This is the concluding part of the two-part article attempting to study the Ukraine war from the perspective of Principals of War. In Part I certain Principles like Selection and Maintenance of Aim,Simplicity, Concentration of Force, Surprise and Security were considered. In this part, few more Principles, as also certain overwhelming influences on the battlefield like the increasing influence of Technology, Information operations and role of Industry in war are discussed.
Review of aims and objectives of the war based on the progress of battle is at times inevitable, though it may not be in exact consonance with the Principle of War – Selection and Maintenance of Aim. However, such a review, is quite attuned to the Principle of “Flexibility”. In adverse conditions, the flaws in initial intelligence assessments and formulation of operational objectives that become unachievable must be taken into account. Russians took time, but ultimately reviewed their objectives, and displayed strategic flexibility. Kyiv was unattainable. The areas they had captured were too vast and indefensible. They anticipated a Ukrainian counter-offensive.
The Russians withdrew to a defensible line, created layered defenses and awaited the Ukrainians. Positional defence, well hardened and coordinated,require the fielding of disproportionately high force ratios and enormous firepower to breech. The Russian strategic re-posturing has paid off. They have been able to hold the line, mostly.
Concentration of Force at the desired point of impact, is another major advocated principle. In today’s battlefield environment, the Principle needs to be viewed as concentrated employment of well-balanced all domain capability. Even today, the Ukrainian Airforce cannot even dominate the Ukrainian airspace, leave alone being structured to carry the battle to the Russian depths. The effect is clearly visible, especially after the Ukrainians launched their current offensive. The induction of European armour and multi-barrel rocket artillery has not been enough to break the crust of Russian defences. The lesson that evolves is that adequate strength is required in all domains. If a contestant is weak in one, like the lack of a credible Air Force with the Ukrainians, it will substantially weaken capabilities of the force. The old proverb, the weakest link in the chain defines its strength, is applicable in the battlespace also.
Cooperation, another Principle involves the integration of capabilities of all agencies. In the application of thisprinciple today, it encompasses new tools of cyber warfare, electronic warfare, satellites, network centric operations, AI and the like. Ukraine had an advantage of shaping its Cyber defences to ward off Russian attacks since 2014, after the Crimean experience. Theirsystems have displayed resilience. Russians have been unable to inflict any incapacitating damage on Ukraine– aided by its allies. A CFIR article informs, “Kyiv has also been backed by cyber defense assistance from the private sector and offensive and defensive cyber interventions by U.S. Cyber Command.”
In the Cyber domain the Cooperation of the industrywent beyond all expectations. Google and Microsoft have provided extensive free support against DDoS attacks and protected the Ukrainian government and critical infrastructure. Ukrainian networks may not have survived without early and free access to Starlink satellites. The CRDF Global on its website informs that, “Operational cyber defence assistance provided by private companies has proven highly effective for Ukraine in helping sustain the ability to operate in the digital space.”
ISR (Intelligence, surveillance and Reconnaissance), ishugely dependent on the principle of Cooperation.Intelligence output will depend on cooperation within anation’s intelligence agencies and the assistance provided by friendly allies.
Maintenance of Morale, another Principle of War, needs to viewed in a wider framework rather than just military in today’s information driven world. The morale of the country as a whole is important. Russians may not have initiated this war had they perceived how much the Ukrainians value their independence. Emphasising on the fact of Zelensky being good only as a clown on a TV show, and not as the man who won a landslide victory to Presidency, failed to impact audiences, globally. Their expectations off Russian origin Ukrainians proving to be an asset to them, and welcoming Russian troops, didn’t work.
Information operations of both sides have kept the morale of respective domestic audiences supportive. Beyond their own borders, the Ukrainian narrative communicated by the western media has prevailed. It’s an indicator of the pre-eminence of a free press as compared to a state-controlled media’s credibility in influencing global audiences.
Logistics, another principle needs to be visualised in a broader framework today. It includes support of all departments of the government and industry, allies, and friendly foreign nations. Logistical issues often get glossed over in peace times. Tall promises are attested by members in alliances, however the necessary wherewithal for deliverables to be provided are slow to materialise. The Ukraine War is a typical example. When Uranian forces were crying for ammunition, the NATO nations were dipping into their minimum stock levels. Even those were perhaps not there. Preparation for a possible war, even when it was inevitable, hadn’t been initiated, adequately.
NATO’s decision making loop and the time penalties it led to, needs to be studied. Ukrainians kept/ keepcrying for weapons and ammunition while NATO’s in-house debates continue. Ukrainians are yet to be trained on F16s. Lately, the US senate took its time to pass the bill for aid to Ukrainians.
The involvement of the defence industry in the war effort has always been there but it has always displayed a time lag. While delving into logistics, the private industry’s role and requirements have to be perceived.They will have reservations about capital investments if the returns don’t justify it. In the defence sector, such assurances are difficult. The need is of state funding forshort notice surge in manufacturing capacities.
While analysing logistics in the Ukrainian War context. it’s essential to study the Russian performance too. The basic irritant for the late Wagner Chief Yevgeny was the Russian inability to keep him supplied with his requirement of ammunition. Russia was the protagonist in the war and had the time to ensure it was prepared to provide logistical support for the war effort.
As on date, there is a stalemate. For Ukraine, it’s important to retain its freshly formed, trained and equipped brigades; or whatever is still left of them.. If these formations are exhausted, the Russians may make strategic gains next summer.
As far as the Principles of War go, these need to be reframed keeping in view new technologies that have transformative influence on the conduct of warfare.What Clausewitz, Jomini, Kautilya or Sun tzu wrote on another day, though applicable largely, needs to be reviewed in the light of new influences in the battlespace.
Brig SK Chatterji (Retired)