A Russian Nesting Doll of Embarrassment
[…] If they [the leaked classified US military intelligence document] are indeed authentic (and it appears that they are), they offer important insight into force generation and combat power in Ukraine – and perhaps even more importantly, into the intelligence framework that the Pentagon is working with. None of the items adduced paint a particularly rosy picture for either the AFU or its benefactors on the Atlantic seaboard […]
Ukrainian Force Generation
The most significant implication of the documents is simple: Ukraine’s combat power is significantly degraded, and in particular their mechanized units and artillery forces are in very rough shape.
The relevant material here in particular is a page entitled “US Allied & Partner UAF Combat Power Build”, which details the force generation, training, and equipment tranches that will create the mechanized package which Ukraine will use in its spring offensive. The plan calls for a force of twelve nominal brigades, nine of which will be equipped by NATO and three internally generated by the Ukrainians. The leak does not offer insight into the three Ukrainian brigades, but the intended complement of the nine NATO brigades is meticulously listed).
All told, the combat power build calls for these brigades to field a total of 253 tanks, 381 Infantry Fighting Vehicles, 480 Armored Personnel Carriers, and 147 artillery pieces. This implies that these will be brigades in name only, and will in fact be far understrength. Parceling these systems out across nine brigades will give an average strength of a mere 28 tanks per brigade, along with some 95 IFVs/APCs and 16 artillery tubes. Compare this to a US Army Armored Brigade Combat Team, which would have almost 90 tanks and almost 200 IFVs/APCs. An American Stryker Brigade (a lighter, rapidly deployable formation) would have about 300 Strykers – the Ukrainian 82nd Brigade is listed to receive only 90.
In combat power terms, therefore, these new brigades are going to be far understrength. Their tank strength, far from being full brigade level, amounts to less than an American armored battalion.
Another key aspect of the force build document is the training schedules. This document dates from the beginning of March, at which point five of the nine brigades were listed at “Training 0% Complete”. Only one of the brigades was more than halfway trained, rated at 60% complete. Despite this, six out of nine were scheduled to be ready by the end of March and the remainders by the end of April. This can only be achieved with significantly truncated training times, and these are detailed in the document. Leopard tank training, for example, is listed at only six weeks. Just for context, American tankers can pencil in 22 weeks of training for the Abrams […]
We have known for quite some time that Ukraine is facing a critical shell shortage, but the leaked documents reveal just how acute this issue is. Ukraine’s usage rate is very low right now – the report claims only 1,104 shells had been expended in the previous 24 hours – compare this to the 20,000 or so shells that the Russian army is firing on a daily basis. Even more alarming for Ukraine is the note that they have only 9,788 shells on hand.
Even with a low burn rate that leaves the AFU massively outgunned, they have enough on hand to sustain combat for a little over a week, and they rely on a trickle of deliveries from the USA to keep these stocks stable. The report noted a shipment of 1,840 shells departing in the next 24 hours. Batches of this size are obviously insufficient for Ukraine to build up its stocks, and can only serve to backstop and replenish daily expenditure. There is no possibility of America quickly ramping up the size of these deliveries, because a mere 14,000 shells are produced per month. US officials hope to get this number up to 20,000 this year, but this is still below Ukraine’s current burn rate […]
The American Analytic Framework
[…] The Pentagon does not seem to have a strong sense of Ukrainian unit strength, location, or activities. They also list their assessed Ukrainian KIA at a mere 16k-17.5k. This is an absurdly low number – where could they have gotten it? In fact, it is a direct copy-paste of the casualty numbers reported publicly by the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense.
The fact that the Pentagon does not seem to have any independently generated intelligence about the Ukrainian army is shocking. They seem to have be relying on Ukrainian propaganda numbers and publicly available deployments data, like the open source Deployment Map. For the record, this is not a knock on the Deployment Map site – I use this resource frequently and find it very useful. The point, of course, is that the Pentagon, with its nearly unlimited resources, does not seem to have any unique insight or intelligence streams of its own in this regard. They gesture vaguely at the map and mutter, “there’s probably a brigade or two in this area, maybe 8,000 men. Or 4,000. We don’t really know.” In fact, all of their axis strength assessments for Ukraine have a 100% margin of error (that is, the upper limit of the range is double the lower limit).
One can only conclude that the tail is wagging the dog. The Ukrainians are able to extract material, training, and cash from the west, but there is little accountability or honest information flow in return. There were hints of this earlier in the war – that Ukraine is a sort of black box which sucks in resources but does not communicate honestly in return; American officials have complained (and Ukrainian leaders have confirmed) that Kiev simply does not tell DC all that much. Apparently this remains an issue well over a year into the conflict. One particularly alarming footnote in the leaked documents states:
“We have low confidence in Russian (RUS) And Ukrainian (UKR) attrition rates and inventories because of information gaps, OPSEC and IO efforts, and potential bias in UKR information sharing.“
Good grief […]
Air Defense at the Brink
One last major revelation from the leak is the greatly degraded state of Ukrainian air defense. Very simply, Ukraine is quickly running out of munitions, especially for its critical S-300 and BUK systems, and it can only endure two or three more wave strikes before breaking completely.
Air defense systems can be complicated to talk about for people who aren’t familiar with the nomenclature. This is because there are a large number of different systems required for a modern air defense, which must be “layered” with different systems that intercept targets at various altitudes, phases of flight, and trajectories. The conversation can quickly become even more muddled because the launch systems have both a Russian designation and a NATO designation, and their munitions have different designations still – just for example, the air defense system which the Russians call the S-300 is designated the SA-10 by NATO, and it fires a variety of different interceptor missiles which have their own names, like the 9M83. Multiply this by the many different types of air defense systems currently in use in Ukraine, and you can see how it can easily decay into a morass of acronyms and serial numbers.
In any case, the key thing to understand about air defense systems is the layering aspect – if one node in the layer fails, not only does one lose full spectrum coverage, but the burn rate on the remaining systems increases because they are now bearing an undue load. Ukraine is now almost completely out of interceptors for the S-300 and BUK systems, which comprise almost all of its medium to long range defense. At the current burn rate, they are projected to run out by the first week of May and have had to make hard choices about where and what to defend. There is no prospect of acquiring more interceptors for these systems because they are manufactured in Russia […]
Conclusion: Asleep at the Wheel
[…] There does not seem to be any long term plan to sustain Ukraine’s war. The Pentagon’s procurement plans do not indicate any real intent to ramp up production of key systems. For FY2024, they have ordered a modest 5,016 GMLRS – the missiles launched by the famous HIMARS system. Ukraine has already fired nearly 10,000 GMLRS, making this yet another system where Ukrainian expenditures vastly exceed supply.
To salvage the situation, Kiev must place its hopes on one desperate dice roll with a mechanized attack package comprised of half-strength brigades wielding a disparate inventory of different vehicles and systems. This Frankenstein’s monster of armies – sewn together with a bevy of different tanks, IFVs, APCs, and artillery systems drawn from all corners of the NATO alliance, will likely be asked to smash through the heavily fortified and robustly manned Russian lines in the south, where it will be pulverized and become only so much more mulch for the Pontic Steppe [end]
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