Russia currently has half a million soldiers in Ukraine plus another 50,000 in Russian provinces adjacent to Ukraine. Nine months earlier Russia only had 390,000 troops in Ukraine. This indicates that the Russians are planning more offensive operations in 2024. Ukraine has access to Western satellite surveillance photos and data collected by American and other NATO nation intelligence agencies. This was the source of information on new equipment Russian forces are receiving. This includes new radios for their tanks that allow the crew to communicate more easily with Russian infantry accompanying the tank. This communication makes it easier to establish ISTAR or intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition, and reconnaissance conditions so that the enemy can be engaged on favorable terms for the attacker.
What the Russians have to deal with is a Ukrainian force that uses its own ISTAR more effectively and does so with Western weapons that outperform whatever the Russians are using. Another advantage is training. Ukrainian soldiers get more of it than their Russian counterparts, who usually get little or none. This keeps Ukrainian casualties lower and makes them far more effective. Wounded Ukrainians receive better medical care, something Russian soldiers realize only if they are captured and witness these practices. Rumors of the differences in training and treatment of the wounded get back to Russia and, despite threats of prosecution for spreading such information, Russian troops continue to talk to each other. This highlights another problem; Russian conscripts or men mobilized into the military for other reasons hear about what is happening in Ukraine and most want no part of it.
Most Russians wonder why they are invading Ukraine when the Ukrainians have never sought to attack Russia. The Russian government has a convoluted explanation for this, based on the idea that NATO is seeking to hurt Russia. This is not convincing. NATO was founded in the 1950s as a defensive alliance against Russian aggression. It still is defensive only and that is why NATO sent Ukraine weapons and other assistance, but NATO nations did not send troops to fight alongside Ukrainians. Negotiations are underway between Ukraine and NATO about when Ukraine can join NATO. Ukraine cannot join while they are still fighting Russian invaders. As soon as the fighting ends, Ukraine can join NATO and then, if Russia attacks again, they will have to take on the entire NATO alliance. Because of this the Russians plan to keep fighting this war, at least until the West tires of supplying the Ukrainians. At that point Russia believes they will have a chance to defeat Ukraine and absorb it back into the Russian empire.
To avoid this fate, the Ukrainians are depending on novel weapons and tactics to overwhelm Russian efforts to attack anyone or defend themselves. New types of UAVs, electronic warfare and defensive tactics earlier forced the Russians to take higher losses while little, if any territory. So did Russian leader Putin’s constant insistence on suicidal frontal attacks by untrained troops against the advice of his military leaders. The heavy use of UAVs has introduced another problem, occasional problem, gridlock. There have been situations where both sides had numerous UAVs over an area searching for and attacking enemy troops. That meant no one on the ground was safe and Ukrainian and Russian troops spent most of their time hiding from each other’s UAVs. In these situations, it’s only safe to move at night because few UAVs have night vision sensors. Those sensors are expensive and rarely used on unmanned aircraft. This gridlock also demonstrates another need, UAV air supremacy. Unlike manned warplanes, no UAVs carry IFF (Identify Friend or Foe) equipment. When airspace is crowded with UAVs it’s difficult to tell who they all belong to and who they are searching for to attack.
These UAV IFF and gridlock problems are increasingly important because both Russia and Ukraine are building and using hundreds of thousands of UAVs in 2024. Whoever can figure out how best to use their UAVs will have an edge and that will often be decisive. Ukraine needs this edge more than the Russian invaders. Ukraine is fighting for survival while Russia is less certain about why they invaded. The Ukrainian population is united on the need to defend their territory while Russians sent to fight are increasingly having doubts. The Russian government, controlled by Vladimir Putin, has a difficult time justifying the cost Russians are paying to be in Ukraine and those doubts are evolving into opposition within the Russian military and government. The Russians have gotten themselves into a quagmire and are seeking to avoid being defeated in Ukraine because of it.