It has already been 5 months since February 24, 2022, when Russian troops entered Ukrainian territory, thus vertically escalating the ongoing – already in 2014, with the annexation of Crimea – conflict. The development of the military operations so far allows the recording of some initial findings, or otherwise lessons identified.
We use the term lessons identified and not lessons learned because a lesson cannot be considered learned unless something changes in the way we act. Usually those who have to integrate the changes are the same ones who are affected by them. There are three main stages in the whole process:
a. Identification and observation,
c. Institutionalizing the changes.
The relevant observations and conclusions are based on what is openly available, and at the same time an attempt has been made to cross-reference some elements. With the evolution of the business, as well as the release of newer information, some of the above may be revised.
This operation can be considered as the first full scale information warfare hybrid campaign. It should be noted that both sides are trying to dominate the information level. It is no coincidence that specific actions have been taken by both sides so that the news of the other is considered only as “fake news”.
In addition, we also see forms of hybrid warfare, such as the reduction or interruption of natural gas supplies to Europe (Russia’s largest customer so far), the instrumentalization of immigration (it is estimated that around 10 million Ukrainians have left their country, the largest immigration wave that Europe has seen after the Second World War), the denial of access to the internet (internet), as essentially only after the intervention of Starlink did the Ukrainians manage to have universal access.
From the development of the operations it is estimated that the Russian side did not “read” correctly the will of the Ukrainian government, where prominent President Volodymyr Zelensky not only rose to the occasion but proved to be real leaders. The initial operation to capture Kiev is believed to have been based on miscalculations about the will of the Ukrainian elite to fight.
It was estimated – wrongly – that President Zelenskyy would either leave the country or be forced to resign by the outraged citizens. Of course, none of this happened, President Zelenskyy “successfully played the role of his life”, as a result of which the Russian -light- forces found themselves facing strong and fortified Ukrainian forces and -literally- were disintegrated.
On the other hand, it could also have been a high-risk move by Moscow, which – if successful – would have led to the occupation of all or almost all of Ukraine in a short period of time, shocking the West to such an extent that it is not certain that the latter could proceed with the imposition of any sanctions.
Universal use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) in almost every phase of operations. The use of all kinds of UAVs, from Turkish-made Bayraktar TB2s to commercial ones, in every possible and unlikely role (grenade carriers) is something that is being seen to such an extent for the first time. It should also be noted that from one point onwards the use of UAVs did not follow any particular doctrine of operations, but was more ‘seeing and doing’.
At the same time, the absence of news from the Russian side is not enough to draw safe conclusions. It is indicative that the Russian armed forces have announced for several months that they have destroyed, either on the ground or in the air, all Bayraktars.
Where is the Russian Air Force? Apart from the initial days of operations, but also from specific Ukrainian videos and photos showing downing of Russian aircraft and attack helicopters, the Russian air force appears to be absent. It is estimated that this is only one side of the coin. The Ukrainian air force is estimated to have been largely destroyed during the first hours and days of operations.
As long as there are still Ukrainian A/F and EE/P these are reserved for the next round. Therefore, the Russian P.A. shifted to operations against ground targets with stand-off weapons or precision weapons, leaving close air support to either helicopter units or rocket artillery and field artillery, which is abundant.
The importance of field artillery/rocket artillery to the development of operations. For years, artillery has been considered the “poor man’s air force”. Its characteristics include delivering a large volume of fire, at great depth, with relative accuracy, and at the same time without exposing aircraft and operators to the risk of being shot down/captured.
Everyone remembers the downing of the F-117A Nighthawk during operations in former Yugoslavia, but no one the insults of the latter. Additionally, Russia has launched multiple attacks with both cruise missiles and ballistic missiles.
Effectiveness of ground-based air defense. In this particular area, there is little to no information. It seems that both sides have several failures (hitting Ukrainians with Tockha-U ballistic missiles, sinking the cruiser Moskva, etc.). On the other hand, in order to draw safe conclusions, we should know the number of guided missiles K/B that have been launched.
Additionally, UAVs (especially commercial ones) have been shown to be a critical threat that can only be partially countered by existing air defense systems and doctrines. Images of decommissioned or overrun K/B TOR-M1/2 systems – while they may appear substantial – are nevertheless consistent with the existing operational doctrine of the Russian Air Defense Forces, which calls for these systems to operate close to the front line, with whatever that entails.
Electronic warfare. From the data so far, it is estimated that the Russian forces launched such extensive attacks in the electronic (and not only) spectrum, that they succeeded in paralyzing the Command & Control network of the Ukrainians. The inability to move Ukrainian forces from one front to another shows both an absence of adequate communications and an inability to move safely.
Importance of an adequately trained and equipped reserve. In his speech, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy put all Ukrainians on war alert, especially those with military training. The personal equipment and training of the Ukrainian regular forces and national guard seems more than adequate.
From the information that has seen the light of day it seems that they were able to take advantage of both terrain and time, landing critical blows on the Russians (note here that not everything went right on the Ukrainian side, it just seems that they made fewer mistakes than the Russians). It is questionable why the Russian side chose to engage armored forces inside populated areas, having recently had the examples of Afghanistan, Lebanon and Syria.
International law. As can be seen from the result, International law not only did not prevent Russia from invading Ukraine, but the former uses it in various ways in its favor. Already in his speech, President Vladimir Putin invoked Article 51 of the United Nations (UN) Charter, which succinctly refers to the right (over and above what is generally stated in the UN Charter) of individual and collective self-defense. In this context, Russia has characterized this as a “special military operation” while even the limited number of forces involved can be used as an excuse in the future.
Based on the above observations we have the possibility to draw some initial but safe conclusions-lessons-learned:
1. Future battles will be fought at all levels (all domain warfare).
2. Energy security and the sufficiency of critical raw materials and goods plays an extremely important role in a period of business. It is therefore crucial that the countries facing “revisionist neighboring countries” move in two directions, the first concerns the adequacy or even better the creation of the relevant infrastructure for the domestic creation of raw materials (e.g. fertilizers) and secondly the ensuring the adequacy of basic goods.
3. The need to gather highly accurate information on the full range of adversary activities, such as morale, alliances, willingness of allies to assist and how much in a potential conflict, etc., will be critical to the conduct of operations.
The information should not be collected to confirm our own beliefs or wishes, but through them, to analyze and draw conclusions, even if they are not liked. It is typical that almost every day intelligence gathering platforms (such as RQ-4B Global Hawks, P-8A Poseidon, etc.) fly into the borders of Russian airspace collecting critical information. It is estimated that without this information, the relative successes of the Ukrainians would not have been possible.
4. The value of leadership, especially in critical moments, is a key success factor. Recent examples, both in Syria and Ukraine, demonstrate the obvious.
5. The threat of UAVs will not only not diminish in the future but will intensify. Changes are required not only in weapon systems and means but also in the doctrine with which ground-based air defense operates.
6. Artillery (in all its forms) has established its importance to the development and successful conduct of operations. As the relative ranges increase, so will the need for adequate data, not only of targeting but also of firing effectiveness. Communications networks, which will interconnect fire units with multiple and varied sensors, are seen as extremely important for the artillery of the future. An additional conclusion is that in the modern business field mobility is a key factor for survival.
7. An adequately trained and equipped national guard is a must. There are many initiatives that could be taken in this direction. A country with a large percentage of its population heading towards old age, and where the effects of low fertility are already beginning to show, cannot afford not to invest seriously in this sector.
8. “Disengaging” from international law. Of course in this case we do not mean to violate international law, it is simply good to prepare without considering it as an invulnerable and invulnerable shield, which will face all risks.