I suppose it should not surprise anyone that the failure to understand the challenges Ukraine faces in trying to launch a counter offensive is a consequence of the fact that most Western politicians and media have zero experience serving in a military organization. That lack of experience means there is little understanding of the importance of training and the logistics chain that must be in place to support that training. Once of the biggest problems confronting Ukraine, in my view, is the complete lack of uniformity.
The strength of any army is the principle of uniformity. Here is a Captain Obvious moment — the reason that a military organization sports a uniform is to ensure that troops in the heat of battle can easily identify their fellow fighters. Can you imagine an army that would grant each soldier or sailor or Marine the option to choose their own wardrobe? While you might get some fabulous fashion choices, allowing such diversity would undermine the operational effectiveness of that organization in combat.
The concept of uniform in the military extends beyond what men and women wear. How about training? An effective military organization relies on standard operating procedures in order to ensure that even the least mentally competent member of a unit knows the policies, procedures and tactics he or she must perform under stress. One of the critical objectives in basic training is to teach new recruits how to communicate and how to act on orders. If a military organization incorporates different units with different methods of communicating the odds of confusion on the battlefield increase dramatically.
So look at Ukraine’s problem. Ukrainian soldiers are not being instructed at Ukrainian bases on Ukrainian soil by Ukrainian officers. Nope. Ukrainian troops are being trained in the United Kingdom, Germany, Poland, France and Italy. Would you be surprised to learn that each of those countries employ different methods for teaching everything from marksmanship, marching, unit maneuvers and personal hygiene? I am not suggesting that the respective NATO countries are doing a poor job of training the Ukrainian units under their care. However, once those Ukrainian troops return home and are deployed to the front lines it is highly likely that a unit trained in the United Kingdom will operate differently from a unit trained in France. In other words, lack of uniformity. That creates a command and control challenge.
Lack of uniformity also is a problem because of the variety of weapons issued to Ukrainian troops. Anti-tank weapons illustrates the dilemma. The photos below show a British NLAW and a U.S. Javelin missile. Both are designed to kill a tank, but the procedures a soldier must follow to fire a NLAW differs from a Javelin. The Javelin, for example, is equipped with an optic, the NLAW is not. I am not saying that a soldier cannot be trained to use both. Of course they can. But the reality is that these anti-tank weapons are being delivered to Ukrainian troops who have not had the opportunity to go through a training regimen to make them proficient in either or both.
We see the same discord when it comes to the tanks, vehicles and planes that have been or will be supplied to Ukraine. This diversity adds another level of complexity because of the various maintenance requirements for these systems. It means you need an ample supply of spare parts and, most importantly, trained technicians who know how to do the mechanical work maintain or repair the vehicle or aircraft.
We know from the classified documents ostensibly leaked by Jack Teixeira that the Ukrainian brigades slated to spearhead the counter offensive are not being trained and organized in the same fashion. Ukraine is training three Brigades and the U.S. and NATO partners are training (or have trained) nine brigades. And there is no guarantee that a Brigade trained in the U.K. will operate to the same level of competence as a Brigade trained in Germany or France.
It does not matter how brave or committed the Ukrainian troops are who will carry out the attack on Russian positions if the offensive is launched. If it comes, they will start with a deficit because they have been trained in different ways. More troubling is that the 12 brigades have not conducted a joint exercise where they have learned to carry out coordinated operations with the other units. Their task is made even more difficult because the attacking force will not have the close air support from combat jet and rotary wing aircraft. The Ukrainian units also are unlikely to have mobile air defense systems to fend off Russian aerial counter attacks. Ditto for mobile artillery.
The only hope for the Ukrainian troops tasked with this mission is that NATO intelligence has identified a weak point in the Russian defenses that can be exploited by the attacking force. If such a location exists, it is probably in an area with no significant population or urban centers. That means Ukraine will be capturing fields and forests and that will accomplish nothing that changes the tactical or strategic face of the war.
The German Wehrmacht, a much more powerful and well trained force than anything Ukraine can put on the battlefield, learned to their chagrin that lack of logistics and combat air support during the last days of Operation Barbarossa (which was launched in the summer of 1941) deprived them of victory. While the Nazis succeeded in driving to the suburbs of Moscow, they literally ran out of the fuel, supplies and reinforcements needed to maintain the momentum of their offensive.
Instead of executing a viable military strategy, Ukraine’s military is being asked to perform a political charade to satisfy Western expectations. Whatever success Ukraine achieves in the initial phase of its counter offensive, it lacks the depth in terms of reserves and materiel to sustain an attack. This is not a desperate gamble. This is forced suicide.