Factors that will determine frontline situation in 2024. Column by Serhiy Zgurets
Is there indeed a deadlock or stalemate, as Valerii Zaluzhnyi once mentioned, while commenting that both sides have reached their maximum technological capabilities?
Russian missile attack on January 8
On the night of January 8, Russia launched another missile attack on Ukraine, and the difference from the attacks of December 29 and January 2 was the greater number of missiles flying along the ballistic trajectory. In total, Russia launched 25 ballistic or quasi-ballistic missiles this time. Our air defense system can intercept targets like Kinzhals, Kh-22, Iskander-M ballistic missiles, and missiles from S-300 or S-400 systems only using Patriot or SAMP/T systems. However, the availability of these systems is insufficient to provide coverage for the entire country at the same density.
This time, Russian forces attempted to target locations in Kharkiv, Dnipropetrovsk, Zaporizhzhia, and Khmelnytskyi regions, where Patriot systems are not deployed, instead of the Kyiv region, where there is Patriot coverage. Consequently, no ballistic missiles from the enemy were intercepted. However, as per the Air Force Command, not all of the enemy missiles that were not intercepted managed to reach their intended targets.
Regarding the Kh-101 cruise missiles, Russia launched fewer of them this time, specifically 24. Of these, 18 cruise missiles were successfully destroyed, along with all 8 Shahed-136 drones. It is likely that the enemy will persist in employing various strategies for their attacks, involving a combination of offensive and defensive measures in the airspace. The success of the Ukrainian Air Force will depend on the effective coordination of forces, resources, and the skills of air defense teams, utilizing optimal countermeasure algorithms. There is ongoing work to enhance these algorithms or tactics for countering the enemy, both in the sky and on land, which could bolster Ukraine's capabilities in reducing the number of ballistic missiles reaching its cities.
Scenarios for countering Russian forces
In terms of ground combat operations, the contact line spans about 750 kilometers, and the invading force primarily relies on a quantitative advantage in manpower.
While discussions about the necessity of mobilization are valid, it's important to note that increasing infantry or assault troops in the trenches, paying for the cheapest resource of the Russian Federation with Ukraine's most valuable resource (its people), is not our kind of scenario. Instead, the focus should be on preventing Russia from exploiting a quantitative advantage on the battlefield. Let's analyze whether there really is a deadlock or stalemate, as Valerii Zaluzhnyi once mentioned while commenting that both sides have reached their maximum technological capabilities.
A few days ago, Foreign Policy magazine featured an article assessing various scenarios in the ongoing war. A representative from the British institute RUSI, specializing in the study of Ukrainian-Russian war issues, drew several conclusions. According to the analysis, there is presently no deadlock, as both Moscow and Kyiv are actively working to rebuild offensive combat capabilities. In a conflict of this magnitude, time is of the essence. And it will all depend on who has better and more reserves in the first half of 2024, who will accumulate and prepare more reserves, who will inflict more damage on the enemy on the front line.
These factors will determine the situation on the front line to a certain extent. When we talk about possible scenarios, RUSI experts assume that, on the one hand, Ukraine will have every opportunity to resume offensive operations and ensure the degradation of Russian military forces and capabilities to the point where it will be possible to talk about some kind of negotiations with better leverage over Russia to impose a lasting peace. And there is another option, when delays in the supply of weapons and training of personnel are slow enough to negatively affect Ukraine's ability to act in a war of attrition. Based on these two scenarios, the main areas for strengthening Ukraine's military capabilities were identified. First and foremost, it is to improve the training of personnel, increase the supply of necessary weapons and, above all, ammunition.
Building a military-industrial base in Ukraine
Pavlo Verkhnyatskyi, director and managing partner of COSA, member of the USUBC's Security and Aerospace Working Group, believes that the US support for Ukraine will continue and that Ukraine’s ability to produce weapons domestically should be increased in parallel. A large financial package of $61 billion from the United States is likely to be approved by Congress. Recent events also point in this direction. In his opinion, the US policy towards Ukraine is not changing.
The director and managing partner of COSA emphasized that establishing a military-industrial base in Ukraine should not only strengthen the country but also position it to support global partners in the future. Considering the current inventory of weapons and ammunition in Europe and the United States, there may be insufficient supply for major global events. It would not be surprising if Ukraine emerges as a significant player in this field. While this perspective may sound naive now, we need to look at it broadly. The demand for weapons is escalating due to the rise of authoritarian countries, and the democratic world must resist, amplifying the global need for weapons. While American companies have worldwide orders, current needs may not meet the demands of major events.
Verkhnyatskyi noted that Ukraine’s General Staff and the Defense Ministry should analyze what weapons and equipment are needed, and which ones have proven effective in the current operational conditions. This should form the basis for identifying requirements and selecting foreign partners for collaborative projects. We should not choose projects randomly, but systematically and in accordance with our needs.