There is an often-asked question that is as clear as it is difficult to answer: Will the Russia-Ukraine war be won? Anytime soon? How?
What We Know
Following Ukraine’s unexpected and highly successful defense of Kyiv, which stalled, disrupted, or even destroyed attacking Russian armored formations, many were of the view that the conflict would indeed become a protracted war.
In the following months, this does appear to have been the case, as Russia has proven unable to seize and hold large amounts of territory, and Ukrainian forces have had some clear success with various counter-offensives.
The State of Play in Ukraine
Looking at the dynamics on the ground, there are several key indications that the conflict will likely continue for quite some time.
It seems Ukraine will need much larger concentrations of heavy armor in the form of Abrams tanks, Bradleys fighting vehicles, and other armored platforms to succeed in retaking and “holding” territory.
This will be key to ultimately repelling or pushing Russian forces “out” of Ukraine, and it is something still several years away.
The Armor Issue
It is certainly conceivable that more heavy armor may quickly find its way to support Ukraine, however, the planned US delivery of Abrams tanks will take several years to develop fully, and there may not be enough Bradley Fighting Vehicles to “mass” and “advance” armored forces large enough to hold newly captured territory.
Initially, Abrams and Bradleys, fortified by long-range missiles, artillery, and dismounted infantry, will likely continue to be able to break through or penetrate a Russian perimeter and advance into or retake Russian-held territory.
However, maintaining new small areas or territory without larger amounts of heavy armor will likely prove difficult. The Pentagon has been increasing the amount of tactical trucks, logistical support and force sustainment equipment it sends, however truly taking and occupying new areas will require much more heavy armor as well.
The Pentagon’s recent initiative to set up a specific contracting mechanism for US industry to produce and deliver weapons systems specifically for Ukraine suggests that indeed DoD is planning for a longer-term relationship with Zelensky which may need updates and other military equipment.
Indeed, the Russian military has for months proven somewhat inept at Combined Arms Maneuver and has had only marginal success with numerous efforts to advance into and hold Ukrainian territory.
Moscow has not only has a continued and very serious morale problem but has also proven unable to coordinate land attack between rockets, artillery, dismounted infantry and heavy armor as would be necessary for a Combined Arms Assault.
Added to this equation is the extremely critical, if mysterious inability of a much larger Russian Air Force to achieve any kind of air superiority and Russia’s inability to match the intensity, fervor or sheer determination shown by Ukrainian fighters.
Although Russia is well known to operate with a significant numerical advantage when it comes to troop numbers, fighter jets and armored vehicles, its military may not have the resolve or tactical proficiency sufficient to ultimately prevail in Ukraine.
Ukraine, by contrast, might be positioned to prevail ultimately should its military receive more new heavy armor such as tanks. Combined with infantry carriers, ammunition resupply, continued arrival of longer-range land-fired rockets, a steady stream of anti-armor weapons, and perhaps even impactful numbers of fighter jets Kyiv could indeed pull off a historic win for the ages.
Kris Osborn is the Military Affairs Editor of 19FortyFive and President of Warrior Maven – Center for Military Modernization. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Masters Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.