A Blog by Jonathan Low


Apr 28, 2023

How Ukraine Plans To Breach Russia's Extensive New Defenses

NATO has provided Ukraine with specialized equipment including mobile bridging and mine removal tanks designed to breach defenses. 

But the most important element will be surprise and the competence of combined arms attacks to confuse, overwhelm and then pursue Russian defenders. JL 

Gerry Doyle and colleagues report in Reuters:

Being dug in does not automatically mean the defender has an advantage. The sheer scale of the Russian defensive works is not, in itself, an obstacle. Tanks and other armored vehicles must operate alongside engineers, artillery, and aircraft to defeat layered defenses, in “combined arms”  and recent shipments of Western military gear help with that. Competent planning by Ukraine could prove even more valuable than better weapons. Ukraine’s military does not need to attack every kilometre. Commanders will weigh the strength of the defences, the importance of an area to their objective and the forces they can bring to bear against it.

When Ukraine's military paused to regroup towards the end of 2022, extensive Russian fortifications designed to slow any Ukrainian advances started to spring up along, behind and sometimes far removed from the front lines.

Satellite images of thousands of new defensive positions reviewed by Reuters show Russia has been digging in at key strategic points in readiness for an offensive by a Ukrainian military rearmed with state-of-the-art Western weapons. Stretching from the Russian city of Voronok down through eastern Ukraine and southwest to the Crimean Peninsula, new trenches, anti-vehicle barriers and revetments for equipment and material have appeared, said Brady Africk, an open-source intelligence researcher and an analyst at the American Enterprise Institute.

Russia’s winter offensive made few gains. As the war carries over into a second spring and Ukraine prepares to renew its own attacks with an arsenal of new Western weapons and freshly trained troops, the Russian military most likely sees prepared defences as the best chance of staving off a decisive defeat, said Rob Lee, a senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute.

“After the Kharkiv offensive, Russia kind of realized that defeat was possible - they could lose territory. I think that was a realization that Ukraine can do offensive operations,” he said. The fortifications are “an acknowledgement of the risk that Ukraine could make another breakthrough”.

The trenches

The most common - and easiest to construct - type of defensive work is a trench. U.S. Army field manuals say such fighting positions should be dug roughly armpit-deep, be in non-obvious locations, ideally using natural cover for concealment, and include a front wall of sandbags, rocks, dirt or other protective material.


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