General Valeriy Zaluzhny, the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, published an extensive article titled “Modern positional warfare and how to win it” in the British publication The Economist, in addition to an interview. The article is, without a doubt, intriguing because it signifies the initial public endeavour by a prominent military leader from an opposing faction in the ongoing conflict to define and comprehend the positional nature of armed conflict in the combat operations of Ukraine. Furthermore, it attempts to formulate proposals for surmounting this positional challenge, which is fundamental to the parties’ inability to accomplish any decisive military and political goals.
Troops must fight the most formidable enemies rather than the weaker ones in a war of position, as opposed to a war of manoeuvre, which tries to overcome the barriers of least resistance to deploy maximum troops in the most crucial location.
The text of General Valeriy Zaluzhny’s critique of the article may be seen below.
With its massive armed aggression against Ukraine that began on February 24, 2022, Russia incited the onset of an unprecedented global security crisis—the most significant since the conclusion of World War II.
Ukraine not only thwarted a significantly more formidable foe in 2022 by employing a substantial quantity of armaments and considerably greater mobilisation capabilities but also executed a counteroffensive across multiple fronts. In addition to words, the Ukrainian people demonstrated their willingness to make sacrifices for their independence through their actions. Nevertheless, in the contemporary era, war is progressively transforming into a positional form due to many subjective and objective factors. This shift from a tactical to a strategic nature has historically posed formidable obstacles for the armed forces and the state. Furthermore, in most cases, one side of the conflict benefits from the war’s continuation. It is advantageous for Russia in particular instances because it permits them to reestablish and expand their military capabilities. In the present context, the issues of comprehending the causes of this predicament, exploring potential solutions, and altering the nature and trajectory of this conflict in Ukraine’s favour have assumed heightened significance.
An examination of the present circumstances involving the Armed Forces of Ukraine (AFU) and other branches of the State Defence Forces reveals that the subsequent actions are required to escape the positional form of warfare:
- Achieve air superiority.
- Overcome minefields across the entire depth.
- Enhance the effectiveness of counterbattery warfare.
- Create and train the necessary reserves.
- Expand radio-electronic warfare (REW) capabilities.
Understanding the rationales behind the shift to positional combat operations and pursuing potential solutions should thus concentrate on the aforementioned primary areas. It is important to acknowledge that these directives do not invalidate the function and positioning of partner-supplied armaments and equipment, including artillery systems, missile complexes, REW means, and missiles and ammunition. They supplement one another in bolstering the State Defence Forces’ capabilities using innovative strategies and cutting-edge technological solutions to address the positional crisis along the contact line. Further analysis of these rationales is warranted.
Reasons for the Transition to a Positional Form of Warfare
Achieving Air Superiority
The attainment of air superiority is an imperative component of contemporary military strategy to carry out extensive ground operations effectively. This notion is mirrored in both the guiding documents of the Russian armed forces and the doctrines of NATO’s armed forces. Only forty of the twelve tactical aircraft that the UAF joined the conflict with were deemed technically operational. Furthermore, only eighteen of the thirty-three divisions of medium and short-range anti-aircraft missiles entered the conflict with fully operational equipment. Ukraine reinforced its aviation and air defence systems with material and technical assistance provided by its partners. Specifically, it was supplied with fighters, ground-attack aircraft, and helicopters manufactured in the Soviet Union. The proliferation of anti-aircraft missile systems experienced a substantial surge, primarily due to the adoption of Western-manufactured systems. This included self-propelled anti-aircraft systems such as Gepard, portable anti-aircraft missile systems including Martlet, Starstreak, Javelin, Piorun, Mistral, Stinger, and Grom, anti-aircraft artillery systems including Skynex, and anti-aircraft missile systems including Avenger, Stormer, Patriot, Hawk, IRIS-T, NASAMS, SAMP-T, and Crotale-NG. Thus, Russia has lost approximately 13 regiments (brigades) of army aviation helicopters and an amount of aircraft equivalent to that of one of its air divisions since the commencement of the large-scale armed campaign. Moreover, more than 550 units of diverse varieties of anti-aircraft missile systems employed by the adversary have been destroyed. Notwithstanding these setbacks, the opposing side maintains a substantial aviation advantage at present, which hinders the progress of our forces and is a pivotal element in the shift towards positional combat operations.
