The Russian-Ukrainian war has once again demonstrated that, despite newfangled concepts and modern weapons, the old military truths are still true. In particular, the size of the army is still important. This truth must be properly understood. This does not mean that whoever has the largest army wins - that would be too easy. This means that in order to complete a task, one must have enough quantity for such a task, and not just quality. The saying of Marshal Jacques d'Etampes "God is always on the side of large battalions" does not cancel the proverb "Trust in God, but don't make a mistake yourself." And Suvorov's saying "Fight not by numbers, but by skill" also does not mean that the number is not important - it means that you still need to be able to use the number.
The outfit of forces and means required to perform a specific combat mission is calculated according to the standards adopted in each army, but in general it depends on two parameters: the size of the enemy and the size of the territory. And according to both of these parameters, the Russian army did not use enough forces in this war. At the same time, even in the spring it was clear that the Ukrainian armed forces in total (Ukrainian Armed Forces, territorial defense, and all the rest) outnumbered the invading group of the Russian army. It is because of this that all Russian problems in this war are happening. They faced such a large opponent that they stalled purely physically.
As you know, the operation was originally planned not as a purely military one, but as a political-intelligence-propaganda one: after the first strike and the creation of “shock and awe”, the centralized control of the Ukrainian army and the state would fall apart, and all that would be left was to suppress focal defenses and occupy territories with the help of fifth column. That is, it was expected that there would be no need to fight this large Ukrainian army as an army on a truly full-scale basis. And when I had to, it turned out that I didn’t have enough strength.
Historically, the main advantage, the advantage of the Russian and Soviet armies, was the ability to send huge masses of people and equipment to the front. All other problems are always inherent in the Russian army - logistics, communications, intelligence, interaction. They were, are, and most likely will still be, because they lie in the nature of the military machine itself. But at least they had a plus. Now they have these disadvantages, but they cannot use this advantage, because they cannot mobilize the huge masses that are historically familiar to the Russian army. There are no pluses - there are minuses. The equation doesn't fit.
When the Russian army stalled after the first push, it became clear that without massive mobilization, it simply did not have enough reserves to somehow decisively turn the tide in its favor. But for political reasons, the mobilization was delayed to the last.
Mobilization as improvisation
According to available estimates, the Russians are currently deploying a maximum of 170,000 people in Ukraine - both the RF Armed Forces themselves and all other participating structures. For a front about 1300 km long and for a numerically superior enemy, this is an impossible equation, and we see the results. The Ukrainian leadership is well aware that size matters, so they carried out mass mobilization and banned the departure of men from the country for the next mobilizations. In general, Ukraine keeps about a million people under arms, of which about 700 thousand are in the Armed Forces of Ukraine, some of the forces cover the northern borders, some in the Odessa region, some are kept in reserve, some are being trained, but even those who are directly at the front are outnumbered Russians, in selected areas several times.
With such a shortage of personnel, the Russian army relied on superiority in firepower and aviation, and it carried out its slow advances of the period April-July 2022 by concentrating large groups of cannon and rocket artillery in a narrow area, after the powerful fire impact of which infantry and mechanized units slowly advanced forward and occupy territory. But this method worked itself out, including due to Ukrainian attacks on ammunition depots, and since the beginning of July, after the end of the operation in Severodonetsk and Lysichansk, there was practically no progress, except for 2-3 km here and there in the area of Bakhmut and Peski.
Nevertheless, there was still no mobilization, the political leadership of Russia continued to refuse it as an extremely unpopular step. A special military operation is something distant and limited, only professionals and volunteers participate there, ordinary people should support it from the sofa in front of the TV, this does not directly concern them. The announcement of mobilization is a scrapping and reformatting of the entire political-propaganda approach to the war (including Putin's March 8 promise that there will be no call-up of reservists from the reserve), and they fled from it like fire.
The announcement of mobilization is the scrapping and reformatting of the entire political-propaganda approach to war
Until the fire finally caught up. If the non-progress of their troops could still be tolerated, then the successful offensive of the Armed Forces of Ukraine put the question squarely. The Balakliya-Izyum operation showed what the Ukrainian army has the strength for and what it is capable of not theoretically, but practically: practice is the criterion of truth. Apparently, the military leadership brought to Putin that in this situation, either mobilization or curtailment of the war - it is impossible to continue to fight like this. Therefore, mobilization was announced. All the political disadvantages of such a decision had to be swallowed.
