War in Ukraine. Operations, armaments and beyond

The sixth month of Ukraine’s defense against Russia’s full-scale aggression provides many instructive military observations that illuminate some key pieces of the bigger picture of what this war is about. There are many classic visions as to what any war is all about. The oldest among the better-known belongs to Chinese strategist Sun Tzu, who said, “Every war is about deception”. While deception has played a very key role in the current war, I would with all due respect dispute Sun Tzu’s formulation to some extent. It is my belief that the current war is about WILL, OPERATIONS, and ARMAMENTS.  


In the context of war between Ukraine and Russia, the dominant element of the latter trinity is certainly the WILL. No one any longer doubts in the will of Ukrainians to fight and die for the freedom of their country. Regarding Russian invaders, no one currently doubts that many of them have the will to fight and die for the deception of the “greatness” of their country. Therefore, at least until recently, we had on the battlefield and in the rear one strong WILL to live free against the other strong WILL to subjugate a presumably weak neighbor.

How this antagonism will be resolved remains to be seen, may be even quite soon.

However, to the extent that the factor of WILL may be dominant, successful imposition of the will of one side or the other further depends upon the development of much more complex issues – on the approaches of the warring parties to the conduct of OPERATIONS, and on the effectiveness and volumes of their various types of ARMAMENTS. In this regard, the big picture of the war is much more intricate, and the battlefield has already seen a number of transformations precipitated by changes in how the warring sides conduct OPERATIONS and use ARMAMENTS. For better clarity in the big picture, I would suggest then that it makes sense to devote our attention primarily to the factors of OPERATIONS and ARMAMENTS as the enablers of WILL.


You probably remember that it all started with an attempt by Russian invaders to win quickly by conducting an operation based on the blitzkrieg concept. A majority of foreign observers expected a short, sharp campaign and quick resolution of the war based on typical pre-war visions of the Russian military such as this one from a 2018 CSIS report: “Russian military strategy and operations show an increasing degree of coordination, deception, and simultaneity to achieve objectives quickly while minimizing vulnerabilities.”[1] …

However, what happened next somehow appeared to be very different.

At first, the most active fighting took place in the north of Ukraine in the territories of Kyiv, Chernihiv, Sumy and Kharkiv regions. As expected, the enemy launched massive missile and air strikes and tried at any cost with its ground units to strike deep into the territory of Ukraine immediately in the North, in the Northeast, East, and South. Enemy columns arrogantly moved ahead without proper reconnaissance and proper protection, trying as soon as possible to reach and capture the capital of Ukraine, Kyiv, and other large populated, industrial and administrative centers such as Kharkiv, Chernihiv, Sumy, Odesa, Mykolaiv, Zaporizhzhia, Kherson, and Mariupol.

However, in spite of significant advantage in missiles and aviation, the enemy could not achieve dominance in the air, and without the proper support of aviation, his land units did not succeed and were forced to shift from offensive to defensive operations near Kyiv and other large cities. Only Mariupol and Kherson were captured – at temporarily for now.

In the forested northern and northeastern regions the Ukrainian military acted completely asymmetrically, operating mainly in small maneuverable groups having freedom of action under a unified plan, effectively employing domestic and foreign anti-tank weapons and drones, as well as national artillery, aviation, and air defense armaments. The main efforts of Ukrainian troops were focused on the firm defense of the approaches to large cities and on the destruction of enemy logistical infrastructure, especially supply convoys.

Thanks to such tactics, by the end of March-early April, Ukrainian troops managed to liberate all territories in the North and Northeast of the country and precipitate a Russian withdrawal.

After regrouping, the aggressor continued offensive operations during April-early May, but the nature of his operations had already changed significantly. First of all, the changes were manifested in the fact that there was a transition from mainly maneuvering actions at the operational level to mainly positional confrontation at the tactical level. Secondly, the enemy no longer tried to advance in several directions simultaneously, but concentrated offensive efforts in only one direction - in the direction of the northern part of Donetsk region. Due to the concentration of significant manpower and firepower, the enemy managed to push the Ukrainian troops to an insignificant depth, approximately 20-25 km, and to reach the administrative border between the Luhansk and Donetsk regions.

By this stage, it became obvious that - as opposed to the decentralized and flexible style of Ukrainian operations - the Russians are operating in a kind of rigid hierarchical style. They chose to forego doctrinal principles of offensive operations such as meticulous coordination of factors of maneuver, space, time and operational objectives optimized against the risks such as probable casualties. They instead chose to concentrate on a very narrow segment of the front line using a significantly larger amount of artillery, with the virtually unlimited consumption of ammunition, while rigidly abiding the orders of higher command and disregarding the cost in human casualties on both sides.

