A Blog by Jonathan Low


Jun 12, 2022

The Reason Ukraine Has Not Yet Committed the Bulk Of Its Army

While reports from Severodonetsk sometimes sound dire, the reality is that Ukraine has almost 4 times as many men as Russia. 

The reason they have not yet appeared on the battlefield is that many are training: to use new NATO weapons or to adapt to new Russian tactics. The Ukrainian high command does not want to squander them before it is ready to have them impact the course of the war so is doing its best to hold the Russians at bay until its re-equipped troops are ready. JL 

Peter Olandt reports in Daily Kos:

Ukraine reportedly has 700,000 soldiers now versus Russia’s 150,000 in theater.  Plus Ukraine should have a tank advantage, so with 4:1 soldiers and more tanks, what gives?  How is Russia even on the attack?  WHERE are those soldiers? The Ukrainians ceded the countryside and defended urban centers where artillery is less effective.  Russia’s recent gains have been in the country. The only big urban fight is Severodonetsk where Ukraine (is) playing with the Russians. (Ukraine) is delaying major offensive operations until artillery can be switched out to the better 155mm NATO cannons, and (newer NATO tanks) can make an appearance.

We’re into the 2nd week of June and conflict on all fronts has been building, but we’ve yet to see a large scale counter-offensive from the Ukrainians.  Certainly north of Kherson and north of Kharkiv Ukraine is on the attack.  But the attacks are cautious and slow, not the major breakout I’ve been hoping for.  And I’ve been wondering why lately.

We’ve seen some aggressiveness.  The aforementioned Kherson and Kharkiv as well as an “aggressive” defense of Severodonetsk.  This is also after they have survived 100 days longer than the MSM predicted just before the war started.  They have beaten the Russians away from Kyiv and out of the whole north other than near Kharkiv.    So really, they’ve been doing great.  But something has felt off for me, and it’s not the perpetual doom and gloom heard elsewhere.

Ukraine is reported as having around 700,000 soldiers now versus Russia’s 150,000? or so in theater.  Plus Ukraine should have a tank advantage, so with 4:1 soldiers and more tanks, what gives?  Where’s the big push?  How is Russia even on the attack?  WHERE are those soldiers?

So a few things have happened in the last 4 months.  First, Russia has unfortunately learned a few things (or remembered their old training).  The first is how their BTGs are supposed to work.  The disposable conscripts/locals/partisans advance until contact, then move back as the Russian forward observers (mostly through drones) call in plenty of heavy artillery.  After the fire mission, then the disposable infantry walks into the kill zone to see if anyone is still alive.  Early in the invasion, the Russians didn’t seem to be as adept at this.  In part because their supply lines were via truck and not rail so their volume of artillery was greatly reduced.  Also in part, because the Ukrainians essentially ceded the countryside and defended the urban centers where the inexperienced conscripts were extremely poor in fighting and the artillery was less effective.  Russia’s more recent gains have mostly been in the countryside and not in any urban center.  The only big urban fighting is Severodonetsk and the Ukrainians seem to be playing with Russians, repeatedly drawing them in to have their night vision equipped special forces drive them back out at night.  The other big gain for Russia was reverting to battles near railheads where the massive amounts of artillery ammunition could be brought in more easily.  So unfortunately Russia has gotten better at fighting.

But that doesn’t fully answer where @450,000 Ukrainian soldiers are.  The easy answer is, they’re still training.  It’s possible.  It’s also possible they’re just days away from launching a big operation and their opsec is good enough that no-one is seeing it coming.  But two things lead me to think in a different direction and both come from this recent Kos diary.  He’s getting his information from the Ukrainian General Staff so pretty solid source unless they wish to use it to deceive Russia.

The first potential reason for a delay in a major attack is Ukraine is in the process of switching over to 155mm NATO artillery.  While I’m sure they have enough 152mm for the immediate future, it sounds like supplies are low for soviet-era artillery rounds.  Starting a major offensive without sufficient artillery and only a small air presence is not a recipe for success.  They can’t fix the air anytime soon, so they need to fix the artillery.

The second potential reason comes from two quotes from the General Staff.  We have:

I had many discussions with foreign colleagues to launch early training for teams with different types of weapons that do not yet have political decisions regarding their supply. Training with some of those weapons began in March. More than 1,500 of our servicemen are currently undergoing training or will begin their training shortly.


