Ukraine’s great vulnerabilities: ammunition, soldiers and air defense | ET REALITY


Ukraine’s top military commander has issued a gloomy assessment of the army’s positions on the eastern front, saying they have “worsened significantly in recent days.”

Russian forces were pushing hard to exploit their growing advantage in personnel and ammunition to break Ukrainian lines, commander Gen. Oleksandr Syrsky said. said in a statement weekend.

Despite significant losses, the enemy intensifies its efforts using new units in armored vehicles, thanks to which it periodically achieves tactical advances,” the general said.

At the same time, the Ministry of Energy of Ukraine said millions of civilians to charge their power banks, take their generators out of storage and “be prepared for any scenario” as Ukrainian power plants are damaged or destroyed in devastating Russian airstrikes.

With few critical military supplies arriving in Ukraine from the United States for months, commanders are being forced to make difficult decisions about where to deploy limited resources as the number of civilian casualties grows by the day.

Even before U.S. aid disappeared — a bill to provide $60 billion in military and other aid could come to a vote in the House of Representatives this week — there was a consensus among Ukrainian commanders and military analysts that The third year of war was coming to an end. be extremely difficult.

President Volodymyr Zelensky again warned Monday night that delays in U.S. assistance are deepening challenges on the front and said the latest information from Ukrainian intelligence suggested the Kremlin is preparing for some kind of major offensive. in late spring or early summer.

The three most critical challenges for Ukraine have been evident for months: a lack of ammunition, a shortage of well-trained troops and dwindling air defenses.

Now, as Russia intensifies its attacks, each individual problem is compounding the impact of the other vulnerabilities and increasing the risk of Russian forces breaching Ukrainian defenses.

Here’s a look at the critical challenges Ukraine faces right now and how its leaders are trying to mitigate them.

In testimony before Congress last week, Gen. Christopher G. Cavoli, the top U.S. military commander in Europe, provided a blunt assessment of Ukraine’s severe ammunition shortage.

“If one side can fire and the other cannot respond, the side that cannot respond loses,” General Cavoli said.

The United States had provided Ukraine with most of its artillery ammunition, he said, and Russia is prepared to soon be able to fire 10 shells for every Ukrainian shell.

“If we don’t continue to support Ukraine, Ukraine could lose,” he testified, urging lawmakers to pass a new aid package.

The longer range and greater destructive power of rocket systems and large guns like howitzers (which are unaffected by weather and less susceptible to electronic warfare interference than drones) make them essential tools. While drones have significantly altered the battlefield, often turning any attempt to cross open terrain into a suicide mission, they have limits.

“Drones can effectively destroy military equipment and tanks,” said Viktor Nazarov, an adviser to former top Ukrainian general Valery Zaluzhny. “But you can’t destroy defensive lines with drones.”

When the enemy has a five-to-one advantage in terms of projectiles, Nazarov said, he can attack. When it reaches 10 to one, they will be able to succeed.

Since the fall of Avdiivka earlier this year, Russia has seized only small tracts of land at great cost without making much operational progress. But after replenishing its arsenal with help from North Korea and Iran, Russia is taking advantage of a period of hot, dry weather to launch attacks with dozens of tanks and combat vehicles in recent days, Ukrainian officials said.

General Syrsky said Russia was trying to seize the moment to achieve an operational breakthrough along several important lines of attack, which represents the most imminent threat to the city of Chasiv Yar. The heavily fortified hilltop city, seven miles west of Bakhmut, protects an agglomeration of some of the Donbas region’s largest cities, including the eastern command headquarters in Kramatorsk.

Ukrainian commanders are hopeful that various initiatives by European allies to secure hundreds of thousands of artillery shells will soon begin to alleviate their urgent need.

Czech Republic President Petr Pavel told reporters last week that his country had identified one million .155-caliber artillery shells (200,000 more than previously estimated) and that 15 nations had joined the campaign to finance your purchase.

Estonia and Great Britain are leading similar initiatives, Pavel said. It is not yet clear how successful they will be or how quickly large reserves of ammunition will be able to reach the front.

Until then, the burden will fall on the infantry. And since, as General Cavoli testified, artillery remains the leading cause of death in Ukraine, Russia’s advantage means that more Ukrainian soldiers will die. That deepens another major vulnerability: troop strength.

When the commander of Ukrainian forces in the east, Gen. Yurii Sodol, addressed lawmakers last week ahead of a vote aimed at improving the nation’s recruiting process, he painted a bleak portrait.

The widespread use of drones, he said, means that an armored vehicle is typically attacked and destroyed within 30 minutes when deployed to the zero line on the front. Therefore, it is primarily up to the infantrymen to hold their positions without much support against waves of Russian infantry attacks.

A squad of eight to ten soldiers is typically tasked with defending 100 meters of land, General Sodol said, but Ukraine cannot always deploy full squads.

“If there are only two soldiers, they can defend 20 meters of the front,” he said. “The question immediately arises: Who will cover the remaining 80 meters?”

Parliament recently passed laws aimed at replenishing its forces, but the process took months and there are still many challenges with recruitment. In an effort to meet immediate needs, the Ukrainian command said it would rotate “thousands” of soldiers currently in the rear to combat positions. But that creates another problem: ensuring that soldiers deployed to the front have adequate training.

General Syrsky said the quality of training was a “serious problem” and that they were working to have combat veterans take a more active role in the process to improve the situation.

But no training can protect against the powerful thousand-pound glide bombs that Russia has been using to destroy Ukrainian fortifications. That’s why, Ukrainians say, they urgently need help from Western allies to help finally close the sky.

“If we talk about the air war, it should be divided into two parts,” said Nazarov, the top military adviser.

“The first part is our air and missile defense against Russian missile attacks throughout the territory of our country,” he said. “The second part is what war looks like in the air on the front lines.”

On both fronts, Ukraine is struggling.

The Institute for the Study of War, in a special report On the air campaign, he said commanders faced difficult decisions about how to deploy air defenses. The systems that can intercept Russian missiles aimed at Ukrainian cities and infrastructure, he said, are the same ones needed to keep Russian bombers dropping gliding bombs at bay.

“The Russians are taking advantage of the withdrawal of those air defense systems from the front lines to make slow but steady advances on the ground,” the institute said.

Degraded Ukrainian air defenses have also allowed Russia to be more successful in attacking critical infrastructure, which the institute said could have “cascading effects” on Ukraine’s ability to increase its domestic weapons production.

Zelensky said on Saturday that about 500 defense industry companies were operating in Ukraine, employing nearly 300,000 people to produce projectiles, mortars, armored vehicles, anti-tank weaponry, electronic warfare systems, drones and other munitions.

But factories need energy. And Ukrainian Energy Minister Herman Halushchenko said attacks on energy infrastructure since late March had been the most intense of the war, even more extensive than the bombing campaign in the winter of 2022-23 that nearly collapsed the grid.

Ukraine has tried to counter the Russian threat by attacking Russian airfields and critical infrastructure in a series of long-range drone strikes, but officials in kyiv are under no illusions: without sophisticated Western air defense systems, they are in trouble.

kyiv hopes Ukrainian pilots currently training in F-16 fighter jets will be flying in Ukraine’s skies by summer, adding another desperately sought layer of defense. But with American aid still in doubt, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba has made an aggressive effort to secure Patriot air defense batteries that are currently idle in Europe.

Eric Schmitt contributed reporting from Washington

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