Russia’s fighting in Ukraine is showing US special operators that they must fight without their “shackles” to win future wars
The challenges of modern warfare are highlighted by Russia’s ongoing attack on Ukraine.
A less visible aspect was the need for a robust logistical network to support the frontline forces.
For US special operators, the war is a reminder that such a network will not always be available.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has drawn renewed attention to the challenges of large-scale, nation-to-nation conventional conflict.
After a year of strugglethe world has learned a lot about what it takes to wage modern wars. Ukraine thwarted Russia’s initial attack and, with extensive Western support, pushed back Russian forces. Russia continues to struggle to achieve its goals, although it has scaled back its ambitions after the first months of the war. So far, Moscow has lost an estimated 200,000 soldiers.
Access to heavy weapons, plentiful ammunition, and the will to fight among the troops were important elements in each side’s performance, as was the ability to build an effective logistics operation.
According to leaders of US special operations in Europe, Russia’s logistical battles in Ukraine have shown that US commandos want to live in a major war without the logistical “shackles” they have relied on in previous conflicts.
Logistics and Ukraine
US Air Force Maj. Gen. Steven Edwards, commander of Special Operations Command Europe, outlined some of the lessons SOCEUR learned from Ukraine during a New America Think Tank event in September.
Edwards said that one of his command’s biggest hurdles to being more effective in Ukraine was finding ways to support Ukrainian forces remotely as US troops were withdrawn out of the country just before Russia attacked.
“Trying to get equipment and resources to our partners has proven very, very difficult,” Edwards said, citing the logistics required “to actually move them from a country within Ukraine.”
One of the biggest logistical hurdles for the Ukrainian Armed Forces is getting the right ammunition and spare parts on the front line. over the past year, dozens of western nations have sent Ukraine billions of dollars in military gear and other assistance.
Ukrainian troops now use a variety of weapons that require different ammo and have different maintenance requirements. Therefore, the logisticians of the Ukrainian military had to be very organized and maintain good situational awareness of what equipment is needed, when and where.
Send for example Western-made 155mm ammunition to a unit armed with 152mm howitzers, which for decades were Ukraine’s standard howitzer caliber, would be a waste of time and resources.
Logistics and special operators
Also at the same event, Michael Repass, who commanded SOCEUR before retiring as a Major General from the US Army, emphasized the importance of logistics not only for special forces but also for militaries faced with larger, better-armed opponents.
“We know that logistics is important. It’s very interesting to see SOF people talking about how important logistics is,” said Repass. “Amassing material to defend your nation has become a must for small nations in conflict with large states.”
In fact, Russia’s fighting in Ukraine is showing US commandos that in a conflict with an almost equal force to Russia and China, they must live without the supplies and short supply lines they were accustomed to during the war on terror.
For US special forces, the logistical requirements in a conflict would “depend largely on the unit and the mission”, a US Army Special Forces to insiders.
US special forces “are designed to operate deep behind enemy lines in often harsh environments with little to no outside support. We are trained and mentally prepared to fight without much logistical support,” said the Green Beret, who was granted anonymity to discuss potential future operations.
Delivering supplies to US special operators in the Indo-Pacific region would become more difficult the closer they are to China due to the weapons developed by China to deny access to its competitors in parts of the region such as the South China Sea. The US Army is the service responsible for logistics throughout the Indo-Pacific theater of operations.
“Again, depending on the unit and the mission, we’re going to need some kind of logistical support at some point. This is where our relationships with the conventional military and all partner forces will be critical,” the Green Beret added.
US Special Operations Command is attempting to address the challenge of getting supplies to the front lines by tracking what one SOCOM official has dubbed “unbound logistics.”
SOCOM is considering new technologies and other means that would allow it to push supplies to special operators in austere environments or allow those troops to produce what they need where they are. Some of the technology in the works involves 3D printing, which could allow front-line commands to produce much-needed ammunition and spare parts themselves.
Military logistics isn’t as sexy as some of the weapons and operations on display in Ukraine, but the war there has shown that it’s just as important to battlefield success as it ever was.
Stavros Atlamazoglou is a defense journalist specializing in special operations, a veteran of the Hellenic Army (national service with the 575th Marine Battalion and Army Headquarters) and a graduate of Johns Hopkins University. He is working on a master’s degree in strategy and cybersecurity at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.
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