Category Archive 'Military Analysis'

03 Jul 2022

Can Ukraine Win?

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US-supplied HIMARS multiple rocket launcher.

Maybe, says Lawrence Freedman.

[T]he Russians are unlikely to keep on fighting should it become clear that they are likely to be defeated.

One lesson from the Snake Island episode, as well as the withdrawal from Kyiv, is that the Russian commanders can recognise when they are in a losing position and withdraw rather than take unnecessary punishment. Because we have been through a period of slow, grinding advances from Russia there is a tendency to assume that Ukraine will also have to overcome a tenacious Russian defence, that the third stage may look like the second, except with the roles reversed.

This is not as obvious as it may seem. Not only will Ukrainian tactics likely differ but, if they start being pushed back, the Russians will need to decide how much they really want to hold on to territory at the expense of preserving what is left of their army. If, at some point, the Russian command see only adverse trends ahead they may consider the long-term and the need to maintain their armed force to deal with future threats, other than Ukraine. Russia cannot afford an inch by inch retreat to the border, taking losses all the way. At some point they may need to cut their losses. This would be the point where they might urge Putin to engage in serious negotiations (for example reviving earlier proposals on a form of neutrality in return for full withdrawal) to provide political cover for their withdrawal.

Whether or not we get to this stage is a different matter. The challenge for Ukraine is to develop an offensive with some momentum to the point where there is no readily available way for it to be reversed by the Russians. This is a challenge because the Ukrainians will need to advance by means that do not solely involve direct assaults on Russians positions. Over the next few weeks we should start to get some sense of whether Ukraine can start to take the initiative and impose its own priorities on Russia rather than the other way round, and how well the Russians are able to respond to the steady improvement of Ukrainian capabilities. Should Ukrainian forces be able to create any momentum, however, then the situation could move in their favour very quickly. Can the Ukrainians win? Yes. Will the Ukrainians win? Not yet clear, but the possibility should not be dismissed.


11 Jun 2022

Ukraine War: 100 Day Survey


Deceased Russian Spetznaz sniper.

Philip Wasielewski at the Foreign Policy Research Institute looks at where things are after 100 days, and discusses future probabilities.

The Russian military is expending thousands of lives in Donbas to make incremental, almost World War I–style, advances over terrain that has no real strategic value. Russia is fighting a war of attrition. In the past, Russia and the Soviet Union had the manpower to make this an effective strategy. However, Russia today no longer has the mechanisms to recruit, train, equip, officer, and deploy substantial new military formations.

In early April, I estimated Russia had suffered approximately 10,000 soldiers killed in action (KIA) and a total of 35,000–38,000 casualties. It is still hard to estimate losses, but if Russian killed-in-action figures are now, per British intelligence estimates, roughly 15,000, then total casualties by early June could be approximately 50,000 men.

Who will replace them? The 130,000 Russian conscripts called up on April 1, 2022, are not supposed to go to a war zone (but many will). Putin, probably fearing social unrest, passed up the opportunity on Victory Day on May 9 to declare war and announce a general mobilization of Russian manpower.

Without a general mobilization, how can the Russian army meet wartime requirements and replace its losses? As word of horrible combat conditions reaches the population, recruiting of contract soldiers will suffer. It probably already has, based on the extreme decision to allow up to 50-year-old men to volunteer. Many contract soldiers are already announcing their intention to leave the army or refuse to serve in the “special military operation” that Moscow claims is not a war. Increased conscription cannot make up for recruiting shortfalls in a country where evading military service is practically a national sport.

If enough soldiers are found, who will lead them? Even before the war, Russia was having a difficult time retaining junior officers. In this war, officers of all levels have borne an extraordinary brunt of casualties. Many officer cadets have graduated early to participate in the war. Furthermore, who will train the new soldiers? Basic and advanced training in Russia’s army is done at the individual unit level, but many training officers and noncommissioned officers have already deployed with their units to Ukraine. This leaves limited cadres at home to instruct new conscripts. Metaphorically speaking, the Russian army is eating its seed corn.

If enough enlisted men and junior officers can be found to serve as replacements for the tens of thousands of casualties, can Russia equip them with modern weapons? Equipment losses are catastrophic. The Oryx website, using conservative, thoroughly documented confirmation techniques, estimates that as of the end of May 2022, Russia had lost 741 tanks, 1,342 armored/infantry fighting vehicles, and 27 fixed-wing combat aircraft. Actual losses are likely higher.

