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Strategic and tactical realities in CMBS

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Would the Russian military commit to capture major cities during the confilct or rather simply by pass them and cut them off? Would a conquest of dense urban area even be required to achieve their objectives in this theoretical war? Kharkiv for example is a major city, some 34km from the Russo-Ukrainian border with important military, morale and  historical value, yet conquering it seems like a terribly costly affair that would require quite a portion of the theoretically readily available russian forces even if defended by say single Ukrainian Mech Brigade with homeguard/militia support. On the other hand leaving such a city with any mobile forces intact in it, in your rear, seems like a bad idea or would require a sizeable siege force in place for the reminder of the campaign.

 

The manuals overview of the campaign framework seems to imply that the Russians would commit to at least isolating Kharkiv (IIRC) but is it feasible and plausible to plan scenarios involving actions relating to such a operation?

 

All in all the defenders options seem hard to discern up untill the point that nato finaly arrives to the scene. Ukraine in a nutshell is a one mission impossible to defend as far as I can imagine. Retreating to cities and fighting in urban terrain to make the invaders pay dearly in time and lives would be my bet for defensive strategy but if the enemy does everything to avoid commiting to such fights then the delay is not all that effective now is it? The terrain places very little constrains on the attackers so channeling the invading forces to any feasible delaying battles seem like very hard thing to do with one exception: If the ukrainian would fall back well before the rounds start flying and concentrate completely on defending Kiev. This would mean abandoning all of eastern Ukraine right from the start and I wonder if that would be feasible?

 

Just some late night pondering on the issue..

 

Feel free to share your thoughts, ideas and visions on how the different stages of the war would play out.

 

I'm eagerly waiting for opportunities to try my hand in modelling modern day ukraine with the editor of CMBS and also maybe finaly get some scenarios out as well (if RL permits, work is killing me atm). I'm however very much obsessed with feasibility so before I go mapping rampage of random ukrainian locales, I would like to get an idea of the strategic and tactical realities. In other words: what kind a locations really matter? Where would the fighting take place or would it really most feasibly be a collection of random encounters in the whirl of ultra modern mobility warfare?

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This is an interesting question and dilemma. Back in the Cold War days Soviet doctrine was to bypass major cities where they can.

 

I think whether to bypass/ surround and bypass or tackle the tough nut straight away would be context specific. The decision would be case by case based on their strategic and operational objectives; force disposition of both sides; timing; press war and diplomacy; etc etc etc.

 

Things have changed over the years, MOUT has become part of the terrain and militaries need to deal with it. That said, and hard point could be bypassed as per standard strategy.

 

 

However, even with Russian bypassing of a city I would still anticipate action. Their new doctrine (well actually not that different to elements of the old Soviet 5 Column Strategy) would still employ locals, Special Forces, and regular to probe and disrupt enemy forces within.

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So they'd eradicate their own support in the country they're invading? That's... cynical even for Russian Realpolitik.

 

Exactly; but still possible depending on Operational/Strategic context. But they'd definitely flatten hard-points within the city.

Edited by vincere

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Current reading suggests bypass unless they had contact in an urban area and had to assault the city. Which is a situation they would seek to avoid.

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I would think that RA would strive to achieve dominance outside major population centers, blockading roads, bases and other important objectives like they did in Crimea. All that while using local support with SF aid/integration to try and dominate cities in key areas (admin buildings, power plants etc). Shelling cities indiscriminately, like someone above me said is nonsensical since it deleverages whatever limited local support the RA has to achieve success inside cities.

 

Limited use of artillery on hard-points within cities that wouldn't support RA enough to warrant SF deployment only is debatable though. I personally still see air power as a more accurate and adequate method of combating hard-points inside population centers.  

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There's a whole spectrum of Urban dilemmas. Small to mid-sized towns too. Bypass for operational speed and economy of effort. But leave something in their rear that could hurt them .

 

That's one of the reasons why a true dynamic campaign/ operation would be so sweet.

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What is that saying by  Clausewitz? "War is the continuation of politics by other means". What is the political purpose of your war? If having boots on the ground in front of the National Assembly Building in downtown Kiev fits with your political agenda you go for Kiev. If encircling them and bringing them to the conference table fits with your agenda you do that. If grabbing a chunk of eastern territory and presenting it as a fait accompli to a helpless Kiev government fits with your agenda you do that. Back in 2003 the US bypassed many a city in their advance north, but when they reached the capital they didn't merely encircle Bagdad and start formal peace talks with the sitting government.

 

In CMRT timeframe the Soviets were known for bypassing strongpoints, cutting their supply lines, reducing them with artillery then sending in secondary units who specialized in mopping-up operations.

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I would asume that control of major highways would still be one of the highest priorities regardles of the ultimate goal of war? Front line units might be all mechanized but they still need fuel and other supplies. On the other hand, ukraine is a well developed country with lots and lots of secondary and tertiary roads wich should be able to provide supply routes even if some highways remain impassable. In the case of kharkiv, the major highways do enter the suburbs of the city so securing those intersections along the ring by pass highways would strike me as potential and feasible objectives around wich to build scenarios. Any thoughts?

