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Ukraine conflict: A lesson on the influence of logistics

With the war in Ukraine still being played out in all its raw brutality, it is perhaps premature to arrive at any meaningful conclusions about the conflict’s long-term impact on the global political stage.

Ukraine conflict - A lesson on the influence of logistics

As yet, the outcome is unclear and the consequences are unknown; it is likely to be many years before truths are uncovered that will provide some understanding of the ‘how’ and the ‘why’ behind the devastating events that continue to unfold in front of us.

From a purely military perspective, however, there are a number of apparent lessons from these first few months of the war, and one of those is the role that logistics has to play in influencing the outcome of such combat situations.

Indeed, logistics have been a central thread throughout this conflict. Prior to the initial invasion of Ukraine on February 24, media reports focused on the estimated 190,000 troops that Russia had amassed at the border, all of whom required transportation, food supplies, medical equipment and all the associated infrastructure needed to sustain operational activity.

Beyond the personnel themselves, the logistical demands also had to encompass the coordinated maneuvering of fleets of armored vehicles alongside the artillery equipment and ammunition that has relentlessly been unleashed on Ukrainian targets.

Observers have commented on the scale of this logistical challenge for Russia, and the fact that the task was further exacerbated by freezing conditions and difficult terrain. As the conflict transitioned – against expectation – into an extended ground war, analysts have concluded that the additional strain this placed on logistics has been one of the main factors behind Russia refocusing military activity to the south and east.

Why the Russian military is bogged down by logistics in Ukraine?

Logistical challenges are not exclusive to Russia, however. In a recent update on the force developments surrounding Ukraine, the Forward Defense (FD) practice within the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security suggested that “the race to resupply troops at the frontlines remains the linchpin for military success on both sides”.

In the case of Ukraine, the Scowcroft Center points out that the focus is on maintaining logistics lines and moving ground-based fires forward, including “long-range artillery, MLRS (Multiple Launch Rocket Systems), and unmanned aerial systems”. It is an objective likely to place a high level of demand on the logistical capabilities of Ukraine and its supporters in NATO.

The NATO Think tank for Information Decision and Execution Superiority (TIDE) Sprint is a bi-annual event that forms an important part of the organization’s ongoing work to explore answers to such logistical and interoperability challenges.

At the most recent edition, held in Sopot, Poland, Brigadier General Poul Primdahl, Assistant Chief of Staff for Requirements at NATO Headquarters Supreme Allied Commander Transformation, said in his welcome remarks that “the capabilities, standards, and solutions discussed this week will ensure that those who deploy in the future to protect the Alliance – such as the NATO Response Force – can do so with greater confidence.”

As a member of the industrial component of the NATO TIDE SPRINT since 2016, A-ICE is committed to these ambitions, and products such as our Collaborative Logistics Optimization System (CLOS), have been designed with the principles of intelligent, interoperable military planning in mind.

In the context of any conflict, it is also important not to forget the role of logistics in relation to the needs of the affected population. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and Humanitarian Data Exchange dashboard puts the number of refugee arrivals from Ukraine at 7.5 million. As this number continues to grow, there will be ever greater demands in terms of the transportation of services and supplies to support their plight.

So, while it remains unclear how long war will continue to be waged on Ukrainian soil, it is clear that logistical challenges will continue to be an instrumental factor in both the humanitarian effort as well as military operations on the ground.

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