Russia planned to invade Ukraine in 10 days, occupy the country and complete the annexation of its territories by August, but the plan involved the use of deception, and as a result, Russian forces were not prepared to carry it out effectively on a tactical level. These observations were voiced in a recent report by the British Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), prepared by military experts Jack Watling and Nick Reynolds, former head of Ukraine’s National Security and Defence Council Oleksandr Danylyuk and former commander of Ukraine’s Airborne Assault Troops Mykhailo Zabrodsky.
The authors of the report analyzed key lessons learned from the combat operations between February and July 2022, based on operational data collected by the Ukrainian General Staff. They argue that the degree of secrecy of the Russian plan was so high that even the military leadership at the level of deputy chiefs of the General Staff learned about it a few days before the war began.
However, the report notes that this deception plan was largely successful, and the Russians achieved a 12:1 advantage in the balance of forces north of Kyiv.
The biggest flaw of the plan, according to the report, was the lack of “reversionary courses of action.” As a result, when speed failed to produce the desired results, Russian forces found their positions steadily degraded as Ukraine mobilised.
Despite these setbacks, Russia re-focused on the Donbas and, as Ukraine had by then largely exhausted its ammunition supplies, succeeded in subsequent operations, slowed by the resolve rather than the capability of Ukrainian forces.
The report noted that the tactical competence of the Russian military fell far short of the expectations of many Ukrainian, Russian, and international observers. Russian weapons systems proved largely effective, and the most experienced units demonstrated that the Russian Air Force has considerable military capability, even if shortcomings in their training and the context of their application prevented them from realizing that potential.
The authors of the report highlight five key areas to look at in order to judge whether the Russian army is making progress in addressing their structural and behavioral deficiencies. The following points should be used to assess Russia's combat power in the future, the report says.
- Currently, the Russian Armed Forces operate under a hierarchy of associations in which the priorities of the land component are paramount and the military as a whole is subordinate to the special services. This leads to the suboptimal employment of other branches.
- The model of the Russian Armed Forces is flawed. It proposes the creation of unified general army formations in wartime, but lacks the power of junior leadership to rally these units.
- Failures are repeated time after time if orders are not changed at higher levels. This is less evident in the Russian Air Force than in the Army and Navy
- The Russian Armed Forces are vulnerable to deception as they lack the ability to aggregate information quickly, they are disinclined to provide information to those who follow orders, and they encourage a dishonest culture of reporting.
- The Russian Armed Forces have shown vulnerability in terms of “friendly fire” incidents. Electronic warfare systems and other means have rarely eliminated this problem, and the ways of distinguishing “insiders” from “outsiders” and combat control of troops have proven inadequate. As a result, combat capabilities designed to reinforce each other can only be applied sequentially – not simultaneously.
The authors of the report anticipate expanding the study over time to cover the later phase of the war, when Ukraine transitioned to offensive operations. However, since the Armed Forces of Ukraine (AFU) are expending significant amounts of ammunition and are now dependent on their international partners for equipment, it is important that these partners learn appropriate lessons from the war, including how to prepare to deter future threats and best support Ukraine. A Ukrainian victory is possible, but it requires serious hard fighting, the researchers conclude. Ukraine can win provided it receives appropriate support.