18 Jul 2023
On the first days of June, Ukraine unleashed its long-anticipated counteroffensive in the Donbas and the southern part of the country.
Over a month-and-a-half of fierce fighting, the Ukrainian forces have advanced slower than anticipated by many analysts in the West, triggering concerns about whether Kyiv can achieve an operational breakthrough and shorten the war.
After suffering casualties, the Ukrainian military changed its tactics.
The Initial Push
The Ukrainian forces went on the offensive, armed with a plethora of Western weapon systems, including Leopard 2, Challenger 2, and Leopard 1 main battle tanks, M2 Bradley and CV90 infantry fighting vehicles, and Storm Shadow cruise missiles.
These systems were in addition to formidable weapons already in use by Ukrainian forces, such as the M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS), M270 Multiple Launch Rocket System (MLRS), M-777 155mm howitzer, M-109 Paladin 155mm self-propelled howitzer, AS-90 155mm self-propelled howitzer, Pzh2000 155mm self-propelled howitzer, Caesar 155mm self-propelled howitzer, and Archer 155mm self-propelled howitzer.
In addition, the Ukrainian military started the counteroffensive with as many as a dozen heavy brigades trained by NATO in the United Kingdom and Germany.
This panoply of weapons and forces created an air of certainty that the Ukrainian counteroffensive would be a breeze. But, as the repeated failings of the Russian troops have shown thus far in the conflict, it takes more than lots of weapons and men to win a war.
For several months, the Russian military had been creating an extensive zone of defenses all across southern and eastern Ukraine. The Ukrainian forces have had to deal with minefields, anti-tank obstacles, drones, pre-positioned artillery, trenches, and strongpoints covering tens of square miles.
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When encountering probably millions of anti-tank and anti-personnel mines, even the most advanced main battle tank and infantry fighting vehicle won’t pass easily. The Ukrainian forces went on the counteroffensive and got stuck.
According to Western intelligence and military officials, the Ukrainian forces lost up to 20 percent of their weapon systems in the first weeks of the counteroffensive (some of it was damaged and retrieved).
But now, the Ukrainian commanders have changed their tactics, resulting in a slower but steadier approach.
Slow and Steady for Ukraine
Now, instead of throwing weapon systems and precious manpower on the extensive Russian defenses, Ukrainian commanders have been attacking in several places in an attempt to draw and attrite the Russian reserves.
In addition, Ukrainians have been using extensive long-range fires to take out Russian artillery and achieve superiority in indirect fires, which can then help them prevail on the ground. Since the start of the counteroffensive, the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense claims to have destroyed more than 1,100 Russian artillery guns and over 110 multiple-launch rocket systems.
The new tactics have resulted in a drop in Ukrainian (and Russian) casualties, with Kyiv losing about 10 percent of its weapon systems since adjusting its approach.
The U.S. and other NATO countries are also sending additional security aid to replenish the Ukrainian arsenal.
Kyiv has liberated almost 100 square miles of territory and advanced about five miles in certain directions, leaving at least another 10 miles of Russian fortifications to be dealt with.