Ukraine ’22 Observations: 14 March, 2022

 As we approach the third week of hostilities in Ukraine, we are reaching a point where the Russians are likely second-guessing their decision to invade. Their attack has bogged down, more because of weather and their own army’s shortcomings than due to Ukrainian resistance. This isn’t to say the Ukrainians haven’t been effective in defending against Russian assaults. They have been. However, it’s fair to say the Russian military’s own flaws have caused almost as much damage as Ukrainian weapons. Naturally, the Russian military is now regarded by much of the world as a ‘paper tiger’ beset by incompetence and corruption. Perhaps this is the case, but we will not know until a comprehensive analysis can be conducted after hostilities cease. Therefore, it would be fair to hold off on rendering judgement until then.

If people are looking for a historical case study to measure the Russian invasion of Ukraine against, the First Soviet-Finnish War is the best comparison. The war began on 30 November, 1939 with a Soviet invasion of Finland. The Soviets made a number of demands that Finland found impossible to agree to and Moscow decided to invade, expecting a relatively short and easy victory given the military advantages it held. Finland apparently was not aware of the major advantages its opponent held and resisted fiercely. The Soviets sustained very heavy losses and its initial attacks bogged down for two months. Only after a vast reorganization and the adaptation of new tactics did the Soviets regain momentum and eventually conclude the war on terms quite favorable to Moscow. The parallels between Finland 1939-40 and Ukraine 2020 are certainly present, though it’s worth pointing out the two conflicts also had several stark differences.

Hopefully, we can discuss these at length in the future. For now, I’ll limit the remainder of this entry to a number of observations on the military side of this conflict.

Weather– There is no doubt Mother Nature has played a major part in how the Russian invasion has panned out thus far. We’re approaching the March thaw, a period of time when the frozen ground thaws out and is assisted by thawing snow and wet weather. The end result is a muddy quagmire on roads and in fields that will undoubtedly affect mechanized units. We’ve already seen many videos and photos of Russian vehicles stuck in mud and abandoned. In the coming days and weeks, expect to see more. In discussions with friends and professional associates in late January, I was one of the voices warning that if Russia was serious about an attack, it had to begin in early February to take advantage of the frozen ground. Extended forecasts reinforced the notion an invasion by 14 February would favor the attackers by a wide margin. Unfortunately, geopolitical realities closed off mid-February as a window of opportunity. As a result, the Russian invasion came in late February and as the conflict continues, the weather will turn against Moscow even more.

Failure of the BTG Concept– I’m only going to discuss this one briefly because the war is not over yet. Final judgement would be premature at this point. But so far, the Battalion Tactical Group concept has proven to be an abject failure in my view. A battalion is too small of a component, even with reinforcements and supporting assets, to function effectively as a combined arms maneuver unit on a modern battlefield. In Donetsk and Luhansk from 2016-2021 they worked well, but that was a very different type of fighting compared to what’s taking place in Ukraine now. Or at least, it’s supposed to be different… 😊

Supply Shortages- I have no idea what the Ukrainian supply situation is now, but I assume it is not good given what the Russian situation is. Russian forces are apparently down to 10 days of fuel, ammunition, and other wartime supplies according to the most recent estimates. Given how quickly modern war devours supplies, I’d say 7 days is a more realistic projection. Since the Russians never expected the war to last this long, their looming supply shortage comes as no surprise. Between the extended timetable for combat operations and the damage done to an extended and vulnerable supply line, the challenges Russia is dealing with in getting the needed supplies forward are quite real and must be solved quickly.

21 Replies to “Ukraine ’22 Observations: 14 March, 2022”

  1. Would disagree to an extent on the BTG concept beyond just the fog of war, since (as I see it) it’s basically just an outgrowth of the same combined arms battalion task forces that have existed since the invention of the tank.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yeah but the Russian execution of the combined arms battalion this time around was nothing short of a disaster. Units like that cannot operate independently and effectively like the Russians intended this time around.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I believe that a fundamental part of the BTG concept, which is not very far off of what most NATO armies use, is low level leadership and training. On the spot command decisions are key, motivating and effectively leading troops from different backgrounds etc.
        Particularly in urban fighting, where the dispersed nature of the combat makes it a corporal’s war, an army that focuses on colonels is going to have difficulty.

        Liked by 3 people

        1. I think you nailed it with the training. We’re seeing the deficiencies with training and leadership. Seems like the Russians expected this war to look a lot like the 2014-2021 low-intensity fighting in eastern Ukraine. Not the case and now they see that. There’s a lesson there for Western armies too. The next war will not look like Afghanistan or Iraq so we have to get our head on straight.

