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Alleged Ukraine Volunteer Document Analysis, Pt. 1

Note: This is a crosspost from my Patreon, if you wish to see the original post, click here.

A friend of mine made me aware of a paper that circulated amongst groups as an "AAR/ Lessons Learned". It is a two page redacted document, I can't comment as to the authenticity, but it doesn't seem to go counter to anything that open source intelligence and analysis is saying. It is allegedly from the point of view of the "Irpin Foreign Legion", most likely a Western volunteer unit serving in various capacities within Ukraine (if it even exists).

Posted below will be the first page, which I will try to break down by section to analyze.

I will not comment on where this unit is, or what their role is beyond what is written within the document. The header implies this is a "state of the conflict" update, probably a compilation of lessons learned from outward deployed units and people returning from the lines due to injury, respite, etc.

The paper starts off with what seems to be their most important statement to get across: Russian artillery is by and large the most dire threat to the Ukraine and pro-Ukraine forces. I am not surprised by the mix of both air burst and ground impact, especially as lines begin to develop and fortifications take hold, much like we have seen over the past few years with the fighting in the east. Airburst in particular is interesting, as it implies a significant presence of lightly armored or unarmored infantry. The Russians, if they are acting rationally, must be more concerned about AT teams on foot than vehicles, however this is a stretch for me to make any real assumptions on.

The next line is something I have been saying for a long time: "Drones at 50-300m elevation used to spot artillery. No current countermeasure". This is, yet again, exposition of the use of man portable drones as a combat asset. For a while, proponents have said that stuff like the DJI Mavic series of drones can be used cautiously as a way to adjust fires without placing anyone in harm's way. If this is true, then it is clear that they fill this role spectacularly. The document goes on to say that Stingers (and I am assuming other MANPADS) cannot target the small drones, and small arms cannot effectively hit it. Again, another blow to the "I'll just shoot it down" crowd. Consider the size of most commercial drones: DJI Mavic Mini series have a body about the size of a 12 oz Coca Cola can, I hate to say it but most people cannot hit a target that size at a high angle. Especially if it moves, and that is IF it manages to be detected. At 100m+, the drone is extremely hard to see, much less engage. If you are a drone user, and use drones comparable to this, consider those heights (50-300m) within your SOPs as a framework for refinement.

Night vision capability is also commented on, yet again the proliferation and development of personal Night Vision devices has affected battlefield mindset and tactics. It is curious that they want 1 in 10 men with night vision, I have said this for a while, but most civilian groups do not need everyone to have night vision. As long as a few personnel have NODs/NVDs, a unit can at least have a security posture set up. At worst, mount a somewhat effective reconnaissance or attack, or get eyes on an enemy position and call for fire. The concern for this unit will be actually getting hands on ITAR controlled night vision. There is some degree of NODs presence within Europe (ACT IN BLACK is one that comes to mind), and they may be a source for that beyond whatever NATO provides or anyone brings on their own. If the Ukrainians were resourceful, they could source digital or Gen 2 devices at least as a stand in for fixed positions. Earlier in the conflict someone was using a cellphone to spot IR strobes within a city, something ad hoc like that could fill in that gap.

Moving on to the Logistics section, we see that the first point is unsurprisingly related to needing anti tank weapons. The heavily mechanized Russian military and Russian backed separatists meet their counter in man portable anti tank teams, or so we are inclined to believe. While the first point touts the effectiveness of the AT4, LAW, and NLAW systems (by far one of the most effective weapon systems on that front), the second point complains about lack of FGM-148 Javelin CLU batteries and receiving French made .50cal MGs (probably M2 Brownings) without firing pins (and potentially headspace and timing gauges). A particular comment must be made on the demand for helmets to protect against shrapnel and snipers. To anyone reading this, thinking about bump helmets, consider how useless the bump is at actually defending you in ground warfare beyond just hitting your head. Its why helmets have been a more frequent issued item since WW1 than body armor. Shrapnel threats also emphasize the concern of Russian indirect fires, as artillery is responsible for most of that lethal shrapnel. In this case, my opinion is that soft armor is more necessary than bulletproof plates, so long as you already have a ballistic helmet.

Most of my audience is more concerned with their own internal conflicts than the one in Ukraine, so consider that they place precedence for helmets over body armor. It may be something to consider when deciding where your gear shortcomings are; a helmet like an ACH or Gentex may be a priority.