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Sounds likely. Also Dniepr river present a major logistical obstacle for both sides of the conflict. Seizing large crossing points without their destruction sound like a valid objectives. 

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A couple of hours on google earth seem to show something resembling defensible bridges in the following places.

 

1) Terny

 

2) Ulyanivka

 

3) Tuchne

 

4) Romny

 

5) Sokyrynynsti

 

6) Veselivka

 

7) Poltova/ Tereshky

 

I apologize for butchering the names

 

The defensibility of all these points really depend on how marshy the river banks are.  In some cases there are multiple bridges which could make one big scenario or several small ones.  I assume flow a bank conditions vary a LOT by time of year, but a wet summer sank the Germans in 1914, so its not a completely crazy assumption.  A drought puts Russian tanks on the outskirts of Kiev in a week, near as I can tell.  Are their any dams, canals or something that could be used to intentionally flood meaningful areas?

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The problem with defending along the Dniepr's natural choke points is about with what troops there would be left available? The river line is quite defendable if the Ukrainian high command would immediately pull back all formations from the eastern ukraine but this would literaly hand out half of the country almost unopposed to the invaders? Optimistically the Ukrainians have around 13 frontline brigades in their war time OOB give or take few extra reserve formations with third rate equipment. If even half of them are commited in the east of dniepr right from the start of hostilities we can expect them to be overrun or isolated with only few units getting back to the Dniepr and that will leave very few units to actually guard the river and the crossings. Russians engineers are also very adept at building pontoon bridges (AFAIK) and I remember being tought that they will always plan their offensives with a asumption that all bridges will be unusable due to defender blowing them up. So they will be prepared to cross the river even if there are no bridges. Still the Dniepr is the best bet on stopping or slowing down the Russian offensive.

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It's what they did in Grozny.

 

Which is fairly inaccurate. Firstly, what time-frame are we talking about? A ) 1994-1995 or B )1999-2000? 

 

If it is A-

The realities of Grozny were the following:

-In a two days delayed response local civilian population was told to leave the city (a sizable number chose to stay);

-Heavily fortified positions across the whole city;

-5-12K enemy combatants in the area to 12K troops available (1:2.4 at best and 1:1 at worst is hardly enough to assault a city successfully);

-No sizable local guerrilla support;

-Air support was not available for the first two days of the operation.

 

If it is B-

-It was an enemy state capital with no accountable local support;

-Evacuation corridors were provided a month before the initial assault;

-Most of supporting actions for the monthly duration of the blockade were performed with Air instead of Artillery (which leads me to believe the same would be done in Ukraine).

Edited by BTR

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I reckon anyone answering this question in the context of how it will be in CM:BS had better have a read of

http://community.battlefront.com/topic/112866-status-update-on-black-sea/?p=1497244

where Steve sets out the wider strategic context and back story that they're working from. I'd say from reading that post that the Ukraine hadn't lost control of Donetsk and Luhansk before the Russians rolled over the border, but that the separatists in those cities would have been causing trouble for some time, but not "MBT-threatening" trouble; the spark in Sevastapol seems to have ignited the situation before the Russian efforts at destabilisation and support of the separatists in the east could properly get militarised. So I'd guess there will be Ukraine army holdouts in those cities, and that the Russians would almost literally, be shooting themselves in the foot if they flattened the entire urban area. Directed precision fires against strongpoints notwithstanding. How threatening they'd be to the Russian logisitics I have no idea. If the plan was to resist the Russians at the river, the holdouts would be "forlorn hope" elements, more nuisance and propaganda entities than militarily significant...

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The point most misunderstood about Grozny was that it was effectively still within Russia, and it was an internal operation, and envisaged a full subjugation of the country under russian federal law afterwards.

Ukraine is not, and there is no intention do the same here, even within CMBS storyline.

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Sounds likely. Also Dniepr river present a major logistical obstacle for both sides of the conflict. Seizing large crossing points without their destruction sound like a valid objectives.

From what I'm seeing, the Russian forces would be at much less of a disadvantage because of the amphib nature of most of their vehicles except the tanks. Even those might be able to snorkel.

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In a full spectrum conflict like this I think heavy artillery fires on populated area's are a sure thing. Perhaps the assault on Kiev won't be like the Battle of Berlin, but one just needs to look at Syria to see what might happen in urban area's of any (strategic) importance. Not that Donetsk has been exempted of shelling in the current conflict. For the hypothetical CM:BS conflict urban defence, from village to town to suburb to city, is a large tactical, operational  and strategic factor imo. Obviously any attacker will bypass urban strongholds when feasible, but be it for political or military reasons sometimes an 'urban' position is in need of taking. At times positions in need if taking are occupied by substantial enemy forces which are due for reduction by (heavy) artillery fires. Civvies better get the hell out of dodge, war is hell and this ain't no hearts and minds type of mission.

Edited by Lethaface

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My 2 cents...