          But you know the deal, we always prepare to fight the last war

          Liked by 3 people

        2. Getting appropriate personnel is a massive issue for ANY army, but I’ve seen reports that it’s been especially bad for the Russians. Even in 2014-15 they had to turn conscripts into “coerced professionals”, and that was with smaller, handpicked units.

          With 75% of their army line units in just the first wave? Talk about dilution.

          Liked by 2 people

      2. At the grand tactical level aren’t the Russians organised on the Brigade as per most of the West? This is pure speculation I would say that perhaps they have struggled to operate as such because they haven’t really had a chance to train properly and operate as a Brigade grouping. I would also suggest that most of their western counterparts would struggle as well above the company level after 20+ years of operating as penny packets in Afghanistan.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. They are and this is just a recent move by the Russians. You’re right on both counts, Russia needing time to train and operate as brigades, but they didn’t seem too interested in that, considering what we’ve seen in the past two weeks. As for Western counterparts, yeah. They still need time to relearn how to fight conventional battles as opposed to the counter-insurgency and low intensity fighting we did for 2 decades in Afghanistan and Iraq post-OIF-1

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        2. From what I’ve seen, and I’m in the training business, US Army won’t have any issues operating at Bde level, neither will the Brits. Others are good up to Btl Gp.
          There has been a concerted effort to get rid of Afghanistanitis but the problem is that there are two generations in most armies where that is the default. They realize it, so do the training systems, but people revert to default under pressure

          Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m wondering, looking at the situation in Ukraine, if this isn’t why plans to attack NATO featured N/B/C so prominently: they knew they couldn’t win a sustained conflict beyond 10 days, and would have to break NATO’s back as quickly as possible or face the same situation the Germans faced while trying to drive to the Meuse.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Good point, Bill. I really think the Russians would’ve done better against NATO in the 80s then they have in Ukraine. Different army, different doctrine, different dispersal of forces. They still would’ve lost, mind you. But they would of acquitted themselves much better

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I think the Soviets would have won easily in the early-mid 80s and remained competitive up until the point where the NSWP became a total liability. But then again, I’ve always viewed them differently than you have.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. it really does seem like Amateur Hour with the Russian High Command and lower.

    Couple of factors in all this affecting Russian Performance… Some of which we have discussed off line:

    Poor to Non-existent Secure Comms – the reports of their using local commercial gear are pretty telling as to their comms ability right now and the geo-location targeting of Russian C and C (worked twice from what I am reading/finding out)…. is damn impressive. And really drives home the prohibition of using non-secure comms on the lines….
    Russian Combat Doctrine relies on the ability to receive orders from Higher as their training really does not reward self-starting leadership or outside box thinking (unless you regard a bullet to your head a reward of sorts…. ) so their ability to adjust on the fly is kinda hamstrung. There was reports of encouraging small-unit creativity a bunch of years ago…. but right now, we aren’t seeing it much.
    Granted, all I have is open-source material so I could be mistaken here.

    Poor Logistics- Again, the adage of “Amateurs talk Tactics, Professionals talk Logistics” has a ringing endorsement and a Real Life Demonstration of how lack of supply can kill momentum. Oh holy crap, what an abject lesson for both the Russians and ALL of the Western Armies. Western Style Logistical Resupply works…. And the Russian/Soviet style apparently doesn’t.
    The Vaunted Russian (Soviet) Supply Chain, able to support Regiments ad nauseum… is having trouble supporting what would be seven to ten divisions of various sorts… We did for Desert Storm- and our troop build up was about as long as theirs so I have to scratch my head on this as to how bad this apparently was.

    One of the real kickers on the logistical issues…. is the reports of entire warehouses of munitions/supplies earmarked for this…. that apparently were VERY empty of said items when on paper, they were full and ready… Entire warehouses of consumables for a war just gone. Their Logistics is apparently run by a Private Firm(Oboronservis) that apparently had issues of rampant theft in 2014….. and may possibly be responsible for the current missing items.

    (if so, Gulags may be getting new residents. If they make it there.)

    Morale- Russian morale in their conscript forces was never great to begin with. repeated reports of their troops not knowing the invasion was even going to be a thing are plentiful and from multiple sources… so I am very inclined to think this accurate. Troops with low morale perform poorly, no matter how well trained. That they are Conscripts with minimal training (NCO’s have better but not incredibly so) is almost a surefire recipe for failure.

