Mel Daniels: Ukrainian counteroffensive

The coming Ukrainian Counter Offensive:
Admin note:
This article is not intended to conclusively predict where and when the anticipated offense will occur. Instead, it will build upon previous articles that laid out the fundamentals for “Offensive Operations” and the “Counter Attack”. Additionally, while we respect different military doctrines across the globe, please kindly note that no one in the “profession of arms” cites ground maneuver or combat doctrine from the Guatemalan Army or Aerial Warfare Theory from the Moldovan Air Force. The reason why is simple and will be left unsaid. Having said that, feel free to share your opinions, just do not conflate opinions with facts.
As of 21 April 2023, Ukraine has successfully defended against renewed Russian attacks IVO Bakhmut and elsewhere in Eastern Donbas. Ukraine also successfully lobbied and received hundreds of armored vehicles and thousands of rounds of munitions from their NATO partners. Ukrainian forces, unit commanders and staffs, as well as their subordinate staffs are currently undergoing combined arms and maneuver warfare training, conducted by the US Army as well as NET (New Equipment Training). The objective is to create and form a new nucleus for the Ukrainian Army, one that will be able to operate and conduct complex operations above Battalion level, something that has been severely lacking in the UAF.
Russian forces have mostly reconstituted their combat power and has heavily employed PMC forces as a surrogate force, IOT support Russian Army efforts. Russian forces continue to re equip their forces and build material stock for future operations. Russian forces, despite the numerous media claims, are still in the field and have a slant in excess of 80% (committed and uncommitted forces and factoring in controlled substitution scenarios). Further, Russian Army dispositions have greatly centered around retention of KT and preparing for future operations.
Ukrainian Constraints and Limitations:
Despite the influx of munitions and new equipment, Ukraine is still fully reliant on NATO for nearly all its military needs. This includes material and major end item components. Ukraine is reliant on the West for fuel, food and finance, basically everything. It has been reduced to a nation state incapable of self sustainment.
This in turn means that militarily, Ukraine cannot sustain offensive operations for long without major replenishment. Regardless of the outcome of the future Counter Offensive, Ukraine will need a significant resupply of equipment, equal or greater than what has been given to date for them to retain any gains made in the upcoming operations. For this to be feasible, the equipment needs to arrive, in quantity, this fall, for it to be relevant and to sustain Ukrainian Army units along any adjusted FLOT. Ukraine is also facing the prospect of NATO countries losing interest in this war, as it continues, due to the severe economic costs associated as well as the disastrous costs emplaced on Ukraine and suffered by the Ukrainian population. This in turn means that post conflict, the West would likely be requested to provide reconstruction aid to Ukraine, which is now reaching estimates of close to half a trillion Euros.
Russian constraints and limitations are also becoming more pronounced. Despite great material losses, the Russian Army has been able to sustain their war efforts by tapping into and revitalizing large stocks of legacy Soviet equipment (similar to what Ukraine is receiving from NATO). Further, Russia has been able to supplement their war efforts with injects from North Korea, Iran, China and elsewhere. This trend is likely to continue into 2023. Russian forces, while relying on older legacy systems, are still able to field a sizable force and remains in the field. Further, Russian forces have spent considerable time and effort erecting defensive positions and creating extensive defenses with the end state of retaining all occupied territory, to include Crimea itself.
Russia has also deepened ties with China, with China now directly open and receptive to providing material support to Russia if the West aids Taiwan with any military sales going forward, call it a tit for tat. It is anticipated that China will continue to clandestinely provide military support to Russia and provide economic support to Russia, regardless of the threats made from the West, as China knows the threats are empty.
Most likely COA for the upcoming Counter Offense for Ukraine:
First, Ukraine will need to decide between two different strategies.The first one consists of limited operations, in sequence, each with limited objectives, this is conditions based, and will rely heavily on the IO domain to magnify the affects of their operations. Each sequential operation will build and compliment the previous operation and collectively, they will culminate with their desired end state. This has primarily been the method of choice for Ukraine, and is unlikely to change.
