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How Russia-Ukraine Conflict Changed the Nature of Warfare

Updated: Apr 15, 2023

It's been about one year since the Russian-Ukraine conflict started and a lot has happened since then. The operation which was speculated to last for a few months at worst has turned into a full-fledged conflict and neither side is ready to stop.


Russia Ukraine Putin Zelensky operation conflict weapons army tank

Image Graphics by Team Geostrata


US President Biden has just visited Kyiv for the first time since the war began and has assured unwavering support to Ukrainian defence. The US has already spent more than $50 billion on arming Ukraine and is committed to support more.

New weaponry which includes tanks, shells and much more is being poured into Ukraine by NATO member states.


NATO is becoming more and more involved in the Ukrainian battlefield, to a point that Ukraine has even started demanding fighter jets from the bloc.


But how did this happen? Why has such a small state both in terms of military and economy managed to stand for such a long time?


When we talk about how has the nature of war changed? We come to remember World War 1, which came to be known by various names like "The Great War" or the "War to End All Wars.” When you look at the pictures of the French Army at the beginning of World War 1, as the French Cavalry is riding off to meet the Germans at the frontier, dressed in steel breastplates carrying sabres, long helmets with horse hairs at the top, it was the same as the Napoleonic era or the same as the Battle of Waterloo (1815).


But at the end of World War 1, we can see the same French Army with modern helmets, clothes, tanks, artillery, and fighter planes for the first time in the sky. Suddenly, everything changed. From the Napoleonic era, the world entered the modern era.


Many experts call this Russia-Ukraine war the biggest crisis in the world since the end of WW2. Russia put its boots on Ukrainian soil on February 24, 2022. If the war had gone according to President Putin’s plan, it should have been a short and strategic operation in which Russia easily captures Ukraine, but it's now more than 360 days and Ukraine is still fighting. This war has opened new dimensions and also succeeded in analysing the nature of wars in the future.


DRONE WARFARE


Artillery fire used to be very inaccurate and if fired towards the enemy lines, very few shells hit the targets and most of them went wasted, but drones have changed everything. Drones can now do surveillance and take exact pictures of the positions of enemies and show their precise locations, and artillery can be aligned to exact targets instead of indiscriminately bombing an area or a territory.


Ukraine is in negotiations with NATO for long-range artillery supplies, The UK has sent M270 artillery rockets to the Ukrainians, which can hit targets more than 50 miles away. The proper coordination of drones and Ukrainian artillery is bringing havoc to the Russian forces.


Ukrainian forces have completed a crash course on M142 high mobility rocket artillery or HIMARS, which is said to have a range between 70 km and 499 km, but as per US officials, it can only hit targets upto 70 km.

The induction of HIMARS into Ukrainian artillery has given a great leap to Ukrainian artillery in fighting in the Donbas region. So the advent of the modern drone and artillery combination is very new to the world, but this combination is proving to be very effective on the battleground and might also be used in future warfare, according to military experts.


PRIVATE MILITARY CONTRACT (PMC) & FOREIGN MILITARY PERSONNEL


The PMCs are playing a very crucial role in the Russia-Ukraine war. Western agents hire mercenaries who have military and battlefield experience. They pay them handsomely, most of the time equal to the Ukrainian and Russian soldiers. According to the BBC, there is now a significant increase in demand for contract soldiers. This role of hiring for the Ukraine side is done by the US and European private contractors. According to one of the volunteers (BBC), contractors are being hired for $30,000 and these private contractors are hiring personnel offering up to $6M to help remove people from Ukraine.

One of the best examples is the Canadian sniper "Wali", who is said to kill 40 people a day, and also volunteered to fight alongside the Ukrainian forces.

Russia is also hiring foreign mercenaries. The most famous group is the Wagner Group, a group which is run by the famous Russian oligarch Yevgeny Prighozin. The Wagner group has a presence in many countries, such as Libya, the African Republic, Mali, Sudan, etc. After Vladimir Putin came into power, he installed Ramzan Kadyrov to deal with the separatist forces in Chechnya, currently acting as the Head of the Chechen State. On the 26th, he announced that Chechen military forces had to be deployed alongside the Russian army in the Russia-Ukraine war. The Asad loyal forces' few battalions were also rumoured to be assisting the Russian Forces. Even the Libyan National Army fighters got involved in the Russia-Ukraine War.


