Report IV – Ukrainian Options in the Kherson Direction (Free access)
Following the destruction of the hydroelectric power station in Nova Kakhovka on 6JUN2023, the Kherson Direction was closed for offensive operations. This event and its aftermath allowed Russians to shift some of its forces from the Kherson Oblast towards more threatened areas in the Zaporizhihia Oblast, where Ukrainians began the long-anticipated counteroffensive.
Since then, the Kherson Direction was closed for military operations. Russians never contemplated conducting a cross-rover amphibious assault due to a lack of means to undertake and sustain its operations north of the Dnipro River. Kyiv, on the other hand, has been more visibly active. Firstly, even pre-JUN, its forces had been conducting raids on Russian positions on the left bank of the Dnipro and managed to maintain a small presence there. This especially pertains to the Dachi area, but open-source reports indicated numerous, albeit short-lived, deployments across the left bank.
In early June, Kyiv commenced its long-awaited summer counteroffensive across two main axes of advance: the Orikhiv and Velyka Novosilka. In the latter, the main Ukrainian effort was placed on marine brigades. Gains made in the early days of the counteroffensive were quickly replaced by slow, grinding battles with limited outcomes.
In late September, a Russian source claimed that elements of the 35th, 36th and 37th Marine Brigades arrived in the Kherson Oblast. The arrival of the 38th Marine Brigade and seven artillery battalions was also expected. As of 23SEP, Ukrainians had at least 6,870 personnel, 46 tanks, 223 armoured vehicles and eight artillery pieces redeployed from the Velyka Novosilka.
Since then, Russian sources asserted that the intensity of Ukrainian operations (drone flights and strikes, artillery attacks) increased substantially. Russians now assess that the likelihood of a Ukrainian amphibious assault is high. Lastly, on 18OCT, the Russian source said that Ukraine’s 35th and 36th Marine Brigades had taken Poima and were fighting for Pishchanivka.
This analysis examines possible Ukrainian courses of action if such an option is pursued. Undoubtedly, this high-risk but high-reward amphibious operation, if successful, would bring Kyiv close to Crimea and allow it to bypass Russian fortifications in the Zaporizhihia Oblast.
Following the return of the Dnipro River to its natural riverbed, the geometry of the area has undergone a complete change. The frontline for active operations has been extended by an additional 200 km.
There are three important aspects of this document we would like to emphasise.
Firstly, we do not have access to the Ukrainian order of battle and their planning. As such, we give low confidence to the data, which shows the composition of Ukrainian units deployed in the Kherson Oblast. We give medium confidence to the Russian side, but there are clearly some gaps.
Secondly, what we presented is one of the possible variants that Ukrainians may pursue. It does not mean it will happen, but it is something to ponder and adjust as the operation progresses.
Lastly, the paper is mostly based on terrain analysis as it is the key factor shaping ground operations, especially in difficult areas around the Dnipro.
Assessment of the area of operation: the Kherson Direction
The operational area encompasses convenient axes for crossing the Dnipro River, and allow for the intensification of the offensive upon establishing bridgeheads on its left bank [the Russian side].
An analysis of available satellite images indicates that Ukrainians are likely to establish bridgeheads in these areas (it does not mean that all options would be pursued at once):
- KeyArea1 – IVO PIDSTEPNE [appendixes 1,2]
- Key Area 2 – IVO KAHOVKA [appendixes 3,4]
- Key Area 3 – IVO HORNOSTAIVKA [appendixes 5,6]
- Key Area 4 – IVO VELYKA LEPETYKHA [appendixes 7,8]
- Key Area 5 – IVO PERVOMAIVKA [appendixes 9,10]
If the key area(s) are captured, then Ukrainians could push deeper inland using the following Manoeuvre Corridors [MC]:
- MC I – OLESHKY [KEY AREA 1] – PETROPAVLIVKA [KEY AREA 2] – HORNASTAIVKA [KEY AREA 3] VELYKA LEPETYKHA [KEY AREA 4] – KEY AREA 5 – VELYKA ZNAMIANKA
- MC II – PETROPAVLIVKA [KEY AREA 2] – NYZHNI TORHAI [KEY AREA 9] – MELITPOL [KEY AREA 11]
- MC III – SKADOVSK – MYKOLAIVKA [KEY AREA 6] – CHAPLYNKA [KEY AREA 7] – CHLAKOVE [KEY AREA 8],
Approach Avenues include [AA]:
AA I – HOLA PRYSTAN – SKADOVSK
AA II – OLESHKY – MYKOLAIVKA
AA III – PETROPAVLIVKA – CHAPLYNKA
AA IV – PETROPAVLIVKA – CHLAKOVE
AA V – VELYKA LEPETYKHA – NYZHNI TORHAI
AA VI – KAY_AREA_5 – NYZHNI TORHAI
AA VII – PRYMIRNE – VESELE
AA VIII – VASYLIVKA – MELITPOL
Composition of forces
To present a fuller picture of the current combat environment, below is the list [Map 2] of units on both sides deployed to the Kherson Direction as of 16OCT. The list is not exclusive; certainly, there are gaps, especially about Ukrainian units deployed in the area. As such, the list should be treated as writing carved in stone, but instead, it should provide the reader with a bit of context in which current events are occurring.
