Retex: The Ukrainian war demonstrates our lack of “mass”: Lines of defense

The Ukrainian war is a long-awaited source of information about the Russian army; offers something to delight all Western intelligence specialists about the proven capabilities of the “colossal” forces inherited from the Red Army.

But this conventional interstate conflict also turns out to be a good way to confirm recent hypotheses about so-called high-intensity combat. The challenge for the French army, as set out by the Chief of the Defense Staff, General Burkhard, is to be “prepared for the confrontation if necessary” and to accept great commitments in the face of equal adversaries, if no bigger, caliber than ours.

Hence the careful observation of the course of operations in Ukraine and, for example, the heavy use of drones and cyber media. Hence a reflection on the vulnerability of command posts to electromagnetic guidance and on the problem of logistics due to massive human and material commitments as in Ukraine, “we face exceptional volumes for commission and support,” he explains. a French officer of the Doctrine of Command. and Education Center (CDEC).

The CDEC, created in 2016 and responsible for prospective studies, has set up an observatory on the Ukrainian war. In this context, it works with the Joint Center for Concepts, Doctrines and Experiments (CICDE), which also carries out operational forecasting work and produces joint feedback on operational experience. These two structures collaborate with the Earth Intelligence Center (CRT) which collects and uses information obtained from open sources or classified sources.

The Armed Forces General Staff should be left with no less than “several cells”, including one that combines the Directorate of Military Intelligence and the Center for Planning and Conducting Operations (CPCO).

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All this small world of intelligence seeks to confirm the French hypotheses about the realization of the great clashes planned by the armed forces, having already integrated the impact of cyber and electronic warfare, the role of drones, the problem of logistics and both human and material loss. These hypotheses and our answers must be tested in 2023 during the divisional exercise Orion (Orion for “Large-scale operation for resilient, interoperable, high-intensity, and innovative armies”).

The CDEC observatory has already identified “some thirty great lessons” showing, among other things, that “the final decision remains on the ground”, regardless of the importance of the 3rd dimension and air superiority).

All in all, the French soldiers remain quite discreet about the lessons already learned from this conflict because they may well point out our own weaknesses and our inadequacies. It is no secret, however, that French forces would have a hard time withstanding a large conventional shock of comparable intensity to that of Ukraine, with rampant attrition of men and equipment. If the Ukrainians are to be believed, the Russians have already lost, among other things, 145 helicopters, that is, the number of French fighter helicopters, 163 aircraft, that is, almost the number of Rafa of the Air Force and Navy, 762 tanks, that is, three tanks Leclerc French, 371 guns is the equivalent of our artillery fleet …

It is clear that in order to withstand a shock of this magnitude, even of short duration, the French forces would need more “mass”, either of the type of operational mass, effectively available and deployable in the space-time necessary to force the decision on the battlefield, either of the type of gross mass or of mass “in power,” which constitutes the total reservoir of forces from which the operative force is generated.

Scrutinizing the development of war in Ukraine can only lead to a painful realization of the tricolor military fragility. “We are still a little tender and a little innocent about what high intensity represents,” said a French soldier soberly. In the eyes of some others, it would certainly be better, as General Burkhard says, “to win the war before the war.” Hence the importance of making people known and good communication.

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