U.S. Marine Corps General Robert Barrow, then Commandant of the Marine Corps had remarked in the 1980’s, “Amateurs talk about tactics, but professionals study logistics”.
This maxim has been proved again in the Ukraine War spanning 223 days as on October 04.
The war in Ukraine, no longer a Special Military Operation by Russia after mass mobilisation that has been ordered by Russian President Vladimir Putin is entering a new phase.
Like the hyperbole that has followed developments in the War, this may not be a decisive turn though a revelation of sorts with local counter offensives that have been launched by Ukrainian armed forces.
Identifying these as general counter offensives by the Ukrainian forces also needs to be done with caution as information from the front line is limited.
Ukrainian Forces Success
However no doubt, Ukrainian forces have achieved success in penetrating and disrupting Russian positions in Kharkiv, Lyman, Donetsk Oblast a Lyman, Donetsk Oblast in north eastern Kherson Oblast as per the Institute of Study of War (ISW), which compiles information from varied sources and is seen to be generally accurate.
Importantly what is also established is disruption in Russian high command with recycling of commanders in the Western and Central Military Districts as reported by the ISW.
Russian hardliners as Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov have also made calls for employment of tactical nuclear weapons but mention of these has not been made by other Russian leaders, thus the possibility remains remote for now.
While a detailed assessment and review of the operational success achieved by the Ukrainian forces may require more inputs, one aspect is clear the advantage of logistics, a permanent feature for military success enjoyed by Ukraine.
What is military logistics?
Simply speaking is planning, mobilisation, movement and sustenance of military forces for operations.
There are multiple intricacies in logistics highlighted by Jomini, the lesser known French general [as compared to Clausewitz of the same era] who has outlined the basic features of military logistics which as per Encyclopaedia Britannica includes “the practical art of moving armies.”
The Encyclopaedia goes on to describe the facets of logistics that were included in Jomini’s statement as, “planning, administration, supply, billeting and encampments, bridge and road building, even reconnaissance and intelligence insofar as they were related to maneuver off the battlefield”.
The U.S. think tank, Rand Corporation defines military logistics today as movement and maintenance of personnel to support an operation or meet an emerging threat.
The logistics requirements of supporting large scale military operations today have increased exponentially given the multiple dependencies of armed forces waging an integrated and multi-dimensional battle. However, the basics remain sound.
Significant Facets of Logistics Advantage Ukraine
Ukrainian forces have enjoyed significant advantage in terms of logistics due to a number of factors summarised as given below-
Firstly, the Russian offensive launched on February 24, was logistically underprepared. This was obvious with the anticipation of rapid collapse of Ukraine and when this did not happen Russian forces were out on a limb and frequently scavenging in the local areas.
Secondly, the frontage in the Ukraine War has been vast from Kyiv in the initial stages to Kharkiv, Luhansk and Donetsk down to Kherson. Administration of forces spread over such a vast frontage is challenging for Russia but not so for Ukraine due to factor as given below.
Ukraine forces are operating on interior lines of communications with ease of connectivity to the frontlines in the East and the South from the centre hinterland. While distances continue to be vast these are shorter than for the Russians and can support multiple fronts at the same time.
However Russian forces are deployed on exterior lines of communications as such each front – Kharkiv, Luhansk-Donetsk and Kherson in the extreme southeast must be supplied through different axis.
Fourthly Russian lines of communications are extended deeper than those of Ukraine. On an average the distance from Dnipro in Central Ukraine to the frontlines of Donetsk Kherson or Kharkiv is less than three hundred kms thus providing a major advantage.
Fifthly Ukraine appears to have made judicious employment of critical assets as ammunitions to include artillery, rockets and missiles as compared to Russian forces which have been employed for punitive attacks on civilian targets. As a result, the Russian stocks may be running low which is also indicated by reports that arms and weapons facilities are working 24/7 in the hinterland.
Sixthly American and other western support to Ukraine has been substantial not just the all-important HIMARS but guns and artillery munition which have been critical for the sustaining the Ukrainian war effort.
Point to note is the United States Lend Lease Act was one of the main factors that had sustained the Soviet Union’s war effort during the Second World War.
Russian President Vladimir Putin highlighted how Russia could outlast Ukraine due to immense natural and material resources, however usability of these in the immediate term is low. More over U.S. and western sanctions has further crippled Russian defence industrial complex thus replenishment capacity in the short to medium term remains low.
Not surprisingly there were some reports indicating that Russia was looking at North Korea for supply of artillery ammunition that was denied by both sides.
Highlighting the importance of logistics is not to undermine the fortitude and resilience of the Ukrainian people and armed forces but to highlight a factor that has contributed to their success in tandem with challenges posed in this sphere to Russia and lack of preparedness in this essential dimension.