The end of offensive warfare

Ukraine’s vaunted counteroffensive is not going well. In the months leading up to its launch, proponents said it would be “decisive.” Former American general David Petraeus predicted “the Ukrainians [would] achieve significant breakthroughs and accomplish much more than most analysts are predicting.” But, instead, the front lines have barely budged, and Ukraine has lost enormous numbers of men and equipment, writes ‘American Greatness’.

Ukraine is using new tactics, equipment, and operational plans for its shock brigades after months of intensive training by NATO. NATO built these units in its own image, prioritizing offense, maneuver, and combined arms tactics.

Unfortunately, what looks good on paper does not always work in the field.

Extensive minefields, drone-sighted artillery, and entrenched defenders mean Ukrainian forces can barely advance into “no man’s land.” They are being stopped at the skirmish line and have gotten nowhere close to the second and third echelons of Russian defenders. Dozens of Leopard II tanks and Bradley infantry fighting vehicles — NATO’s state-of-the-art land warfare equipment — have been blown up and set on fire (photo) by mines, kamikaze drones, and artillery during the stalled offensive.

In spite of much bragging in recent months about its superior training, equipment, and operational art, the NATO-trained brigades have not performed particularly well. Well-choreographed combined arms tactics were supposed to provide a significant advantage, but they neglected mine-clearance and air defense. Thus, Russian attack helicopters have had a field day blowing up Ukrainian armor at leisure. Judging by the barely avoided friendly-fire incident shown here, the Ukrainians are not maneuvering their equipment with a lot of panache, even when they’re not under helicopter attack. A lot is going wrong.

While NATO devoted a lot of energy and money to training, it has little recent experience with this kind of warfare. It is telling that the one brigade making any significant advances during the counteroffensive was not one of the new ones, but rather one made up of veteran Ukrainian soldiers using ex-Soviet equipment.

The ill-fated offensive seems to illustrate a broader change in warfare. If World War I was a stalemate, and World War II featured significant amounts of maneuver, one must ask whether current conditions favor the attacker or the defender.

an important question presents itself: how can military power be used effectively on the offense? This question is particularly important for the United States, because our entire foreign policy is devoted to power projection, and Ukraine is using our equipment, ammunition, doctrine, and intelligence. In other words, Ukraine’s results are a test case for the American way of war against a conventional opponent.

If Ukraine is incapable of imposing its will offensively — or only able to do so after long, grinding campaigns of attrition — that would presumably apply to the United States as well, whether in a direct NATO confrontation with Russia, but also in any future war with China, Iran, or some other conventional opponent.

The Ukraine War is the largest conventional conflict since World War II. It has little resemblance to the low-intensity guerilla wars that characterized American, NATO, and Russian conflicts during the preceding 75 years.

The most important emerging lesson from this war is that the defender is strongly favored, because defensive strategies leverage modern technology — particularly drone, mine, and missile technology — better than offensive strategies. As Clausewitz observed, “the defensive form of war is in itself stronger than the offensive.”

This is not, however, a permanent condition, stresses ‘American Greatness’.

Ukrainians still face hurdles that differentiate this campaign from their swift push through the Kharkiv region in September and even from the more arduous offensive that recaptured Kherson in November, notes ‘The New York Times’.

The terrain in the southeast is mostly flat, open fields, in contrast to the rolling hills of the Donbas or the heavily forested north, depriving Ukraine’s troops of cover. The Russians have also been dug in for months in expansive trench lines, making uprooting them more difficult.

In addition, KA-52 Russian attack helicopters have been able to slip past air defenses, slowing Ukrainian movements while damaging or destroying Western-provided tanks and armored fighting vehicles.

And not only are the minefields bigger and more ubiquitous, but Russian troops have proved adept at replenishing some minefields cleared by Western-supplied equipment, a senior United States military official said.

The fierce resistance has taken a toll on Ukraine’s weaponry. The United States committed 113 Bradley fighting vehicles in March. At least 17 of them — more than 15 percent — have been damaged or destroyed in the fighting so far, the official said.

Mr. Zelensky, while conceding that progress has been “slower than desired,” cautioned against what he portrayed as unrealistic expectations of a cinematic blitzkrieg through enemy lines. “Some people believe this is a Hollywood movie and expect results now,” Mr. Zelensky said in an interview with the BBC this past week. “We will advance on the battlefield the way we deem best.”

In Washington, officials in the Biden administration are publicly urging patience even as they privately fret that the initial progress has been slow. One senior administration official called the results of the first couple of weeks “sobering,” adding, “They’re behind schedule.”

The senior U.S. military official also acknowledged the slower-than-hoped-for pace of operations but added that this was not unexpected given the extensive Russian defenses, and cautioned against drawing any broad conclusions based on the initial operations.

Success for Ukraine now hinges on how many tanks, armored vehicles and soldiers it can preserve before reaching the primary defensive line and in a battle to break through. Over the winter, Ukraine and Western allies trained and equipped about 40,000 soldiers for the attack.

“How much will they have left available at that point?” Michael Kofman, the director of Russia studies at CNA, a research institute in Virginia, said in a telephone interview. “A lot of what we see so far is inconclusive.”

Curiously, Ukraine has advanced in the two locations where troops were provided fewer new Western weapons, and stalled where the most sophisticated new weapons — American Bradleys and German Leopard 2 tanks — were deployed, ‘The New York Times’ shows it surprise.