Ukrainian Commander-in-Chief General Valerii Zaluzhnyi assessed on November 1 that the war in Ukraine has taken on a positional nature and offered a series of recommendations for Ukraine to restore maneuver to the battlespace. In an essay entitled “Modern Positional Warfare and How to Win It” and an interview with The Economist, Zaluzhnyi outlined the current operational environment in Ukraine and noted that, despite several previously successful Ukrainian counteroffensive operations in 2022, the war is now “gradually moving to a positional form.” Zaluzhnyi heavily stressed that the current positional nature of the war is largely a result of military parity between Ukrainian and Russian forces, noting that a deep and dramatic Ukrainian penetration of Russian lines will likely not be possible with the relative technological and tactical equilibrium currently between Ukrainian and Russian forces. In his interview with The Economist, Zaluzhnyi acknowledged that technological and tactical parity between opposing forces in Ukraine has resulted in a “stalemate” similar to the case of the First World War. In the more extensive essay on the subject, Zaluzhnyi notably refrained from classifying the situation as a full stalemate and instead framed it as a “positional” war resulting from aspects of this technological-tactical parity. According to Zaluzhnyi, Ukraine’s ability to overcome this technological-tactical parity will be contingent on Ukraine’s ability to secure five main operational components that have become particularly significant since the summer of 2023 — gaining air superiority; breaching Russian mine barriers in depth; increasing the effectiveness of counterbattery combat; creating and training the necessary reserves; and building up electronic warfare (EW) capabilities.
Zaluzhnyi offered a series of specific tactical solutions to the five aforementioned operational components that have created the conditions for positional warfare, which in his view will allow Ukraine to overcome military parity with Russian forces. Regarding the issue of air superiority, Zaluzhnyi argued that Ukrainian forces need to significantly improve drone capabilities to gain air superiority along the frontline. Zaluzhny argued that Ukrainian forces need to overload Russian air defenses, neutralize Russian strike drones, and degrade Russian visibility over the front by deploying cheap drones en masse, developing specific drones meant to target Russian strike drones, and employing EW complexes throughout the front. Zaluzhnyi argued that to overcome the challenges of EW use on the frontline, Ukrainian forces need to introduce necessary command and control (C2) processes for EW complexes, increase EW production capabilities, and streamline engagements with volunteer organizations that provide smaller EW complexes to Ukrainian forces. Zaluzhnyi also recommended that Ukrainian forces improve counter-EW measures and develop new drones with EWs in mind. To gain counterbattery superiority, Zaluzhnyi recommended that Ukrainian forces use more reconnaissance and strike drones to improve Ukrainian counterbattery fire and argued that Ukrainian forces need to strengthen GPS support for Ukrainian counterbattery units and increase the number of counterbattery assets. Zaluzhnyi stated that improved sensors, more widespread and varied mine clearing capabilities, and anti-drone equipment will allow Ukrainian forces to more successfully breach Russian mine barriers in depth while under concealment.
Zaluzhnyi also highlighted wider administrative adaptations and domestic developments in addition to his specific tactical battlefield solutions. Zaluzhnyi specifically called on Ukraine to introduce a Unified State Register for draftees, reservists, and those liable for military service to prepare a necessary reserve for Ukrainian forces. Zaluzhnyi more broadly called on Ukrainian officials to incentivize Ukrainian citizens to join the military reserve and expand the number of citizens that Ukrainian forces are allowed to train. Zaluzhnyi also noted that improving Ukrainian C2 and logistics support will be critical to improving operations writ large. Zaluzhnyi stated that the formation of a “single information environment for C2 through the use of modern information technology will allow Ukrainians to get ahead of Russian forces in terms of situational awareness. Zaluzhnyi particularly highlighted the need for Ukraine to develop its own defense industry to sustain operations, long-range strike capabilities, and an asymmetric munitions arsenal to break out of military parity with Russian forces.
Comment: This is a summary, albeit a detailed summary, of General Zaluzhnyi’s recent interview with the “Economist” and an essay he wrote entitled “Modern Positional Warfare and How to Win It.” He is impressive in his frankness. He sees both sides now in a state of parity with current battlefield tactics and technology leading to positional warfare… a stalemate. And he acknowledges that this status quo will not lead to a Ukrainian victory. His solution for what needs to be done and what can be done is realistic and insightful. I’m sure the Russians read this with great interest. I suggest we do the same.