Ukrainian Armed Forces are grouped into two echelons.
- 35th Marine Brigade (MCorps)
- 36th Marine Brigade (MCorps)
- 140th Reconnaissance Battalion (MCorps)
- 406th Artillery Brigade (MCorps)
- 73rd Marine Special Operations Center (SOF)
- LYUBART subunit (SOF)
- 37th Marine Brigade (MCorps)
- 38th Marine Brigade (MCorps)
- 11th National Guard Brigade (NG)
- 121st Territorial Defence Brigade (OCS)
- 126th Territorial Defence Brigade (OCS)
- 131st Reconnaissance Battalion (OCS)
We assess that the Russian order of battle as follows:
- KOSSACK battalion
- ALGA battalion
- 126th Coastal Defence Brigade [CDB]
- 25th SOF regiment
- BARS battalion
- 385th MRR
- 1821st MRR
- 11th MRR
- 127th MRR
- 103rd MRR
- 1253rd MRR
- BARS-33 battalion
- 205th MRB
- 74th MRB (?)
- 55th MRB (?)
Reserve [relocated at the end of September].
- 61st NIB
- 80th MRB
- 127th Reconnaissance Brigade
- 74th MRB
- 55th MRB
- 205th MRB
- 227th Artillery Brigade
- 8th Artillery Regiment
We give medium confidence to the information presented above.
When looking at the quantity of units deployed by both sides, it is clear that Ukrainians are inferior. However, achieving an operational surprise, a high degree of coordination with artillery (including assets equipped with GMLRS and ATACMS) may allow Ukrainians to establish and expand the bridgehead near the river bank. However, moving forward inside the Black Sea Lowland will be difficult without deploying additional formations.
The next issue is the weather. Any attempts to seize the bridgehead on the Dnipro River shortly, even during early autumn, possess great risks. Rainfalls could potentially cut the link between the assaulting and the main forces. In this context, speed is key. The weather forecast shows no rainfall over the next seven days. Temperatures will be spring-like, between 17-25°C (56-78°F) during the day and 8°-15° (42-59°F) at night.
Weather and terrain conditions are, therefore, good enough to support ground attacks.
The four most accessible axes for such an operation are presented in Map 2.
Possible Ukrainian Course of Action (COA) in the Kherson Direction
To cut Russian defence lines, seize the Black Sea Lowland, and open up routes towards Crimea.
Considering the river crossable conditions and the Russian force’s presence on the left bank, the Ukrainian COA could consist of three phases [Map 3]:
PHASE I – Preparation (completed?)
PHASE II – Execution (ongoing?)
STAGE I – Establishing a bridgehead on the river’s right bank
STAGE II – Capturing key areas: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.
PHASE III – Intensification of the attack
During the PHASE I [completed?], UAF will assemble and move its forces to Assembly Areas [AA] – Map 3. During this phase, it is highly likely that Ukrainians will increase the intensity of attacks on Russian rear areas.
We believe the Phase II (Execution) will be divided into two stages.
During STAGE I, reconnaissance units and the first echelon forces will cross the river and seize bridgeheads. During this phase, the Ukrainian attack may not be the main one. For instance, operations to expand the bridgehead near Dachi could seek to secure the right flank of the main Ukrainian push that may happen near Nova Kachovka.
During STAGE II, Ukrainian advancing formations will strive to capture objects in one or more critical areas 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5. The second echelon forces will depart assembly areas and start moving towards the frontline.
It will be the most critical time for the whole operation. If these objects are not captured, the bridgeheads will not be expanded and gaps exploited, and Russians may counterattack to push Ukrainians back towards the river.
During PHASE III, the main goal will be to cut the Russian defences by pushing towards AA 3, 4 and 5.
COG – Phase I – logistic lines, Phase II – artillery and tactical reserves, Phase III – operational reserves.
- Based on open-source reports, we assess that there is a roughly even chance that Ukrainians will conduct a cross-river operation in the Kherson Direction;
- Terrain conditions are favourable to support the attack;
- Based on open-source reports, Ukraine has not collected appropriate military potential yet to move beyond the task for PHASE I, STAGE II – Establishing a bridgehead on Dnipro’s left bank;
- Russia (recently?) reinforced the Kherson Direction with six units [two regiments, four brigades]. It is, therefore, likely that they are preparing for contingency scenarios of repelling a Ukrainian attack;
- To this end, Russian sources reported that the Russian 18th Combined Arms Army [mobilised] had been deployed to the Kherson Oblast.
We will update this document as more information comes in.
Set of terms
In assessing the probability or likelihood of certain events, we use a set of terms proposed by the US Intelligence Community.