However, even in the conditions of total fire dominance by the enemy, the Ukrainians managed to prevent any militarily meaningful Russian advance in the East and began to push them back in the South, in the region of Zaporizhzhia, Mykolaiv and Kherson. Of course, for this purpose, Ukrainians had to firmly defend their positions and, when possible, counterattack, for example, to the east and south of Kharkiv. Human losses of the Ukrainian Armed Forces increased accordingly. At the same time, the human reserves of the enemy, while trying to advance in Donbas, were depleted much more, and a further advance deep into Ukrainian territory was slowed and eventually stopped, in all likelihood due to a shortage of personnel on the Russian side..

As a result, in the sixth month of Russia's war against Ukraine, the character of hostilities changed significantly once again. Combat operations took on an almost exclusively positional character. Gradually, the aggressor came to a forced and painful conclusion about the need to go on the defensive along the entire front – despite loud deceptive claims to the contrary from Moscow - trying mainly to keep the already captured territories in Ukraine. If the Russians try to continue the offensive at the expense of hastily collected and poorly prepared reserves, then they will probably push again in the same direction in the north of the Donetsk region. At the moment, they clearly seem to have lost any operational flexibility to strike in a new direction.

At this time, since the Russian advance is practically halted, the general expectation is to see significant counteractions by the Ukrainian Armed Forces in the near future, that is, a counteroffensive operation in one or more directions. These expectations are obviously well-founded. It is equally obvious that any Ukrainian counteroffensive operations of Ukrainians will unlikely be a mirror image of the offensive operations of the Russians, with a massive use of artillery and continuous frontal attacks on fortified positions. Given the fundamental differences between “straightforward” Russian tactics and flexible Ukrainian tactics, it is more likely the Ukrainian side will initially attempt to ”soften” enemy's defenses. For this purpose, Ukrainians may use the high-precision Western weapons and more clearly coordinate the maneuver of ground units with accurate artillery fire and air strikes on the entire operational depth of the enemy.

In this connection, it should also be noted that the Russian leadership, realizing that it is not possible to defeat Ukraine by military operations, began to actively shift its efforts towards hybrid methods of diplomacy, economy, energy and special services. Russia is now devoting a stronger effort to drive a wedge in the ranks of Ukraine's partners by weaponizing energy and economic dependencies on Russian supplies and by activating its agents of influence and supporters all over the world.


At the beginning of the war, the Russian aggressor had a significant, and sometimes total, numerical advantage in modern weapon systems. Except for a small number of ATGM Javelin and UAV Bayraktar, Ukrainians had mostly Soviet produced armaments mostly outdated and in much smaller numbers.

Later on, during the May-July period, there were significant changes from the initial period of the war in the armaments with which the parties conduct operations and the methods of their use. First of all, partners of Ukraine intensified deliveries of various new Western weapons systems.  Very importantly, the Ukrainian side also quickly established a process of accelerated training of military personnel for the use of foreign weapons.

In general terms, the advantage of the Russians in the number of armaments was often neutralized by the generally better training of the Ukrainian military. In particular, the higher quality of Ukrainian combat operations was on display in the use of infantry weapons, artillery, air defense, communication, intelligence and target acquisition. Ukrainians even managed to create elements of a network-centric warfare by effectively combining various artillery, intelligence, communication, electronic warfare units and command and control elements in a unified network.

Meanwhile, the Russians continued mainly to use Soviet equipment and weapons, well known to Ukrainians. This materiel often represented modernized versions of the legacy Soviet platforms, but during the first months of the war, the more modern parts were  largely destroyed on the battlefield; as a result, Russia,  began to retrieve older equipment from storage, sending  into battle more and more obsolete armaments, in particular such weapons as T-62 tanks, D-20 152mm howitzers, Su-25 attack aircraft or Kh-22 air-to-ground liquid propelled missiles. The Russians have shown a new quality of technology or new technique of using weapons only in electronic warfare devices and in some types of missiles like Kalibr cruise missiles, or Iskander ballistic missiles. But these are also gradually being exhausted.

On the other hand, Russia maintains a high usage rate of missile weapons and unmanned aerial vehicles, albeit in a somewhat modified form. Thus, the problem of strengthening Ukrainian air and missile defense systems remains very serious. Significant losses of both Ukrainians and Russians in aircraft naturally led to a corresponding decrease in aviation activity on both sides. Moreover, given the positional nature of hostilities, the decrease in the operational tempo on both sides, logically leads to less active use of anti-tank weapons. At the same time, the scale of artillery use increased significantly, especially on the part of the Russian aggressor.

