A Blog by Jonathan Low


Apr 4, 2023

What Tactics Will Ukraine Use To Most Effectively Deploy Its New Weapons?

Concentrating the firepower and psychological impact of superior NATO weaponry against Russian forces will produce the most effective tactic for gaining offensive advantage in Ukraine's counteroffensive. JL 

Peter Beaumont reports in The Guardian:

The superior capabilities (NATO) tanks in comparison with Russian tanks, and more effective Ukrainian tactics, will make a difference. "These tanks are in addition to the Soviet era tanks Ukraine already has, and are arriving for a military well trained in manoeuvre warfare - when it is clear the Russians are incapable of anything but frontal attacks.” The ability of Leopards to fire at greater range, and superior armour in comparison with Russian tanks, gives them an edge. They also have a better ability to operate cross-country and fight effectively at night. Armour works best in a shock action breaking enemy lines. They will want to concentrate firepower rather than disperse it."

In an anonymous muddy field somewhere in Ukraine, the country’s defence minister crouched in the commander’s hatch of a British Challenger 2 tank, one of the first three of 14 to be delivered to Kyiv.

In a maroon jacket and matching baseball cap, Oleksii Reznikov gave a thumbs-up as he thanked the UK for the delivery of the system.

It is not only Challenger main battle tanks that are arriving. In recent weeks a steady flow of donated armour has been arriving in Ukraine. German Leopard 2 tanks and Marder infantry fighting vehicles, US Strykers and Cougars, scores in number, have been shipped discretely, with more to follow.

The sudden influx of new armour, as well as the accelerated training of Ukrainian crews to operate the vehicles in the UK and elsewhere, comes ahead of the expectation – raised by senior Ukrainian officials – that they may soon be in action as part of the country’s anticipated spring offensive.

And while over the winter Ukraine’s president, Volodmyr Zelenskiy, had been pressing for 300 main battle tanks as well as other vehicles and modern fighter jets, the much more modest numbers that have so far arrived is fuelling speculation over how that armour may be used in the coming weeks and months.

With Russia’s own recent offensive in the eastern Donbas region apparently petering out with minimal gains and heavy losses, not least around the key eastern city of Bakhmut, there is little expectation that Ukraine has the resources for the kind of large-scale armoured thrust that Russia itself failed to carry off at the beginning of its invasion of Ukraine.

Instead, analysts – including former British tank commanders – anticipate a counteroffensive, or counteroffensives, similar to those that took large amounts of territory from Russia in the late summer and autumn around Kharkiv oblast and in the country’s south that led to the retaking of Kherson.

And while they point to the south as the most likely theatre for a spring counteroffensive, they caution that Ukraine’s effective employment of misinformation and deception in last year’s fighting make feints and so-called demonstrations likely.

Among those who have been considering what the new armour arriving in Ukraine may mean for the war is Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, who served as a tank commander with 14th/20th King’s Hussars in the first Gulf war before going on to command the UK’s Joint Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Regiment.

For De Bretton-Gordon, one of the most significant aspects of the accumulating western armour in Ukraine is the psychological aspect.

“Psychologically, it is hugely positive for the Ukrainians and negative for the Russians. If we are just talking about numbers, then on the face of it 50 to 60 modern western tanks in Ukraine is not necessarily a gamechanger.

“I’ve said in the past that you would need a minimum of 100 for a big punch, and Ukraine has been talking about needing 300.”

Despite that, De Bretton-Gordon believes the superior capabilities the tanks offer in comparison with most Russian main battle tanks that have been deployed in Ukraine, and the more effective Ukrainian tactics, will make a difference.

“Let’s not forget that these tanks are in addition to the [Soviet and post-Soviet era] T72 tanks Ukraine already has, and they are arriving for a military that has been well trained in manoeuvre warfare and at a time when it is very clear that the Russians are incapable of anything but frontal attacks.”

In particular, De Bretton-Gordon says, the ability of Leopards to stand off and fire at greater range, and superior armour in comparison with many of the tanks being fielded by Moscow, may give them an edge. They also have a better ability to operate cross-country in comparison with the lower-clearance Russian tanks and fight effectively at night.

Armour works best in a shock action breaking [enemy lines],” says De Bretton-Gordon. “They will want to concentrate firepower rather than disperse it.

“That’s where I think western armour comes in with the rest of the Ukrainian armour following. What feels most logical is something more limited, like breaking the connection between Russian-occupied parts of the Donbas and south.

“I can see them wanting to create a widening gap and dislocating the Russians by driving a couple hundred-mile route through that area [south and east of Zaporizhzhia].”

Stuart Crawford, who served as an officer in the 4th Royal Tank Regiment, also believes while there are not enough tanks and other western armoured vehicles arriving in Ukraine to make a dramatic difference, they may be useful in a more limited counteroffensive, again pointing towards the south.

“It can’t be the classic punch-a-hole followed by an expanding torrent approach. It’s going to be more localised. And if you are looking at it from a strategic point of view the clear thing that has been talked about is an offensive south from Zaporizhzhia towards Melitopol.”

He adds: “The quality of the tanks arriving is superior to most of the stuff of Russian and Soviet/post-Soviet origin currently being used on both sides.”

Crawford is also sceptical of suggestions that having so many different weapons systems coming from different sources will necessarily cause maintenance and logistical problems. “If you look at the experience of the allies in Normandy in 1944 they had a vast array of equipment from different sources, and still managed.

“But logistically, it probably makes sense to put all the Leopards into the same organisation.”

Where Crawford does see a gap, however, is in the potential lack of air support. Neither side has achieved overall air superiority, which is why the Ukrainians have been so vocal in asking for US F16 jets, which are widely available, because without air superiority ground forces cannot move easily.

As well as the tanks, Crawford sees the arrival of armoured infantry carriers such as the US Strykers as also being highly useful on a “battlefield so dominated by artillery”.

What does seem clear from Ukrainian statements, and Russian defensive preparations, is that whatever Ukraine is planning to do with its new weapons will be revealed sooner rather than later.


Post a Comment