For the second month now, active hostilities have been going on in the Zaporozhye region. Despite the expectations both from the Ukrainian leadership and Western officials, and from the Russian layman, the enemy failed to achieve at least some significant progress on any of the alleged directions of his strikes - the geography of the counteroffensive is limited to a number of small settlements in which Russian combined arms units took up defense even before the intensification of fighting. Also, according to the general opinion, the rate of the Ukrainian command on the samples of Western-made weapons freshly supplied by the Allies did not materialize. Even internal political events in Russia could not turn the tide on the line of contact in favor of the Ukrainian troops.
Meanwhile, the Ukrainian command has not yet used up to half of its newly formed formations for the counteroffensive, according to various sources. The brigades already committed to the battle daily attack the positions of our troops with limited targets. Command posts, infrastructure of logistic and technical support, areas of concentration and points of temporary deployment of the second echelons and reserves of Russian troops are constantly being hit by high-precision weapons. The few aviation and field artillery of the Armed Forces of Ukraine are still used to destroy the most important objects, and with sufficient efficiency. Many observers are asking the question: what is the hope of the Ukrainian leadership, continuing seemingly unsuccessful actions? There is hope, unfortunately.
Possible intentions of the parties and methods of action of the troops
We will not go deep into the details of the algorithm for making decisions on an operation (battle) by commanders and commanders: we will only clarify that the concept in domestic military terminology is understood as the main idea of the way the troops (forces) perform the assigned tasks, which is determined by the commander or commander in the process of making a decision on a battle or operation and forming the basis of his solution. The plan defines the directions of concentration of the main efforts (main strikes), the chosen forms and methods of accomplishing the task, the order and sequence of defeating the enemy, his fire and nuclear destruction, the distribution of forces and means, as well as other issues.
The method of accomplishing a task is understood to mean the procedure and methods of using forces and means to solve tasks set in the interests of fulfilling the goals of an operation or battle. The adopted method of action depends on the types of weapons used, the mission received, the capabilities of friendly troops (forces) and the enemy, the nature of the terrain and other conditions of the situation.
To date, accurate and reliable information about what decisions were made by the commanders and commanders of both sides is not available to the general public, and any assumptions can be made solely on the basis of the greatest expediency of certain actions.
On the eve of the Ukrainian counter-offensive, the public tried to guess exactly where the enemy intends to conduct a large-scale offensive operation. For each possible direction, there were military-strategic (that is, having an impact on the scale of the entire conflict) considerations, but the offensive in the Zaporozhye direction always looked the most appropriate.
The land corridor to the Crimea is the most important territorial acquisition of the Russian Federation in the NVO, and its loss would promise not only reputational, but also economic and military-strategic risks. The configuration of the line of contact between the parties (only about 100 kilometers north of the sea coast, a ledge in the direction of Melitopol and Molochny Liman), the almost complete absence of significant natural obstacles, large urban agglomerations, a well-developed road network, can ensure high rates of attack, but most importantly, under such conditions, it seems possible to quickly defeat (or force a withdrawal from the occupied lines) large groups of Russian troops defending on this, not very profitable for defense, area.
The directions of enemy strikes in the Zaporozhye operational direction were quite obvious and many times discussed in the public field. The main blow was supposed to be delivered from the Stepnoe, Novodanilovka line in the directions to Vasilyevka and Tokmak, later on to Melitopol, with the aim of, relying on the mentioned settlements and the Molochny Liman, to cut off the group of Russian troops defending along the line of the Dnieper from the main forces of the "Eastern" group, and create conditions for its defeat. With an average advance rate of 25-30 kilometers per day, Ukrainian troops would have captured the Melitopol area on the third or fourth day of the operation. At the same time, conditions were created for forcing the Dnieper in several areas, including by undermining the dam of the Kakhovskaya hydroelectric power station. From the bridgehead near Novaya Kakhovka, Ukrainian troops could develop an offensive on the Perekop Isthmus in the shortest possible way. Thus, the grouping of troops defending along the Dnieper, already not too large, could be cut off from the main forces, cut in two and defeated in parts, or, in the most successful case, forced to hastily retreat from the occupied line.
Other strikes were to be delivered from the Zaliznychny districts to Pologi, later on to Berdyansk, and from the Ugledar district to Volnovakha and, later on, to Mariupol. In addition, an auxiliary strike was supposed to be delivered against the grouping of Russian troops on the now widely known Vremevsky ledge, from which our troops could attack Pokrovsk together with the Avdeevskaya group. The main method of action of the Ukrainian troops in the entire offensive operation, therefore, was to be the encirclement and consistent defeat of the groupings of Russian troops.
The Russian command, obviously, well understood the possibility of the scenario outlined above. In the areas of probable enemy strikes, a continuous, echeloned, engineered defense was organized. In order to disrupt the enemy’s transition to the offensive and successfully repulse the attacks of the combined arms units of the Armed Forces of Ukraine in front of the forward edge of the first position of the first defensive line, massive fire strikes were prepared in the fire system against strongholds and areas of concentration of enemy troops, including the starting areas for the offensive, firing (starting) positions of missile troops and artillery, air defense forces and means, and probable lines of deployment and transition to the attack of its combined arms units. Missile strikes were carried out on the rear infrastructure.