The Soviet system of deploying a huge reserve army in the event of a major war has long been broken, because the RF Armed Forces did not prepare for such a war, unlike the Soviet army. Reception of assigned staff from the reserve, cadre divisions, mobilization deployment of the army as such - this either does not exist at all, or there are pitiful remnants of the former luxury. The Soviet system should not be idealized in terms of quality, but at least in terms of quantity it met the tasks, while the current system does not. The Armed Forces of the Russian Federation relied on parts of constant readiness and on short operations. Therefore, the ongoing mobilization is, in fact, improvisation. Neither the creation in 2015 of a mobilization human reserve in addition to the general human resource, nor the creation of the country's combat army reserve (BARS) in 2021 managed to deploy into something really massive, BARS is even on paper only a few tens of thousands of people. And now we are talking about hundreds of thousands, in the future - about millions.
What are the mobilization needs of Russia
As mentioned above, the calculation of forces and means is dictated by the standards adopted in each army. First of all, there is a difference between defensive standards and offensive standards.
According to Russian regulations, a motorized rifle battalion defends an area 3–5 km along the front and 3 km in depth. In mobile defense, up to 10 km along the front is possible, but the RF Armed Forces have not shown mobile defense skills, so we will remain with the traditional standard of 5 km. Based on the front length of 1300 km, 260 battalions are required for defense. Of course, this is not a real comprehensive calculation, not all kilometers are the same, there are more and less threatened directions, flat, wooded and built-up areas, rivers, etc., but here we do not replace the Main Operational Directorate of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation with detailed maps and tables - we demonstrate the order of magnitude, not the exact calculation. Battalion tactical groups of the RF Armed Forces usually have 600–800 personnel; since here we are talking about the desirable, let's take 800. In total, 260 battalions - this is 208 thousand people. The regulations imply that a battalion on the defensive for 5 km is not only people, but also all the firepower, armored vehicles, etc., assigned to the battalion, but we will return to this later, here for now only about personnel.
In order for these 208 thousand people to be able to rotate, and not sit on the front line continuously, at least another quarter is needed for rotation, that is, another 52 thousand people. In addition, we need operational reserves for conducting counterattacks, second echelons, artillery and other units of army and front subordination, etc. This is at least 100 thousand people. All these are only combat units; in addition to them, numerous subdivisions and support units are needed: logistics, engineering, medical support, communications, military police, commandant's offices, headquarters, rear guard, checkpoint, etc., etc., for such a grouping this is also a minimum of 100 thousands of people.
In addition to combat units, the army needs numerous support units
In total, we counted 460 thousand people. This is without taking into account the pre-allocated reserves to make up for losses. In an amicable way, at least 40,000 such reserves should be laid down immediately for the next stage only. That is only 500 thousand. With such a total number of personnel, it is possible to sharply increase operational density at the front and reduce or eliminate weak areas, due to which the AFU breakthrough occurred in the Kharkov direction. That is, for the next offensives of the Ukrainian army in such conditions, more forces will be needed.
If we are talking not about defense, but about the offensive, then the Russian standard for a battalion in the offensive is 2 km along the front, and 1 km in the breakthrough sector. These forces can theoretically also conduct an offensive: for example, only rotational 52 thousand people - this is already 65 battalion tactical groups of 800 people each. With the means of strengthening army and front-line subordination, this is a very significant force, about half of the number of BTGs concentrated near the borders of Ukraine at the beginning of the war. Of course, they should be introduced into the breakthrough in narrow areas, and not scattered over several operational directions, as then. But this is theoretical, and the practical possibility depends on two factors: for an effective offensive, a higher level of training and combat coordination is needed than for defense, and it is more difficult for the mobilized to achieve this; in addition, these offensive groups must be fully equipped with equipment and weapons, and not just with personnel, and this is now a much more difficult task than at the beginning of the war.
