March 20, 2022 Newsletter #17.0

Good morning everyone,

Another week down in the books. To be honest I really don't have much to say, but I hope everyone had a good week.

So with that, let's dive in:



Last week, we saw the first recorded instance of loitering munitions, or suicide drones, being used during the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Loitering munitions have been used by both Ukrainian and separatist forces during the civil war, but at a very limited capacity. The use of these weapons was not immediate, as the first reported and visually confirmed instance was three weeks into the conflict with a Russian Zala KUB-BLA that crashed in Kyiv. Since then, there have only been two other confirmed cases that Russia has used loitering munitions, both of which also happened to be Zala KUB-BLAs. These drones are produced by Zala Aero, which is owned by the one and only Kalashnikov Group, and have a speed of up to 130kph with a maximum payload of 3kg. The speed and payload size makes the Zala KUB an ideal weapon when facing infantry or light vehicles, which was seen during combat testing in Idlib, Syria. Although they proved effective in Syria, the only three confirmed uses of these drones would be chalked up to failures. It is evident that each of the three drones either crashed or were intercepted before reaching their target and detonating as intended. It is hard to gage their effectiveness as there hasn’t been any other claims or recorded instances of them actually destroying targets in this conflict so far.

As for Ukraine, the United States announced that it will be sending AeroVironment Switchblade loitering munitions to help counter Russian ground forces. While initial reports only indicated 100 drones would be sent, a source of mine connected to the procurement of said weapons told me the figure will be more towards 1,000 drones, but it remains unclear still whether or not they will be Switchblade 300s (best suited for infantry/ light vehicles) or Switchblade 600s (more suited towards anti-armor) or both. Ukraine receiving loitering munitions will enhance their targeting of Russian infantry and armor/ equipment on unit level due to the mobility of these systems. As I mentioned before, Ukraine has used loitering munitions in the past, however, the systems used never really gained any adoption in the Ukrainian military. Up until the procurement of Turkish TB-2 UCAVs, much of Ukraines combat drone capacity consisted of commercially available drones, such as DJI Mavics and Phantoms, that had been outfitted with mechanisms to drop various types of small grenades and munitions. While effective against static infantry positions, weaponized drones such as these are not well suited against armored vehicles or buildings. 

Switchblades have been around for a decade and have already seen combat use, mostly by United States special forces in Afghanistan. The systems filled a capability gap that dealt with time, money, and effectiveness. Faster than close air support, cheaper than javelins, and with the added bonus of reduced chance collateral damage, the Switchblade provided American warfighters with an extremely portable and precision weapon that could be used in an array of tactical situations. The Switchblade also allowed for “sensor to shooter” capabilities, meaning that it could be integrated with existing ISR drones, such as Puma and Raven systems, to quickly receive information on target positions and streamline engagement. Essentially an ISR drone identifies a target, relays it to the Switchblade, and the operator chooses to engage or not engage. These drones can be controlled remotely, using real time cameras and GPS to identify, track, and engage targets, by a “tap to target” coordinate system through handheld tablets/ laptops, or autonomously on its own. The Switchblade also has a “wave off” feature, allowing for an operator to abort a target and either choose another one, wait, or have the drone self-destruct. This feature has been proven to reduce collateral damage in the field, as strikes have been aborted due to nearby civilians.

There are two Switchblade models available with two separate use cases:

The first is the Switchblade 300. Utilizing an explosive payload similar to that of a 40mm grenade, the weapons system is primarily meant for anti-personnel operations or light vehicle targets. The 300 series has a range of 10km, maximum flight time of about 15 minutes, and a max speed of 100 mph. It is lightweight and compact, with both the launching tube and drone weighing a total of only 5.5 lbs, which means that the system is fully man-portable and can allow for additional drones to be carried at essentially no extra weight. 

The second is the Switchblade 600. Unveiled in March 2020, the 600 series is similar to the Switchblade 300, but boasts a much larger payload intended for armored targets and longer flight times. While less portable than the 300s at a combined weight of 50 lbs (tube and drone), the system has a specialized anti-armor warhead. The 600 series has a range of 90+ km, maximum flight time of about 40 minutes, and a max speed of 115 mph.

If you haven't seen or heard, I am keeping an up to date list of visually confirmed loitering munition use in Ukraine on the website and app. I check daily for any use by either side. So far there are only three entries, but I am sure it will end up growing fairly quick once the switchblades get to Ukraine.


Table of Contents

  • Conflict

    • Russia Says it Used Hypersonic Weapon in Ukraine

    • Belarus Ambassador Leaves Ukraine

    • Two more Journalists Killed in Ukraine

    • Where is Ukraine's Navy?



Saturday, March 19, 2022: On Saturday, Russia's Ministry of Defense announced that its forces had launched a Kh-47M2 "Dagger" hypersonic missile to destroy a weapons depot in Ivano-Frankivsk Oblast, which if confirmed would mark the first ever combat use of the hypersonic weapon. The authenticity of the strike soon came into question. Satellite imaging taken on March 12 that was released by Plane Labs showed that the target was destroyed over a week ago and turned out to be an empty barn in the complete opposite end of the country near Luhansk. I linked a tweet below with the pictures, but on my end they are not showing up but you can still press the link to see them.

With the location of the video being proven false, as well as the alleged target, the question now is whether or not a Dagger was actually used. According to Fox News correspondent Jennifer Griffin, US officials confirmed that a hypersonic missile was launched on Saturday. So now the question is what was its target and where did it go if the original footage has been disproven?


