As we said in previous SITREP, we didn’t think Russia would announce a full mobilization of its population in the Ukraine war, lacking the ability to readily equip, feed or even transport a million troops to the front. Russian President Putin gave a speech yesterday where he announced that, “I have already issued instructions for the Government and the Defence Ministry to determine the legal status of volunteers and personnel of the military units of the Donetsk and Lugansk people’s republics. It must be the same as the status of military professionals of the Russian army, including material, medical and social benefits. Special attention must be given to organising the supply of military and other equipment for volunteer units and Donbass people’s militia.”
This mobilization will be approximately 300,000 reservists of Russian army. Western media jumped all over the story with some predicting it will widen and prolong the war as 300,000 fresh troops are sent to Ukraine. We think they missed something important that Putin also said in his address to the nation,
“..we are talking about partial mobilisation. In other words, only military reservists, primarily those who served in the armed forces and have specific military occupational specialties and corresponding experience, will be called up.”
What stands out here is they are only wanting those with specific “military occupational specialties.” Russia is not calling up everyone to go fight in Ukraine. You have to remember that in just about every army in the world, combat soldiers only make up about 10% of the strength of an army. They are the tip of the spear, the shaft is made up of various support troops who back the combat elements in the fight.
So what “occupational specialties” is he talking about? In previous SITREPs we’ve talked about the large number of broken vehicles that Ukraine seems to be finding all over the place, in repair “depots” that look like anything but an organized effort to fix them and get them back into the fight. When Russia invaded Ukraine, they did so with units that were only about 60% of their full strength. Their armored fighting vehicles went into battle with the core crew of a commander, driver, and gunner but they did not have the 7-8 infantry soldiers inside that are what make mechanized infantry, well….mechanized. They lost hundreds of these vehicles to small units of Ukrainian soldiers hitting them with ATGMs and other anti-vehicle weapons. Lacking infantry that could dismount the fighting vehicle to engage these small teams, their only choice was to run while firing blindly. Assuming they were not killed by a Javelin on the first shot. Which is a lot to hope for actually.
As loses mounted we think the Russians took to creating new crews out of their maintenance and support personnel and putting them into fresh vehicles(fresh as in not shot full of holes yet). They then lost these guys as well in the following months of the war.
So beyond the infantry losses among conscripts and militias, Russia also lost thousands of mechanics, gunners, armorers, and other technicians who make an army function in the fight. We think this is why we are seeing so many fields of broken and unrepaired vehicles being captured by Ukraine.
The other area where the Russian army is severely lacking is in logistics and supply capabilities. In the seven months of war that have passed, Russia’s supply problems have not gotten better, they seem to have gotten worse. Russia does things the old-fashioned way.
The US military developed a Palletized Load System in the early 1990s to supply itself in the field. Oshkosh even developed special trucks for this system that can load and offload pre-packed containers for troops in the field. It has a lot of advantages over the old system of hand-loading vehicles. First, it’s faster because the carrier just unloads the pallet which is unloaded by the troops rather than having to wait while the truck itself is unloaded. When the carrier returns with a full pallet it can load empty pallets to take back to be reloaded. The containers also are useful as shelters for the troops and to keep their supplies dry and out of the elements.
Second, at the depot, it requires fewer hands because the pallets are pre-packed in many cases back in the states with various load-out configurations depending on the type of unit being supplied.
By contrast, the Russian army still loads trucks by hand. In the image above, you see a Russian army supply truck loaded with about 50, 122mm rockets for their GRAD launcher. They were loaded onto the truck with a forklift. When they arrive at the front, they will have to be unloaded by hand unless that artillery unit also has a forklift.
Wanna bet they don’t?
As a result, troops on the ground will have to make some 50 trips back and forth to unload this truck which may take an hour before it can turn around and go back for more.
Here is what a Russian army supply depot can look like.
Piles of ammunition all stacked by hand out in the open, exposed to the elements like rain, snow, and mud. It takes hundreds of people to move and stack all this stuff.
We think a significant number of the 300,000 troops being called up will be working in supply and logistics just loading and unloading trains and trucks full of supplies. Adding more people to the Ukraine front will greatly increase the supply burdens they are already failing badly at.
We also don’t think will be able to call up the full 300,000. In their system, the reservist has to be served individually with a call-up order. We are seeing Russians flee the country for Turkey by car, train and plane. We expect Russia to take steps to prevent Russians on the call up lists from leaving the country. Many will split to go live with relatives to avoid being served with papers as well. To this may be added a thriving market in bribing doctors to give young Russian males bogus medical exemptions from military service.
Russians subject to this call-up probably noticed the part about being given the same pay and benefits as soldiers counted as “Professionals.” These soldiers are serving under a contracted term of up to five years, unlike conscripts who serve only a year. There are also 6-month contracts for some enlistees. There is little doubt in our minds that those called up will be staying in the army for the duration of this war.
We expect that Russia will only be able to raise about half of the 300,000 they are trying to call up for the reasons stated above. Even though they are not likely to serve in combat given the kind of skills Russa seems to be short of, winter is coming, the conditions of service will be harsh and the war in Ukraine is proving unpopular among the Russian population itself.