Underpowered Ukraine will face Russia, which is well positioned to defend in the coming months and has a clear artillery advantage
Post Date – 11:50 PM, Tuesday – July 23rd 25th
The past few weeks have seen a great deal of discussion and debate surrounding the U.S. decision to send cluster munitions to Ukraine, and the nature and ethics of cluster munitions. U.S. policymakers said the decision was necessary to sustain the Ukrainian counteroffensive. As a result, US national security adviser Jack Sullivan defended the decision in an interview with NBC as a means to “defend the homeland and protect civilians”.
Sullivan sees supplying Ukraine with cluster munitions at this juncture in the war as a way of “not being defenseless in the face of a Russian onslaught.” In an interaction with Zakaria, President Joe Biden said the decision was necessary because Ukraine “either has the weapons to stop the Russians — stop them from stopping Ukraine’s advance through these areas — or they don’t.” Likewise, U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said Ukraine “will soon run out of ammunition.” If they run out of ammunition, they will be defenseless.”
The decision was morally justified, as a lack of ammunition meant Ukraine could not successfully defend itself. But, related to policy choices, there is another military dimension to this story that will have even more significant implications in the coming months: the difficulty for the US and NATO allies to continue producing artillery ammunition to match/exceed Russia.
By their own public admission, U.S. policymakers admit that they have so far failed to keep pace with Russian artillery production. The acknowledgment is significant because the Ukraine war has long since become a war of attrition. In this case, the production of artillery is very important. It is one of the most important components of any war of attrition in modern history. As a military strategy, attrition means subjecting an opponent to a continual loss of men and machinery, thereby weakening their will to fight and thus their combat effectiveness.
Historically, the Russian military has been a force that relies heavily on artillery to fight. Unlike the U.S. Army doctrine, which relies on the precise use of explosives and ammunition, the Russian doctrine relies on massive firepower, is less accurate, and relies heavily on artillery operations. Looking at the modern history of Russia’s wars, this has been self-evident for a long time, and we’ve seen it recently in Chechnya and Syria.
The history of wars of attrition shows that decisive victory requires two essential ingredients: artillery superiority and a larger population. As far as artillery goes, the Russians far outnumbered the Ukrainians throughout the war. Due to their military doctrine, the Russians always had a huge advantage over the West in the available stocks of artillery ammunition and their production. The current situation in which Ukraine counterattacks and Russia defends makes life more difficult for Ukrainians.
According to recent Western estimates, like those in Business Insider, the artillery gap could be five to ten times that of Russia. We’ve seen that major Ukrainian, NATO, and U.S. suppliers have failed to do so, even more than a year after the deadly war in Ukraine. Therefore, rush to transfer cluster munitions. Even if they somehow close the artillery gap in the coming year/months, how can the Western allies tilt the population and combatant numbers towards Ukraine without going to war? This brings us to the population problem. Some ardent pro-Ukraine observers have failed to grasp the issue.
Some even think Ukrainian “smart warfare” will close such a huge artillery gap. These observers cite Ukrainian data on combat deaths to support their argument. No matter how clever your combat is, closing these gaps will first require a massive increase in shell and equipment production. There is no substitute for this. No amount of smart warfare can replace the basic structure of a war of attrition, nor can it replace artillery and population disparities.
Even if we take pro-Ukrainian estimates at face value and accept that Russia has lost two to three times more soldiers than Ukraine, the fact remains that Russia maintains a significant demographic advantage over Ukraine in terms of numbers available for combat. What’s more, with Ukraine now on the offensive and the Russians in a strong defensive position, the death rate will now only tilt in Russia’s favor. The lagging Ukrainians faced a well-positioned defensive force with a clear artillery advantage for months to come. How do we close this demographic gap or win the war? Will the speed at which the latest military equipment be produced and delivered be able to close that gap in the near future, leaving the Russians exhausted and outsmarted?
Unless Western strategists and leaders address these issues, Ukraine’s bloody war of attrition will see no end in sight, and the recapture of Crimea will be a distant prospect. With neither side in the mood to negotiate a ceasefire before gaining a significant advantage on the battlefield, Europe faces a long and bloody war in the months, if not years, ahead. In this war, smart warfare and innovative tactics are not enough by themselves, there are no military means against the opponent.