NewsRussian forces struggle to implement Soviet-era deep warfare theory against Ukraine's advanced defense, says report

Russian forces struggle to implement Soviet-era deep warfare theory against Ukraine's advanced defense, says report

Troubles for the Russians on the front. They cannot implement their "theory of combat."
Troubles for the Russians on the front. They cannot implement their "theory of combat."
10:11 AM EST, February 14, 2024

The theory of deep operations, rooted in the Soviet era, is being sought for application by Russian armed forces in their conflict with Ukraine. This strategy involves fast, simultaneous attacks across the depth of enemy defenses, states the American Institute for the Study of War (ISW) in its latest report.

"Despite endeavors by Russian forces to regain the initiative on the battlefield through the application of Soviet deep operation theory, they are so far unsuccessful due to Ukraine's robust defensive capabilities," argue the think tank's analysts, referencing the opinion of Ukrainian military expert, Kostiantyn Mashovets.

The deep operation theory essentially requires a simultaneous major attack across the breadth and depth of the enemy's defense. This leaves no time for the enemy to retreat or reinforce their defense lines. The ISW reports that this Soviet-era strategy, devised during the 1920s and 1930s, includes simultaneous attacks on multiple fronts at different levels, employing artillery, aerial strikes, and combined assaults on the rear along with frontal attacks on defense lines.

Integral to the successful implementation of this operation is a comprehensive plan to inhibit the defending side from reestablishing their defenses.

"The underlying principles of the deep operation theory remain valid in today's war realities. The Russian forces could potentially regain the initiative and breakthrough Ukraine's defense if they could effectively plan and execute operations based on these principles. Likewise, Ukrainian forces could employ deep operation strategies to regain battlefield maneuverability if Western allies supplied the needed resources," assesses ISW.

"Ukraine risks losing its advantage if Western nations prematurely halt aid"

However, Mashovets contends that Russian activities are falling short of the expected results due to current constraints on the capabilities of the Russian army. This includes deficiencies in areas such as counter-battery warfare, the ability to strike deep targets in the operational area, concealment of force concentration, and overcoming technological parity on the Ukrainian side. All these factors impede Russians from achieving the surprise element necessary for breaking defense lines and executing deep operations.

Furthermore, the Russian command struggles to integrate innovations into operational planning, such as remote mining, extensive drone operations, and advanced communication capabilities.

On the flip side, the preservation of appropriate capabilities by the Ukrainian military, which has thus far deterred Russian success, largely hinges on procuring weapons from Western allies, particularly from the United States. This encompasses an advantage in counter-battery warfare technology and the capacity to perform medium to long-range attacks using 155 mm caliber artillery systems, HIMARS systems, ATACMS, and Storm Shadow/SCALP.

"Ukraine can lose its advantages if Western nations, especially the United States, choose to prematurely cease their aid. Should this happen before Ukraine has had the chance to rejuvenate and become self-sufficient in its defense industry, the Russian forces could reclaim essential battlefield capabilities, regain maneuverability, and vastly enhance their position in the medium to long term," warns ISW.

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