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By Kris Osborn - President & Editor-In-Chief, Warrior Maven

Russia’s 12,420 tanks make it the largest tank force on the planet and roughly six times the size of Ukraine’s 2.596 tanks, a circumstance which raises questions about just how realistic it might be for Ukraine to succeed in repelling or stopping a Russian invasion.

Javelin Anti-Tank Missiles & Russia Invasion

Also, Russia has about twice as many armored vehicles as Ukraine and as much as six times the amount of self-propelled artillery. The airpower margin of difference is equally extreme, with Russia listed as operating 772 fighter aircraft compared to Ukraine's 69 fighters, according to a side by side Russia vs Ukraine data analysis from Global Firepower. 

This massive discrepancy in force size and capacity raises the question as to whether Ukraine could stop, delay or even “slow down” a Russian assault. Any cursory examination of each force would lend itself to an immediate “no,” meaning Ukraine is likely to fall quickly should Russia ultimately launch an invasion.

  • Could Russia’s overwhelmingly larger ground Army be stopped by Ukraine, a force now increasingly armed with some US weapons such as Javelin Anti-tank missiles?
  • Should Ukrainian forces disperse and use terrain intelligently to favor surprise elements of attack along expected attack routes where approaching Russian forces appear to be heading toward?
  • Should Ukraine's 2,000-strong tank force find attack positions offering tactical advantage using elevation, terrain and advanced, long-range targeting sensors to track and destroy incoming Russian armored forces from advantageous hidden firing points?

A Russian force that large would need to maneuver and potentially even “mass” or aggregate at certain critical moments, making their force potentially vulnerable. This is particularly true if Ukrainian forces make use of their now arriving Javelin anti-tank missiles capable of tracking and destroying tanks at ranges greater than several miles. 

Ukrainian servicemen launch a missile while testing the U.S. Javelin anti-tank missile system at a shooting range in Ukraine. (file photo)

Ukrainian servicemen launch a missile while testing the U.S. Javelin anti-tank missile system at a shooting range in Ukraine. (file photo)

Dismounted individual units of Ukrainian soldiers could quietly lodge themselves in attack positions and potentially destroy Russian armored vehicles without being found or detected. Small units of Javelin-armed Ukrainian fighters would be very difficult for Russian forces to target from the air or the ground, regardless of avenue of approach.

Using hills, mountains or forest areas could prove challenging in Eastern Ukraine, however, as the country is reported to have “plains” in the East and be hilly in the West. However, there will undoubtedly be hills, valleys and forest areas Ukrainian defenses could try to leverage to their advantage. 

Yet another problem is that Ukrainian resistance will likely face annihilation from the air given Russia’s overwhelming air superiority. Once Javelins or Ukrainian tanks fired rounds in defense of their position, they would be likely to give up their location quickly to overhead drones with infrared or thermal sensors able to detect the heat and light signatures emitting from the weapons.

F-35s to Prevent a Russian Invasion of Ukraine?

There is one thing which could potentially stop or even destroy a large-scale Russian invasion … the F-35. 

Europe, NATO and other key US allies may not be inclined to get involved in a direct engagement with Russia, but may rather just support and arm a Ukrainian insurgency or resistance to Russia. However, should enough US and European F-35s be in position to fly several visible formations above Ukraine, it seems realistic it could at least lead Russia to pause and potentially re-think its invasion plans. Russia would seem unlikely to be able to launch a large strong or superior enough force of Su-57s to challenge European F-35s. 

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Su-57

Russian Su-57

Should Ukraine receive support from the US and its European F-35 partner nations in the form of air support, a large Russian ground force would be greatly imperiled and have trouble avoiding complete destruction from the air. 

Russia & US 11th Hour Deal 

Could there be an 11th hour deal between the US and Russia able to pause, delay or fully remove the possibility of what many believe is an imminent Russian invasion of Ukraine? Is the Biden administration appeasing Russia on Ukraine or taking a much softer stance? 

What about the members of Congress who recently traveled to Kiev and pledged “crippling” sanctions for Russia and large-scale military support to Ukraine should an invasion or “incursion” be attempted? 

U.S. Senators Chris Murphy (D-CT), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Rob Portman (R-OH), Roger Wicker (R-MS) and Kevin Cramer (R-ND) attend a news briefing following their meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in Kyiv, Ukraine January 17, 2022. REUTERS/Gleb Garanich

U.S. Senators Chris Murphy (D-CT), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Rob Portman (R-OH), Roger Wicker (R-MS) and Kevin Cramer (R-ND) attend a news briefing following their meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in Kyiv, Ukraine January 17, 2022. REUTERS/Gleb Garanich

There seems to be some ambiguity or questions emerging on these questions following President’s Biden’s news conference in which he seemed to distinguish an “incursion” from “invasion” and, according to Ukrainian officials cited in a CNN report, give Putin the equivalent of a “green light.” 

Added to this equation is a report in Russia’s TASS news agency which cites a previous discussion between Biden and Putin in which terms or possibilities for avoiding conflict were discussed. The TASS report excerpts remarks from Biden’s press conference: 

"The two things [Russian President Vladimir Putin] said to me that he wants <…>. One is that Ukraine will never be the part of NATO. And two - that there will be no strategic weapons in Ukraine. We can work out something on the second piece," the US leader said at a press conference, noting that the relevant reciprocal steps would be expected from Moscow.

Ukrainian officials are “shocked” and upset, according to the CNN report from Kiev, which quotes Ukrainian officials expressing worry that the US has made some kind of “deal” with the Russians behind closed doors. 

Not long after the press conference, the White House released a public statement as if to clarify or maybe even “walk back” some of what Biden might have been interpreted or heard as saying.

"President Biden has been clear with the Russian President: If any Russian military forces move across the Ukrainian border, that's a renewed invasion, and it will be met with a swift, severe, and united response from the United States and our Allies," press secretary Jen Psaki wrote in a statement following Biden's marathon news conference, according to the CNN report. 

Kris Osborn is the defense editor for the National Interest and President of Warrior Maven -the Center for Military Modernization. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Masters Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.

Kris Osborn, Warrior Maven President

Kris Osborn, Warrior Maven President - Center for Military Modernization