Russia would avoid investing in any major (300,000+) urban area that was reasonably defended if it could be avoided. If it was poorly defended then I think they would attempt to take it right then and there, knowing that what is risky today might be flat out impossible tomorrow. Russia would not waste military effort on destroying urban areas except for targeted strikes on key infrastructure (bridges, power plants, bases, etc.).

MikeyD's point above, however, is the salient one. What is Russia trying to achieve with its military forces? If it is to dice up Ukraine badly and quickly enough to get a cease fire, then they would tend to stay away from urban areas. If, on the other hand, they want to annex and/or set up a puppet state then they would likely be more focused on contiguous and total control within a specific political boundary.

If one looks at Donetsk and Luhansk you can see how this worked from a semi-conventional standpoint. The "uprisings" initially took place outside of the major population areas. Full control of the highways and outlying smaller areas was the top priority. After those areas were locked down pretty well Donetsk and Luhansk cities were purged of Ukrainian forces that did not want to switch sides. In this way a few hundred lightly armed men were able to take control of two huge cities. But things didn't go perfectly.

The first sign that the separatists were overreaching was in Mariupol where they never seized total control of the city, in part because they did not manage to control the surrounding territory. After a powerplay by the miners and Ukrainian military reinforcements the city returned to full Ukrainian control fairly quickly and with relatively little fighting. By contrast, when Ukraine tried to reestablish control of Donetsk and Luhansk cities they got tripped up in significant fighting well outside the city limits because the separatists did control that territory.

The second thing that didn't go right for them is not all of the Ukrainian "pockets" gave up easily. The airports at Luhansk and Donetsk, as well as territory immediately adjacent to each, was never fully seized during the consolidation period of the late spring. In fact, it was at the Donetsk airport that the separatists suffered their first significant military defeat when they tried to storm it. During the summer the separatists repeatedly tried to take the two areas because Ukraine would obviously leverage them to cut off the cities from separatist forces. In other words, do the same thing to the separatists that the separatists did to them.

The "Poroshenko" counter offensive did, in fact, go about cutting Donetsk and Luhansk cities off from the rest of the separatist forces. In both cases the airport pockets were used quite effectively. In both cases the Ukrainians significantly threatened the "rear" of the two cities and invested some military forces into the neighborhoods on the "front" sides to keep the separatists pinned down. It seemed to be working fairly well, which is why Russia had to launch a counter offensive in August using Russian Army forces. The primary goals were to wipe out the Ukrainian gains being made around the two cities and to the south. They largely were able to do that in Luhansk, but the Donetsk airport is still held by Ukrainian forces today despite MANY large scale (and bloody) attempts to take it.

Now, this gets back to MikeyD's point. The Russian counter offensive was designed to do two things:

1. Cause immediate and dangerous battlefield reversals for the Ukrainian forces

2. Leverage the reversals into a "cease fire" that solidified the gains made

The goals were not to retake Mariupol or other areas, just make what they had safer and pose enough threat to Ukraine (especially near Mariupol) to force an end to the largely successful Ukrainian summer offensive. This is largely what Russia got and is the basis of the situation today some 4 months later. Though, as I said, there's a few spots that the counter offensive failed to clear up (Donetsk airport and Debaltsevo in particular) that have been under heavy attack ever since. That's because their strategic value is as important as it was back in the spring and they still don't have them going into the next spring.

Steve

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From what I'm seeing, the Russian forces would be at much less of a disadvantage because of the amphib nature of most of their vehicles except the tanks. Even those might be able to snorkel.

 

The snorkel allows fording of depths of five meters for their tanks (T-72 series). The Dnieper River has an average depth of eight meters.

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I think the biggest factors influencing strategy in this scenario are political, not purely military.  How does Moscow most quickly establish a "fact on the ground" of Russian victory that they can convincingly sell to the world and use to bargain for the outcome they want?  In a fast moving modern war, leaving whole cities unconquered in the rear isn't the handicap that it would have been in WW2.  In fact, city-fighting that produced civilian suffering would be the quickest way to lose the propaganda war and the narrative in the global press.

 

Would Ukraine decide to exploit this fact by basing appropriate units in urban areas, hoping that Russia would not risk wholesale urban assault?  How might the city fighting be conducted?  We could see scenarios where the Red player, not just the Blue, needs to avoid destruction of populated civilian neighborhoods.

 

I can easily imagine a scenario or campaign featuring under-gunned Ukrainian troops in an urban alamo cut off by Russians while US/NATO attempt to lift the siege.

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Steve, do you have any input on viable defensive terrain short of the Dneiper?  Is there any mention of wet conditions in the backstory? And last but not least how do you tell marsh from sand in a Google Earth shot of a river crossing?

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Steve, do you have any input on viable defensive terrain short of the Dneiper?  

I just googled the famous "Pripet Marshes" and it appears to mostly involve Belarus right above the northwest Ukrainian border. The Pripet river actually flows into Ukraine. It appears that northwest Ukraine might not be ideal tank country, or at the very least the Russian approaches to Ukraine in the area would be limited. Ukraine is a big country, almost as big as France. Its got several major rivers (and BFC has supplied you with several types of loooong bridges to cross them).  :D

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