Military assessment of the Russian crisis: what would a ground offensive against Ukraine look like? Watch the sky.

In view of the ongoing Russian crisis, the Scowcroft Center’s Forward defense (FD)-Praxis will share weekly assessments of the latest force developments around Ukraine, leveraging our expert perspectives high-ranking military. The opinions, conclusions, and recommendations expressed or implied herein are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the Department of Defense or any other US government agency.

The final result

Russia continues to strengthen its forces in Belarus, Crimea and along the border with Ukraine. These forces are now at a increased readiness, with satellite imagery showing field operations and live fire exercises in progress, including with artillery. Russia’s exercise in Belarus has so far focused on integrated air and ground operations. This signaled that a major focus of any operation would be air support for a mechanized offensive.

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Russian troop movements

The Ukrainian reaction

Operations by the USA, allies and partners

The conclusion of FD

Russian troop movements

Air: Russia is significantly expanding its air-to-ground combat forces in the region and its training to conduct air support for ground forces in preparation for a possible full-scale mechanized invasion of Ukraine.

  • On February 3, the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) announced a live fire exercise of Su-25 and Yak-130 land attack aircraft at the Brestsky training ground in Belarus as part of their bilateral exercise (known in the western press as Allied Resolve and by Russia as Union Courage). Significantly, the Russian Defense Ministry stated that the plane cooperated with a ground force, including airborne units, artillery fire and army airstrikes. In addition, the Department of Defense pointed out that aerial reconnaissance from an unmanned aerial vehicle was used to generate the targets for the fighter-bomber aircraft.
  • used in Russia a squadron of Su-25SM aircraft as part of Allied Resolve to the Brest region of Belarus. The Su-25 (called Frogfoot by NATO) is a ground-attack aircraft roughly equivalent to the US Air Force‘s A-10 Warthog. The “SM” variant of the aircraft includes improved precision attack and self-defense capabilities. Combined with the exercise announced on February 3, this mission becomes clear signals that support for ground operations will be a key focus of a possible further invasion of Ukraine.
  • On February 6, Russia released a video of two Tu-22M3 Bombers (which NATO calls backfires) over Ukraine. the M3 variant is the most modern variant of the long-range, nuclear-capable supersonic bomber and can fire up to eight cruise missiles per aircraft (the Tu-22 is roughly equivalent to the US B-1 Lancer, although the B-1 is subsonic and is more strategic as a result of the first reduction treaty Weapons no longer nuclear capable). The announcement of this bomber patrol over Belarus is likely designed to both demonstrate Russia’s powerful bomber capabilities and present an implied threat of possible nuclear retaliation in a potentially expanded Ukraine conflict with US and NATO forces.

air defense: Russia has set up an “Anti-Access/Area Denial” (A2/AD) “bubble” on the border with Ukraine to help Russia gain air sovereignty over Ukraine and Ukrainian airspace from US and other NATO aircraft to refuse.

  • On February 4, the Russian Ministry of Defense announced the deployment of an S-400 division to the training ground near Brest, Belarus. the S-400 is Russia’s most advanced operational long-range surface-to-air missile (SAM) system with a maximum range of 250 kilometers. (While there is an S-400 missile that can engage targets up to 400 kilometers away, this missile is currently not considered operational.) These battalions will supply ground forces and airfields in Belarus, help cover the advance of an invading force from Belarus and attack Ukrainian aircraft operating over the capital Kiev or along the Ukraine-Belarus border. These SAM systems are deadly for large, non-manoeuvrable targets such as intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) and cargo aircraft, as well as fast-moving, highly maneuverable fighter aircraft. These systems will Help Russia gain air superiority over the Ukrainian Air Force within days the beginning of another invasion and will Displace US and allied ISR and cargo supply aircraft from Ukrainian airspace in case of conflict.

The Ukrainian reaction

Terrain/ Logistics: On February 1, President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy announced an increase the size of Ukraine’s military by 100,000 troops over the next three years (a 40 percent increase from Ukraine’s 250,000 troops today).

  • This announcement will likely lead to one increased Ukrainian demand for security cooperation between the US and NATOwhich would likely take the form of an increased need for military equipment and trainers.

Operations by the USA, allies and partners

On February 2nd, the This was announced by the US Department of Defense that the US Army will deploy 2,000 US troops to reinforce NATO countries. 300 employees of the XVIII. Airborne Corps deployed to Germany and 1,700 soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division to Poland. In addition, the US European Command (EUCOM) will dispatch one thousand Stryker cavalry soldiers from Germany to Romania. These additional ground forces are a signal of US commitment to NATO, but not enough to significantly influence Russia’s calculus whether to attack Ukraine. The Department of Defense reiterated that 8,500 troops remain on high alert (a five-day vs. ten-day deployment schedule). These units include battle formations, medical support, aviation support, and logistic support. the Units identified were XVIII Airborne Corps, 82nd Airborne Division, 101st Airborne Division and the 4th Infantry Division.

the US Air Force is alleged Sending four B-52 Stratofortresses as part of a Bomber Task Force mission to Royal Air Force Base Fairford, UK. The Bomber Task Force’s mission is well established and according to US-EUCOM“demonstrates the unique ability of the US Air Force to rapidly deploy to unfamiliar airfields and integrate with NATO allies and coalition partners.” Deployment at this time of heightened tensions is likely designed to signal United States resolve and demonstrate military might in view of continued Russian military build-up and belligerent statements.

NATO Air Command announced that there were Joint Terminal Attack Controllers (a ground operator who calls air strikes in communication with airborne platforms) from eleven NATO countries Conducting live training with aircraft flying from the aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman operating in the Mediterranean Sea as part of NATO exercise Neptune Strike ’22. Such training is critical and probable for conducting close air support for ground forces intended to signal to the Russians that they are not the only ones concentrating on air support for ground operations.

The conclusion of FD

Russia continues to build armed forces; high-quality military skills; Weapons of war such as intelligence, ISR, electronic warfare, mobile communications, and command and control vehicles; and combat conservation capabilities, including ammunition, vehicle maintenance, on-site medical facilities, blood supplies, and security guards.

Although Russia could launch an invasion at any time with almost no notice, it is likely to continue to build up forces and capabilities over the next few weeks. Russia is not expected to launch any large-scale offensive operations before the end of its announced exercise with Belarus on February 20. Check out our military rating card here.

Meet our military comrades

Today’s assessment is brought to you by US Air Force Lt. Col. Benjamin Johnson and Lt. Col. Tyson Wetzel. The Scowcroft Center Military Fellows Program, housed at Forward Defense Practice, annually hosts military fellows from participating branches of the US military and the armed forces of US allies and partners on a twelve-month fellowship program.

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Associated Experts:
Benjamin G Johnson and
Tyson Wetzel

PICTURED: A Russian service member is seen on a BMP-3 infantry fighting vehicle during exercises conducted by the Southern Military District Armed Forces in the Kadamovsky Mountains in the Rostov region, Russia, February 3, 2022. Photo by Sergey Pivovarov/REUTERS

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