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Russia-Ukraine war shatters myths, imparts new lessons about warfare

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KYIV, UKRAINE - Injured civilians are helped by medics after several explosions rocked the Shevchenkivskyi district of the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv on October 10, 2022. (Wolfgang Schwan - Anadolu Agency)
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Oct 10, 2022 - 11:34 AM

ANKARA (AA) – As the Russia-Ukraine war prolongs, military experts believe it has inherent lessons for future warfare strategies.

The main message is that besides the possession of a state-of-the-art military arsenal — logistics, uninterrupted military supplies, weather, timing of operations and diplomatic maneuverability play an equally crucial role in achieving goals.

It has also dumped the Cold Start military doctrine — the name given to a limited and swift war strategy designed to seize territory without risking a nuclear conflict.

On Feb. 24, when the Russian military opened four fronts — two toward the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, one to Kharkiv and a southern front from Crimea to Odesa — it was believed that it would soon decapitate the Ukrainian leadership and take control of sensitive installations.

That same day, Russia’s special forces and paratroopers had struck the Hostomel’s Antonov airport, just 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) northwest of Kyiv. Because of those instant successes, forces from Belarus in the north started marching toward the capital. It looked like a copycat operation that the Russians had undertaken while occupying territories in Georgia in 2008 and Crimea in 2014 or even the US invasion of Iraq in 2003.

But many experts now conclude that ignoring the weather and logistics in the military plan proved a fatal error in denying the Russians an absolute and immediate victory. The rainy weather, which started in March, turned the roads and valleys toward Kyiv into marshes making movement difficult.

Unable to take heavy artillery and tanks forward, the 60-kilometer (37-mile) convoy marching to Kyiv became a sitting duck. Ukrainian forces, familiar with the land, employed hit-and-run tactics using American Javelin, fire-and-forget lightweight shoulder-fired NLAWS missiles and Turkish drones and succeeded to stop the march. A month later, the Russians retreated and turned their attention toward southeast Ukraine.

Importance of weather

The importance of weather as a factor in military operations can be taken straight from documents gathered by India’s military historians, who recorded that Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw, army chief in 1971, had bluntly told Prime Minister Indira Gandhi that his forces were not ready to invade what was then-East Pakistan, now Bangladesh, in April 1971.

According to retired Lt. Gen. Eric A Vas, when political events turned worse in East Pakistan with the arrest of popular leader Sheikh Mujibur Rahman on March 25, Gandhi summoned her Cabinet ministers and the army chief. “The prime minister said, ‘I want the army to launch an offensive into East Pakistan as early as possible,’” Vas recalled in a 2013 article for the news website, rediff.com.

Asked to explain, Manekshaw said the monsoon will soon take over and all rivers in the East will be overflowing and the Himalayan mountain passes will be open in summer and he will not be able to withdraw troops posted along the Chinese borders.

Another explanation was that crops are ready in the fields and in case of troop movement, there will be no transport available for their transportation to markets, leading to food shortages and even food riots in the country. The Indian army finally moved in December, when winter set in and succeeded in liberating Bangladesh.

Military observers are also amazed that in the current war, Russia has not unleashed its full air power potential. It looks like the S-300 air defense system that Ukraine reportedly procured from Slovakia and the US Stinger missiles have kept the Russians from displaying air superiority.

The S-300 is a Soviet-era long-range surface-to-air missile system that can shoot down cruise missiles and aircraft and has a range of up to 90 miles. Three NATO countries — Slovakia, Bulgaria and Greece — possess the air defense system. Ironically, the US and its allies raise hackles only against Türkiye for procuring the S-400, an advanced version of the missile defense system to secure its territories. The war has only proved that Türkiye’s decision to acquire the S-400 was timely and correct.

“The United States had sent Ukraine 16 HIMARS launchers, thousands of Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System, or GMLRS, rockets, and almost half a million rounds of 155mm ammunition, thousands of anti-tank missiles, anti-aircraft weapons, small arms and other pieces of equipment,” according to a report in Defense One, a US-based defense and international security website.

Impact of sanctions and cyberwarfare

Russia still desists to call it a full-blown war and has restricted describing it as a “special military operation.” The Russians argue that they have not yet put their strike corps into action, which has been deployed along the borders. But since Russia annexed four regions on Sept. 30 — Luhansk, Donetsk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson — taking 15%, 90,000 square kilometers, or 34,749 square miles, of Ukraine’s territory, the strike corps may be moved into these regions.

Although the Russians have used missiles such as the Kaliber, Kh59, KH 101, the ground-based Tochka and the Iskander short-range missiles, and even the Kinzhal hypersonic missile, military experts say the prolonging of the war has affected key components because of Western sanctions.

Reputed Indian defense journal, the Force, mentioned that given the severe sanctions, the Russian military-technical and military-industrial entities have been hard-pressed to obtain microchip processors required for avionics, like the electronically-scanned multi-mode radar (AESA-MMR) antennae.

Defense analyst Manoj Joshi believes the cyber war between Russia and Ukraine has many lessons for future warfare strategies in the world. At the beginning of the war, the Russians hacked the commercial US Viasat satellite used by Ukraine for its communications. But soon afterward, Kyiv was given access to the US’ Space X Starlink system and other Western countries helped in gathering tactical intelligence, which ensured that Ukraine held on.

It could not have achieved what it did without the assistance of IT companies, including Apple, Microsoft, Amazon and Space X, as well as Western Europe allies with whom Ukraine has been associating closely since 2014, said Joshi, a distinguished fellow at the Observer Research Foundation (ORF), a leading think tank. The courtiers will now need a dedicated cyber security force alike the army, navy and air force to secure data and networks.

Questions Cold Start doctrine

The Russia-Ukraine war has also raised questions about the Cold Start doctrine (CSD) that was first propounded by the Indian Army aimed at gearing swift offensive operations into enemy territory.

Stephen Rosen, an expert on national security and military affairs at Harvard University, maintains that the consequences of a Ukraine-like scenario mean that countries need a larger stockpile of consumable military supplies, ranging from ammunition to fuel and food.

“It would also call for more capacity to train additional forces. A prolonged conventional war takes much greater effort to fight and requires a sustained, unified approach,” he said.

As the complexity of the modern war machine also includes the ability to manage it, the Russia-Ukraine war has taught a lesson that the availability of roads and airfields, military logistics bases and infrastructure as well as the national industrial ecosystem to supplement the war effort is equally crucial.

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