Tuesday, March 22, 2022

How Russia's Revamped Military Fumbled the Invasion of Ukraine

Things aren't going well. 

At. All.

At WSJ, "How Russia’s Revamped Military Fumbled the Invasion of Ukraine":

For over a decade, Russia spent hundreds of billions of dollars restructuring its military into a smaller, better equipped and more-professional force that could face off against the West.

Three weeks into Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, its first big test, the armed forces have floundered. Western estimates, while highly uncertain, suggest as many as 7,000 Russian soldiers may have been killed.

The dead included four Russian generals—one-fifth of the number estimated to be in Ukraine—along with other senior commanders, according to a Western official and Ukrainian military reports. The generals were close to the front lines, some Western officials said, a sign that lower ranks in forward units were likely unable to make decisions or fearful of advancing.

Russian troops turned to using open telephone and analog radios following the failure of encrypted communications systems, the Ukrainian Defense Ministry has said, making them vulnerable to intercept or jamming. Russian officers were likely targeted after their positions were exposed by their use of open communications, Western military analysts said.

In the strategically located town of Voznesensk, Ukrainian forces comprising local volunteers and the professional military drove off an attack early this month, in one of the most comprehensive routs Russian forces have suffered since invading Ukraine.

Russia’s failings appear to trace to factors ranging from the Kremlin’s wrong assumptions about Ukrainian resistance to the use of poorly motivated conscript soldiers. They suggest that Russia and the West overestimated Moscow’s overhauls of its armed forces, which some military analysts say appear to have been undermined by graft and misreporting.

The military’s previous outings in staged maneuvers and smaller operations in Syria didn’t prepare it for a multipronged attack into a country with a military fiercely defending its homeland, said Michael Kofman, director of Russia studies at CNA, a nonprofit research organization based in Arlington, Va.

“The failures that we’re seeing now is them having to work with a larger force than they’ve ever employed in real combat conditions as opposed to an exercise,” he said. “These exercises that we’ve been shown over the years are very scripted events and closer to theater than anything else.”

Russia’s Defense Ministry didn’t respond to requests for comment on analyses of its performance. Russian President Vladimir Putin, in an address to regional authorities on Wednesday, praised the war efforts, which in Russia are described only as a special military operation.

“The operation is being carried out successfully, strictly in accordance with previously laid-out plans,” he said. “And our boys and soldiers and officers are showing courage and heroism and are doing everything to avoid losses among the civilian population.”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky last week said Ukraine had lost around 1,300 soldiers since the start of the invasion. A senior North Atlantic Treaty Organization official said losses were likely on par with the Russians’.

Insurgent Tactics

For sure, Russia’s forces have taken territory, mainly in the south and east of the country against a smaller, less well-equipped adversary. Russian military commanders may also learn from their mistakes as they reposition their forces in readiness for a new offensive.

Western defense analysts say that even if Moscow’s military overcomes Ukraine’s armed forces eventually, they doubt that would end hostilities and merely mark the beginning of an insurgency that could tie up Russian forces for years. Moscow’s declared military objectives of replacing the government and establishing effective Russian control over a submissive population look remote.

But for now, Ukrainian forces have beaten back Russian paratroopers trying to secure airfields, and miles-long convoys of tanks and support trucks have stalled on highways out of fuel, Ukrainian soldiers’ videos and satellite imagery show. Hundreds of Russian military vehicles have been destroyed and others abandoned, sometimes because of mechanical breakdowns and poor-quality equipment, said Western officials and military analysts closely following the campaign.

Ukraine says its forces have downed more than 80 fixed-wing aircraft and 100 helicopters, though many fewer have been independently verified. Western officials have expressed surprise that Russia failed to use its superior air power to establish dominance of the skies, which left Ukraine’s much smaller air force operating.

Still, Russian warplanes flying over Ukraine continue to inflict heavy damage, including against civilians. The mayor of Mariupol said Russia’s air force had bombed the city’s drama theater Wednesday, killing an unknown number of people who had taken shelter there. Russia has denied responsibility. Mr. Zelensky in his video address to U.S. Congress on Wednesday said Ukraine is experiencing terror from the airstrikes every day, as he pressed for further military assistance. Ukrainians have continued to attack long columns of Russian tanks and armored vehicles on open roads in formations making them vulnerable to Ukraine’s Turkish Bayraktar drones and its Territorial Defense units that use insurgent tactics to destroy fuel trucks, tanks and armored personnel carriers, videos posted by the Ukrainian military show.

In one such attack last week, Ukrainian drone footage posted on the Ukrainian armed forces’ YouTube channel showed the confusion caused by a Ukrainian ambush of a Russian column of dozens of tanks and armored vehicles approaching Brovary on the northeastern outskirts of Kyiv. The convoy suffers apparent drone hits at the front and the rear, trapping vehicles between them.

As soldiers escape their blazing vehicles, further explosions envelop them. Other tanks turn in panic, their tracks churning the road surface, before they retreat. Later footage shows tanks, apparently nearby, destroyed by an antitank weapon fired from a roadside position.

The movement of troops in bumper-to-bumper convoys is a clear sign of “soldiers who are untrained or undisciplined,” said retired U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, a former commander of U.S. Army forces in Europe and now chair in strategic studies at the Center for European Policy Analysis in Washington. “You need sergeants or NCOs constantly telling them to spread out. It’s a human instinct to huddle together when you’re in danger,” he said. “I feel terrible for the young soldiers in the Russian army.”

The NATO official said the Russians’ fighting style surprised Western observers because it didn’t follow the Russian military’s doctrine of using mobile units called battalion tactical groups and a consolidated system to command troops, which would have allowed the military to be nimbler against the enemy without extending supply lines dangerously inside Ukrainian territory.

“For now, they just can’t move,” the official said, adding that Russia has been trying to resupply the army by moving “trash”—civilian trucks and cars—across the country to the front line where they can be used by the military...

There's some dispute on Russia's fatalities numbers. Check Newsweek, "Report of 10,000 Russian Deaths Immediately Deleted by Pro-Putin Tabloid."