On the other hand, the Armed Forces of Ukraine are receiving increasing volumes of supplies of various types of weapons from foreign partners, in particular, the Baltic countries, Canada, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Slovakia, Sweden, Turkey, the UK, the USA, and even from as far as Australia. It can be assumed that at this stage of war, it is the types and application of various armaments systems that will determine the overall nature of hostilities.

In view of the above, it is important to pay more attention to the consideration of some of the main weapons systems used by both sides, especially to the so-called “game changing” systems.

If we consider it in chronological order, then we should probably start with the well-known Javelin portable anti-tank guided missiles (ATGM), which the USA delivered to Ukraine a few years before this war, in 2018 and 2019. These most advanced ATGMs became a significant addition to relatively modern Ukrainian Stugna and Korsar systems. Russians, on their part, had their rather modern Kornet (similar to Korsar) and obsolete wire controlled Fagot.

Before hostilities began in February, and immediately after the start of the Russian aggression, Ukraine received from the UK and other partners thousands of ATGMs and anti-tank grenade launchers such as the Swedish family of NLAW, AT4 and Karl Gustav and German Panzerfaust3. These were a decent addition to the American Javelin and British Brimstone. When hostilities started, the mass use of these weapons by Ukrainians made it possible to inflict unexpectedly high losses on the enemy's armored vehicles. The Russians’ failure effectively to employ infantry to complement and protect their armor only further enabled the effectiveness of these systems.

The next stars on the battlefield appeared to be the UAVs, especially the Turkish Bayraktar, a certain number of which Ukrainians acquired from Turkey prior to this war. In particular, Bayraktar played an indispensable role in aerial reconnaissance and destruction of Russian high value targets, such as, for instance, the infamous Buk air defense missile systems (responsible for hitting MH17 flight of Malaysian Airlines in 2014), during the first period of war. In combination with other armaments, Bayraktar also played an important role in sinking the Russian Black Sea Fleet flagship cruiser Moskva and in liberating Snake Island.

In this war, similar to the 2020 war of Azerbaijan aimed at liberation of Nagorno-Karabakh, we observe the massive employment of many different types of UAVs. It looks like the role of UAVs was, is and will remain very important in different capacities – aerial reconnaissance, targeting, coordinating strike operations, kamikaze attacks, electronic warfare, etc. Together with Bayraktar, Ukraine is employing the native FuriyaLeleka and Valkiriya drones, as well as American Phoenix Ghost and Puma, and kamikaze drones like the American Switchblade 300/600 and Polish Warmate. Russians nominally employ about a dozen of different types of UAVs, but for the most part they are using an aerial reconnaissance drone Orlan-10 massively produced from imported components, and more expensive Forpost, which is a Russian license-produced version of the Israeli IAI Searcher II multipurpose drone.

Beyond any doubt, in this war artillery armaments so far play the major, if not decisive, role. Both warring sides employ a great number of different types of howitzers, mortars, multiple launch rocket systems from obsolete Soviet designs like 152mm D-20 to the most advanced American HIMARS. In general terms, Western artillery designs proved their total superiority in quality parameters over Russian (actually Soviet) ones in all key characteristics such as range, striking power, precision, mobility and survivability.  The only case where Russians possess a kind of exclusive advantage is their heavy self-propelled flamethrowers Buratino and Solntsepiok.

Meanwhile, in terms of the numbers of guns and ammunition Russians are still dominating the battlefield, though this domination is reduced by about half after Ukraine started receiving artillery and ammunition from its Western partners. They supplied several modern types of 155mm howitzers like the American M777 and М109 Paladin, German PzH2000, French Caesar, Italian FH70, Polish Crab and Slovakian Zuzana. Czech Republic offered its 152mm Dana howitzer, but the real “game changer” was the arrival and deployment of the top notch multiple launch rocket systems like American M142 HIMARS, М270 MLRS, and similar German MARS II. In particular, arrival of just a dozen of HIMARS immediately made a crucial impact by precision strikes against Russian ammunition depots, command posts and transportation hubs.