In the system of engineering barriers, areas and nodes of barriers were organized, including with the use of remote mining systems. Despite the fact that overcoming engineering barriers is a more than feasible task, combined arms units that overcome them suffer losses and are delayed in their advance. They can be hit at the deployment lines by artillery and aircraft, the attacking companies and platoons can reach the line of transition to the attack at different times, and the defenders will have the opportunity to destroy them sequentially.
The most important problem
The Ukrainian command intended to overcome the strongest, the first defensive line, on which the formations (divisions and brigades) of the first echelon of the army (army corps) occupy the defense, by breaking through it.
A breakthrough, in Russian military terminology, is understood to mean the breaching of an enemy's prepared defenses and the resolute advance of advancing troops in chosen directions to the full depth of a defensive line, zone, or position, with the expansion of breakthrough areas.
Breaking through a prepared defense is the most important problem facing the enemy command today.
When breaking through a prepared defense, the main criterion for the successful fulfillment of assigned tasks by the troops, the effective use of their combat potential and high rates of their advance is an advantageous balance of forces and means in the areas of the breakthrough, which is ensured not only by massing combined arms units, but also by reliably defeating the enemy throughout the entire depth of his defense. To this end, it is necessary to massively use means of long-range fire destruction - missile troops and artillery, operational-tactical (tactical) and army aviation.
According to the Soviet military-theoretical views of the 1970-80s, based primarily on the experience of operations of the Great Patriotic War, during an offensive without the use of nuclear weapons, a density of 95-130 guns, mortars and rocket artillery combat vehicles per 1 kilometer of the front should have been created in the breakthrough areas, which made it possible to hit all targets to the depth of the first echelon division in one 10-15-minute fire attack enemy, while the overall degree of defeat (losses in personnel, weapons and military technology) was 25-30%. During the 30-minute fire preparation, the overall degree of enemy damage in the breakthrough sector by missile forces, artillery and aviation could be 60-90%, which, with an offensive front of up to 4 kilometers per first-echelon division (up to 1 kilometer per first-echelon battalion), created an overwhelming superiority in forces and means and allowed the division to complete the task before it reached critical losses (25-40%), advancing at an average pace of 40 60-25 kilometers per day, when overcoming the prepared defense - 30-80 kilometers per day, and in the space between the defensive lines - about XNUMX kilometers per day.
During the 1991 Gulf War, the American command solved the problem of changing the enemy's combat potential in the breakthrough areas without using nuclear weapons by conducting an air offensive operation. For 38 days, aviation, artillery and the naval group of the Multinational Force (MNF) attacked the combined arms formations of the Southern Group of the Iraqi Armed Forces - more than 35 sorties were made, the US Navy launched 316 sea-based cruise missiles at targets in Iraq. As a result, according to the estimates of the MNF command, 14 Iraqi divisions, including 11 that occupied the first defensive line, suffered losses of over 50% of their personnel, weapons and military equipment. Another 11, including one - which occupied the first defensive line - from 25 to 50%.
Before the start of the ground operation, up to 7% of the combined arms formations of the corps, up to 60% of field artillery, and up to 70% of direct support aviation were concentrated in the breakthrough area of the 80th US Army Corps, which delivered the main blow, which ensured superiority in forces and means of about 6:1, and taking into account the results of fire damage during the air offensive operation - about 12:1.
Map from a briefing by the commander of the Multinational Force, General Norman Schwarzkopf, on February 26, 1991. Divisions that suffered losses of more than 50 percent are marked in green, from 25 to 50 percent in yellow.
The Ukrainian command does not have at its disposal the amount of long-range firepower that is needed to change the combat potential of the defending Russian troops, but its plans are still feasible.
Recently, the information space was shaken by the scandal associated with the removal of Major General I. Popov from the leadership of the troops of the 58th Combined Arms Army. According to various sources, the commander informed the higher authorities about the significant losses suffered by his subordinate troops, and the need to rotate, in this regard, units and formations occupying defense in the army zone, for which he was removed. If we take the words of the commander for truth, we can state that the combat potential of our defending troops is being depleted, and replenishments of personnel, weapons and military equipment, at least on the scale of the 58th Army, either do not arrive or do not meet the needs.
Meanwhile, the enemy, although he does not have enough means of long-range fire destruction, has a practically unlimited human mobilization resource. The daily attacks of its combined-arms units are depleting our defenses and opening its facilities for destruction by enemy artillery and aircraft. Last autumn, in the Kharkov region, this method of action brought tangible results to the enemy - the formations of the Russian army, which had suffered critical losses in half a year of battles, were forced to retreat in disarray. If our leadership has not learned the lesson, then in the course of the current counter-offensive the enemy can at one moment get favorable conditions for bringing his newly formed mechanized formations into battle, trained and armed according to the Western model, and carry out his plans.