On the night of October 16-17, the Ukrainian Armed Forces attacked Russian military airfields located near the occupied cities of Berdyansk and Luhansk. According to unofficial sources, the strikes resulted in heavy losses for Russian forces, which deployed numerous combat helicopters and repair workshops there. As it turns out, the Ukrainian success is the result of the use of new weapons provided by the United States.
Theoretically, the bases in Berdyansk and Luhansk were safe because they were beyond the range of the M142 HIMARS and M270 MLRS artillery rocket launchers, which, from the moment of delivery, only used the lighter 227 mm M30A1/M31 missiles. This combination allowed for precise combat against point targets located approximately 90 km from the launcher. For attacks beyond the above border, the Ukrainian Armed Forces could only use Tochka ballistic missiles (mostly used during the fighting in 2022) and Storm Shadow cruise missiles, which were supplied by the United Kingdom and France. In the latter case, the disadvantage is the small number of carriers, i.e. Su-24 attack aircraft.
Ultimately, the October night brought a surprise to all observers of the war in Ukraine, because for the first time the Ukrainian side used a weapon that had been sought for months, i.e. American ATACMS (Army Tactical Missile System) ballistic missiles.
The fact that the above weapon system was used became known after photos were published on social media by Russian soldiers stationed in the area of both attacks. It turned out that M74 cluster ammunition was found on the bases, which is the combat load of one of the ATACMS versions. In the following hours, the Russians published photos of the missile’s propulsion section with clear markings. Their analysis indicates that the oldest version of the MGM-140A ATACMS was used for the attack, and the missiles themselves were manufactured in October 1996.
The above variant has a range of 165 km, and the guidance system is based on an inertial system (without GPS support). The combat load consists of 950 rounds of M74 cluster ammunition, which is extremely effective against “soft” targets – people, unarmored vehicles, light structures. In other words – an ideal weapon for airports, logistic centers or soldier groups.