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Ukrainian Warfare Tactics Greatly Impact Russian Advance

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

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 invading 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 and 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 Warrior in an interview.

The Pentagon says the much-observed Russian convoy is likely stalled for a number of interwoven reasons, according to Senior DoD officials who say it appears due to logistical challenges such as fuel and food shortages, low morale and Ukrainian ambush tactics. Retired Gen. Ben Hodges said the apparent lack of coordination and warfare preparation on the part of the Russian force seems somewhat surprising.

Ukrainian service members look for unexploded shells after fighting with Russian troops in Kyiv, Ukraine, on February 26. Sergei Supinsky/AFP via Getty Images

Ukrainian service members look for unexploded shells after fighting with Russian troops in Kyiv, Ukraine, on February 26. Sergei Supinsky/AFP via Getty Images

“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 road bound because the road is so soft and the Ukrainians are having an effect,” Hodges told Warrior in an interview.

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.

View interview on YouTube: Ukrainian Warfare Tactics Greatly Impact Russian Advance

“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.

Combined Arms Maneuver

Hodges indicated that many may have expected 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

Russian Sukhoi Su-35 jet fighters fire missiles during the Aviadarts competition, as part of the International Army Games 2021, at the Dubrovichi range outside Ryazan, Russia August 27, 2021. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov/File Photo

Russian Sukhoi Su-35 jet fighters fire missiles during the Aviadarts competition, as part of the International Army Games 2021, at the Dubrovichi range outside Ryazan, Russia August 27, 2021. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov/File Photo

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.

“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 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. This may be due to a specific Ukrainian effort to conduct more dispersed or disaggregated operations so as to “decentralize” command and control.

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“Ohe 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.

Deliberate Russian attacks on civilians including the bombing of villages and cruise misslle strikes against apartment buildings represent a specific tactical shift put in place by the attacking Russian forces, perhaps due to their apparent inability to conduct successful coordinated, high-speed ground attacks.

This shift, which is driving a fast-growing civilian death toll, including large numbers of children, appears to be arriving to what former Army Generals describe as ineffective Combined Arms Maneuver, given the extent to which thier land assault appears to have been stalled, injured and compromised by logistical challenges and successful Ukrainian ambush tactics.

Clearly Russia has the technological ability to fire carefully targeted precision weapons, intended to achieve a specific tactical and military impact while reducing collateral damage, yet there appears to be a specific Russian choice to disregard the advantages of precision targeting and instead directly attempt to kill the Ukrainian population. As of several days ago, the United Nations reported that at least 13 children had been killed, a number that is likely to have increased exponentially in recent days.

“If your approach now is attrition and terror to get civilians on the road, you don't need precision munitions if you are just lobbing rockets and artillery into cities,” Gen. Ben Hodges (Ret,), former Commander, US Army Europe, told Warrior in an interview.

Explaining the visible targeting of civilian populations in terms of deliberate tactical shift, Hodges explained their may be limits to how long the Russians can sustain these kinds of attacks.

What I wonder is how many more of these missiles do they have. Those are expensive. We know on our own side we do not have enough ammo for extended sustained land operations. I am talking about big precision rockets. I think they are going to be running low pretty soon,” Hodges said.

Is there a possibility that motivated Ukrainian forces, who are succeeding with ambushes and apparently well executed anti-armor attacks, could keep the invading Russian force at bay long enough to ultimately prevail in keeping them from the city? That certainly appears to be the hope of the large international community now condemning the Russian attacks.

Precision-guided land weapons, such at the GPS guided Excallibur artillery rounds, have been operational in war since 2007 when first used by US Army forces in Iraq. Excalibur, for example, can destroy an enemy target within one-meter of precision accuracy from distances as far as 30 kilometers, a development which enabled ground commanders to destroy enemies while greatly reducing civilian casualties and collateral damage. Of course precision land fire, preceded for many years by GPS-guided air dropped bombs such as Joint Direct Attack Munitions, offers Commanders key tactical targeting advantages such as an ability to pinpoint specific high-value targets at stand-off ranges. Alongside this strategic advantage, Army weapons developers also chose precision weaponry for attacks as part of a specific effort to limit or totally avoid killing civilians. Precision saves lives.

Alongside artillery ,there is now a large US Army arsenal of precision-guided land weapons, to include Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System, a GPS and inertial measurement unit guided rocket able to precisly elminate targets at distances out to 70 kilometers.

Russia is certain to possess its own arsenal of precision-guided land attack munitions and appears to be specifically abandoning the advantages of this technology to kill civilians as part of their invasion effort. There may, as Hodges pointed out, be a limit to Russia’s rocket arsenal, and precision munitions are much more expensive than unguided rounds. 

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