Regarding armored combat vehicles, both Ukraine and Russia entered the war with a rather similar array of slightly modernized Soviet vintage tanks and personnel carriers. However, further developments for the warring sides went in different directions. While the Russians lost on the battlefield the major part of their T-72, T-80 and T-90 tanks and started deploying the obsolete T-62, Ukrainians added to their fleet of T-64 and T-72 tanks several hundred of modernized Soviet T-72 tanks from Central Europe and expect arrival of about a hundred or more advanced German Leopard II tanks. In addition, they captured in combat about two hundred Russian tanks. The Russians similarly substitute their combat losses by bringing into action obsolete vehicles from storage, while Ukrainians are receiving hundreds of American M113 armored personnel carriers – older technology but a proven workhorse in armies around the world - and dozens of different Australian, British, Canadian and Polish armored vehicles.

Ukrainian aviation, despite the significant numerical advantage of Russian aviation and less modern types of Ukrainian aircraft, successfully denied Russian dominance in the air. The only area of armaments where the Russians maintain an advantage is cruise and ballistic missile systems.

Similar to the distinctive role played by advanced ATGM, UAV and MLRS, more powerful and far-reaching missiles of different types also became symbols of this war. Due to the natural depletion of the precise and precious Russian Kalibr and Iskander, mostly used by Russians against civilian targets, they resorted to the use of anti-ship Onyx and Soviet anti-aircraft C-300 missiles against land targets. Additionally, they started using various types of Soviet strategic air-to-surface missiles for the same purpose. On their part, Ukrainians had some Soviet anti-air missiles and short range ballistic ones, as well as a few modern native anti-ship Neptun missiles. However, similar to anti-tank and artillery armaments, though a bit more slowly, Ukrainian partners from NATO are supplying Ukraine with anti-ship Harpoon missiles and several types of anti-aircraft systems like American Stinger, British Starstreak, Polish Piorun, Norwegian NASAMS and German IRIS T systems.

Further on, delivery of more powerful weapons systems is already under discussion at the highest levels. In particular, at the end of June, Jake Sullivan, National Security Adviser to the US President said: 'This week, as the President told his fellow G-7 leaders — and as he told President Zelensky — we do intend to finalize a package that includes advanced medium- and long-range air defense capabilities for the Ukrainians, along with some other items that are of urgent need, including ammunition for artillery and counterbattery radar systems,”.[2]

In addition, at the end of July the USA delivered to Ukraine two NASAMS batteries, which can be used to shoot down both enemy aircraft and cruise missiles. Ukraine can also reasonably expect that partners will supply the anti-missile version of the Patriot PAC-3 air defense system, and combat aircraft (already mentioned possibilities include American A-10, F-16 or F-15) and tanks (most likely Leopard II), and even ATACMS-type operational-tactical missiles for HIMARS or M270-type MLRS, which can accurately hit targets at a range of up to 300 km.


The current war in Ukraine is a clash of the freedom loving Ukrainian people with an imperialistic Russian aggressor. Beyond this clear fact, this war is a demonstration of large-scale warfare between two operational doctrines. One doctrine based on flexibility of fire and maneuver, delegation of authority to subordinates and respect for human life, both civilian and military. That is the military doctrine of Ukraine, born of years of reform and decades of engagement with Western democratic militaries. The opposing doctrine is based on the concentration of manpower, mass application of firepower, a strict hierarchy of command that discourages initiative and flexibility, and a lack of respect for human life either civilian or military. That is the military doctrine of Russia, born of the legacy of the autocratic Tsars and the totalitarian Soviet Union.

This clash of doctrines is further exacerbated by the competition of two classes of armaments. One is Western/NATO, and the other is Soviet/Russian. Representative systems of both classes attempt to achieve maximum damage and precision, but Ukraine supported by NATO, is moving from a legacy Soviet arsenal to a more lethal and precise set of NATO armaments. Russia failed to dominate with its pre-war stocks of Soviet and Russian modernized armaments and is moving to rely on the ever-larger quantities of increasingly outdated stocks of obsolete Soviet armaments.

On a larger scale, this war in Ukraine is a multilevel contest: between democracy and aggressive chauvinism, between flexible networks and rigid hierarchies, and between advanced precision technologies and indiscriminate massive firepower. Therefore, the lessons learned in this war from conduct of OPERATIONS and from application of ARMAMENTS definitely have global implications in terms of international security, military art and weapons technology. 

Kyiv, 29/07/2022


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[1] The Russian Way of Warfare. Center for Strategic & International Studies, Apr 9, 2018, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t5Uv6RH8eWs&feature=youtu.be

[2] Morgan Chalfant. US preparing to send advanced air defense system to Ukraine. THE HILL, June 27, 2022,  https://thehill.com/policy/defense/3538064-us-preparing-to-send-advance…