Ukraine continuing to employ this strategy, it mitigates their weaknesses and preserves its combat strength while directly avoiding decisive battle with the Russians. This strategy also correlates and mitigates the lack of self sustainability of the UAF. By limiting operations to opportunist and achievable objectives (aided and supported by the United States and others), Ukraine is able to incrementally execute and effect battlefield conditions that render the tactical situation more favorably while denying Russian forces their objectives.
The second choice for Ukraine is to gamble and attack with the end state of seeking the Decisive Battle. With this option, the Ukrainian Army will seek to replicate, to their fullest extent possible, the US Army philosophy of the “Offensive Spirit” and employ their “Combat Arm of Decision” to decisively defeat the Russian Army in an attempt to end the conflict and force Russian withdrawal back to the 1994 borders. Ukraine has not had the capability or capacity to consider this strategy until now.
If Ukraine were to elect this choice, it would be the riskier of the two choices and has a lower chance of success [numerous “reports” have indicated that this was under consideration and has served as a center piece to the theory that a „3rd party actor” intentionally sabotaged this COA option for Ukraine, in order to ensure the UAF is not strategically defeated by the Russian Army].
In order to realistically contemplate this COA, Ukraine would need to receive additional combat engineering equipment [three times the amount already gifted] and receive additional equipment (tanks, IFV, CAS/CCA) as well as undergo additional training for their units.
This has not occurred in the numbers required to realistically have moderate chance of success. Therefore the probability of this COA occurring is low. With this being said, below are the three most likely options for COA 1;
1). Limited Counter Attack IVO Bakhmut.
With this option, Ukraine initially limits their offensive to the immediate area of Bakhmut and the adjacent areas. Its T&P will be simple; Destroy all PMC and Russian Army forces IVO Bakhmut. Its purpose will be to enable FOF FOM (Follow on Forces, Freedom of Maneuver) which could be Phase II and III, also known as sequential operations (recall the above about limited offenses, in sequence and conditions based).
Once the offense is initiated IVO Bakhmut, and once the immediate objectives are accomplished, Ukraine could then continue the attack, via a quasi “Follow and Assume” approach. This could be done hours or days later. This would imply and require that the second and third phases, both conditions based, would need a dedicated Follow and Assume formation(s). This linear strategy and operational concept mitigates the majority of the Ukrainian weaknesses and additionally avoids the majority of the Russian advantages in the greater AO.
This limited operation, would be heavily reliant on shaping operations and enabler units, as well as heavily dependent on IO support (I am sure major media outlets, as well as their pundits, paid to promote a narrative, will be cranking out whopping blitzkrieg tales like a few months ago, sensationalizing things into epic proportions). This option also avoids major Russian counter attacks and initially avoids prepared defenses further south. This option, as well as the subsequent phases, does not and will not cause an end to the conflict, nor will it decisively defeat the Russian Army.
However, it will provide immediate relief to the Ukrainian positions and forces defending, it will place the Russian forces on the defensive, disrupting their initiative and it will avoid many of the Russian strengths and could cause a blow to their morale as well as incrementally improving Ukrainian strategic positions while minimizing combat losses, preserving their combat strength for future operations.
2). The second option for Ukraine would be to conduct an attack that aims at “fixing”all Russian forces IVO of Bakhmut. This would be conducted concurrently in support of their ME (main effort), which would seek a penetration (breakthrough) of the main Russian positions, and thus in turn, exploit the rupture of Russian defenses. Once this was achieved, Ukraine would then continue its attack South by South West towards the lucrative prize of the Melitopol-Berdyans’k-Mariupol general area, splitting the entire Russian front in two and placing all Russian forces in this region in an untenable position, forcing them to retreat to defensive positions in Crimea proper.
This option is far riskier for the Ukrainian Army, far more complex and far more intensive to support. Even with the near unlimited C5ISR support from the United States, the Ukrainian Army would be hard pressed to effectively sustain combat power throughout the operation, sustain momentum, C3 and bypass entire positions effectively and efficiently.
