The conflict in Ukraine looks more like a 20th century war than the hybrid war that many predicted, but new technologies change everything
An armored unit on the road from kyiv to Irpin is proof that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine could forever change the way war is waged. Four armored vehicles and two Russian T-72 tanks have been reduced to scrap, and it is almost impossible to identify what remains of the soldiers who traveled inside as human bodies. Of course, the blackened forearm of one of them appears several meters from the armored vehicle, blackened but with his thumb up in a gesture as unexpected as it is ironic. A Ukrainian military downplays it: «Food for dogs», sarcastic sentence.
A sergeant walks over to inspect the press card and answers a key question: a drone or anti-tank javelins? “Javelin,” he proudly says, referring to the anti-tank missiles that are giving the Ukrainian military a substantial advantage over antiquated Russian tanks and are mostly provided by European powers. “It is likely that the tank fell into an ambush with a profusion of weapons against the car,” he analyzes after seeing the images provided by this journalist, a senior Spanish army officer who speaks on condition of anonymity.
But it is the drones, many of them Turkish, that are really making up for the great shortcomings of the Ukrainian army against the Russian power in this invasion, which is much more like the conflicts of the 20th century than the hybrid war that many predicted. Given the very limited use of military aviation, these unmanned aircraft have become a key piece for destroying tanks, and a good example of this is all those that have been scattered around the towns around kyiv, opened up in channels or with the turret separated from the body.
Although drones had already made their appearance in the US invasion of Afghanistan, they now mark a turning point in the fighting between two countries with more equal forces. However, the Spanish officer maintains that they do not make tanks obsolete pieces of war. “It is like saying that digitization makes cars obsolescent. Well no. Tanks give units mobility in their maneuver actions. They provide a combination of protection, firepower and mobility,” he explains.
The military emphasizes that the Ukrainian strategy “is valid for a defensive attitude, in which, using cities as strong points and with a strong organization of the terrain, small mobile units with drones, anti-tank weapons and very good information, they lay ambushes effective”. But, if the Ukrainians want to carry out counter-attack actions, they also need battleships. And, not in vain, they are also seen here and there, hidden in the woods or under a green tarp next to the Army checkpoints.
“Maneuvering is the great art of war, because it is much wiser to defeat the enemy by dislocating him than by destroying him, which also wears him out more,” analyzes the Spanish soldier, who still sees tanks as an indispensable piece of that strategy. “However, it is clear that the drone has radically transformed the battle space, because the armored and mechanized means, based on local air superiority, could move with a certain freedom. But the drone introduces a tremendous factor of uncertainty and vulnerability in these environments, even when air superiority is not available. For this reason, there is a need for a profound rethinking of tactics, techniques and procedures so that armored units can face this new threat”, he concludes, emphasizing that what was seen in the war in Ukraine will lead to the development of new technologies so that tanks become more effective again. Of course, for Russia, it is too late.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.