispatching its large special forces detachments. Russia and North Korea, along with Iran, represent an emerging axis that the West should take seriously as a global security threat. 1. North Korean Artillery Systems Could Replenish Moscow’s Stockpiles When it launched its invasion of Ukraine, Moscow anticipated a blitz intervention lasting a few weeks. Its military planners’ intelligence preparation of the battlefield (IPB) reflected this assessment. This is why Russian fighters were afforded generous provisions of artillery at the outset of the war. Available intelligence reports suggest that when the war began, each Russian battalion tactical group possessed up to two batteries of howitzers and a rocket battery. Subsequently, complete artillery brigades engaged Ukraine’s combat formations, unleashing overwhelming firepower at a high tempo to support the main axes of effort in a multifront war. At their heaviest, Russian artillery salvos regularly used 24,000 shells per day, and peaked on some days at 38,000 shells. As the campaign wore on and Russia’s initial intelligence estimates proved faulty, this rate dropped to 10,000 shells per day by the first quarter of 2023. At present, Russia’s artillery salvos utilize between 5,000 and 10,000 rounds daily. This change in fire patterns reflects Russia’s diminution of its own ammunition stockpiles. The Russian military used a total of 12 million artillery rounds in 2022. At its current rate of usage, it is on pace to use close to 7 million rounds in 2023. This means that the Russian military is using an average of 13,600 fewer shells per day this year than it used last year. This is troubling for Moscow since its defense industry can only produce 20,000 rounds per month of the Soviet-remnant 152mm-class weapons that dominate its artillery units. The overall artillery round production rate of the Russian industry falls somewhere between 2 million and 2.5 million shells per year. This is the void that Pyongyang could fill. Artillery and rockets are core assets of the Korean People’s Army (KPA). Open-source intelligence assessments estimate that the KPA operates some 14,000 to 20,000 artillery pieces of all kinds. At least 10,000 pieces of this stockpile are the 122mm-class rocket systems and 152mm-class artillery that are compatible with Russia’s heavily Soviet-era arsenal. Seventy percent of North Korea’s fire systems are forward deployed at high readiness, while some 4,000 are stored in underground networks. In any baseline wargaming scenario, KPA combat formations can volley up to 500,000 shells per hour at the outset of hostilities and sustain that operational tempo for several hours or opt for a prolonged conflict with a reduced artillery tempo of 10,000 shells per day. Worryingly, thirty percent of North Korea’s artillery and rocket deterrent is certified with chemical warfare agents, drawing upon up to 5,000 tons of Pyongyang’s stocks of chemical weapons. Initial assessments have suggested that the Kremlin is interested in North Korea’s 152mm-class artillery shells and its 122mm-class rockets, which the KPA uses as the mid-range artillery in the rear echelons of its combat formations. Pyongyang’s defense industries have been diligent in cloning artillery and rocket systems in these classes—with some added touches of their own. Their M-1974 Tokchon, for example, is simply the derivative of the Soviet 152mm-class D-20 howitzer and the ATS-59 tractor. The KPA operates thousands of 122mm-class MLRS and 152mm-class artillery, along with an enormous arsenal of ammunition certified for these weapons. Even more troublingly for Ukraine and its Western allies, North Korea could provide support to Russia that extends beyond 122mm- and 152mm-class solutions. The KPA’s longer-range fire-support systems—the 170mm Koksan self-propelled gun, with a range of some 60 kilometres, the M-1985/1991 truck-mounted 240mm-class rockets (which are highly mobile and destructive), and the 300mm-class heavy-rocket KN-09 (which has a range of 200 kilometres)—would be incredibly dangerous in Russian arsenals, especially when used in urban and semi-urban settings. Russia could seek to acquire these weapons systems. Should Kim Jong Un sign off on transferring some of these armaments to Moscow, it would not be his first rodeo. In December 2022, the White House revealed intelligence showing that Russia’s infamous Wagner network had received rockets from Pyongyang. 