Saturday, March 19, 2022: On Saturday, Belarus Ambassador to Ukraine, Igor Sokol, and 11 remaining embassy staff left Ukraine for Moldova. While being processed at the border, a Ukrainian border guard tossed a bag of silver pieces at Sokol and told him to give it to Belarusian State Border Committee Chairman Anatoly Lappo. In the New Testament, 30 pieces of silver was the price for which Judas betrayed Jesus. Belarusian embassy staff leaving the country have stoked fears that Belarus may launch an invasion to secure the Ukrainian border with Poland to prevent the transfer of weapons, equipment, and supplies from NATO. The past week have seen an increased buildup of both Russian and Belarusian ground forces in and around Brest, a city located near the border with Poland. On Sunday, Ukraine's Army announced that a Belarusian invasion into Volyn is expected in the next couple of days.

 A few people asked why they went to Moldova instead of Belarus. My initial thought is because Moldova is not involved in the conflict and that it would likely be safer/ quicker to travel there and fly to Belarus rather than try to cross the border to the north, where there is heavy flighting in areas around Kyiv. With that in mind, Volyn would be the only way to cross the border, but that is also where Ukrainian officials think an invasion will happen, so who knows.


Monday, March 14, 2022: Two more journalists have been killed during fighting in Ukraine. Veteran Fox News cameraman Pierre Zakrzewski, 55, and local Ukrainian journalist Oleksandra Kuvshynova, 24, were both killed when their vehicle was hit by incoming shelling on Monday in Horenka, northwest of Kyiv. Fox News correspondent Benjamin Hall was with them in the same vehicle when the attack happened, leaving him seriously wounded. Ukraine’s Interior Ministry blamed Russian shelling. Pierre was known for his work covering the conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria, with Fox News stating "He was profoundly committed to telling the story and his bravery, professionalism and work ethic were renowned among journalists at every media outlet. He was wildly popular – everyone in the media industry who has covered a foreign story knew and respected Pierre." Oleksandra was working as a producer and fixer for the Fox News team and was praised for her dedication to journalism and truth.

Their deaths came just a day after award winning American filmmaker and photojournalist Brent Renaud, 50, was killed last Sunday while taking fire from Russian forces in Irpin, which sits just northwest of the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv. Another American journalist, Juan Arredondo, who was accompanying Brent was also shot and survived, telling Internazionale journalist Annalisa Camilli that Brent and himself were filming refugees when they crossed a checkpoint and were shot at once they passed through. Brent was best known for his work with HBO and the New York Times, covering an array of conflicts and topics from Iraq and Afghanistan to cartel violence in Mexico and the Central America migrant crisis. In 2015, Brent and his brother won the renowned Peabody Award for their documentary covering at-risk youth in Chicago’s school system.


One question that has been brought up throughout the Russian invasion is “where is Ukraine’s Navy?” I will be looking at this question in regards to their naval vessels rather than personnel who carry out an array of communications, intelligence, and logistical operations. Ukraine had lost most of its naval vessels (nearly 75%) following the annexation of Crimea by Russia in 2014, which resulted in the capture of the Sevastopol Naval Base. Since then, Ukraine’s naval vessels, which now consists of about two dozen ships plus auxiliary support and patrol craft, have largely been docked in Mykolaiv, Berdyansk, Mariupol, and Odessa.

Looking at Russia’s naval presence in the area, there is the entire Black Sea Fleet made up of over 40 surface vessels, including several cruisers, frigates, and corvettes, as well as additional naval vessels from the Baltics and Mediterranean that have include other warships and landing craft. Ukraine’s Navy is vastly outnumbered and outgunned. A quote by Ukraine Navy Captain Oleksandr Surkov to France24 sums up their situation perfectly: “Our weapons are mostly designed to protect our state borders, not to wage war.” Since the annexation of Crimea, Ukraine had slowly attempted to rebuild its naval fighting force with help from the United States, however, they were never able to make up for its losses by the time the invasion happened.

Ukraine’s Navy found itself in a particularly difficult situation as any vessel sent to sea would likely be intercepted by ship-launched Kalibr cruise missiles or aircraft. So far, Ukraine's only confirmed at sea loss was that of the Island-class patrol boat “Slovyansk” (P190), which the Ukrainian Navy stated was sunk near Odessa on March 3 by a Russian aircraft. With that in mind and what we have seen so far from the conflict, Ukrainian vessels have largely remained docked. With Ukrainian vessels remaining in port, their largest threat is missile strikes or being captured by Russian ground forces. We have already seen this with Ukraine’s flagship vessel, the Krivak III class frigate “Hetman Sahaydachniy,” which was intentionally scuttled in Mykolaiv to prevent capture a few days after the invasion kicked off.

On Monday, March 14, Russian forces captured what they say was a dozen Ukrainian naval vessels in Berdyansk. Footage taken by state-owned RT visually confirms a number of vessels were captured:

Two Gyurza-M class gunboats (P174 Akkerman & P179 Vyshhorod):

Sorum-class tug A830 Korets (P186):

Five Kalkan-class Ukrainian Sea Guard patrol boats (BG310, BG14, BG24, BG311, & Unknown): 

As of right now there doesn’t appear to be any other footage or pictures available at the moment to further corroborate the claim that a dozen naval vessels were captured. Likewise, it is unclear if they considered the Ukrainian Sea Guard vessels as being naval vessels. Ukraine’s naval forces continue to dwindle as Russian ground forces make progress in pushing along the Black Sea coast line. It remains unclear exactly how many vessels remain in Ukraine’s arsenal, but it is evident that they are not being used for the most part anyways.


If you want to get involved in someway with Atlas News, reach out to us and reply with your experience or ideas. If its good enough we will follow back up and reach out. If its not good enough, well try harder.– The Atlas News Team

This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. ©2021 Atlas News.