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Smart Bombs: Military, Defense and National Security

Is Russia Mounting a Comeback in Ukraine?

Image Credit: Social Media of Ukraine Armed Forces.

The Russian military is gaining ground in the vicinity of Bakhmut on the 280th day of the war in Ukraine.

The Ukrainian forces continue to resist as Moscow throws more men and weapon systems into the meat grinder that Bakhmut has become.

The Russian Casualties in Ukraine: Update on Day 280

Overall, the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense claimed that as of Wednesday, Ukrainian forces have killed approximately 88,880 Russian troops (and wounded approximately thrice that number).

Equipment losses are massive: Ukraine has destroyed 280 fighter, attack, bomber and transport jets, 261 attack and transport helicopters, 2,914 tanks, 1,902 artillery pieces, 5,872 armored personnel carriers and infantry fighting vehicles, 395 Multiple Launch Rocket Systems (MLRS), 16 boats and cutters, 4,429 vehicles and fuel tanks, 210 anti-aircraft batteries, 1,562 tactical unmanned aerial systems, 163 special equipment platforms, such as bridging vehicles, and four mobile Iskander ballistic missile systems, and 531 cruise missiles shot down by the Ukrainian air defenses.

The Fate of the Russian Battalion Tactical Groups 

When the war began on February 24, the Russian Army’s main tactical unit was the Battalion Tactical Group.

But since then, a lot has changed, and now the Russian forces have largely stopped using their main tactical formation.

Instead, the Russian military seems to be using ad-hoc formations akin to the Kampfgruppe—a hodgepodge of different elements led by a field grade officer—that the German forces used in the Second World War.

“Over the last three months, Russian forces in Ukraine have likely largely stopped deploying as Battalion Tactical Groups (BTGs). The BTG concept has played a major part in Russian military doctrine for the last ten years, and saw battalions integrated with a full range of supporting sub-units, including armour, reconnaissance and (in a departure from usual Western practice) artillery,” The British Military Intelligence assessed in one of its estimates about the war.

Since the early 2010s, the Battalion Tactical Group has been the main tactical element of the Russian military. These units are based on divisions and brigades and are comprised of combined-arms elements, such as armor, combat engineers, mechanized infantry, artillery, electronic warfare, air defense, and even rotary-wing elements.

A fully manned Battalion Tactical Group has approximately 1,000 to 1,500 troops, though when the Russian military invaded Ukraine, most units had less than that complement of troops, with around 600 to 800 men per unit.

“Several intrinsic weaknesses of the BTG concept have been exposed in the high intensity, large-scale combat of the Ukraine war so far. BTGs’ relatively small allocation of combat infantry has often proved insufficient,” the British Military Intelligence added.

But that is not the only weak spot of the Battalion Tactical Group. The fact that artillery pieces are distributed to individual Battalion Tactical Groups means that Russian commanders have trouble getting concentrated fire on a particular target.

“Decentralised distribution of artillery has not allowed Russia to fully leverage its advantage in numbers of guns; and few BTG commanders have been empowered to flexibly exploit opportunities in the way the BTG model was designed to promote,” the British Military Intelligence assessed.

Expert Biography: A 19FortyFive Defense and National Security Columnist, Stavros Atlamazoglou is a seasoned defense journalist specializing in special operations, a Hellenic Army veteran (national service with the 575th Marine Battalion and Army HQ), and a Johns Hopkins University graduate. His work has been featured in Business InsiderSandboxx, and SOFREP.

1945’s Defense and National Security Columnist, Stavros Atlamazoglou is a seasoned defense journalist with specialized expertise in special operations, a Hellenic Army veteran (national service with the 575th Marine Battalion and Army HQ), and a Johns Hopkins University graduate. His work has been featured in Business Insider, Sandboxx, and SOFREP.