2. North Korean Tactical Ballistic Missiles Could Alter Battlefield Dynamics In a prolonged high-tempo conflict, Russia is running out of advanced tactical ballistic missiles. Its expenditure rate has long surpassed its production capacity of these key armaments. Here, too, North Korea could offer help to Moscow. Although it possesses fewer tactical ballistic missiles than artillery and rocket systems, the missiles it does possess could rain terror onto Ukraine’s population centers, even in small numbers. To grasp this issue, one needs to understand Russia’s missile warfare efforts in Ukraine. In January 2023, the Ukrainian Defense Ministry’s official tracking efforts determined that Russia had unleashed 750 SS-26 Iskander tactical ballistic missile salvos up to that point in the invasion. At that time, Ukrainian sources estimated that Russia had less than 120 Iskanders remaining in its stockpiles. Whether that figure was precise or exaggerated, Moscow, with a flagging production rate of only five Iskander tactical ballistic missiles per month, was quickly depleting its stocks of this vital weapon. Pyongyang could not supply the Russian military with thousands of ballistic missiles, as it could do with its stores of Soviet-compatible artillery and rockets. Nevertheless, transfers of a few hundred ballistic missiles remain within the realm of possibility. Short-range ballistic missiles (SRBMs) are the foundations of North Korea’s missile proliferation efforts. While Pyongyang has a large arsenal of liquid-propellant missiles possessing a Scud baseline, the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation prefer newer, solid-propellant missiles with better accuracy and shortened launch cycles, as these weapons stand a better chance against being hunted down by the Ukrainian military while causing more reliable damage. Unfortunately, Pyongyang also possesses stocks of these solid-fuelled, road-mobile tactical ballistic missiles. According to the US Defense Intelligence Agency, in one single military parade in October 2020, North Korea showcased 52 solid-propellant SRBMs on 6 different wheeled and tracked transporter erector launchers (TELs). In 2021, it was estimated that North Korea possesses some 600 solid-fuelled SRBM variants. Pyongyang’s next-generation tactical ballistic missile systems are menacing weapons. These assets feature a quasi-ballistic trajectory, improved accuracy (especially compared to other North Korean systems in the same range), and broad warhead configurations. All these features would support Russia’s missile warfare campaign. One of Pyongyang’s tactical ballistic missiles is the KN-23. The KN-23 is often portrayed as the North Korean version of the Russian SS-26 Iskander-M, as both projectiles follow a quasi-ballistic, depressed trajectory. The KN-23 is also capable of executing pull-up manoeuvres when homing in on a target. These features put extra stress on missile defense and make the KN-23 a hard-to-intercept threat. Moreover, in missile tests the KN-23 has demonstrated a range of 690 kilometres, with a flight apogee—the highest point in a rocket’s flight path—of 50 kilometres when carrying a lighter payload. It can also deliver a combat payload of one-half ton within a range of 450 kilometres. Should Russia acquire this weapon, it would bode ill for Ukraine’s air defense. Interestingly enough, the KN-23 was on display when Russia’s Minister of Defense Sergei Shoigu paid a recent visit to North Korea. The Russians may also show interest in the KN-24, another quasi-ballistic missile endowed with a powerful warhead. Some writings suggest that the KN-24 is modelled after the American ATACMS. North Korea test-launched the missile in 2019 with a depressed trajectory, showcasing a range of 400 kilometres and an apogee of 48 kilometres, and, in another test, a range of 230 kilometres with an apogee of 30 kilometres. In March 2020, Pyongyang conducted another launch, unleashing two KN-24 missiles that registered a maximum range of 410 kilometres and an apogee of 50 kilometres. The 2020 test reportedly featured missiles that could perform pull-up manoeuvres. Available evidence shows that both the KN-23 and the KN-24 likely deliver two main combat payload configurations—either a unitary warhead with one half ton of high explosives, or a submunition option packed with hundreds of charges. These warheads have a lethality radius of between 50 and 100 meters that expands against soft targets hit by submunition variants. In comparison with North Korea’s legacy, Scud-derivative tactical ballistic missiles, the KN-23 and KN-24 enjoy favourable circular error probable (CEP) rates, indicating that the newer missiles are more accurate weapons than their aged forebears. 