The Ukrainian army is outgunned but can still inflict a lot of pain on Russia
Portmouth: Ukraine’s crumbling army offered no resistance to the annexation of Crimea in February 2014. Since then, the ill-equipped but well-motivated Ukrainian army has claimed thousands of lives fighting separatist forces in the region eastern Donbass.
In the meantime, the country has embarked on an often haphazard reform program of its military that has made it, while still vulnerable in many vital ways, a somewhat more formidable force.
Since 2014-15, Ukraine has tripled its defense budget and attempted to modernize its forces not just to defend against Russia, but to meet the standards required by NATO as a condition of entry.
The results have been mixed.
On paper, their army looks impressive with around 800 heavy tanks and thousands of other armored vehicles protecting and transporting a regular force of around 200,000 men.
They are much better trained troops than in 2014. They have good leadership, especially in the crucial cadre of non-commissioned officers, the backbone of any army.
Importantly, most observers report high morale and motivation.
But that’s only part of the story. Most of their armor and equipment is relatively old, and although the factories have produced modernized versions of older designs such as the T72 tank, these offer little effective opposition to the much more modern Russian tanks and armored vehicles including some are equal to or better than NATO’s best stock.
Additionally, the Ukrainian military is vulnerable to both Russian artillery, traditionally the Red Army’s most formidable weapon, and the threat posed by Russian attack aircraft.
Recent NATO donations of man-portable anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles and other weapons will inflict casualties on Russian forces, but will not change the situation.
The Ukrainian Air Force has a considerable fleet of Cold War-era aircraft and the personnel are well organized and trained.
But Russia has configured its aerospace forces to gain and maintain crucial air control using, among other systems, the fearsome S400 long-range anti-aircraft missiles.
These systems give the most advanced NATO air forces serious thought, not to mention the old Ukrainian fighters and bombers of the 1990s.
Advanced Russian fighters and missiles will dominate the skies in due course, although the Ukrainians have scored some successes against many expectations.
Credible reports indicate that Ukrainian fighters are still flying and have remarkably shot down several Russian planes. According to Ukrainian sources, their old, but still effective anti-aircraft missiles also caused losses to Russia.
The navy is now militarily insignificant, especially since much of it appears to have been sunk in port within 24 hours of the start of hostilities.
Strengths and weaknesses
But it is not won in advance. Ukrainian generals are highly unlikely to play with Russian forces and deploy forces only to be wiped out by their artillery or air power. They’ve seen too much of it in the past.
In July 2014, a formation of Ukrainian troops was destroyed by an artillery rocket strike in eastern Ukraine. What was remarkable was how the rockets were guided to their targets by drones operated by Russian-backed separatist troops.
Focusing only on the quality or quantity of equipment is always a big mistake. In the UK, military thinking defines three components of combat power.
These are the moral (morale, cohesion, motivation), conceptual (strategy, innovation and military doctrine) and material (weapons) aspects.
It’s one thing to have the advantage in the material component of the war, it’s quite another to turn it into success. The Ukrainians will try to exploit Russia’s vulnerability to having to fight a long military campaign with the potential to suffer heavy politically damaging casualties.
Many Ukrainians have a basic knowledge of weapons handling, the several hundred thousand reservists called up during the Russian invasion certainly do. They may be light on modern tanks and sophisticated weaponry, but may very well have the upper hand in the moral and conceptual realms.
There is a strong tradition of partisan warfare in Ukraine where the ideas of territorial defense insurgent groups carrying out small actions on terrain they know well and supported, if possible, by regular army units are deeply rooted. .
At the start of the Cold War, after the country was liberated from German occupation, the anti-Soviet army of insurgents was finally defeated only in 1953.
During this time, they caused tens of thousands of casualties. It may have been largely forgotten by the rest of the world, but this conflict is well known in Ukraine.
The vaunted Russian armed forces have already deployed a large proportion of their troops on the ground and have very limited capacity either to occupy insurgent-contested terrain or, more importantly, to sustain operations beyond the first phase. of war break-in.
The last thing Putin wants is a protracted war, with bloody urban fighting and echoes of Chechnya, which Ukrainian forces are likely to give him.
The war is taking its own course, but the likely and sensible Ukrainian approach will be to trade land for time. They hope to inflict casualties and draw Russian forces into urban areas where their advantages are less pronounced.
If defeated on the ground, Ukraine’s defenders could well default to a well-armed, highly motivated and protracted insurgency, likely backed by the West. It’s Putin’s nightmare.
The flip side is that Western support for such terrorism could attract an unpredictable and very dangerous response.
In his declaration of war speech, Putin threatened such consequences as you have never faced in your history to those who try to stop us, clearly referring to Russia’s vast nuclear arsenal. In the face of defeat or humiliation, rationality may be lacking.
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