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Russia’s military logistical problems in Ukraine

A Russian T-90 main battle tank. (Vitaliy Ragulin/WikiCommons)
April 08, 2022

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Last week, The Washington Post published an excellent analysis titled “Why Russia’s military is bogged down by logistics in Ukraine” by Bonnie Berkowitz and Artur Galocha. It came out surprisingly early in the Ukraine war – just one month after the invasion began – yet detailed the numerous failings of Russian logistics and equipment deployment that have prohibited Russia in overtaking Ukraine. It’s a case study that will eventually be required reading for anyone going through a command-and-control school.

I do not expect the next phase of the conflict to go much better for Russia. Their first problem is that the Tier 1 units used in the first phase of the conflict have been mostly depleted and will realistically need at least a month to re-arm and refit. Unfortunately for Russia, they have almost no Tier 1 units in reserve.

During the Cold War, we categorized Soviet units in Tiers 1 through 3. As you would guess, Tier 1 units were given the best equipment and kept in a high state of readiness. Tiers 2 and 3 were follow on troops used for rear security and occupation, thus were not well equipped and were comprised of reserve troops and newly recruited units. If Russia makes the mistake of throwing the Tier 1 units back into battle before they have a chance to re-arm and refit, they will have a worse disaster than the first days of the war.

I would like to see the same study conducted in a few months or next year after the authors have a chance to interview both sides and review the actual numbers and types of vehicles/combat systems that were effective. It would also be nice to see a similar dissection of the logistics in the southern and eastern fronts.

One point that the analysis fails to fully acknowledge is the desertion rate of the Russian Army. It is very difficult to know the true scope of the problem at this point, but I suspect that it is considerable. Up to now, there is evidence of platoon and company-sized elements either leaving their vehicles and going home or fleeing from the battle when engaged by superior Ukrainian forces. Anecdotal evidence gleaned from various news sources points to an estimated desertion rate as high as 10 percent.

We won’t really know the true scope of Russia’s desertion problem until both sides are interviewed after the conflict. I suspect FSB (Russian police) and GRU units will have their hands full tracking down all these well-armed deserters and trying to capture them. It will be very difficult to reverse this trend and I suspect it will get worse.

The morale issue will worsen as Russian losses increase and will affect the Russian Army for years to come. Putin’s deserter-hunting squads and posting units behind the front to shoot deserters are short-term solutions that might work for a while, but will only make the morale problem much worse for Russia in the near future.

David Hemken works in computer and cyber security services at Iowa State University. He served in served in the US Army for 15 years during the 1980s and 1990s as both an NCO and Armor Officer.