3. North Korea Could Assist Russia in More Unconventional Ways While artillery and rockets seem the likely focus of any assistance Pyongyang could provide to Russia, North Korea could also affect the conflict in more unconventional ways. The first of these is cyber warfare. Pyongyang has gradually built a notorious cyber warfare deterrent. In 2016, North Korean agents hacked South Korean Cyber Command, contaminating its intranet with malware, and stealing confidential data. North Korea’s hackers also hacked the Bangladesh Central Bank in 2016, pulling off a notable heist. Alarmingly, the hackers even used the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunications (SWIFT) banking networks to do so. Pyongyang and Moscow had already established collaborative ties in cyberspace well before the invasion of Ukraine. The burgeoning security relationship between North Korea and Russia could push them to target the West in retaliation against sanctions. The second opportunity for unconventional cooperation between the two nations is in special forces and combat training. According to British Defense Intelligence, the Russian military is preparing to recruit 420,000 contract troops by the end of 2023. Understaffed and penurious non-commissioned officers’ corps with inadequate combat training have plagued the Russian military for decades. North Korea employs the largest special forces branch in the world, with some 200,000 servicemen. Thus, one cannot rule out the North Korean military dispatching training missions to help with Russia’s incoming waves of draftees. Plagued by skyrocketing armour losses in Ukraine, the Russian military has begun to put decades-old T-62 tanks onto the battlefield. To do so, Russia has pulled some 800 T-62s from Cold War–era storage and modernized them with 1PN96MT-02 thermal sights and reactive armour. While this upgrade package is less than glamorous, it is the only way to keep a museum piece in the fight. Herein lies another potential area for unconventional cooperation between Moscow and Pyongyang. North Korea has an arsenal of armour some 3,500 units strong, with large numbers of the T-62. Russia could seek to modernize North Korea’s T-62s to acceptable standards in an effort to buttress its own decrepit arsenal. 4. Battlefield Update Following the usual pattern of the conflict, the war zone has seen high-tempo clashes paradoxically married to a static battlefield geometry. There have been no major territorial changes over recent weeks. Marking a tactically important achievement, however, Ukraine’s counteroffensive has managed to incrementally widen and deepen the Robotyne bulge across Novopokrovka in the southwest and Verbove in the southeast. The Russian first lines of defense are stable and have continued to hold the line, stymieing Ukraine’s efforts to attain a breakthrough. Weapons systems assessments on several fronts in the south and northeast indicate that Ukraine is continuing to conduct first-person-view kamikaze drone strikes. Open-source defense intelligence suggests that the Ukrainian Armed Forces are cherry-picking advanced Russian assets, such as T-80BV main battle tanks and 240mm-class Tyulpan heavy mortars, to inflict maximum asymmetric destruction. Ukrainian special forces also conducted a raid in the Black Sea, recapturing the Boika Towers oil and gas drilling platforms situated between Snake Island and occupied Crimea. Regardless of whether the Ukrainian military can hold these facilities, its success in capturing them revealed major gaps in Russia’s real-time intelligence capabilities. Western military assistance programs for Ukraine have also begun to show some progress. The American military reportedly even asked for extra training sessions for the Ukrainian armour crews before combat deploying US-provided Abrams tanks, which Ukraine’s mechanized formations will probably start operating in a matter of weeks. It remains to be seen if they will be immediately sent to the front lines. Ukrainian combat pilots are also set to start their training on the F-16 aircraft, with optimistic and more conservative estimates of the training timeline for basic operational efficiency coming in at 3 months and 9 months. Notably, news stories now report the improving chances of ATACMS tactical ballistic missile transfers to Ukraine. Our previous writings have assessed how important it is for Ukraine to strike the Russian rear. The ATACMS could play a critical role in furthering this objective. In the northeast, the Russian military is conducting frontal assaults with no major progress in the direction of Kupiansk. US-transferred cluster munitions artillery shells reportedly made a difference in preventing Russian advances in this sector. On September 9 and 10, the Russian military unleashed a barrage of Iran-manufactured Shahed-131 and Shahed-136 loitering munitions to pound Kyiv. While Ukrainian air defense intercepted the bulk of these munitions, the volley marks the ability of the Russia-Iran axis to sustain large-scale drone salvos for over a year. Russia’s defense industries have made considerable progress in co-producing the Iranian Shahed-131 and Shahed-136 loitering munitions baselines at home, further enabling Moscow’s high-tempo drone warfare efforts.