Logistics: Logistics Rules the Battlefield


October 23, 2023: The four-month-old Ukrainian offensive in southern Ukraine recently achieved a major objective. Ukrainian forces advanced to within GMLRS missile range of the only Russian rail line that carried supplies to occupied Crimea. Ukraine had already disabled the other rail supply route to Crimea, which used the Kerch Strait bridge. Ukraine used various types of UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles), USVs (unmanned surface vessels) and UUVs (unmanned underwater vessels) to do this, as well as destroy Russian air defenses in Crimea and drive the remaining ships of the Black Sea fleet to port on the east coast of the Black Sea. The largest of these is Novorossiysk, which had a small naval base facility added in 2012. Now it is being used to host the surviving remnants of the Black Sea Fleet. While Novorossiysk is mainly a commercial port, exporting oil and other goods produced in the area and handling most of the imports, most of that has been halted because of the Ukrainian unmanned weapons that now make the Black Sea a dangerous place for Russian ships of any type.

Russia’s loss of its last rail supply line to the Crimea (which also means rail supply is cut off to much of Russian-occupied Ukraine east of the Crimea) is particularly critical concerning diesel and other liquid fuels because those are necessary for Russian tactical communications, which are largely based on vehicles because Russian man-portable field radios are scarce and insecure due to lack of effective encryption. Russian vehicle-mounted radios and associated electronics, such as computerized sights for tanks, must be charged by the vehicles’ own batteries as Russian military vehicles lack the auxiliary power units (APUs) that Western military vehicles use. So Russian vehicles must run their motors for about an hour a day to charge their batteries even when they are not in action. That burns up a lot of fuel, so the Russian forces in Crimea and just to the east of it will have their combat power reduced by 50-80% in ten or so days. In addition to being out of ammunition.

The Russians are not giving up and are refurbishing roads outside of GMLRS range to keep supplies getting into Crimea. That can’t work because they already lack the trucks, particularly fuel trucks, to adequately supply their forces in that area. Suddenly the round-trip distance their supply trucks have to travel has more than doubled while the number of available trucks is steadily decreasing.

The Ukrainian offensive in the south is mainly about disrupting Russian supply lines and logistics in general. Ukrainian forces have been quite successful at this, using the GMLRS missiles and various unmanned aircraft and vessels to destroy Russian supplies where they are stored or while in transit. Even though Russia has air superiority, they have never been able to use it decisively. Part of this is poor leadership in the Russian air force and part of it is the growing number of air defense systems Ukraine is receiving as well as UAVs making surprise attacks on Russian air bases and factories that make key components for Russian weapons and aircraft.

The Ukrainian concentration on Russian logistics and transportation has meant that Russian troops are chronically short of essential supplies, like food, fuel, munitions and medical items. This has been demoralizing for Russian troops who often go hungry, run out of ammunition and don’t have enough medical supplies. The cumulative impact of these shortages made Russian forces less capable and more cautious. Ukraine has taken advantage of this and managed to keep moving south through Russian fortified areas manned by demoralized Russian soldiers.

Ukraine has concentrated on Russian logistical capabilities since the beginning of the war. The initial Russian offensive in the north was halted not just because of heavy tank losses but because the Ukrainians were also going after Russian supply trucks, especially those carrying fuel. Hit one of those and any nearby trucks are also lost.

In the south Ukraine also took advantage of their more effective surveillance and intelligence system. Many Ukrainian civilians in occupied areas have their cell phones at the ready to report where Russian supply trains were and where they would be in the next hour or so. That was enough time for Ukrainian forces to organize a UAV or GMLRS attack. Ukraine had also received long range (up to 500 kilometers) guided bombs from Britain and France. These were launched far from any Russian air defenses and were often accompanied by Americans MALD, self- propelled aerial decoys that included electronic devices that made the MALD appear to be more of a threat than the smaller guided bombs. For closer targets the U.S. also provided GPS guided 155mm Excalibur shells that made life difficult for Russian troops and any Russian artillery operating too close to the front lines. While 155mm artillery has only about half the range of GMLRS, the two weapons cover much of the combat zone. This is something Russian artillery and rockets have been unable to do, in part because all those Ukrainian civilians are quietly passing on target information. Russia outlawed the use of cell phones that could be used for fire control but that just forced Ukrainian civilians to be more cautious about when or where they carried these phones. The phones remained turned off and hidden most of the time, with the civilians carrying older phones that lacked cameras.

Russia has somewhat adapted by building new roads and rail lines further away from the front lines. This is expensive, especially since it must be done quickly before the Ukrainians figure out an effective way to attack and disrupt these new supply routes.




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