A Blog by Jonathan Low


May 16, 2023

Why Ukraine's Counteroffensive Benefits From Longer Preparation

Ukraine has had to recruit, train, arm - with entirely new weapons systems - plan, coordinate surveil and then launch a complex adapative initiative involving tens of thousands of soldiers and hundreds of pieces of weapons and equipment, all of which have to be both protected and supplied. 

They have to get this right if they want to strike a decisive blow - and the more time that takes, the more likely they are to achieve their goals. JL 

General Mark Hertling, US Army (retired) comments in the Washington Post:

For the past several months Ukraine has been planning this offensive: studying intelligence reports, probing Russian lines, getting in position, targeting enemy headquarters and supplies, and (preparing) resistance fighters behind enemy lines. But the most difficult iss generating combat power for the attack: to synchronize with allies training and equipping (their) forces around the world; coordinate the movement of those forces back into Ukraine, then to staging grounds near where Ukraine’s army will make its breakthrough. In the attack, they face a Russian enemy that - while dysfunctional and poorly led - has had months to prepare. A complex set of defensive belts and potential “kill zones” await.

After months of near-daily coverage on the World War I-style fighting between Ukraine’s army and various Russian units near Bakhmut, the anticipated Ukrainian spring offensive will likely occur soon. How soon? It’s impossible to tell. It could kick off within days or within weeks. Those speculating on exactly when such an attack might take place need to understand the complex challenge facing Ukrainian forces.

As a professional soldier, Ukrainian Gen. Valery Zaluzhny knows he holds only two major advantages when going on the offensive: picking the time and the place of the attack. He knows that after launching tens of thousands of soldiers against the Russian army — a force that has been preparing defensive positions for months — it’s impossible to call them back. Perhaps that’s one reason Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, after visiting his troops the night before the D-Day invasion, returned to his drafty cottage to write a note taking full responsibility for the failure of the Normandy landings, if that were to be the outcome. Luckily, that invasion was successful. For the past several months — possibly ever since last summer after the successful Ukrainian offensive in Kharkiv Oblast — Zaluzhny and his commanders have been planning this offensive. He has been studying intelligence reports, probing Russian lines, getting his special operators in key positions, targeting enemy headquarters and supplies, and messaging resistance fighters behind enemy lines.

But the most difficult thing Zaluzhny needed to do during this long period was generate combat power needed for the attack. He needed to synchronize the ongoing mobilization with his allies, who were training and equipping his force in locations all around the world. He then needed to coordinate the movement of those forces back into Ukraine — and then on to staging grounds near where Ukraine’s army will try to make its breakthrough. Such a complex task would be daunting for even the very best commander.

Ukraine is a large country, and the front is very long. Getting all these units into position is in military jargon called RSOI: Reception, Staging, Onward movement and Integration. Even for the most elite U.S. forces, this is a challenge that is practiced repeatedly at all U.S. training centers. Individual Ukrainian soldiers have proved themselves very good at adapting to new Western kit and accomplishing impossible tasks on the battlefield. But getting RSOI right requires coordinated and synchronized team performance. As one of my mentors once described it to me: “It’s like converting piles of different puzzle pieces into combat ready units, then moving them all over the battlefield.”


Once Zaluzhny has integrated the freshly trained forces into his command and moved the units back to the front for the anticipated offensive, his task will be to execute. In the attack, he must get his troops across the Dnieper River, only to face a Russian enemy that — while still dysfunctional and poorly led — has had months to prepare. A complex set of obstacles and an intimidating series of defensive belts and potential “kill zones” await in Kherson and Zaporizhzhia oblasts. The Russians may have an advantage in occupying these static defensive positions, but only if their soldiers decide to fight.

Offensive operations require more forces, greater maneuver dexterity, precision targeting and firing, and both longer and more secure supply lines. Ukraine’s army has not executed anything like this on this scale. In my experience in training and combat, it is extremely difficult for even a savvy and well-trained force to mass combat power at multiple decisive points of the attack. But that is what Ukraine’s army must do.

See more of the latest data on the war in Ukraine

I predict Zaluzhny and his Army will eventually liberate most — if not all — of the land occupied by the Russians in this offensive. I know the Ukrainian army, and I also know the Russian army, and there is no doubt in my mind that will be the ultimate result of this offensive campaign. But it is impossible to say with any certainty how exactly it will play out. We can assume it will be a difficult fight. It will severely test the newly assembled Ukrainian force. It will result in many tragic casualties on both sides. And it will strain Russian President Vladimir Putin’s will.


Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky will also need to prepare for what happens after these initial battles. Ukrainian civilians in the occupied territory will need humanitarian assistance. Massive demining operations will be necessary, as the Russians have been scattering mines and cluster munitions across fields in anticipation of the counteroffensive. And criminally damaged infrastructure will need to be rebuilt. The World Bank has recently estimated the current cost of rebuilding at around $411 billion, and the final figure is sure to be much higher.

NATO and the United States must also prepare to continue supporting Ukraine’s military indefinitely. All wars end in some type of political agreement, but Russia is unlikely to be satiated. And if the past is any guide, its commitments cannot be trusted. Even with a decimated military, Russia will attempt to rebuild, and Ukraine will remain vulnerable.

Peace and victory will come to Ukraine. But it will likely not be an easy one, nor will it be lasting. For those reasons, the West must continue its support.


vanil said...

Ukraine's counteroffensive strategy benefits greatly from thorough preparation. Taking the time to plan and organize ensures a higher chance of success on the battlefield. It allows for coordination, strategic positioning, and effective utilization of resources. With a well-prepared counteroffensive, Ukraine can maximize its strengths and effectively defend its interests. SMM Panel

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