• to ensure the supply of hundreds of heavy armored vehicles, without which effective counterattack is impossible. It should be considered that Soviet equipment is mostly obsolete and needs to be prepared for combat. Meanwhile, we are receiving only light armor from partners, not necessarily with weapons;

Ukraine is stating here that old T-72s while appreciated, are not going to get the job done.  They want a modern tank.  When you pair that with 1500 soldiers being trained on equipment not yet authorized, it’s not hard to come to the conclusion that at least some of the those folks will be training on a NATO tank.  Some training will be for the F-16 and Patriot, but that is still a long ways away.  But for heavy armored vehicles, we have very few contenders.  The Bradley is considered an IFV and I am not aware of anyone who would consider it “heavy armor” from a military perspective.  So that’s out.  That leaves us with Challenger 2 tanks from the UK, but only 500 have ever been built so supply would be an issue.  The Leopard 2, of which 3600 have been made.  Poland has some and Spain has been rumored to be sending some, but the hang up will be Germany.  Germany controls where they go and providing a Main Battle Tank to a belligerent is against long standing German policy.  They have been breaking that policy left and right, but there is resistance.  If Ukraine has a choice in this, I don’t think they would choose a supplier who is showing reluctance in providing a crucial system.  Which leaves us with the American M1 Abrams as the only logical conclusion.

The M1 Abrams has had over 10,000 made and is used by Egypt, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Australia, Iraq, and the US (of course).  From wiki:

Very few M1 tanks were hit by enemy fire and none were destroyed as a direct result of enemy fire, none of which resulted in any fatalities.[35] Three Abrams were left behind the enemy lines after a swift attack on Talil airfield, south of Nasiriyah, on February 27. One of them was hit by enemy fire, the two other embedded in mud. The tanks were destroyed by U.S. forces in order to prevent any trophy-claim by the Iraqi Army.[36] A total of 23 M1A1s were damaged or destroyed during the war. Of the nine Abrams tanks destroyed, seven were destroyed by friendly fire and two intentionally destroyed to prevent capture by the Iraqi Army. Some others took minor combat damage, with little effect on their operational readiness.[37]

Please remember weapons are not used in a vacuum so Ukraine would probably have more losses than the US did in Iraq.  The US had air supremacy, far more training, and generally overwhelming force in most circumstances meaning all systems would have a better record than if used in less than ideal situation as it will be in Ukraine.  This isn’t to slight the Ukrainian army.  But they don’t have extensive training on it nor do they have air supremacy.

The M1 Abrams has longer effective range than the T-72 and can fire more accurately while moving than any other tank system.  This is the gold standard.  The T-80 and T-90 were designed to be its counter, but that seems to have been smoke and mirrors on the Soviet Unions and Russia’s part.

What does this mean for Ukraine, and why would it create a pause?  Wouldn’t Ukraine keep fighting while waiting to get these?  Sure, except…. Ukraine IS continuing to fight but if the M1 were to be available inside of a year, then Ukraine may be interested in waiting for them before launching the primary attack.  If they are available soon, then Ukraine would pull its best tankers to train on them.  You don’t give these to raw recruits.  While an experienced T-72 tanker would still need to learn the mechanics of actually running it, they have the combat experience and knowledge of general tank tactics.  So you pull your best tankers to learn how to run an M1 (along with all support crew).

Pulling your best soldiers to learn a new system means they’re not currently available and may account for the overall cautiousness of the current offensives.  Ukraine is pushing because they should, but only to take advantage of Russian mistakes or vulnerabilities.  Or to pressure one front to indirectly affect another front.

If Ukraine is doing this, I’d expect they pulled several units just after Russia retreated from Kyiv.  The retreat meant the capital was safe and Russia’s combat power greatly reduced.  If you’re going to pull your best unit and everything is muddy anyway, that’s the time.  So can we hope to see M1 Abrams sometime soon?  Who knows?  August would be the earliest for the basic mechanics training and that’s if they had started in early march.  I’m sure they will rush what training they can, but there will always be unexpected delays as well.  My best guess would be September or October.  It’s only a guess.  I have no special knowledge here.  But it makes sense to me.  Delay major offensive operations until artillery can be mostly switched out to the better and more reliably available 155mm NATO, and until the M1 Abrams can make an appearance.  I’m guessing a tank company worth, but who knows.  If Ukraine gets them, even in small amounts they will be a game changer.  And yes, they are logistically complicated, but Ukraine is showing itself to be plenty competent.  So let’s give em what they need.


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