Leadership: Russian Losses and Consequences


September 22, 2023: The senior Russian military leadership is still in shock over the catastrophic losses they suffered since they invaded Ukraine in early 2022. These losses are a military secret in Russia but widely distributed and discussed in the West. So far Russia has lost 279,000 troops (dead, permanently disabled, prisoners, deserters and missing), 13,000 armored vehicles (a third of them tanks), 7,000 artillery systems and over 8,000 unarmored transport vehicles used to carry troops, supplies, fuel, munitions and equipment. The loss of so many trucks has caused delays in supplying the troops and frequent shortages of essential supplies.

There were also heavy losses of command posts and field headquarters. The Ukrainians have the ability to rapidly locate and attack Russian command posts and headquarters which appear in the combat zone. The heavy and constant losses of these crucial Russian C2 (command and control) facilities led to a breakdown in the ability to effectively deploy and control combat units. Russian soldiers who were captured complained of supply shortages, the lack of prompt or any treatment for casualties as well as not reporting the names of soldiers who died so their families would know what happened to their kin and claim death benefits. There was such a shortage of officers that troops often went days or weeks without seeing an officer. Even communication by radio was often absent. While cellphones were forbidden in the combat soldiers, many Russian soldiers had them and used them to report the lack of leadership, supplies and much else in the combat zone. Ukrainian intelligence has long monitored these calls and reported useful information to front line commanders and those who plan attacks with missiles or artillery.

Eventually the Russians did respond to these problems and addressed some of them. Front line command posts were housed in underground bunkers and communications went by wires laid on the ground to troops and higher headquarters. The wire was vulnerable to accidental cuts or deliberate attack. Meanwhile the Ukrainians had access to encrypted wireless communications via the Starlink satellite system. Russia would sometimes use electronic jammers to disrupt the Starlink signal, but the jammers could not operate long because their jamming signal could be located and attacked by missiles, artillery or even ground attack. Nothing like heavy machine-gun and mortar fire from nearby Ukrainian troops to shut down or destroy a Russian jamming effort.

Russian critics also point out that the government does not send enough Krasnopol laser-guided artillery shells to Ukraine. Krasnopol, and a smaller 120mm version for mortars, have been used a lot in Ukraine, but Ukrainian countermeasures are reducing the effectiveness of Krasnopol. The vulnerability is the need for troops on the ground or a UAV equipped with a laser designator to mark targets with laser light that Krasnopol can home in on. No laser designators mean no Krasnopol. The Russians based their Krasnopol on an earlier (1970s) American version called Copperhead. The Americans considered laser guided shells inadequate and introduced GPS guided shells in 2007. The Americans sent Ukraine these GPS guided shells and they gave Ukrainian artillery an edge when it came to destroying Russian artillery. In general, Russian artillery, fire control and counterbattery (destroying enemy artillery with artillery fire) tactics have been inferior to what Ukraine has. This has not nullified Russian artillery but has made it less effective. The Ukrainians have destroyed far more Russian artillery systems than they have lost to Russian artillery fire. This has made Russian artillerymen overly cautious in combat and concentrate on protecting their artillery at the expense of firing at the Ukrainians. This has led to a lot of complaints from Russian troops about the frequent absence of artillery support.

The Ukrainian troops still have supplies, medical care and regular communications with commanders and support services, especially artillery units. These disparities between Russian and Ukrainian forces have remained a major advantage for the Ukrainians and a frustrating lack of solutions for the Russians.




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