Artillery types

US ‘Switchblade’ drones heading for Ukraine can target Russian vehicles and artillery: Pentagon official

The Pentagon provided daily updates on the Russian invasion of Ukraine and Ukraine’s efforts to resist.

Here are highlights of what a senior US defense official told reporters Thursday on Day 22:

After the White House announced on Wednesday that 100 “tactical unmanned aerial systems” would be part of a new $800 million weapons package for Ukraine, a US official confirmed to ABC News that it is would act small “Switchblade” drones.

Unlike long-range Predator drones, which look like small planes and fire missiles at targets, Switchblade drones are missiles, using GPS to guide themselves directly into their targets to detonate their payloads.

The smallest version, the Switchblade 300, fits in a backpack, weighs just 5.5 pounds, and has a range of about six miles. It can be launched into flight from a small mortar tube, its wings extending in place as it exits the launcher. The larger Switchblade 600 weighs nine times as much, but carries an armor-piercing warhead and can hit targets up to 25 miles away, according to the manufacturer.

Both models have a “wave-off” feature so that human operators can abort an attack if civilians appear near the target or if the enemy leaves the area.

The US official could not confirm which versions the United States is sending to Ukraine, but a senior US defense official told reporters on Thursday that they would be effective against a variety of targets.

“These tactical drones can be useful against Russian vehicles and artillery,” the senior US defense official said.

Eliminating long-range Russian artillery is particularly important for Ukraine as Russian forces step up their bombardment of major cities.

No Russian progress on kyiv in 7 days

The closest Russian forces to kyiv are still about 15 km northwest of the city center, the senior US defense official said. That’s the same distance they were estimated to be last Friday.

They were unable to advance because Ukrainian forces are “very actively resisting any movement by the Russians”, the official said, adding that Russia retains an advantage with “long-range fire” – missiles and artillery.

Although these closest troops are at a standstill, other forces come to join them from behind, bringing with them long-range artillery pieces.

“So it looks like they still want to besiege kyiv, that’s why you want to use artillery,” the official said. “We haven’t seen that manifest, we just see them setting them up.”

The only notable advance by Russian forces since Wednesday has been southeast of Kharkiv, where the Pentagon believes it has taken control of Izyum. The official said their intention is likely to push south towards Donetsk and Mariupol to cordon off the Donbass region and prevent Ukrainian troops in the east from moving west to defend other areas.

Russian warships near Odessa

The United States continues to see Russian naval activity “not far from Odessa” in the northern Black Sea, the official said. This includes approximately six surface warfare vessels: at least two amphibious landing ships, frigates and a mine warfare vessel. Despite this activity, there is still no indication of an imminent amphibious assault.

Unlike Wednesday, there were no signs of Russian ships bombarding towns around Odessa, the official said.

Russian bombardment of cities continues, more civilians affected

Russia has now launched more than 1,000 missiles against Ukraine, according to the official. That’s up from an estimate of 980 on Wednesday. These estimates count missile launches, not necessarily effective hits. The official said he could not estimate how many of these rounds ended up being duds.

Again, the official said the Russians relied more on “dumb” ammunition, that is, unguided weapons.

The official said the reason was unclear, but said it could be an effort to hold on to their precision weapons or a sign that they lacked them. Either way, these less discriminating weapons are seen as a greater threat to civilians.

“We have seen an increase in strikes against civilian infrastructure and civilian targets,” the official said, but could not quantify damage or casualties.

S-300 for Ukraine

The official did not respond directly to questions about whether the United States would help facilitate Russian-made S-300 long-range surface-to-air missile systems for Ukraine.

“We are working with allies and partners to continue to provide security assistance to Ukrainians on short-range and tactical systems as well as long-range systems, including long-range air defense. And there has a lot to do with that, and some countries just have access to an inventory that’s better suited to Ukrainians than some of our systems because they’re trained in it — they operate it, they know it, they’re comfortable with them… Ukraine,” the official said.

Russian disinformation campaign

“In Russia, anecdotally, we see their stories having more effect. But again, they shut down independent media. The only thing available to most Russians now is state media, and So you’d expect these stories to be more widely shared, consumed, and even more widely believed. But outside of Russia, there’s little to no evidence that their information operations work. In fact, we’ve seen quite the opposite,” the official said.

Low Russian morale

The United States has anecdotal evidence of low morale in some Russian units, the official said.

“Part of that is, we believe, a function of poor leadership, the lack of information the troops get about their mission and their objectives, and I think the disillusionment of having resisted as fiercely as they did. ‘have been,’ the official said.

The official also said it was “remarkable” that the Russians were considering bringing in more troops and supplies just three weeks into the invasion. The Pentagon believes this is due to poor logistical planning and stronger than expected resistance.