The next major point, Communications, is interesting. The Russians are supposedly using vehicle based jamming equipment that can disrupt in a 300m radius from the source. I am not surprised by this, NATO forces have similar equipment and capabilities used on their own vehicles. The complaint by the Ukrainian forces is that their scouts are cut off from their leadership because of this, and they desire encrypted and reliable radios. Just off the top of my head, this tells a few things:

  1. The lines are close enough that a 300m jamming radius is a significant hindrance, not surprised with the trench fighting (more on that later)

  2. Scouts and outposts are capable of getting to within 300m of Russian positions (either speaking to their ability, or the poor discipline/ tactics of Russian positions in setting up their own OPs and recon patrols)

  3. Ukrainians have not considered implementing ancillary communications that are not dependent on radio signals

The third point is what I want to focus on, as the first point is self explanatory, and the second is difficult to effectively ascertain without making a ton of assumptions. At face value, it seems that the Ukrainian forces do not have a great PACE plan. Consider how this is a learning lesson for you, the reader. Have methods of signal like hard wired "trench" phone comms, displacing outside of the radius for transmitting within certain comms windows, and even sending a messenger back to command.

The insistence on radios is alarming, as in this case I am not sure if encrypted comms are the correct conclusion to jamming. It may be so (I am no radio expert), but it stands to reason that if there is a significant presence of jamming, doubling down on radio/ wireless phone doesn't seem like the right direction. I reiterate that a good PACE plan will be necessary regardless, and as time goes on these units will figure that out, unfortunately probably by blood.

Tactics gets its own section, and the conclusion may be surprising for some, but has been par for the course for most of the conflict the past few years: trench warfare. A veritable tug of war along the lines for this unit, both sides seem to be in a deadlock. Trench warfare is not what most people were thinking would happen, but it is no surprise as the momentum slowed down. With trench warfare come all the historical issues that trench warfare has shown, such as the difficulty of making tactical gains and the overreliance on indirect fires. Fighting is for a surprisingly small depth (400m) where the Ukrainian forces retake what they lose. Again, a desire for night vision comes up, as the Ukrainians tend to retake territory at night, and they believe that it will provide an edge. I am not sure whether or not there is a significant presence of night vision or thermal optics within the Russian forces, but I will assume their mechanized forces will have some degree of image intensification.

I question the retreats by the Ukrainians not taking advantage of "stay behind" munitions, mines, traps, etc. They may not have access to this equipment, but ideally they have the locations of these trenches mapped out with coordinates for indirect fires. This may be telling for the inexperience or inadequate logistics of the forces, so use this as a learning point: ceded territory should ideally be left in such a state to make it hazardous or unusable by the force taking over. Likewise, the Russians not attempting to do the same on the ground they have taken or attempting to push harder is a poor display. This gives the impression that they are poorly trained or not concerned with actually taking the trenchlines. With their significant use of indirect fires, they probably assume they can just attrit the Ukrainians into submission.

The final point for this section is commenting on the arrival of foreign fighters, and the rest of the paper is referring to these foreign fighters and their effects/ impacts. I will condense this as best as I can. For starters, the effect on morale is fluctuating; as more hype is generated around the conflict and volunteer units, more people will show up and not all of them with experience. The experienced are expedited to the front lines, logistics are still showing the constraints (no uniforms to be issued except for cold weather gear) placed upon by the territory losses. Those without experience were allegedly sent elsewhere, whether or not they are sent for combat training or to be used elsewhere for support roles is unknown.

Next, there is no clear leadership scheme, it seems leadership just sort of comes from whoever deems themselves to be important or was appointed. This is 100% a significant issue, as no chain of command makes for complicated planning, accountability, and chain of succession. The utilization of these forces will probably hang foremost on whether or not they can execute a plan, and that is dependent on someone organizing, delegating, and guiding. Until that is addressed, I have little confidence that many of these volunteer forces (probably filled with people who do not share language) will be useful for anything except forming screenlines and occupying trenches or fighting positions. Hell, one of the comments is on "one weird guy not allowed to join", the complaint being that Ukrainians are poor at judging ability.

Finally, the commentary on this page ends with a complaint on the lack of uniform issue. While never advertised in any of the "calls to action" I have seen, the lack of uniforms is a pretty stark reminder of just how ramshackle some of the logistics are on the Ukrainian side. While everyone loves to point out the Russian logistic shortcomings, the Ukrainians are struggling on their own. Enough rockets, not enough batteries for the systems. There is enough cold weather gear, but not enough uniforms for identification. Something that will only be exacerbated as the war continues.

That is it for Part 1, I will get to Part 2 soon, it will be the second page of this document. As always, there is much to say and all commentary is my opinion. I can be wrong, and for all I know this document isn't real, but nonetheless there are lessons to be learned from this. Comment or PM me with your thoughts and whether you want to see more "analysis" posts.

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