Analysis 02-29-2024


Ukrainian War Learned Lessons
Compared to Past Wars


Anyone can see the Ukrainian War through their own eyes and experiences.  This analysis claims to see it through the experience of previous wars, from Vietnam to Afghanistan.

Therefore, let’s look at the Ukraine War:

The saying that “Amateurs talk tactics, but professionals talk logistics” still holds.  Russia has not been good at logistics and this war showed that they remain having some shortcomings at logistics – something that is even more critical in the offensive.

Russia relies on railroads for its logistics support and rail lines are very hard to secure as they go through towns, which are hard to capture.  This was evident during the opening days of the war as the Russians tried to capture the rail complex in Kharkov.  The Russian offensive bogged down around Kharkov, and they couldn’t advance much further on that front.

Both sides underestimated the supplies needed to support their operations.  It didn’t impact the Ukrainians as they were on the defensive, but it slowed down the Russians.  Front line soldiers were left without ammunition, food, and even fuel for their armored vehicles.

The same logistics issues hurt the Ukrainians during their summer offensive.

War is expensive.  Modern war relies on expensive equipment like smart weapons.  Hundreds of billions of dollars in smart munitions were spent on the Ukrainians – generally to good effect.  Ukrainian soldiers with man portable anti air missiles prevented elite Russian soldiers from capturing airfields on the outskirts of Kiev.  Anti-tank missiles stalled Russian armored columns.  And air defense missiles prevented more damage to Ukrainian cities.

Fortunately for the Ukrainians, the US and several NATO nations had sizable stockpiles of smart munitions that helped stop the Russian onslaught.  But for the Ukrainians, the cost of these munitions kept the NATO allies from giving the Ukrainians enough munitions to push the Russians back.

If there is a lesson to be learned, it is that the NATO nations haven’t stockpiled enough weapons and munitions to fight a major conventional war in Europe.  Smaller NATO nations donating equipment quickly ran out of weapons and munitions within weeks of the start of the war.

Ironically, President Trump’s demand that all NATO nations fulfill their goal of spending 2% of their GDP on defense now makes sense as NATO is beginning to realize that a conventional war in Europe is a real possibility.

Older equipment must be maintained.  Most countries warehouse their older equipment like tanks, armored vehicles, and aircraft.  Unfortunately, they don’t maintain the equipment, and equipment that was promised to Ukraine had to undergo months of maintenance and overhaul before they could be sent to Ukraine.

The infrastructure necessary to fight a war is missing.  The reason the US provided the winning edge to fight WWII was the infrastructure to build the tanks, ships, and aircraft to beat the Germans and Japanese.

Most NATO nations, however, don’t have a defense infrastructure and rely on buying equipment and munitions from other nations like U.S.  However, when a war starts, there isn’t enough capacity, and stockpiles can run out quickly.  Older electronics for advanced weapons may not be available.

One advantage of bringing Sweden into NATO is that they have a robust defense infrastructure, including submarines, tanks, smart missiles, and aircraft.

Not everything runs out in a war.  We learned that some technologies like cell phones and small drones can be purchased in the civilian market.  Drones once used by hobbyists were soon modified to carry and drop motor shells and grenades.

Although cell phones could be tracked and strikes carried out against them, they also provided inexpensive communications.

Civilian satellite imagery also came into its own during the war.  It provided targeting information and damage assessment.  It also gave news agencies an unbiased source of information on movement in the front lines.

If there was one thing that was underestimated, it was military history.  Few places on earth have seen as much combat as the Ukraine and the Russia forces failed to remember that the Pripet marsh in northern Ukraine hampered the Germans in WWII and did the same to Russian armored forces.  Ukrainian soldiers could hide on the side of the road and take out tanks with anti-tank missiles.  The result was clogged roads, slow advances, and logistics backlogs.

The Ukrainians failed too.  The fight for the Crimean Peninsula was long and bloody in 1941.  In the last two years, Ukrainians had some successes in missile attacks on the peninsula, but, they were unable to capture or even seriously threaten it.

NATO is carefully studying the war and how it may impact a Russian attack against other European nations, especially ones belonging to NATO.  The major lesson learned is that all NATO nations must take the 2% GDP goal seriously.  There is also a realization that Western NATO nations must fortify some smaller, weaker nations like the Baltic States.

NATO will give priority to restocking weapon and munitions stockpiles in the next few years.

The failed Ukraine summer offensive owes much to the lack of an adequate air defense and the inability to establish air superiority.  In the next few years, it is likely that NATO will boost air defenses and make sure that NATO aircraft will be able to successfully neutralize Russian aircraft.

There has been some concern that a reelected President Trump will gut NATO defenses.  That is unlikely.  In his first term, he pushed NATO nations to meet their 2% GDP goals.  Although there was some grousing, several nations boosted their defense spending.  That spending has increased even more in the light of the Ukraine War.

Contrary to some media reports, Trump hasn’t said he will let Russia do anything to NATO nations.  He stated that if a NATO nation refuses to bear its share of the NATO defense, he will not be bound to the treaty in so far as defending that nation goes.

One thing Trump understands is the American Public’s weariness of supporting wars around the world.  In addition, the stretching of American military power prevents upgrading the military.  They see threats in North Korea, China, war in Gaza, the Red Sea, and Ukraine.

Americans also see the threat posed by the unguarded border in the Southwest.  And Americans want the US border protected more and less money sent to Ukraine.  They accused Biden of preferring to spend more money on Ukraine than the US border.

There is enough flexibility if both sides truly want an agreement.  However, the main stumbling block is closing the Southwest border.  Democrats don’t want a border solution in the Ukraine and Gaza bill.  And Republicans don’t want to let the border to remain open as it currently is. And they seem to adhere to Trump’s position of not reaching a compromise on the border because a compromise will help Biden’s reelection.

Clearly, stopping Putin is a critical issue for both parties.  However, stopping Putin, while letting the US border evaporate is equally distasteful.

Putin is far away, but the US border is next door.  Americans will vote to close the border rather than stop Putin.  If there is a lesson to be learned by Democrats before election day, it is that the border takes precedence.