Civilian trucks on a Russian train heading for Ukraine.
TikTok capture via Twitter-user @raging545
The Russian army never had enough trucks to sustain a fast-moving invasion force in Ukraine.
The problem has gotten a whole worse. As the wider war in Ukraine enters its fourth week, the Ukrainian army and sister services have destroyed no fewer than 485 Russian trucks.
That’s more than a tenth of the trucks that belong to the Russian army’s 10 “material-technical support” brigades, which haul supplies, ammo and fresh troops from rail-heads to front-line formations.
A shortage of trucks, growing ever more severe as the Ukrainians knock out more and more of the vehicles, was evident in the first 10 days of the invasion as Russia began transporting civilian vehicles into the war zone, probably in an effort to make up for losses of military trucks.
Now those civilian trucks are beginning to appear near the front lines, where they are big, slow targets for Ukrainian troops—and potential liabilities for battalions’ motor pools.
The Russian army was never designed for operations very far from Russia’s land borders. Ukraine shares a border with Russia, of course, but Ukraine is a big country. Russian troops have penetrated no deeper than 50 or 60 miles into Ukraine while aiming for Kyiv in the north and Mykolaiv in the south, but even that seems to be too far for the Kremlin’s fragile logistical system.
The Russian offensive has stalled out in recent days, giving the Ukrainian army the opportunity both to mobilize reserves and launch counteroffensives around Kyiv and other cities.
Catastrophic losses in tanks, fighting vehicles and their crews in vanguard units explains the faltering Russian campaign, but a deepening truck shortage is likely a factor, too.
Consider that, since the war widened on the night of Feb. 23, the Ukrainians claim they’ve destroyed nearly 700 Russian trucks. Independent observers have confirmed 485 of those claims. The actual total of wrecked trucks likely lies between those two figures.
A civilian truck hauling Russian troops in Ukraine.
Photo via Twitter-user @Osintcollection
Whether the tally of destroyed supply vehicles is 500, 600 or 700, it’s a big blow to the Russian army. A material-technical support brigade has only around 400 trucks, and the entire army has only 10 of these brigades.
Other support units come with their own vehicles, but the support brigades are the backbone of the front-line logistical effort and their trucks both matter most and are most vulnerable to attack.
Any way you slice it, the Ukrainian artillery gunners, missileers and TB2 drone operators probably have eliminated 10 percent of the Russians’ battlefield supply assets while likely damaging or otherwise suppressing—by killing, wounding or capturing crews or fragmenting units—much more.
Embattled Russian logistics troops are spooked. “Reluctance to maneuver cross-country, lack of control of the air and limited bridging capabilities are preventing Russia from effectively resupplying their forward troops with even basic essentials such as food and fuel,” the U.K. Defense Intelligence Agency reported on Thursday.
A desperate attempt to make good losses by commandeering civilian trucks could cause as many new problems as it seems to solve old ones. There’s a reason armies buy custom-made trucks rather than simply painting civilian models brown or green.
A military truck is tougher than a civilian truck, features more redundancy and may even come with armor to protect its crew and passengers. Military trucks tend to burn diesel rather than gas like some civie trucks do. Militaries buy the same models of truck in huge numbers in order to simplify support and repair.
You can’t swap, say, a civilian Ural-375D for a military Ural-4320 and expect the same performance in the brutal conditions of a mechanized war. Likewise, swapping in a mixed bag of random civie vehicles for a single-model military fleet hands you a whole new set of maintenance problems.
But that’s exactly what Russia has been doing, if videos from the war zone are any indication.
It’s a self-defeating act of desperation by an army that, even if it isn’t actually losing the war, at least is no longer winning it.
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