How ATACMS destroyed Russian helicopters: Satellite images

Satellite images of the military Berdyansk airport confirm that the AFU hit it with ATACMS missiles on October 17. The images showed at least nine scorched areas, which correspond to places where military helicopters were previously seen. However, experts point out that not all the details of the lesion can be seen in the pictures.

Defeat of Berdyansk airport. Source: Planet Labs

Images of the affected helicopters

On October 18, images of Berdyansk airport, taken by a satellite of the American company Planet Labs, appeared on the network. The photos are dated October 17, and they clearly show part of the runway and the track running parallel to it. You can easily distinguish dark spots on the surface, which are traces of a fire.

Information about the fact that the invaders at Berdyansk airport were attacked was reported by the Armed Forces of Ukraine the day before. Almost immediately, information appeared that it was inflicted by ATACMS missiles. Ukraine has repeatedly asked the United States for them, but they have not been delivered so far.

Berdyansk airport on October 18. Source: Planet Labs

The fact of the explosions at the airport even earlier was confirmed by numerous videos and eyewitness accounts. However, the information from the Ukrainian military about the destruction of nine enemy helicopters required confirmation. Planet Labs satellite images are proof. In addition to the dark traces of the fire, they also allow you to see numerous pieces of debris lying on the runway. However, as the images show, at least three cars remained intact.

What helicopters were at Berdyansk airport

Berdyansk airport attracts attention not for the first time. This small city on the northern coast of the Sea of Azov was used by the Russian occupiers as a base for naval, ground and air forces. On March 24, 2022, the landing ship Saratov was sunk in the port of Berdyansk. 

Position of the airport relative to the city

The airport is located next to the city, to the north of it. Before the invasion, it was used mainly by civil aviation, but the occupiers turned it into a base for their helicopters. This is clearly visible on satellite images taken in June 2023. 

The types of cars destroyed are still difficult to establish. However, summer photos with better resolution than those taken on October 18 allowed us to conclude that mainly Ka-52, Ka-29 and Mi-24 attack helicopters were based there that were used to attack Ukrainian troops. There was also a certain number of transport Mi-8 or Mi-17.

Despite the fact that the location of the airport was well known, it was not possible to hit it all these months. It was too far from the front. Therefore, it was impossible to “get” it with HIMARS, not to mention small drones and artillery. However, ATACMS provided such an opportunity.

Various types of helicopters at Berdyansk airport. Source: “Schemes”

What is ATACMS

MGM-140 ATACMS is a solid-fuel tactical ballistic missile with a range of 300 km. Its rocket does not make an aerodynamic flight but moves along a parabolic trajectory to the point of defeat. The American army began using these weapons in 1991.

However, this does not mean that it is an old weapon. In the USA, it is constantly being improved. For example, there is a variety with cluster planning ammunition. For example, there are cluster munition-filled versions. Each of them is able to maneuver on the final section of the trajectory, choosing a separate target.

However, as reported, Ukraine has received a much simpler version of the MGM-140A. It also contains cluster munitions, but they are completely uncontrollable. However, at the same time, each missile contains as many as 950 pieces, so they can “sow” debris with an area of up to 33.5 thousand m2, causing large-scale defeats of unarmored equipment and enemy manpower.

Taking all this into account, experts point out that not all the damage caused by the ATACMS at Berdyansk airport could be seen on satellite images. Even if they were of significantly higher quality. For example, a radar damaged by debris will not work, although from a distance it will look absolutely intact.

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