Several assessments indicate that the adversary may augment its aircraft fleet by establishing additional strike aviation squadrons by the conclusion of 2023. This circumstance thus merits particular consideration. Notwithstanding the adversary’s substantial quantitative and qualitative edge in aviation and air defence, they are unable to attain absolute air supremacy on account of the effective operations of Ukrainian direct air defence elements, which perpetually augment their stockpile of anti-aircraft equipment to counter the adversary’s air attack assets. Consequently, the adversary is uneasy in the airspace over Ukraine, and their aviation avoids approaching the range of our air defence systems by primarily utilising their assets from greater distances, substantially reducing their effectiveness. Conversely, the opponent’s unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) assume control of a substantial portion of the aerial surveillance and airstrike responsibilities formerly performed by manned aviation.
Overcoming Minefields Across the Entire Depth
An additional element contributing to the shift towards positional combat operations is the extensive usage of minefields by both sides. It is critical to assess the situation regarding the ability of Ukrainian forces to penetrate such barriers.
As of February 24, 2022, the minefield-conquering capabilities of the Ukrainian Armed Forces were limited. The equipment exhibited technological obsolescence. Throughout the ongoing combat operations, the Western nations marginally improved the capabilities of engineering units to penetrate minefields by using equipment such as the M58 Microlic, Wicent 1, and NM189 Ingeniorpanservogn. Nevertheless, when these challenges are compared to the magnitude of the situation, these capabilities are objectively inadequate.
At present, Russia has effectively deployed dense minefields along strategically significant fronts, extending to depths of 15 to 20 kilometres. They are supported by reconnaissance UAVs that precisely engage and identify Ukrainian demining units. Should a successful violation of the Russian minefields occur, they expeditiously reinstate them by employing a remote mining engineering system known as “Zemledelie.” Simultaneously, the UAF employ reconnaissance-fire systems and minefields to effectively identify and eliminate Russian engineering equipment designed for demining.
Equipment and personnel losses are substantial due to these conditions, which hinder the offensive operations of both parties.
Similar to previous conflicts, rocket forces and artillery continue to play a significant role in fire support during this one, contributing between 60 and 80 per cent of the total volume of combat tasks, contingent on operational areas, orientations, and conditions. The efficacy of artillery strikes and fire is critical to the success of military operations; therefore, both parties “hunt” for the enemy’s fire. Counterbattery operations have emerged as a substantial element within the realm of armed hostilities. The importance and ability of Russian weaponry, reconnaissance capabilities, and the Russian military-industrial complex’s capacity to provision the armed forces with a considerable stockpile of contemporary and obsolete equipment and weapons should not be underestimated.
Following the delivery of Western rocket and artillery weaponry, the UAF acquired a substantial tactical edge in counterbattery operations. For example, Excalibur (155mm calibre) demonstrated efficacy in evading counterbattery radar systems and self-propelled artillery. With time, however, their capabilities have deteriorated considerably due to the susceptibility of their guidance system (which utilises GPS) to electronic warfare by Russia, which results in a reduction in the accuracy of their fire.
Dispersion (by weapon), long-range firing, the implementation of new electronic warfare methods (the “Pole-21” electronic countermeasure system), and other strategies were swiftly adopted by Russia. The adversary also initiated effective counterbattery operations with “Lancet” area denial munition, using targeting capabilities of UAVs such as “Orlan,” ZALA, and others, thereby complicating counteroffensive efforts.
By employing obsolete artillery systems (D-1, D-20, and others), the Russian side substantially increased its artillery potency and capacity to use conventional munitions en masse to maintain and expand its advantage in artillery duels. Additionally, Russia escalated the quantity and frequency of use of the 152mm precision-guided munition known as “Krasnopol.” This ordnance is directed towards the target via laser rangefinding from ground observation sites.
The UAF was compelled to employ missile artillery systems, including HIMARS, to engage Russian artillery. Nevertheless, a considerable fraction of the accessible missile stockpile was directed towards these targets (MLRS, artillery, etc.). Currently, Ukrainians have attained conditional parity with Russian artillery, which is numerically superior, by delivering a reduced quantity of higher-quality (precision) fire.