The Ukrainian Army also lacks the combat power to concurrently attack through to their objectives, to then subsequently clear Russians from KT in the vicinity, and then to seize and retain the three major urban centers, all the while retaining enough pressure on the Russian Army, preventing it from reconsolidating into an effective defense.
However, if the Ukrainian Army, aided by US C5ISR support, can affect Russian forces through successful shaping operations prior to the initiation of the offense (heavy and precise targeting of HPT), it might be possible to effect extensive command paralysis on the Russian forces, which may cause a second order impact; the degeneration of Russian C2 and C3 capabilities, which directly would hinder any defensive efforts and could cause a breakdown in defenses, thus allowing a rapid armored thrust through the main defenses, which in turn could be exploited by the main Ukrainian Army Brigade(s), notably the one equipped with CR2’s and M1126s and the Marders (hint, hint, hint).
Additionally, this option would require that Ukraine conduct at least one, if not two, separate forward refueling operations (ROM) with highly vulnerable combat trains having to come forward to refuel the units. This is a very complex task that is not easily mastered. Currently, this is being taught and being rehearsed by Ukrainian combatant command staffs.
For a great basic introductionary article on this is, one can be found at the following link;
The complexity of this operation, as well as the risks associated if it were to fail, make it less ideal than the previous option. Additionally, there are no additional replacement forces currently available if the Ukrainian forces take significant losses. Therefore, it would be some time for Ukraine to obtain replacements, time which it may not have if the election of this option ends up as a failure or is aborted due to higher than anticipated combat losses. Lastly, such an option would significantly impact Ukrainian air defense coverage of their forces as they move forward, thus negating any relative defense from aerial attacks by Russian forces.
3). The third option would be for Ukraine to “Fix” Russian forces IVO of Bakhmut and then conduct an attack IVO eastern Donbas and Luhansk. The intended objective would be to defeat all Russian forces in the break away regions as well as defeat all independence movement and sentiment from the local civilian population. This would afford Ukraine the political opportunity to erase a main Russian claim and war objective; defense of the population.
This option includes significant risks as it is the furthest away from the FLOT (Forward Line of Trace/Troops) and would impose the most tax on Ukrainian logistics to sustain combat power and operations with mechanized forces. Additionally, Ukraine would be even more pressed to protect their forces from Russian air attacks, as it is the furthest from the main Ukrainian AD assets.
Russian forces are also defending in this sector, have established defensive positions and have internal lines of ground communications as their rear area is secure. This option would require Ukraine to conduct several attacks along different axis and would require Ukraine to dedicate forces for flank and rear security operations, as well as require significantly more dedicated ground reconnaissance forces than it has already allotted and MTOE’d.
Ukraine would be have the advantage of less canalized geography and more options for maneuver, thus allowing them to take advantage of their superior equipment and US provided C5ISR support. However, this option does the least to immediately achieve Ukrainian and US war objectives.
Bonus option:
Ukraine attacks Belarus and attempts to knock out Minsk, which deprives Russia of Belorussian support and basing options that they use to launch attacks against Ukraine from. Further, it removes the remote but still possible, second front option. This option would be the most risky of all and a true “Black Swan”.
Ukraine is facing significant pressure due to time and the conditions that Russia has imposed. In essence, time is running out for Ukraine. Much like a starving man, Ukraine has sacrificed all their fat, muscle mass and has little to show for it and not much left to sacrafice. The West has nearly depleted their entire war stock (minus the US) and is unlikely to be able to sustain the level of support shown to date, despite all the rosy predictions painted by the western press and paid pundits (facts matter over print. As such, actual production levels are no where nearly as consistent as the ones outlined and written about). However, by mid 2024 that may begin to change in relative terms and numbers.
Given the reality that Ukraine is facing, the stakes are high and this offense is a gamble, borne more out of desperation and less due to “the right time”. Additionally, given the stakes, the “All in” mentality, and the harsh truth that the NATO alliance has used Ukraine to bleed Russia, the fact remains that NATO has not fully supported Ukraine with what it needs to actually win without great loss and suffering. That is tragic.

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