The lessons in Ukraine contradict the military paradigms inherited from the Gulf War

Very few, on the evening of February 24, 2022, the date of the start of the Russian offensive in Ukraine, had imagined that after 3 weeks of war, the Russian forces would have made so little progress in the country, at the cost of such heavy losses. . Thus, an article surreptitiously published on the so-called pro-Kremlin tabloid Komsokolskaja pravda yesterday, reported nearly 10.000 killed and more than 16.000 wounded within the Russian armies according to his staff, this not taking into account the losses of his Wagner and Chechen auxiliaries. Even if such allegations may be questionable, it must be recognized that this level of human losses is consistent with that of the material losses observed and documented since the beginning of this war. As we studied in an article yesterday, part of this relative (and not definitive) failure of the Russian armies is to put down to a bad initial strategy during the first two phases of this military operation, the first aimed at decapitating Ukrainian power, the second at blowing up the country's defenses, both of which failed.

However, these failures, if they are also to be credited to the excellent strategy and the courage of the Ukrainian defenders, raise questions about certain paradigms that have the value of dogma both within the Russian and Western armies, and must therefore challenge us on the reality of the perceived power of European and Western armies in view of the feedback from these first 3 weeks of combat. In this article, we will study the most important paradigms at the heart of the model of Western and Russian armies, breached by this war, and which must therefore be deeply and quickly re-evaluated to maintain an effective conventional defensive posture in Europe and worldwide.

1- The volume of forces supplants the technological advantage

For many decades, all military academies on the planet have taught their young officers the golden rule of a successful offensive, which is to have forces 3 times greater than the defender's to defeat them. But since the first Gulf War in 1991, and the overwhelming success of the coalition offensive against the Iraqi forces, which nevertheless had almost as many men and armored vehicles as the attacking forces, this dogma has been altered by a notion of “force multiplier” or power linked to a technological gradient favorable to one or other of the adversaries. In other words, technology was becoming conceptually a valid and measurable alternative to mass, this having generated a frantic race in the West for ever more technologies on board military equipment. And if the campaigns in Afghanistan, Iraq and even in Mali showed the limits of this paradigm, it is essential today as the heart of modern military programming, including in Russia.

Russian columns in the north of the country were methodically hit and harassed by highly mobile Ukrainian infantry capable of using paths of movement impassable for Russian mechanized units

By deploying "only" 200.000 men around a Ukraine whose armed forces also fielded 200.000 combatants and were likely to rely on a reserve of more than 400.000 men and women, some of whom had had combat experience in the Donbass over the past few years, Moscow was obviously making a bet similar to that of the West, certain that its advantage in technology, like that conferred by its professionalized forces, would be enough to gain the advantage over the Ukrainian defenders, and to win the decision as quickly as the coalition armies did in February 1991. Obviously, this was a serious error, and the present situation is the perfect demonstration of it. Despite its undeniable technological advantage over the Ukrainian armies, and units presented as 70% professionalized, the force multipliers were far from compensating for the lack of mass, and even seriously exposed the Russian army's ability to maintain its long-term effort in the face of the losses suffered.

However, the Russian offensive was not totally ineffective, and its progress in the south of the country clearly shows that, with equivalent forces, certain power multipliers can indeed give the attacker a significant advantage. The question now is to know why the main strategic axis of the Russian offensive got bogged down in the north of the country, while the secondary axis, in the south, managed to progress over several hundred kilometers, to the point to manage to seize certain big cities like Kherson, and to encircle the port of Mariupol. We can therefore think that the nature of the terrain and the weather conditions in the south of Ukraine offered more favorable opportunities for the Russian advance, or that the road network was more suitable for a rapid maneuver. However, there is nothing to indicate that the significant technological gradient that existed between the Russian armies and the Ukrainian defenders played decisively in favor of the former, regardless of the theater of operation, and that it is indeed the mass of Ukrainian fighters, as well as their ability to adapt to the terrain and available technologies, which made shatter the certainties of the Russian General Staff, and with them the hopes of a quick victory as in the Gulf War.

2- The infantry, queen of battles


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