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Ukrainian Warfare Tactics Derail Russians

Warfare tactics apparently include things like dispersed, hit-and-run anti-armor ambushes on approaching Russian convoys and efforts to destroy key choke points

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

The intensity and tactical proficiency of Ukrainian warfare may be having an extremely significant and perhaps somewhat unanticipated impact upon Russia’s ability to successfully invade Ukraine with a much larger ground force armed with massive amounts of firepower.

Ukrainian Warfare Tactics

These Ukrainian tactics, apparently include things like dispersed, hit-and-run anti-armor ambushes on approaching Russian convoys and efforts to find, destroy or disrupt intersections and key choke points crucial to a Russian advance.

“Ukrainian armed forces are over performing and Russian armed forces are underperforming,” Gen. Ben Hodges (Ret), former Commander of US Army Europe, told The National Interest in an interview.

The Pentagon says the much-observed Russian convoy is likely stalled for a number of interwoven reasons. Senior DoD officials say the Russian problem appear to be due to logistical challenges such as fuel and food shortages, low morale and successful Ukrainian ambush tacticsf Hodges said the apparent lack of coordination and warfare preparation on the part of the Russian force seems somewhat surprising.

“The logistics are turning out to be a real vulnerability for the Russians. You would think they would be much better prepared in terms of fuel and ammunition. They grossly overestimated how fast they have been able to move and now this big convoy is roadbound because the road is so soft and the Ukrainians are having an effect,” Hodges told Warrior in an interview.

This satellite image provided by Maxar Technologies shows a military convoy near Invankiv, Ukraine Monday, Feb. 28, 2022. (Satellite image ©2022 Maxar Technologies via AP)

This satellite image provided by Maxar Technologies shows a military convoy near Invankiv, Ukraine Monday, Feb. 28, 2022. (Satellite image ©2022 Maxar Technologies via AP)

However, Hodges was also clear that he observed what appears to be a specific Russian tactical shift to “adapt” amid their struggles. This adaptation, he said, pertains to an effort to attempt a war of “attrition” by killing civilians instead of launching a well-integrated joint campaign.

“We know from history that neither side shows up at a fight fully prepared for how it is going to be. It is the side that adapts the fastest is usually the side that is going to win. The Russians have begun to adapt their tactics because they were stopped in the early days. They transitioned to attrition and striking villages. Ukrainians will quickly adapt to this, as they can't just sit inside a town and expect to survive. They will use their knowledge of the terrain,” Hodges said.

Hodges indicated that many may have expected Russia to conduct a strong, Combined Arms Maneuver approach leveraging their advantage with modernized artillery systems and conducting integrated attacks with heavy weapons to ensure a fast, smooth advance on the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv. 

Traditional Combined Arms Maneuver, and modern adaptations of Combined Arms Maneuver as well, are intended to employ a range of different weapons systems in a coordinated way to generate an overall battlefield “effect” using air and ground weapons in a synchronized way.

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“They are not terribly proficient and experienced conducting large scale joint operations. That has been apparent given their inability to be properly synchronized,” he said.

Ukrainian Command and Control Tactics

Ukrainian forces may be employing a specific tactic to limit the Russian’s ability to “jam” or interfere with their command and control infrastructure. Certainly much was made of Russia’s Electronic Warfare and Cyberattack prowess as far back as 2014 during their previous invasion of Ukraine, yet its operational functionality against Ukraine now arguably appears to be ineffective.

Senior Defense Officials briefing reporters have been clear that Russian cyberattacks have had an impact with some sporadic outages or and interruptions but that the Ukrainian command and control apparatus continues to function effectively.

EW can of course find electronic signals such as radar systems, radio frequencies and even electronic systems used to guide weapons and “jam” disable or disrupt them to essentially “blind” an enemy. Retired Commander of US Army Europe Gen. Ben Hodges (ret), told Warrior that his may be due to a specific Ukrainian effort to conduct more dispersed or disaggregated operations so as to “decentralize” command and control.

“On the Ukrainian side they are able to mitigate some of challenges of Russian cyber and jamming because they are conducting command and control in a decentralized way,” Hodges told The National Interest in an interview.

A dispersed set of decentralized “nodes” within a combat system can help ensure connectivity without necessarily relying upon a single command and control infrastructure which could of course be seen and targeted more easily. The Russians, Hodges explained, may not be experienced sufficiently when it comes to disaggregated joint warfare operations and therefore suffer from an inability to locate an electronic signature effectively. A centralized command and control structure would of course emit a substantial electronic signal and therefore be quite detectable to Russian EW sensors.

“The Russians are a very centralized systems. They are not terribly proficient and experienced conducting large scale joint operations. That has been apparent given their inability to be properly synchronized,” Hodges said.

Hodges said the Ukrainians are likely to be operating with just radios, without next-generation networking equipment and sensors, however they are employing strategies which may be effectively averting Russian EW efforts to locate what’s called a “line of bearing” or electronic signature.

The paradox with electronic warfare is also two-fold in that the moment and electronic signature of any kind is emitted, the emitting location then becomes detectable to an enemy. For this reason, it would not be surprising if Ukrainians were keeping radios turned off when possible to decrease the possibility of being detected.

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.

Kris Osborn, Warrior Maven President

Kris Osborn, Warrior Maven President, Center for Military Modernization