Formation and Training of Necessary Reserves
In contrast to Ukraine, Russia’s human resource mobilisation is approximately three times greater. After experiencing initial setbacks during the conflict, Russia initiated a phased deployment of peacetime Armed Forces personnel in September 2022. This process is ongoing at present. Nevertheless, the Russian efforts to completely exploit the mobilisation of human resources to establish a substantial advantage in the combat capabilities of operational groupings directly involved in the Ukraine conflict have been unsuccessful.
This is primarily due to political, organisational, and motivational factors. As an illustration, President Putin exhibits hesitancy towards organising a widespread mobilisation in the period preceding the presidential elections, citing the potential hazards of heightened social unrest within the nation and its escalation into a political crisis. Russian capacity to train and empower mobilised citizens with essential weaponry and equipment is constrained. The civilian populace of Russia is trying to evade conscription into military service and participation in combat operations in light of substantial personnel losses.
However, it should be noted that notwithstanding the ongoing endeavours of the UAF to enhance the reserve formation and preparation process, certain challenges persist. Ukrainian ability to conduct reserve training on its soil is significantly constrained by the Russian capacity to execute aviation and missile assaults against training facilities and ranges. The protracted duration of the conflict, restricted rotation opportunities for frontline personnel, and legislative loopholes that enable lawful evasion of mobilisation substantially diminish the public’s incentive to enlist in the military. The UAF leadership is aware of these issues, devises strategies to resolve them, and works persistently. As a consequence, Ukraine is unable to attain a naval superiority over Russia through force expansion.
The political and military leadership of Russia devoted significant attention to the advancement of electronic warfare even before the events of 2014. The establishment of the Radio Electronic Warfare Troops, a distinct branch of the Russian Armed Forces, in 2009 is a notable illustration. In addition, the Russian Armed Forces possess a formidable element of airborne electronic warfare, which guarantees the efficient deployment of personnel and precision armament. Around sixty contemporary electronic warfare systems have been adopted by Russia. These systems are distinguished by their enhanced protection, mobility, and ease of assembly and disassembly, as well as their introduction of new technological solutions, automation tools, and specialised software. The Russians have completely supplanted obsolete equipment.
Establishing serial production of so-called “trench electronic warfare systems” (e.g., “Silok,” “Python,” “Harpoon,” “Pereyed,” “Strizh,” “Lisochek”), which saturate Russian forces at the tactical level, is one of the primary advantages of Russian electronic warfare capabilities. Notwithstanding Russia’s substantial equipment losses since the onset of the conflict, they still maintain a considerable edge in electronic warfare. In the vicinity of Bakhmut and Kupyansk, Russia has established a tiered electronic warfare system in which its components constantly change their positions.
Modern electronic warfare systems incorporated with UAVs, including “Bukovel-AD,” “Anklav,” “Khmara,” and “Nota,” were implemented by the UAF by 2022. These systems subsequently demonstrated their effectiveness in combat. Nevertheless, a mere 25% of the jamming stations in UAF units and subunits were brand-new at the onset of the conflict; approximately 65% were products of the former Soviet Union.
Due to the inherent constraints of the Ukrainian defence industry, international military material and technical assistance was used to augment electronic warfare capabilities. This involved procuring counter-drone weapons, electronic warfare complexes integrated with radar stations, detection and electronic warfare systems for UAVs, and tactical mobile direction finders, among other equipment.
At present, the Ukrainewide electronic warfare system “Pokrova” has been deployed to augment the country’s capacity to counter Russian precision weapons (guided missiles, UAVs). This system possesses the capability to substitute satellite navigation fields (“spoofing”) along the entire contact line and across the majority of Ukraine’s territory. Moreover, ongoing efforts are being made to incorporate components of situational awareness systems, such as “Quartz” for electronic warfare asset control and data collection, processing, and display and “Graphite” for automated data transmission and display during the flight of small UAVs, into military management processes. At this juncture, Ukraine has nearly attained parity in executing electronic warfare tasks, which significantly complicates the likelihood that either the Russian or Ukrainian armed forces can achieve overall superiority in weaponry and personnel.
