Ukrainian Counteroffensive – Southern Front
The Ukrainian counteroffensive continues. According to Deputy Chief of the Main Operational Department of the Ukrainian General Staff Brigadier General Oleksii Hromov, Ukrainian forces have liberated 7 villages and settlements in Zaporizhia Oblast.i However, as stated by Advisor to the Ukrainian Presidential Office Mykhailo Podolyak Ukrainian forces are conducting offensive operations but are yet to start the counter offensive itself. This statement most probably means that the main effort of the Ukrainian offensive is yet to happen, with the ongoing operations being only the opening stages. This can be supported by the Reuters report stating that as of now Ukrainian forces have only utilised 3 of the 12 brigades prepared for the offensive.ii Such an approach is also indicated by the behaviour of Ukrainian units during combat operations, where smaller sized detachments (equal to or less than battalion strength) have been probing Russian lines. These attacks are aimed to find weak spots in the Russian defensive lines, and/or exploit gaps or opportune moments to strike Russian targets and seize ground. When a weak spot is found and engaged by the forward unit, additional forces are sent to reinforce and exploit the opening. Such operations are aimed to clear the way to the primary Russian defensive lines and create opportunities for major breakthroughs.
However, such operations are often extremely hazardous as the vanguard forces have to engage prepared Russian defences in their search for the weak spot, which oftentimes results in significant losses. Such a case could be observed when a Ukrainian armoured column consisting of Leopard 2 tanks and Bradley infantry fighting vehicles were engaged by Russian forces while trying to cross a minefield – resulting in the loss of a Leopard 2 and several Bradleys.iii It is worth noting however, that while these operations are hazardous, they are a necessary part of the offensive, laying groundwork for the main Ukrainian effort.
Ukrainian Counteroffensive – Bakhmut
The Ukrainian counter offensive in the Bakhmut region has continued and expanded. Ukrainian forces maintain their assault on the hills surrounding Klishchiivka, while no breakthrough has been achieved, progress is being made. If the Ukrainian forces maintain their advance, they could soon reach the outskirts of the settlement and threaten the southern flank of the Russian held Bakhmut. At the same time Ukrainians have launched an additional offensive effort in the north of the region, with a series of assaults in the direction of Krasnpolivka and Soledar.iv This attack in combination with the continued attack to the north west, around the towns of Berkhivka and Dubovo-Vasylivka most probably serves to pressure the northern flank of Bakhmut. If the attacks are successful then, Ukrainian forces would reverse the situation in the area, mirroring the Russian siege of Bakhmut, by pressuring and encircling the city from three sides, north, west, and south. If Bakhmut is retaken Russian forces would suffer significant casualties and be forced back considerably. However, the situation might soon change as Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Malyar claimed that Russian forces have begun transferring additional troops into the area, including those previously stationed on the Kherson front.v The battle for Bakhmut continues to be a key part of the war in Ukraine, especially now during the opening days of the Ukrainian counteroffensive.
The loss of Western equipment – a reason to worry or the reality of armed conflict?
Since the start of the Ukrainian counteroffensive a number of footages have surfaced showing Ukrainian losses – with a special focus on the lost western vehicles like the Leopard 2 tanks, Bradley fighting vehicles, and other armoured vehicles. The loss of these vehicles is undoubtedly a negative outcome however, this loss cannot be viewed without proper context. These vehicles have been taking part in vanguard operations of the Ukrainian armed forces, aimed to find, force, and exploit openings and weak spots in the Russian defensive lines. Such probing attacks, as mentioned earlier are inherently hazardous, with soldiers having to contend with Russian minefields, defensive structures, artillery vehicles, and oftentimes close air support. It is a dangerous and difficult task, but one that has to be completed in order for the rest of the offensive to succeed, thus losses are anticipated in such scenarios and they are not in vain.
Furthermore, the use of western vehicles in such operations is a thought out plan. Western vehicles are generally more heavily armoured, more resistant to enemy fire, and provide greater survivability for the crew and transported infantry. The assured survival of personnel is much more important than the survival of even such prized assets like the Leopard 2 tanks. Especially for Ukraine, which can rely on its western allies to provide new pieces of equipment and repair the broken ones. The soldiers that survived the assaults, even if injured or concussed, can relatively quickly return to combat duties, and have gained combat experience, which can be crucial in future operations. If the Ukrainians decide to use Soviet designed equipment, they would not only lose the vehicles but the soldiers as well. A very good example of this can be observed in the footage available from one of Ukrainian vanguard operations during the counteroffensive, where Ukrainian soldiers dismount several Bradley infantry fighting vehicles, after they have been damaged by mines, anti-tank guided missiles, and artillery.vi Soviet counterpart vehicles faced with similar punishment would most probably be destroyed along with any personnel carried inside. Thus, the loss of western vehicles was anticipated, and while they might have been lost, they fulfilled their purpose – protected the soldiers, while allowing for intense combat operations.vii
New Western Deliveries
As Ukraine begins its counteroffensive the western coalition stands united and declares further support. Swedish CV9040C infantry fighting vehicles have arrived in Ukraine, with around 50 promised, it is enough to fully equip a Ukrainian mechanised battalion. These vehicles are armed with 40mm autocannons, providing heavy firepower for supporting troops, as well as heavily armoured, very capable at protecting the troops inside. According to some sources, these vehicles have also been equipped with the Barracuda Mobile Camouflage System, which masks the vehicle’s signature from observation tools.viii The United States has also announced another aid package worth 325$ million. The package will provide additional ammunition for all kinds of western donated weapons, AT-4 anti-tank launchers, and most importantly replacement vehicles for the losses sustained during the Ukrainian counter offensive. As of now that equals to 15 Bradley infantry vehicles and 10 Stryker armoured personnel carriers, but the US has noted that it will continue such support.ix Furthermore, Ukraine will also receive an additional 14 Leopard 2 tanks, financed by Denmark and the Netherlands – to be delivered at the latest in January 2024.x Additionally, Switzerland is planning to sell 25 Leopard 2 tanks to Germany, which would then be sent to Ukraine.xi Much sooner Ukraine will be provided with the older Leopard 1 tanks, which are now being serviced in Rheinmetall factories. With these new deliveries Ukraine will be able to maintain its forces throughout the offensive.
As the Ukrainian offensive ramps up speed and more units are thrown into the assault against Russian fortified positions, casualties and equipment losses are a certainty. However, the united will of the West to continuously support Ukraine and provide with the right tools for the job, and armoured vehicles to support their troops, might set the odds in Ukrainian favour and spare the lives of many Ukrainian soldiers. The ongoing offensive rests on the skill and bravery of Ukrainian soldiers and equipment and will of the allied West.