In Germany @derspiegel, @welt, @ntvde and in Austria @derStandardat write that “the Ukrainian Offensive has failed”. That is wild nonsense. This nonsense happens, because all of them interviewed the same expert, who doesn’t understand Ukraine’s Offensive phases, of which there are at least 5, and we’re barely in the middle of Phase 1 – Attrition and Interdiction. I wouldn’t have to do this thread, if i.e. @derStandardat wouldn’t confuse the Ukrainian Army’s Assault brigades, with the National Guard’s Offensive Guard brigades, but The reason people don’t consider Ukraine’s Phase 1 a success comes from people being used to US/NATO wars, in which Phase 1 is purely air power.
Phase 1 is meant to attrition enemy forces and interdict/disrupt their lines of communication. The West uses fighters and bombers, and cruise missiles for that. During the 1991 Gulf War 1,700+ coalition combat aircraft needed 37 (!) days and 100,000+ sorties to attrition the Iraqi forces enough to trigger the ground campaign. And 288 Tomahawk cruise missiles were fired at Iraqi targets. During the 2003 Invasion of Iraq coalition combat aircraft flew 41,000 sorties and fired 802 Tomahawks at Iraqi targets. This time the coalition skipped the attrition phase and went directly to Phase 2 – Close Air Support = bombing a road to Baghdad for the 1st Marine and 3rd Infantry divisions. Ukraine doesn’t have any of this air power; and so Ukraine is forced to replace fighters and bombers with GMLRS, Excalibur, Storm Shadow and drones.
Whereas in US and NATO operations the sky is continuously swarming with fighters and bombers looking for enemy positions and vehicles to annihilate, all Ukraine has in the air are drones, which look for Russian equipment, ammo points, command centers, logistic points, etc. but the drones can’t bomb these objects. Once a drone spots a target, the drone operator has to request mensuration, the results of which are then transmitted to either a M142 HIMARS or M270A1 MLRS launcher, which will enter the target’s coordinates into a GMLRS rocket; or transmitted to a M777, PzH 2000, M109A6 or Archer howitzer, which will enter the target’s coordinates into an Excalibur projectile; or the data is transmitted to the Ukrainian Air Force’s 7th Tactical Aviation Brigade, which will enter the target’s coordinates into a Storm Shadow.
Did you notice that all of these take time? Ukraine can only hit Russian equipment that is static. Unlike Western fighters, which can hit the passenger seat of a driving car, Ukraine can only hit Russian vehicles and objects that are static. A massive drawback. Even worse: a US fighter jet can fly deep into enemy territory, and hit a dozen targets 500km behind the front, while Ukraine’s range is limited to: Excalibur range: 40 km, GMLRS range: 84 km and Storm Shadow range: 500+ km, but only in limited numbers. Ukraine is massively handicapped by the time it takes to hit a Russian target and by the range of its systems. (GLSDB will improve HIMARS range but the production line is not yet running.)
Now if you’re Russia, all you have to do it to park your heavy equipment outside of GMLRS range and Ukraine can’t hit it. It makes no sense to use a expensive Storm Shadow missile to hit i.e. a Russian T-90M tank. Still Ukraine must attrition Russia’s heavy equipment before it can begin Phase 2 of the offensive… and the only way to do it is to bait Russian forces into GMLRS and Excalibur range. And Ukraine is doing this right now by attacking the Russian lines with four of the ten brigades that have been readied for this Phase: 23rd Mechanized Brigade, 31st Mechanized Brigade, 37th Marine Brigade and 47th Mechanized Brigade. All other brigades (i.e. 35th Marine, 68th Jaeger, etc.) are merely supporting these four brigades. A further six brigades can be deployed for this phase.
Now the Russians are in a dilemma: either bring their heavy equipment forward and risk losing it to GMLRS and Excalibur or leave their heavy equipment out of range and allow Ukraine an unexpected early breakthrough through the Russians lines… well, the Russians decided to bring their equipment forward and Ukraine is hitting it relentlessly.
Still it is a far, far slower process than air power… and unlike in an air campaign Ukraine is losing troops and vehicles… and this has led to some analysts declaring the Ukrainian Offensive a “failure”… it is NOT. These “analysts” and “experts” just fail to understand the Ukrainian plan. And they fail to understand that Ukraine gets stronger every day: Ukraine readied 35 (!) brigades for the offensive, by raising new units, splitting existing units, pulling units out of the front and refreshing them and just 4 of 35 are in the fight now.
All the others are at the training grounds – training every day to improve their skills; AND incorporating the lessons learned in the offensive so far. And every day troops return from training in NATO countries and Sweden; and new equipment arrives – the Offensive Guard brigades started out as light infantry… and are now getting tanks from Germany and Denmark, turning them into mechanized formations. So many troops return from training in Europe that Ukraine recently formed three new brigades; and as the Russians have stopped attacks in the South and along the Donetsk front, Ukraine recently pulled two elite brigades out of the front to freshen them up for the offensive. How can an offensive have “failed” if more than 90% of forces are still training for the offensive?
I do not know when the next Phase of the Ukrainian Offensive will begin… but I am sure it is not tied to a date or certain geographic locations. I assume the next Phase will be triggered when Ukraine is confident it has destroyed a certain % of the remaining Russian howitzers, rocket launchers, electronic warfare systems, air defense systems; and degraded Russian logistics by striking Russian supply lines, and destroyed most of the Russian ammo dumps and command posts… you know, the exact same parameters that triggered the ground campaign of Operation Desert Storm in 1991.
Ukraine’s Offensive has barely begun. And due to the lack of air power Phase 1 will take far longer than people are used to, but journalists need to come up every day with a fresh new drama. But the real story here is how many more forces Ukraine is readying, how many more forces Ukraine and NATO are training, and how much more equipment the West needs to donate for these new units. In Phase 3 Ukrainian forces will slice through Russian lines and liberate Mariupol; will cross the Dnipro and liberate Northern Crimea; and will destroy Russia’s army in the South. Ukraine’s victory is inevitable. We just need a bit of patience.
Comment: Thomas Theiner is described as a film maker and former Italian artillery officer, an expert on NATO forces who has been studying and analyzing information from open sources about conflicts involving the former USSR for at least 12 years. I’m not familiar with his five or more phases of the offensive. Maybe it’s a NATO doctrine. But his attrition and interdiction phase rings true. That seems to be a normal phase since the invention of artillery. As Theiner mentions, it was a quite prominent feature of our First Gulf War. I remember the American public was being prepared for heavy US casualties all during that long air campaign, but that air campaign proved so effective our casualties were shockingly low.
How Theiner describes the current Ukrainian offensive as in a similar attrition and interdiction phase also rings true. Given the effectiveness of Russian air defense systems used by both sides, I doubt the Ukrainians could attrit and interdict the Russian ground forces in any other manner even if they had a modern air force. I doubt we could repeat our air campaigns again with the same lack of casualties and level of success as we did in the past. I’m sure we’re writing an addendum to our multi-domain operations concept based on lessons learned in Ukraine. Not a rewrite, mind you, just an addendum. We did put off the publication of FM 3-0 a few months once the Russian invasion of Ukraine started.
Field Manual 3-0 Operations, dated October 2022