Video Above: Pentagon 2.9B Ukraine Support Package
It might have been nearly unimaginable 6-months ago .. but could Ukraine “win” its war against Russian invaders? This is now a realistic and legitimate question, given the unanticipated intensity and success with which Ukrainians have fought off their attackers. What started as an intense willingness to defend their homeland, children and families, has now captured the world’s attention as a seemingly improbable story of survival and resilience.
While there may be no way to truly measure intangibles such as “tenacity,” “resolve” or sheer intensity of effort, it appears the intersection of pure desire, survival instinct, a need to protect children and a somewhat unexpected tactical proficiency has yielded seemingly impossible results … Ukrainian success.
Ukraine on Offense
As surprising as this may sound, given the sheer numerical advantage of Russian forces, Ukraine has launched an offensive.
“Are they on the offensive? I think they are. …Over the past couple of weeks, we've seen them making some offensive moves in and around the Kherson pocket,” the senior official said, according to a Pentagon transcript.
The Senior official, speaking on background to media the Pentagon, went on to say that Ukrainian officials have specifically told the Pentagon that yes indeed they are on offense.
“The Ukrainians have told us what you're seeing in open source media, that they have started an offensive of some sort. We just don't know the level of that,” the official said. With Ukrainian forces now on the offensive seeking to push back Russian invaders and even reclaim previously contested territory, some are likely to wonder how a smaller force can leverage the tactical proficiency, weaponry and Combined Arms Maneuver techniques necessary to prevail?
Video Above: Russia Attacks Ukraine - Infantry Commander Analyzes Russian Tactics & Weapons
Former Operation Iraqi Freedom Infantry Task Force Commander ret. Lt. Col. Scott Rutter told Warrior some key insights on this as he helped lead the 3rd Infantry Division’s famous assault on Baghdad in 2003. His unit engaged and destroyed units of the Iraqi Republican Guard during those now famous battles at the Baghdad airport.
“The counter offensive needs to be focused on the kinetic fight but also on identification of high-value targets. Reconnaissance is key,” Rutter, who is Warrior Maven’s Senior Land War Analyst, said. “Overmatch against tanks may not be possible but it is not just tanks but the effects of reconnaissance and precision.”
In speaking about the Ukrainian counteroffensive, Pentagon officials said the Ukrainians have likely prepared intensely and assembled the requisite mixture of force and weapons.
“They are students in military doctrine, and so they understand that conducting an attack takes a greater number of forces than if you were on the defense. So I think they probably have worked to adjust their numbers,” a Senior Pentagon official told reporters at the Pentagon, according to a DoD transcript.
Rutter added that alongside this need for targeted precision, fast-arriving intelligence information and reconnaissance, there will still be a need to “mass,” “generate effects,” and “break up the synchronization of Russian forces by going after their logistics, command and control and their collection assets (ISR). Destruction of a Russian brigade command post may be more valuable than destroying 12 tanks.”
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Certainly Ukraine has some mechanized vehicles, tanks and infantry carriers. They have also received tactical vehicles and MRAPs (Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles) from the US and the West. With effective reconnaissance, and an ability to target and destroy Russian command and control nodes from stand-off distances, Ukrainian forces may well have success re-taking territory.
Ukrainian forces have shown that they know how to use terrain, obstacles, urban structures and disaggregated, dismounted operations to target and destroy a large, heavily mechanized armored Russian force. Part of this success has in large measure been due to decentralized command and control, meaning detached, dismounted units can disperse and attack from obscured, fortified or hidden locations upon Russian armored vehicles crossing through intersections and narrow streets or going across bridges.
This move to launch a counteroffensive might help explain why the Ukrainians are now receiving blast-deflecting Mine Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicles with mine-detection rollers, as that is precisely the kind of platform they will need to take back territory once occupied by the Russians. Do they have enough heavy mechanized forces to actually “take back” and “occupy” critical contested areas? This is likely a pressing question receiving attention across the globe and, given Ukraine’s unanticipated success, the answer may well be yes.
Other elements of the Ukrainian offensive are likely being made possible by the successful use of GPS-guided precision rockets such as Guided Multiple Launch Rocket Systems (GMLRS) against Russian supply lines, command and control centers, troop concentrations and equipment. These strikes, consistently said by Pentagon officials to be extremely effective, may have opened avenues of approach. Ukraine has certainly demonstrated a clear proficiency with its dismounted infantry by virtue of how they were able to destroy Russian armor.
The extent of Ukrainian progress thus far with the offensive may as of yet be difficult to fully determine, however senior Pentagon officials say rapid updates will likely emerge in the next several days.
As a force which was once regarded as an extremely dangerous, formidable global powerhouse, the Russian military has proven to be much weaker and less capable than may have been expected. Added to their struggles, low morale and poor military performance, the Russian military is actually getting much weaker, according to Pentagon sources.
Not only will the Russian military lose pure numbers of soldiers but they are also greatly decreasing the quality of their soldiers as well.
“Prior to the invasion, roughly a quarter of the personnel were conscripts, and the remainder were professional soldiers. So far, we've seen Moscow has been trying to use largely professional soldiers, as opposed to conscripts, in the Ukraine conflict,” a Senior Pentagon official told reporters recently, according to a Pentagon transcript.
The official cited Putin’s announcement that Russia will increase the size of its force by 137,000, something which Russian officials say will bring their force size up to 1.15 million.
“I wanted to share with you our perspective that this effort is unlikely to succeed, as Russia has historically not met personnel end strength targets. And in fact, if you look at the Russian Armed Forces prior to the invasion, they may have already been 150,000 personnel short of their million-personnel goal,” the official explained.
The Senior Pentagon official explained that Russia is now massively stepping up recruiting efforts, yet it is a campaign which many at the Pentagon believe will yield little positive results. For example, the Russian recruiting campaign has involved eliminating the upper age limit for new recruits and also recruiting prisoners.
“Many of these new recruits have been observed as older, unfit and ill-trained. So what this all suggests to us is that any additional personnel Russia is able to muster by the end of the year may not, in fact, increase overall Russian capability,” the senior Pentagon official explained.
At the same time, a numbers and recruiting challenge may be but a small problem when compared to the overall collapse of morale among Russian fighters. Without a will to fight or any specific “goal” to fight for or area to “protect,” Russian forces may simply not want to kill Ukrainians and may not see the Ukraine invasion as a cause worth dying for
Kris Osborn is the defense editor for the National Interest. 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 Master’s Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.