SOCIAL MEDIA WARFARE


This warfare generally comes under digital warfare. Tik-Tok, a digital platform, that is very popular among youth, offered the first glimpses of the conflict. According to the Washington Post, the White House had invited 30 influential social media creators, who are covering the Russian rollover, from their respective Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Tik-Tok channels. They were invited through the online platform and were briefed about their role in fighting the Russian misinformation war, countering Russian propaganda and providing authentic information.


Discussed above, were the new aspects of warfare that have emerged in this war, following are the few important reasons why Russia has suffered huge losses and why it is struggling to crush Ukrainian forces.


Logistics- There is a famous quote by General John J. Pershing, a famous US commander in WWI. He says,

"Infantry wins battles but logistics win the war."

Russian logistics have a history of underperformance, A recent example would be that of the war in Afghanistan, where the USSR failed so miserably. Russia may have had massive numbers of tanks and MLRVs, but when it comes to its military logistics, it is clearly overstretched, and underequipped.


Tanks don’t just need shells to operate, they need fuel and so do other vehicles that the military uses. When Russian forces failed to take control in the first offensive, they exhausted their resources and therefore had to wait for resupply.


Russian fuel tankers were few in number, slow in speed, and had no protection, which made them an easy target for the Ukrainian military and even the civilian resistance. This explains why so many Russian tanks were abandoned, But this is just one problem. Russian logistics are suffering from under-preparedness, lack of command, coordination, and over-expectations.


Communications- In many viral videos, Russian soldiers were seen asking locals about directions and using maps for navigation. Despite Mr Putin’s push for modernisation of the military, basic technologies such as GPS and modern comms are still in scarcity in most parts of the Russian forces.


The radios that the Russians use are cold war era equipment. These radio communications were not secure and hence, were easily hacked by Ukrainians. Russia’s positions and plans were exposed, and the Russians desperately tried to overcome this problem by changing their frequencies. Still, it went in vain as more hackers from around the world and organisations such as anonymous jumped into the war against Russia.


Tanks- In almost every photo that has captured the conflict, one can see T-72 or T-90 tanks and various other armoured vehicles.


As Russia poured its tanks into Ukraine, while they started with blasts, as soon as it became clear that the war was not going to end quickly,

tanks became liabilities rather than assets for Russian forces, and logistic problems, as mentioned above, made many tanks ineffective.

And those who were left became easy targets for ATGMs like Javelin and TB2 drones. These modern technologies did to tanks what Machine Guns did to Cavalry in WW1. Ukraine by itself did not possess these capabilities by large, but the West has provided these neutralising capabilities with generosity.


And this is where the Russians failed to anticipate the future possibilities if the operation failed to achieve its objectives quickly. While modern tanks such as the T-14 Armata are better equipped to defend themselves against these problems, Russia did not bring them to the battlefield for various reasons, with sanctions being a significant factor, which hurt production a lot.


ATGMs and Drones such as TB2 can not be categorised into defensive capabilities, but they strategically neutralise the Russian forces very effectively. These technologies are the instruments of modern guerilla warfare.

As this conflict nears its anniversary, several key and new developments have happened. Russia has found the answer to TB drones in the Iranian-made Shaheed drones. The new tank showdown is about to begin on the Ukrainian battlefield, as Ukraine receives German Leopard MBTs and US-made M1 Abrams, while Russia is also bringing more tanks, including T-14s. Ukraine is also insisting on having fighter jets given to it by NATO members, and some like the UK have shown their willingness to do so. If this occurs, a high-level battle for aerial superiority is very likely.


One thing is for sure: in the upcoming days, the Russia-Ukraine war is surely going to give lasting and profound lessons on modern warfare to the rest of the world.



 

BY MANDAR RANSING

TEAM GEOSTRATA

mandar.geostrata@gmail.com

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