Based on its strategic superiority in military, economic, human, natural resource, and scientific potential, as well as comparatively favourable implementation conditions, the Russian Armed Forces are presently incapable of entirely carrying out the Russian General Staff’s plans. However, it should be emphasised that despite this, Ukraine and its armed forces incur significant costs in their resistance to Russian efforts to achieve their military and political objectives. This is particularly evident in the ongoing counteroffensive operations during the summer-autumn season. De facto, therefore, the UAF and other Security and Defence Forces components engaged in repelling the entire Russian contact line and in border regions have been compelled to address the issue of military parity. Its continued existence is predominantly attributable to the establishment of reserves, counterbattery and electronic warfare, minefields, and parity in the air.
Ways to Overcome the Positional Nature of Combat
The Russian military equilibrium must be disrupted by the development of fresh and difficult methods to prevent a return to positional conflict like the “trench warfare” of 1914–1918.
The following are the primary strategies for addressing the positional character of the combat situation that arose on the front lines during the summer of 2023:
Achieving Air Superiority
- By deploying low-cost UAV target simulators and strike UAVs in a unified combat sequence, one can expose elements of the Russian air defence system, deceive it regarding the number of actual targets in the attack, and overload the enemy’s air defence system.
- Use their proprietary UAV hunters, which are outfitted with capture nets, to pursue and capture Russian UAVs to eliminate the direct danger posed by Russian munitions to personnel and equipment on the battlefield.
- Using radar emissions simulators derived from the detection radar of medium-range air defence missile systems near the contact line, Ukraine can decrease the efficacy of guided bombs targeting its forces during the transition to an offensive. This will force the Russian aircraft to launch guided bombs from the greatest distances feasible, reducing the overall intensity of manned aviation activity by persuading their pilots to refrain from combat flights.
- Using strobe lights to blind thermal imaging survey and guidance equipment at night to impede (prevent) nighttime attacks on troop positions (weapons and equipment) using UAVs equipped with thermal imaging equipment.
- By strategically deploying EW mechanisms (such as small and portable jamming transmitters and counter-drone systems) along the contact line, Ukrainian ground forces can fortify their defences against hostile UAVs and counter their operations.
- Developing local GPS fields to enhance the functionality of munitions precision navigation systems.
- Increasing the proportion of counterbattery operations completed by kamikaze drone-based reconnaissance-fire systems.
- Incorporating counterbattery tactics alongside deceptive strategies to evade the adversary.
- By implementing non-standard configurations, the capabilities of artillery reconnaissance systems supplied as part of international material and technical assistance can be improved.
- Situational information regarding disturbances in the terrain can be obtained using scanning LIDAR sensors.
- By implementing ROSY smoke protection systems, demining squads (commands) can obfuscate their operations against hostile reconnaissance and fire.
- By using impaired (unmanned) vehicles that retain their ability to traverse minefields.
- By employing decommissioned aircraft rocket engines, industrial rocket launchers, or rocket launchers designed for water cannons, minefields can be breached to prevent their entrapment.
- To penetrate minefields, a mini-tunnel excavator equipped with a Rapid Burrowing Robot (RBR) drill, empty tubes designed to facilitate the pumping of gaseous or liquid explosives, and rockets fueled by air-fuel explosive mixtures were used.
- By employing counter-drone guns to engage adversary reconnaissance UAVs, the level of concealment for demining squads (commensal operations) conducting minefield breaching is enhanced.
Creating Own Reserves and Combating Enemy Reserves
- Activities involving “Obereg,” the Unified State Register of Conscripts, Conscripts, and Reservists.
- Attracting Ukrainian nationals into the military reserve.
- Establishing an automated system to oversee and account for the national resistance and military readiness of Ukrainian citizens.
- Increasing the number of Ukrainian citizen categories subject to military preparation and training for national resistance.
- A brief overview of the combat training regimen.
- Integrating components of the situational awareness systems “Pokrov,” “Graphite,” and “Quartz” into the troop control procedures.
