The Ongoing Ukrainian Offensives
A Steady, if not Rapid, Progression
The Ukrainian 2023 offensives are approaching the one-month mark since Ukrainian combat forces crossed their various lines of departure across the south and east of the country.
Up front, it is worth discussing the tempo of current Ukrainian operations. To do so requires an understanding of tempo in the conduct of military operations. In my book, War Transformed, I discussed how understanding the concept of tempo was probably more important than discussing speed:
Understanding and being able to control tempo—the relative speed and rhythm of military operations over time compared to an adversary—is vital. It is an important consideration in the command and control of military activities. It includes not only the frequency of operational activities but also the appropriate sequencing of operations and the capacity to transition between activities at the right speed. It also includes the ability to learn and adapt at a speed relatively faster than an adversary.
Some journalists have described how the Ukrainian offensives so far having been progressing slowly. President Zelensky has also noted in June that the Ukrainian operations have been "slower than desired”. I don’t have a strong view on whether the use of the term ‘slow’ is good or bad. But I don’t think it is a very relevant term given that when it is used, the term is generally being used as an absolute rather than comparative term.
If the Ukrainian offensives are ‘slow’, what are they slower than? If they are slower than expected, how were those expectations developed?
Because of this, the use of the term tempo is probably more appropriate. This is because it is relative construct. Every part of war is relative; how are friendly forces going compared to the enemy. Applying the concept of tempo allows for better judgements about progress in a campaign or operation. It permits friendly commanders to make crucial decisions about actions that might getting inside the decision cycle of their adversaries.
Finally, the tempo construct also informs judgements about who holds the initiative and what forces might have culminated.
Moving beyond the ‘speed versus tempo’ discussion, I also wish to explore the larger themes that have become apparent since the beginning of the Ukrainian offensives in June. To that end, I believe that there are three broad themes that are apparent at the (almost) one month mark of the Ukrainian 2023 offensives. These are:
1. The Ukrainians Have Confirmed Their Broad Front Approach.
2. A Different Deep-Close-Rear Battle.
3. The Russians Are Holding, But May Be Brittle Underneath.
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