The war in Ukraine, like all wars, is an example of human suffering and destruction. But it is also a testing ground for new weapons or new uses for existing ones, to learn the capabilities of combatants, observe their tactics and improve your own.
“No two wars are the same – explains to RTVE.es Jose Manuel Sanjurjoretired Vice Admiral and member of the Royal Academy of Engineering – They always tell us in the military that we are preparing for the last war”.
Beyond the Kremlin’s propaganda about some of its weapons, the current conflict has revealed, according to the analysts consulted, the failures in the Russian deployment, the importance of planning or the success of tactics based on technology (sometimes , from walking around the house, like the commercial drones used by the Ukrainian units). Furthermore, they warn that the war could be longer than might be expected given the initial disparity of forces, and finally decide on the ability of the parties to produce or procure more weapons.
Without novel weapons, but with important technology
Russia has publicized the use of some weapons, for example hypersonic missiles or the new Satan 2 ballistic missile, but Juanjo Fernandez, a defense analyst and an expert in weapons, believes that “we are in a very conventional war” in which “the Russians announce news that later are not so much.” For example, the hypersonic missile Kinzhal it has to be launched from an airplane and only reaches its maximum speed in the final phase of the journey. Or the Satan 2 ballistic missile that is still in testing.
The Russians have massively used cruise missiles Kalibr, which is a novelty in their case (the Americans did it with the Tomahawk). Fernandez points to Russia’s meager reserves of precision-guided weapons, which have had to resort to very sophisticated aircraft to launch “silly bombs” (unguided bombs, such as rockets).
On the other hand, it has become evident weakness of Soviet-made main battle tanks, especially its armor and ammunition store, which if hit explodes, firing the tank’s turret and burning the crew.
Drones are also being protagonists, such as the Bayraktar, a Turkish-made military device, already assembled, whose complete system costs around three million dollars.
The Ukrainians have also successfully used low cost commercial drones, which have provided a good service to observe the enemy and to guide the artillery fire, or even transporting grenades, explains Fernández. As a consequence, he hopes that in future conflicts the use of drones will become widespread and cheap anti-drone systems will be developed.
“Nothing has been seen again – explains Vice Admiral Sanjurjo – What we do see is that the combatant, especially the infantryman, increasingly has access to more sophisticated weapons”. “We are going towards a total battlefield digitization and one robotizationincreasingly with more platforms at sea and on land and drones,” he adds.
Tactical novelty: autonomous units with firepower
Technology, in turn, brings new tactics, Sanjurjo abounds. “Small infantry units, with anti-tank missiles, anti-aircraft missiles, drones, are able to stop an armored formation easily. The game power is distributed and reaches the infant on foot. But that requires staff training and enormous initiative up to the corporal level, because they are small units that move independently.”
In contrast, the Russian Army maintains a soviet disciplinewhere middle managers do not take the initiative and generals are so close to the front lines that a high number (12, according to Ukrainian sources) have been shot down.
Another example of tactical success for the Ukrainians was the sinking of the Russian cruiser Moksva, the flagship of the Black Sea Fleet, without it firing a single shot. Military observers still wonder how that could have happened. Sanjurjo maintains that drones were used to overwhelm anti-aircraft defense and anti-ship weapons.
“The lesson we have to learn in the West and in Spain, if unfortunately we had to fight in the future, is that you have to do it from technological superioritywe cannot afford to send people to the slaughterhouse,” says the Vice Admiral.
Failures in the Russian Army
Along with the sinking of the Moksva, the failure on the northern front exemplifies the failures of the Russian Armed Forces, which have surprised observers. The Russians moved north towards kyiv quickly, without protecting their supply and logistics linesexposing them to fire from Javelin anti-tank missiles. They were not able to take kyiv and they had to withdraw, abandoning abundant material in the towns of Bucha, Irpin or Borodianka.
The sources consulted are also surprised by the little use that Russia has made of its aviation at the beginning of the conflict (until April 30 they did not bomb the Odessa airport, for example), and that it still does not control Ukrainian airspace.
Dara Massicot, a researcher at the Rand Corporation who specializes in Russian military strategy, points out several errors. “On the broadest level, the plan was too complex for the forces they had. They tried to attack kyiv, the east and the south of the country with 190,000 soldiers at the same time.”
But also, the Russian commanders did not inform their troops that they were going to war until shortly before they went into action. “I don’t understand that decision, the secrecy has been problematic,” she adds.
“Russia has spent a lot of time and money to modernize its Army and have professional soldiers – explains Massicot – The problem is the training of who has to manage that team. Either they haven’t been trained properly, or they didn’t bother to tell them until the last minute that they were going to war. That has hurt his performance, and having modern equipment doesn’t save you from that. It’s a training issue and how they treat their people.”
“Usually, you don’t see a 21st century army. – concludes Sanjurjo – If he faces NATO he has nothing to dothe Alliance forces are much better prepared.”
A long war and an arms race
However, the Russian Army still has a great capacity, much higher than that of the Ukraine, and has only used part of it so far.
Vice Admiral Sanjurjo considers that the conflict has entered a “second phase” whose objectives will be logistics and industrial capacity. “For the Ukrainians, the essential thing is that Western aid reaches the front lines, and the Russian strategy is that it arrives badly or diminished.” Anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles are “expensive consumables,” he warns, and the question is “whether the West will have the industrial capacity to provide them.” “This is going to last, it would be a miracle if it was resolved in a short timeit goes for months”, he thinks.
“The war will not be short, and we can go to a phase in which Russia plays to assume the losses, but leaving Ukraine devastated”, considers Juanjo Fernández. “The Russian Army can be very weakened. And meanwhile, Western countries do not stop sending heavier material to Ukraine. It’s hard to know where the balance will be“says the defense analyst.
Dara Massicot points out that the Russian limitation at this time is in troops, because it will need fresh troops. “To conquer more territory they are going to have to make a at least partial mobilizationAnd that carries political risks. The Kremlin may want to know first how far they are able to push things now, with the forces they have.”
“The problem now in Russia is that Putin can say ‘we have achieved victory’ or ‘we have to go to war’can manipulate the information,” concludes Massicot.