In general, these 260 thousand people on the first line and on rotation, which we conditionally counted, with sufficient materiel, represent 325 BTGs, despite the fact that in the RF Armed Forces as a whole, as of August 2021, there were only 168 BTGs of constant readiness, of which about two thirds were thrown into the war in the first phase. That is, the ground forces of the RF Armed Forces initially had to be twice as large in terms of forces and means in order to wage war as expected, and then, perhaps, the results would have been different. And now we see what we see.
The ground forces of the RF Armed Forces were originally supposed to be twice as large in terms of forces and means
In total, if 300,000 people are really mobilized in addition to 170,000, then purely in terms of the number of personnel for defense, this is in principle enough - from 470,000 to 500,000, the distance is small. Under these additional conditions, this may be enough for an offensive. But the continuation of the war is the continuation of losses, and the Armed Forces of Ukraine are not going to stop either, so it is likely that they will not stop at 300 thousand and will be mobilized further.
Ideally, of course, for such a front, not 500 thousand, but a million people are needed, including shock tank armies, so as not to be embarrassed in anything, but if it is technically possible to recruit a million soldiers, then new tank armies are now unrealistic. And half a million have already been laid down, as we see.
What to do with mobilized soldiers
There are additional parameters to consider as well. Partially, we touched on them above, here we will expand in more detail.
First, just as not all yogurts are equally useful, so are not all soldiers. It is clear that the mobilized are inferior in quality to the personnel, and their short training does not allow us to hope that they will catch up with the personnel. However, this is what it is, and the question is not “good or bad”, but “bad or no one”. In 1941, the regular Red Army was for the most part destroyed, and the mobilized continued to fight. Yes, all the differences are known: the Great Patriotic War against an invading evil enemy is not like a special military operation in terms of motivation, moreover, now there is a different political system, a different life in general, a different ideology, etc. But nevertheless, in professionally, the mobilized can also fight: whoever does not die immediately will become more experienced and skilled. Many mobilized without previous experience are also fighting in the ranks of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, experience for the survivors is a thing to come.
Experience for survivors is a gain
If at the first stage the Russian mobilized will be used to replenish existing units, in which now the personnel is often half or less, this will be the most correct use of them, since they learn from more experienced comrades. In new units and units, knocked together entirely from mobilized ones, it will be worse in this regard. A separate issue is the command staff for the new units. This will also be decided according to the methods of the Great Patriotic War: some will be mobilized from the reserve, some will be accelerated graduations from military schools, some will be scraped from the army throughout the country, and there you can get to the production from soldiers to officers after short wartime courses or field appointments.
Secondly, even if the personnel are recruited as much as necessary, they need to be armed and equipped. Problems with uniforms, personal weapons and personal equipment of the mobilized have already become so pronounced that the State Duma Committee on Defense has scheduled hearings, despite the fact that this is not typical for Russian political practice. And Deputy Minister of Defense Bulgakov, who is responsible for all the logistics of the army, was removed from his post even earlier. Nevertheless, these are the problems of the first stage of mass mobilization, when a lot is needed at once, but not a lot. In principle, these problems can be solved. Partly they will find internal reserves, partly the mobilized will buy everything they need themselves or they will be given volunteers, partly they will manage like this - the Russian army has always fought like this: there are many soldiers who don’t have a lot of things they need.
The Russian army has always fought like this: a lot of soldiers who don’t have a lot of things they need
However, problems with equipment and heavy weapons are not so easily solved. Continued removal and restoration of equipment from storage, deployment of repair facilities, etc., will probably make it possible to create from the mobilized a certain number of new units with more or less sufficient materiel in terms of automotive and armored vehicles, artillery, etc., even if outdated samples: this war also showed again that the old is better than nothing - both the T-62 and BMP-1 are back in service, and the M113 with minimal upgrades. Yes, it is old, often breaks down, and the parts are also not young, but it's better than nothing.
