Threatening ground fighting is a crucial phase in Ukraine, US officials say

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RAMSTEIN AIRBASE, Germany – US military officials estimate that a crucial and perhaps crucial phase of the Ukraine war is taking shape in the eastern part of the country, where Russian troops can surround Ukrainian forces in hopes of hitting them in an epic, long-range earth struggle reminiscent of the last century.

New US shipments of heavy artillery and counter-artillery radar, tactical drones, armored vehicles and other equipment are being rushed to Ukraine before tens of thousands of troops, equivalent to up to half of the Ukrainian army, are trapped in what is known as a “double wrap” maneuver that would bring them under simultaneous attack from two sides.

The Ukrainians are located in a north-south crescent between deep Russian lines in the southeast Donbas region and a potential seaweed movement to the west.

Russian success in the southern port city of Mariupol, where its forces have been battling Ukrainian resistance for weeks, would free up thousands of Moscow troops to head north and potentially meet with additional Russian forces heading south from the area around Kharkiv, in the country’s northeast.

“I think it’s accurate that the next few weeks will be very, very critical … of the outcome of this battle that is taking shape,” said Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairs, General Mark A Milley, who met here on Monday with American European commanders.

In Mariupol, echo of history, complete destruction and a final standpoint

It is expected that the match will be fought at a distance. The Russians use less armor than before, without the blitz that characterized some of their earlier incursions into Ukraine, and return to their more traditional doctrine of using artillery and other long-range fire.

Their front line in the Donbas is heavily fortified with ground-to-air missiles that, from a Western perspective, underscore the belief that supplying the Ukrainians with more manned, fixed-wing aircraft would not improve their prospects – despite their calls for aircraft.

Where the front line of Russian forces ends after what is expected to be a grueling battle that lasts weeks, if not months, will largely determine the West’s future position of strength in Europe. If the Ukrainians could not hold their positions – let alone push the Russians back – there would be little to prevent Russian forces from once again turning their full attention to the central parts of the country and perhaps beyond.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has initially stated that he plans to control most or all of Ukraine, and has reformulated his public goal of claiming the East. But Western officials are still unsure of his ultimate goal or any time limit he has set for it.

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On Tuesday, Milley will join a gathering of military leaders from more than 40 NATO and non-NATO countries, hosting Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin at Ramstein Base, to discuss what Pentagon spokesman John Kirby called “both the current and future defense needs of Ukraine. “

In assessing the impending blow, several of the U.S. military officials who spoke on condition of anonymity under rules laid down by the Department of Defense offered assessments of the opposing forces.

“The weight is on the Russian side,” said an official, with a “willingness to throw solder and units into the fight. They have the numbers. What the Ukrainians have is a very adaptive command style, adaptive tactics,” with field commanders in small units given far more decision-making power, “high morale and local knowledge.”

The Ukrainians, the official said, “clearly have a chance to fight.”

But that chance is largely seen as dependent on having the weapon they need to fight the kind of long-range combat they will face and whether it can reach them in time. One of the topics of discussion at Tuesday’s meeting here is expected to be how to avoid traffic jams as the pace and bulk of shipments increase, although it is the Ukrainians – who will also participate – who decide the mode of travel and routes once inside the Land. .

The $ 800 million package of weapons announced by the Biden administration last week includes 72,155 mm howitzers, the range of which, under certain circumstances, has tripled by Soviet-era 152 mm artillery currently in the Ukrainian arsenal. Trained artillery operators have been brought out of Ukraine in recent weeks to learn how to use the more advanced weapons, in classes reduced from the normal two weeks to an average of six days, U.S. military officials said.

The Haubits come with trucks to tow them and 144,000 artillery rounds. The package also contains 10 AN / TPQ-36 counter-artillery radars, which have the ability to detect and track incoming artillery and rocket fire to counter-attack it at its place of origin.

The United States also sends at least 121 Phoenix Ghost tactical unmanned aerial systems, armed drones that have both reconnaissance and attack capability. The newly developed aircraft also carries a larger payload and can fly longer than the extra Switchblade drone attack systems that are also in the package.

Although far greater, the Russian force the Ukrainians will face is seen as demoralized and depleted after its failed attempt at a quick victory after the invasion on 24 February. One question is what the Russians have learned from their poor performance in other parts of Ukraine, where an overestimation of their readiness and skills, and an underestimation of Ukrainian adaptability and perseverance, ruined their plans for a rapid takeover of the capital Kiev.

Russian units that withdrew several weeks ago from around Kiev and other areas were “in worse shape than the United States expected,” the military official said, leaving “a trail of equipment” that was either destroyed or out of order. operation and traveled through Belarus into Russia. Many were quickly relocated to the Donbas.

“The Russians are reconstituting themselves with poorly maintained and non-modernized equipment,” the official said. “Some tanks have a driver and no crew,” and a number of units are believed to be understaffed, some down to 70 percent strength. Western military doctrine generally claims that a unit that is down by 10 percent is in poor shape, while a unit that is depleted by 30 percent is no longer considered combat effective.

Despite the number of long-range weapons they have fired, the Russians’ targeting has been less than optimal. “We are shocked when we miss something,” said another U.S. military official. The Russians “are not shocked.”

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