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[Reflection] Another lesson from the conflict in Ukraine for European armies

(B2) Among the lessons learned from the conflict (artillery, drones, mass effect, etc.), few dwell on the organization of armies. However, this is a point which also explains the strong Ukrainian resistance to the Russian armada.

Demonstration of the use of a tactical drone (Photo: MOD Ukraine)

Largely decentralized logistics

As far as we can tell, the functioning of the Ukrainian forces is rather decentralized. The logistics of a unit of the Ukrainian Armed Forces are partly provided on the ground by the provincial governors (or municipalities). They are the ones who provide the necessary “life” logistics: accommodation, food, even healthcare services. This allows the army to have a rather light central operation, concentrated on operational command. Unlike the Russian device, heavier, less mobile, more centralized.

A logic of partisan movement

The Ukrainian organization associates on the one hand a logic of centralized army, with a top-down command, and a logic of the war of partisans resulting from the Second world war, with a large autonomy of the forces on the spot. A tactic that also comes from a more recent history. At the start of the war in 2014, the lack of organization of the Ukrainian army in the face of separatist and Russian troops led to the creation of volunteer battalions. Battalions — supported by the population who supplied them, sent them clothes, or bought them equipment (1).

Maintenance and technology entrusted to civilians

Ditto on the side of maintenance or technological innovation. Civil structures are used. Hundreds of workshops have sprung up across the country to transform drones with the help of volunteers (2). The primary maintenance of French Caesar guns — what the military calls "the Field MCO — is thus ensured by agricultural enterprises. " Because when we do agricultural hydraulics, we can do Caesar maintenance as confirmed to B2 by a French military official.

Human intelligence drawn from the population

As for intelligence, while it has modern drone-type sensors, satellite intelligence and analysis provided by the NATO Allies, it also draws its resources from an old-fashioned system: the "babas" network. , these harmless grandmothers or grandpas, who can inform the Ukrainian army about all the movements. A technique inherited again from the history of Ukraine.

Fairly undervalued

All these lessons are often not highlighted by the staffs, at least publicly. The recent report of the Senate on the lessons to be learned from the conflict in Ukraine (3), bears witness to this. Documented, but disappointing in its approach, it focuses its analysis on a few fairly conformist points: high intensity, mass effect, nuclear deterrence, drones, etc. A point of view more intended, it seems, to justify the inflections already taken in the staffs than to really envisage the future.

(Nicolas Gros-Verheyde)

  1. Alain Guillemoles, “Ukraine, awakening of a Nation”, editions Les Petits matins, February 2015, p. 107.
  2. Boris Mabillard, “With the dronists of the elite Skala unit”, Le Point, February 16, 2023. (video)
  3. « Ukraine: a year of war. What lessons for France », February 8, 2023, Cédric Perrin and Jean-Marc Todeschini (the latter having decided to withdraw from the report, in disagreement with his co-rapporteur).

Nicolas Gros Verheyde

Chief editor of the B2 site. Graduated in European law from the University of Paris I Pantheon Sorbonne and listener to the 65th session of the IHEDN (Institut des Hautes Etudes de la Défense Nationale. Journalist since 1989, founded B2 - Bruxelles2 in 2008. EU/NATO correspondent in Brussels for Sud-Ouest (previously West-France and France-Soir).