Besides these losses, vehicles, airplanes, and helicopters involved in three months of nonstop fighting require major refitting, which is unlikely to happen while combat operations are underway. War can exhaust machines as well as men, and without proper maintenance, existing hardware will become incapable of supporting operations. New replacements for destroyed equipment will not be coming. Russia’s main tank factories have shut down due to sanctions, which have also hobbled its aircraft industry. T-62 tanks have been pulled out of reserve, but half-century-old tanks are no answer to modern anti-tank weapons.[24] Decades of munitions production have been used up in three months, and the decline in the use of guided and cruise missiles indicates that precision-guided weapons are in short supply.

Ukraine is also facing serious military difficulties. It has not concentrated enough forces in Donbas to match Russia’s current quantitative edge, and it too is suffering high casualties. The previous article in early April estimated that Ukraine had suffered approximately 3,100 killed in action and 16,000–18,000 casualties of all types. On April 16, President Zelensky announced that Ukraine had suffered between 2,500 and 3,000 killed in action and an additional 10,000 wounded. Extrapolating from these figures to the present, Ukrainian military KIA figures could be approaching 6,000 men and approximately 25,000 total casualties due to the high intensity of the battles of the Donbas and Mariupol. Per Oryx, Ukraine has lost 186 tanks, 276 armored/infantry fighting vehicles, and 22 fixed-wing combat aircraft, but these again are conservative figures. Attrition warfare is cutting both ways. The winner may be the side that lasts just a moment longer than the other.

There are strategic differences between Russian and Ukrainian losses. Ukraine is in a better position to replenish its losses of men and materiel. It can afford to trade some territory for time to assimilate Western supplies. With incoming weapons from the West and the training of new volunteers, the Ukrainian army will grow in numbers and capabilities, while the Russian army is unlikely to. When ready, Ukraine will have the forces to counterattack. The Croatian army did the same after losing territory in 1992 to Serbian forces. By 1995, with Western tutoring and supplies, Croatia had rebuilt its army and counterattacked, forcing the Serbs out of the Krajina region within a week. Ukraine could play a similar “long game.”


20 Jun 2014

“Why Arabs Lose Wars”

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The Iraqi army has 250,000 troops; its enemy, the Islamic State of Syria and the Levant (ISIS), somewhere around 7,000, but the Iraqi Army has been losing. To understand why such a large army is so ineffective, one should read the classic 1999 essay by Colonel Norvell B. De Atkine.

Most Arab officers treat enlisted soldiers like sub-humans. When the winds in Egypt one day carried biting sand particles from the desert during a demonstration for visiting U.S. dignitaries, I watched as a contingent of soldiers marched in and formed a single rank to shield the Americans; Egyptian soldiers, in other words, are used on occasion as nothing more than a windbreak. The idea of taking care of one’s men is found only among the most elite units in the Egyptian military. On a typical weekend, officers in units stationed outside Cairo will get in their cars and drive off to their homes, leaving the enlisted men to fend for themselves by trekking across the desert to a highway and flagging down busses or trucks to get to the Cairo rail system. Garrison cantonments have no amenities for soldiers. The same situation, in various degrees, exists elsewhere in the Arabic-speaking countries—less so in Jordan, even more so in Iraq and Syria. …

The social and professional gap between officers and enlisted men is present in all armies, but in the United States and other Western forces, the noncommissioned officer (NCO) corps bridges it. Indeed, a professional NCO corps has been critical for the American military to work at its best; as the primary trainers in a professional army, NCOs are critical to training programs and to the enlisted men’s sense of unit esprit. Most of the Arab world either has no NCO corps or it is non-functional, severely handicapping the military’s effectiveness. With some exceptions, NCOs are considered in the same low category as enlisted men and so do not serve as a bridge between enlisted men and officers. Officers instruct but the wide social gap between enlisted man and officer tends to make the learning process perfunctory, formalized, and ineffective. The show-and-tell aspects of training are frequently missing because officers refuse to get their hands dirty and prefer to ignore the more practical aspects of their subject matter, believing this below their social station. A dramatic example of this occurred during the Gulf war when a severe windstorm blew down the tents of Iraqi officer prisoners of war. For three days they stayed in the wind and rain rather than be observed by enlisted prisoners in a nearby camp working with their hands.

Read the whole thing.

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