This is south of Kharkiv, in the Donbas region out east. I count five self-propelled artillery vehicles. two armored personnel carriers, likely for security once deployed. Two command and control vehicles, likely fire direction. Two jeep-like vehicles, were officers likely ride. Three fuel trucks (take those out, and the whole battery grinds to a halt). Two vehicles are either recovery (to pull stuff out of mud), or ammunition autoloaders. And 22 supply trucks to carry ammo, spare parts, food, and other supplies.
So that’s 33 vehicles supporting five artillery cannons. That’s why logistics are so hard. Like I keep saying, only a minority of combat forces deployed actually shoot anything. Everyone else is supporting the shooters (infantry, armor, and artillery). And if you take out that supporting cast, the combat arms guys can’t move, can’t shoot, can’t eat, and are stuck in the mud.
In that artillery battery, only 13% of resources are actually focused on combat. The rest are support. Now let’s look at a Russian Battalion Tactical Group.
According to the Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu, as of August 2021 Russia had about 170 BTGs. Each BTG has approximately 600–800 officers and soldiers, of whom roughly 200 are infantrymen, equipped with vehicles typically including roughly 10 tanks and 40 infantry fighting vehicles [...]
That’s 200 actual fighting men, out of 600 to 800 soldiers: just one-fourth to one-third of the total unit. But it’s even worse than that, according to this excellent U.S. Army report on Russian operations in Ukraine:
According to Russian Army manuals, in the field as many as 50 percent of infantry soldiers can be required for local security and routine administrative tasks.
So of 200 infantry, half of those are tasked with local security. Thus, once again, we’re between 12-15% of all soldiers actually doing the fighting, the rest in support. Meanwhile, “The supporting units consisted primarily of lower-quality conscript soldiers. This distinction is important: conscripts must be supervised continuously for even the simplest of tasks and are rarely used in combat.”
Ukraine is a country of 40 million. Even today, after massive refugee flows to the west, Kyiv still has 1.9 million residents left (from 2.9 million pre-war). Besieged Mariupol had 446,000 before the war. Kharkiv, 1.4 million. Russia’s invading force of 190,000 seems like a big number at first blush, but in the context of Ukraine’s size and population, it was woefully inadequate.
Now consider how few of those troops actually fight, and that number is shockingly small. Using that 15% ratio, Russia only has around 28,000 combat troops. No wonder they can’t take anything of note! Suddenly, 5,000 to 12,000 dead Russians (depending on whether you believe U.S. or Ukrainian numbers) seems exceptionally high, doesn’t it, given that combat deaths will be disproportionately borne by infantry and armor troops.
Now take ~28,000 combat troops, or whatever’s left of them, and spread them out over four major axes (~7,000 each), and then through more than a dozen separate advances in those axes. Again, it’s no wonder they’re stuck everywhere, to the point that 15,000 freezing Syrians would have little practical effect. But wait, there’s more! From that U.S. Army report linked above:
A U.S. BCT fields 600 riflemen and 250 armored fighting vehicles compared to 200 and 50 in a Russian BTG. Thus, to destroy a BCT requires destruction of 180 and 75, whereas destruction of 60 and 15 will force a BTG to withdraw and reconstitute.
A brigade combat team (BCT) is the U.S. Army’s basic maneuver unit. That is, the smallest deployable unit able to stand on its own (with intelligence, artillery, support, and other assets). Russia is organized around the much smaller BTG, which is what we see in Ukraine. Problem is, as that report states, it doesn’t take a lot of casualties to knock a BTG out of commission.
At the start of the war, Russia had 120 BTGs around Ukraine. Two days ago, the Ukrainian General Staff claimed it had damaged or destroyed 31 Russian BTGs, which seems reasonable, given you only need to kill or incapacitate 60 soldiers or 15 vehicles to force its withdrawal. So while it may be true, as the Pentagon announced today, that Russia still has a little less than 90% of its forces available, that is far less impressive if it has lost a quarter of its initial BTGs. And sure, the remnants will reconstitute, but they will necessarily be of lower quality—troops who have never trained together, with leadership they don’t know or trust, and backfilled with new recruits, foreign fighters, or even greener conscripts.
What Russia has, and plenty of it, is artillery, and it’ll continue flattening cities to rubble. But there’s a reason that attempted efforts to take Kyiv, Chernihiv, Kharkiv, Mariupol, Sumi, Mykolayiv, and many others have stalled. Russia may yet starve some of these cities into submission, but that takes time Russia doesn’t have, while Russians back home starve of McDonald's and Coke and more critical staples, oligarchs lose their precious yachts, and troops in the field starve with empty rifles.