- By leveraging the capabilities of Ukrainian partner nations, the capacity to monitor the current radio-electronic situation in combat zones will be strengthened. It is imperative to furnish advanced access to data from radio reconnaissance assets deployed in the air, sea, and space.
- Increasing the capabilities of electronic warfare against UAVs used by joint forces units during airborne operations.
- Implementing strategies to combat EW through the identification, isolation, detection, and destruction of adversary radio electronic emission sources.
- Pursue avenues for expanding domestic and international production of EW systems for UAVs, such as the “Bukovel-AD.”
- Volunteer organisations provide the troops with means to optimise the use of “trench electronic warfare” to prevent instances of friendly UAV suppression (“friendly fire”).
- With the possibility of conducting “EW” across the entire “electromagnetic spectrum,” which incorporates a much broader range of frequencies (from gamma radiation to terahertz radiation), efforts should be made to enhance and develop new domestic EW systems.
Command and Control
Enhancing the efficiency of military command and control is critical for successfully executing the suggested strategies to shift away from positional warfare. This objective can be realised by implementing advanced information technologies extensively within the command and control system of the armed forces, establishing a unified information environment, fostering information superiority, and ensuring efficient coordination among subordinate forces. Consequently, this will enable one to surpass the adversary regarding situational awareness, execute decisions more rapidly, and accomplish operational objectives in positional warfare. The coordination of reconnaissance, surveillance, communication, and observation significantly impacts the attainment of situational awareness superiority.
The effective execution of suggested strategies to alter the essence of warfare and accomplish predetermined objectives is substantially influenced by the logical structure of rear support for the armed forces. Conducting defensive and counteroffensive operations in response to full-scale armed aggression by the adversary requires a substantial investment of resources, including personnel, mobilisation, finances, materials, and more. Simultaneously, the current conflict demonstrates the applicability of notions, including the accumulation of ammunition and missile inventories, as well as other logistical assets. This concept lost significance following the end of the Cold War, the dissolution of the Soviet Union, and the withdrawal of Warsaw Pact states; however, it has since regained importance for both factions.
The Russian Armed Forces use many weapons and rounds of ammunition, and it is clear that they have been getting ready for war. As a result, Russia has and will continue to have the best weapons, technology, missiles, and ammo for a long time. Its military and industrial powers are also growing, even though the world’s most powerful countries have put sanctions on the opposing state that have never been seen before.
Partner nations render substantial material and technical support to the UAF. Nonetheless, due to the substantial scale of armed forces’ deployment and the heightened intensity of daily missile and ammunition consumption, it is impracticable to amass the necessary quantities of these resources. As a result, by the order of importance, all resources allocated for material and technical support within the framework of such assistance are distributed among the forces. At this time, NATO member states and partner states are extending their production capacities for ammunition and weaponry by a considerable amount of time. Deploying large-scale production of weaponry and equipment, missiles and ammunition, and other logistical means takes at least one year and, for certain varieties, up to two years, according to various estimates.
To sustain their efficient destruction of enemy depots, disruption of supply chains, and expansion of ammunition and logistical transportation range, the UAF must procure long-range missiles, preferably those manufactured domestically.
Developing and expanding the potential of the Ukrainian defence industry, establishing and expanding an asymmetric arsenal of weaponry and equipment in Ukraine, and designing, producing, and deploying novel weaponry are the primary methods for enhancing the effectiveness of rear support. It is crucial to consider the potential for enemy firepower on mobile and stationary components of the soldiers’ rear support means when organising and planning rear support.
The adoption of a positional approach to warfare results in protracted hostilities and presents substantial perils to both the UAF and the nation of Ukraine at large. Moreover, it confers advantages to the Russians, who aim to restructure and bolster their military might.
Several essential objectives must be satisfied to move away from the positional basis of modern warfare:
- Attaining air superiority
- Overcoming minefields throughout the entire depth
- Augmenting the efficacy of counterbattery and electronic warfare
- Establishing and preparing essential reserves
The rational arrangement of rear support and the extensive implementation of information technology in military operations are crucial factors in facilitating an end to the positional style of warfare. The imperative to shift from a positional to a manoeuvring stance necessitates the development of novel and complex strategies to overcome the Russian military parity.