A five-part article on Russian military misjudgements in Ukraine
- I—Background and Russian Unit Organisation
- II—Russian Equipment and Personnel
- III—Russian Onslaught
- IV—Russian Inertia
- V—Russian Rout
“Confusion amongst Russian soldiers over their mission and poor morale due to inadequate training and uneven leadership explains their poor performance.”— Curtis Scaparrotti, US four-star general (rtd)
Put simply, modern warfare consists of tanks capturing ground and infantry holding it. In theory, the entire Russian Army is mechanised with Main Battle Tanks (MBT) variants of differinf vintage. In order of age, the tanl park consists of:
- 600 T-62 variants, mostly used as tactical artillery support.
- 2,000 T-72 MBTs in front-line units, plus 7,000 in reserve storage
- 300 T-80 MBT variants, with 3,00 in reserve storage
- 350 T-90 MBT variants in elite front-line units
- very few of the new T-14 MBT , which have serious teething troubles.
Infantry front-line formations, including those brigaded with tank units, are mostly equipped with 1,000 BTR-80s Infantry Fighting Vehicles (IFVs) and other mechanised infantry in 3,500 BMP-1/2/3, still in active service.
Older models have been augmented since the takeover of Crimea through greatly increased military spend has produced Iskander-M missile system, Tornado-G MLRS and Msta-SM self-propelled howitzers and Buk-M2/3 air defence missile complexes. Up to February’s full-scale invasion, the share of modern weapons and equipment increased 4 times, with more than 2,500 armored fighting vehicles (AFVs) of all types had been delivered to tank formations.
Formidable as this equipment park might appear, those deploying and using it are mixed bunch. At the senior level, Putin does not seem to have studied the hard lessons learned during WW2. Stalin purged Red Army officers of all but loyal lackeys and paid the price of incompetence by the likes of Popov and Budyenny by losing over a million prisoners and most of Western Russia in the opening months o the German invasion. Only when Stalin stopped interfering and let professionals like Zhukov, Chuikov and Koniev run their operations did victories come.
Senior Russian commanders (i.e. colonel and above) have scant experience operating large formations and are chary of risk for their career’s sake. The junior officers and junior officers thinned out during the lean years of the 1990s. In contrast to the flexible competence of such officers that once made the Wehrmacht so formidable, Russians are neither trained to think flexibly, nor show much initiative. At least 12 Russian generals have been killed in Ukraine, which suggests a poor level of control and initiative at lower levels, requiring senior commanders to take change from the front. Many BTGs in the Donbas rely on local militia to cover flanks and rear.
Although there are almost a million ordinary soldiers, their skills and quality very greatly. Speznatz (special operations), Guards (elite), EW and missile units are mostly regulars with a good stiffening of regulars. But the bulk of the army relies on conscripts to fill out the ranks with. These are required to serve a year (down from two) in the military. The few professionals in their units are too few to train them “on the job”.