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By Kris Osborn, Center for Military Modernization 

(Washington D.C.) While the Pentagon is without question taking Russia's "mobilization" of as many as 300,000 soldiers seriously, there are several key factors why the threat may not be as substantial as it appears on the surface. The arrival of a fighting force of that size may seem "alarming" to a degree, given the numbers deficit Ukrainian forces already suffer, yet senior Pentagon officials are pointing out a number of variables likely to weaken or diminish the impact of Russia's mobilization.

Russian Mobilization

"Just the mechanics of outfitting that size of a force is very difficult," a senior DoD official told reporters, according to a Pentagon transcript. In addition to this, these forces need to be equipped, trained and armed for warfare, and many of them are reported to be conscripts of varying degrees of war readiness. Citing several open source reports saying Russian soldiers were being sent to Ukraine after "one day" of training, the Senior Pentagon official said "I just think about the level of training that we put into our own armed forces, and you know that is pretty inadequate."

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An even larger or more impactful factor may simply be a question of morale and willingness to fight, as Russian recruits or conscripts simply may not want to attack and kill Ukrainians, and there are already deep divisions within the Russian population regarding the war effort. Speaking to this, the senior DoD official mentioned that there continue to be some protests across the country and what he called "concern from the Russian population" about the mobilization.

All of these factors are likely contributing to Russia's continued lack of progress on the battlefield, as Ukrainian forces continue to make gains in key areas in and around Kharkiv

"If you look at where the Russians are having problems, it's really all over the battle space. So they've got a requirement to reinforce -- you know, in the north near Bakhmut in the center, as well as down in Kherson. So, a tough problem for the Russians," the Senior official said.

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There is yet another tactical reality with this situation, as large numbers of Russian troops would need to concentrate and enter formations, something which would make them more vulnerable to being targeted by Ukrainian rockets and missiles. Force concentrations of Russian troops would be visible to Ukrainian surveillance and even small-unit launched drones. Once detected, Russian troop positions would be vulnerable to precision-guided Ukrainian Guided Multiple Launch Rockets Systems, GPS-guided precision rockets able to travel 70km or more to a target.

Russia’s announcement that it is calling up as many as 300,000 reservists to support ongoing military operations does not appear to be causing grave concern or surprise among military leaders at the Pentagon and may not be greatly impacting Ukrainian forces either.

While the numbers may sound alarming, the prospect of a larger scale Russian mobilization raises as many questions as it does offer solutions, in large measure because it is not clear if these incoming soldiers are trained, equipped, ready to fight and in any more of a position to willingly fight Ukrainians.

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“My understanding is these would primarily be reservists or members of the -- the Russian military that had retired and were in an individual ready-reserve type of status. All of that to say, it's our assessment that it would take time for Russia to train and prepare and equip these forces,” Pentagon spokesman Big. Gen. Pat Ryder told reporters, according to a transcript.

The other observable and quite significant point is simply that adding more people or soldiers does not address or in anyway mitigate the many morale, sustainment, logistical and tactical problems the Russian forces continue to experience.

“I think it's important also to point out here that while in many ways this may address a manpower issue for Russia, what's not clear is whether or not it could significantly address the command and control, the logistics, the sustainment, and importantly, the morale issues that we've seen Russian forces in Ukraine experience,” Ryder said.

“Certainly if you are already having significant challenges and haven't addressed some of those systemic, strategic issues that make any large military force capable, there is nothing to indicate that it's going to get any easier by adding more variables to the equation.”

In some respects, adding more numbers could actually worsen supply and logistics problems as large amounts of incoming soldiers will need food, supplies, shelter, weapons and an ability to integrate with or join units. All of this involves a level of complexity and experience which the Russian military has not demonstrated during this attack on Ukraine. Ryder also added that, given Russia’s performance thus far, Putin’s announcement that hundreds of thousands of new soldiers are joining the fight does not seem particularly intimidating to the Pentagon, NATO or Ukrainian forces.

“Making threats about attacking territory, it doesn't change the facts -- operational facts on the ground, which are that the Ukrainians will continue to fight for their country, the Russian military is dealing with some significant challenges on the ground, and the international community will stand behind Ukraine as they fight to defend their country from an invasion,” Ryder explained. 

There has been much discussion of the strategic success with which Ukraine employed anti-armor weapons, dispersed hit-and-run-attacks and disaggregated formations to cripple a larger, invading mechanized force.

The success with which Ukrainian tactics and attacks have thwarted Russian advances continues to influence military thinkers around the world and even played a role in the Marine Corps’ Force Design 2030 text. The Corps vision for future war specifically mentioned Ukraine as evidence of how a lighter weight more dispersed and disaggregated force armed with anti-armor weapons can achieve great battlefield success against a heavier force.

Tanks

Ukraine’s somewhat unexpected success has also lead their defensive forces to shift momentum in the war and actually reclaim territory as part of a a counteroffensive, particularly in areas near Kharkiv. This operational shift may indicate that Ukraine now needs some heavy armor with which to enter, occpuy and “hold” territory. Pentagon leaders explain that indeed Ukrainian forces are effectively using tanks.

‘We know the Ukrainians have been operating Soviet style tanks. We know they’ve been employing them to pretty good effect,” a Senior Pentagon official told reporters, according to a Pentagon transcript. Ukrainians have also reclaimed abandoned tanks left by Russian soldiers during invasion attempts due to Ukrainian resistance, difficult terrain or efforts by Russian soldiers to simply abandon their vehicles and refuse to fight.

“They’re using a number of tanks that they were able to secure from the Russians. Most recently in Kharkiv, but also before that at the beginning of the fight back in the March and April timeframe when the Russians were abandoning equipment,” the Senior official said.

Will Ukraine get more tanks? It might make sense for many reasons. GlobalFirepower.com lists that Ukraine operates a number of T-72 Russian-built tanks. Do they have more upgraded T-80s and T-90s? Will they potentially receive Abrams tanks? The Pentagon official did not say one way or the other, however there are interesting factors to consider, as there are likely many Soviet-Era T-72 tanks in Eastern Europe and Poland is now in the process of receiving a large number of US built Abrams tanks. As the war continues to evolve into a protracted conflict, and Ukraine potentially continues to advance, their force would certainly benefit from more tanks and heavy armor.

Ukraine’s military has been successful avoiding a linear-type of force-on-force mechanized confrontation, in large measure to their own tactical benefit. Such an approach will likely continue to be quite useful, as Ukrainian fighters have been able to ambush Russian armored vehicles on bridges, intersections and other key cross points. As they advance, they may be inclined to employ more of a traditional Combined Arms approach wherein they use artillery, long-range precision rockets and advancing armored vehicles all in tandem with one another to achieve a synergistic, impactful battlefield effect. 

Kris Osborn is the President of Warrior Maven - Center for Military Modernization and 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 Masters Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.