But in general, in terms of materiel for such a big war, Russia is experiencing big problems. If for defense, with the appropriate number of personnel, it may be enough, then it is much more difficult to create new formations for large offensives. We have already seen the difficulties with the creation of the 3rd Army Corps, with the 4th, 5th and the next it will be even more difficult. Without sufficient materiel, it will simply be numerous regiments of light infantry that can be thrown forward after suppressing enemy positions by fire, that is, this is real cannon fodder, not even in a figurative sense, but in the most direct - in the style of the First World War. We have already seen reports of such use of mobilized LDNR, here it may be repeated on a larger scale. If in defense it is possible to rely more on field and long-term fortifications, minefields and other engineering equipment, and there may be less equipment, especially since we counted the battalions with a margin, then in a normal offensive we need masses of armored vehicles and other equipment, forward on a concrete bunker you won't jump. And the equipment is now in storage not in Soviet quantities, and the industry does not promise large volumes.
The geography of the front is almost like in World War II, the active army is not yet like in World War II, but with mobilization it will begin to grow, and industry and the economy have not been transferred to a war footing at all, and even the growth of military production is still within the usual economic framework. Plants are not yet bombed, but they are under pressure from sanctions, primarily in terms of components, equipment, etc. And not only does Lend-Lease not go to Russia, but it goes to the enemy. Comrade Stalin would not have liked this whole scheme of warfare. However, since they have come to the mobilization of reservists, which many have been talking about for a long time as the only means of continuing the war, then, perhaps, they will further come to the mobilization of other areas - the production of equipment, weapons, ammunition in the first place. The question is what it can really give in the current conditions.
Since they came to the mobilization of reservists, then, perhaps, they will come further to the mobilization of other areas
Thirdly, the overall effectiveness of a mobilized army depends not only on personnel and materiel, but also on the context of the war. Если бы мобилизацию начали несколько месяцев назад, как предлагали многие, то могли бы успеть сколотить и ввести в бой большие силы в более благоприятных условиях, чем сегодня. Прежде всего, гораздо эффективнее подбрасывать резервы для развития наступления и закрепления его результатов, чем для затыкания прорывов при отступлении. Поэтому, когда российская армия еще наступала или хотя бы стояла на месте, мобилизованные принесли бы больше пользы. Кроме того, тогда украинская армия еще не имела Хаймарсов, 155-миллиметровой артиллерии и других западных средств в таких количествах, как сейчас. То есть и в этом плане эффективность сейчас будет ниже, противник стал качественно сильнее по средствам огневого поражения и другим средствам, хотя и потерял много прежней артиллерии в боях. Российская армия со своей стороны тоже понесла большие потери и в той же артиллерии, и в другой матчасти, но качественно усиливающих средств взамен не получает, разве что иранские БПЛА.
Линия фронта в последнее время двигается — и не в пользу ВС РФ, а мобилизованные массами пока еще не поступают, так что неизвестно, где им придется стабилизировать фронт, когда они поступят, и насколько это будут выгодные рубежи. Даже в плане времени года полезнее было мобилизовать летом, тогда к осени и зиме они бы уже привыкли к полевой жизни, постепенно обзавелись и зимней формой, и другими средствами, сейчас же бросать их на фронт в холод при тамошнем медицинском обеспечении, размещении и питании — это уже большой процент больных прямо на старте, а боеспособность у них и без этого не лучшая.
В общем, удобный в военном плане момент для мобилизации давно прошел. Но, как уже сказано, российское руководство до последнего избегало мобилизации по политическим мотивам, поэтому сейчас для них это уже вопрос не эффективности, а «лучше, чем ничего, и лучше поздно, чем никогда».
Учитывая все перечисленное, с одной стороны, не надо сразу впадать в крайность «Россия снова задавит массой, как всегда», потому что с этой массой сейчас есть указанные объективные сложности, но с другой стороны, не надо и отмахиваться — мол, «всех их перебьют или они разбегутся». Все не разбегутся, а чтобы всех перебить, надо не только потратить много снарядов, но и пролить много крови — это не компьютерная игра. Любой ресурс, даже самый большой, можно бездарно разбазарить без всякой пользы, если применять его неправильно, но этот ресурс сначала надо иметь. До сих пор Россия его не имела, сейчас с началом мобилизации этот резервуар открылся, хотя и позже, чем следовало по любому военному расчету. Теперь дело за его применением и использованием.