The war in Ukraine has come as a nasty surprise to the soldiers fighting it. None of their expectations have come true and tactics, and weapons, have had to be changed on the fly. In this dynamic process the Ukraine Armed Forces (UAF) are clearly on the defensive.
Quite apart from losing one village after another in the Donbas, the UAF has been unable to establish any “front line” outside existing infrastructure. Any armoured vehicle, weapons pit or trench line out in the open is quickly targeted by artillery guided by Unmanned Ariel Vehicles (UAVs) and destroyed (The photo from a UAV at the top of the page shows a very accurate artillery strike on a UAF trench near Severodonetsk).
As a result, the UAF has been digging defensive positions on tree lines, in forest areas and beside rural and urban buildings. This reminds one of the German army in Normandy unable to manoeuvre in daytime due to Allied air supremacy. An army that can’t move is an army that can’t take the offensive.
So what we’re watching are small set piece battles where isolated UAF positions are wiped out by the Russian Army and Allied Forces (the Allies) one after another. First there is counter battery fire, then targeted artillery and finally a careful advance by infrantry using assault rifles and Rocket Propelled Grenades (RPGs).
Have I questions? Haven’t we all. For one thing, both armies, Ukrainian and Russian, seem to be anchored to the roads. Is this because the fields are still too soft, too wet, for armour? Probably. In any event this restriction greatly aids defenders who can zero in on choke points. A more dynamic advance, like the one used by Germany in France in 1940, or the United States in the Gulf war, would ignore the roads altogether.
Secondly, there has been no use in the Donbas of air mobile infantry like the Americans did in Vietnam. Sprinkling thousands of soldiers with portable Anti Tank and Anti Aircraft weapons in the enemy’s rear would cause panic and demoralization in most armies. The Ukrainians don’t have enough aircraft left to do it. The Russians have, for the moment, decided not to bother.
Meanwhile, far from the line of contact, individuals controlling drones target the opposition and send position information to loitering munitions, targetable artillery shells or circling helicopter and fighter-bomber assets. It is, in many ways, like a video game, and getting more so by the day.
Still, I have a prediction: self-propelled artillery is going to win this one for the Bear.