    And going up against a mixture of Professional and Partisan forces who have morale in spades, its another ingredient for a poor showing.

    I can only imagine if the Ukrainians had better gear at the start and a somewhat more robust Airforce, how much a damn mess this would be for the Russians…. That they are doing as well as they are and with such a mixed bag of equipment/training, it kinda boggles the mind. I said from the start that tehy would do better than many folks thought. I am surprised at how well… but then, given how much a mess the Russians apparently are on all levels, I suppose I should not be.

    But then again, I don’t know anyone who expected the Russians to do *this* bad. Not perform to their rep? Sure!!! But this bad? Jfc, hell no.

    Touching on the morale issues of the Russians….

    This also leads into the recent reports of Russia calling for Mercenaries to enter the war on their side. Mercenaries have a long history in the world of war. Usually you see them employed in some backwater 3rd World location, where the combatants are not all that.
    That the Russians are looking to use them and not commit more of their own forces says more than a few things (none of its good) about their army, the stability of their rear areas (read: civilian unrest potential) or a deeper plan…. All of those thoughts are worthy of a conversation later, I think.

    Mercs are also not going to piss themselves away either…. no matter how much the Russians might expect them to. Given how crap the Ruble is right now, someone might be able to cut a deal with the mercs and buy them out/off. Especially if its Half Now, Half when you leave…

    Yeah, the idea of buying the Mercs off the battlefield is some serious trashy Mack Boloan/Near Future or Sci-fi stuff there but considering how weird the last 30 months have been overall, not that unrealistic. 🙂 🙂

    All in all, the reasons for Russian Failure in this “activity” are many and any one of them would be a heavy detriment to overcome.

    No matter what happens at the end of all this, this entire war will be dissected for years to come- especially in light of how much it changed perceptions of some major factions.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. One huge issue I have with the Russians right now is their propensity to fight for every city. That goes against maneuver warfare and if these BTGs really are combined-arms maneuver units, they should’ve bypassed places like Kharkov and converged on Kiev in the first days. Kiev is the only city that matters.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. My brother…. The problem as I see it is that the Russians don’t GET Maneuver Warfare anymore. Everyone uses Kursk as an example of Russian ability at such….. and it wasn’t. Not by any stretch of the imagination.

        Kursk was a slugging match that the Russians threw everything but the kitchen sink (and some say even THAT) at the Germans in order to stop them. They outnumbered the Germans 2 to 1 or more in manpower AND armor….. and barely stopped them, with overall armor losses somewhere around 92% of armored assets. Manpower losses…. 80% or so. Just wow.

        That’s not maneuver warfare- that’s just a meatgrinder slaughter. And the only style of warfare they really know- Blunder forward, shoot things, blunder forward again. Expend Troops/Assets, use their bodies/wrecks to cross ditches and rivers in the way.
        Well, that and shell the target for DAYS until the rubble is small enough to start bouncing with every explosion.

        I guess for me is that their gear is actually good for maneuver/shoot n scoot fighting… Its their doctrine and training that blows chunks.

        Sure, the BTG’s are supposed to be maneuver groups. But Russain/Soviet doctrine is reduce strongpoints/take cities and then move forward. Shatter/break the local morale of the defenders/populous and move forward.

        They are not breaking the Ukrainians… and this is confusing them. And confusing them a ton.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. We’ve all forgot about maneuver warfare in the last 20 years.

          If Russian doctrine really specifies taking cities with first echelon forces, they’re studying the wrong wars. No wonder they’re in the mess they are.

          I don’t know if they’re breaking the Ukes or not. Probably not, but according to social media, Ukraine is winning this war 🙂

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  4. A lot of talk about Russian failures and I think John summarized their problems well above. But how have the Ukrainians been setting up in defense? Clearly they’ve hunkered their light infantry militia style units down in the cities where even heavily armed Russian mech forces are struggling to dislodge them. Other things that seem to be happening is that they are still in place in the woods etc around MSR and they are targeting columns of vehicles with handheld missiles and drones / loitering munitions. Better for them to take out the MTLB with the reloads than the launcher? I’ve seen a few pics of Ukrainian MBTs but they seem to be deployed in platoon groups to not give the Russian Air Force a nice big target to take out. The only place where they lost a lot of ground quickly was in the south near the Crimea. Perhaps they had the b-team deployed there or perhaps they just couldn’t cover all the ground they needed to because of not enough regular army manpower?

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