Invasion of Ukraine : Analysis By Former US Army Paratrooper David Fivecoat
Combat Situation In Ukraine This article provides insight into the size and composition of Ukrainian defense forces, updates the Battle Damage Assessment on both sides of the conflict from the Oryx website, and provides an assessment on the impact on both the Russian and Ukrainian forces. It also provides context on the Russian Invasion with some facts from United States military’s experience in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Operation Iraqi Freedom Context
As I continue to watch the invasion of Ukraine unfold, I have found it helpful to use the invasion of Iraq in 2003 (the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF)) to provide some context. I participated in the invasion of Iraq as part of the 101st Airborne Division.
For the coalition:
Approximately 148,000 soldiers and Marines from the United States, 45,000 British soldiers, 2,000 Australian soldiers, and 194 Polish soldiers participated in the invasion of Iraq. All-in-all, about 195,194 soldiers and Marines attacked Iraq. Based on my rough calculations, there were approximately 73 Battalion Tactical Group (or BTG — more on the BTGs below) equivalents in the coalition forces that fought during the invasion of Iraq.
On the Iraqi side:
The Iraqi Army had approximately 300,000 soldiers, the Republican Guard 70,000 soldiers, in addition, the paramilitary organization Fedayeen Saddam had 44,000 soldiers. All-in-all, it was about 414,000 soldiers defending Iraq, a country about 66% of the size of the state of Texas. Based on my rough math, there were 156 BTG equivalents from southern Iraq to Baghdad. There were an additional 132 BTGs in northern Iraq.
The driving distance between Kuwait City and Baghdad is 424 miles (683 kilometers). Some of you may remember that the original OIF plan had the coalition forces surrounding (not seizing) Baghdad at D+45 (45 days after the start of the invasion. The plan for OIF used a planning figure for the coalition to seize 10 miles of Iraq per day.) The plan also expected another 90 days (D+135) to seize Baghdad and remove the regime. Furthermore, the plan for OIF expected the Iraqi military to delay and disrupt our attack or to fight more like what we are seeing the Ukrainian forces do. As you know, the Iraqis did not fight like the coalition expected — it took from March 20 to April 10, 2003, or 18 days (D+18), to seize Baghdad.
Ukraine is approximately the size of the state of Texas. The driving distance between Troebortnoe, Russia (closest town to the Ukrainian-Russian border) and Kyiv is 211 miles (340 kilometers). From Kyiv to Gomel, Belarus is 157 miles (254 kilometers). From either location using the planning figure from OIF (advancing 10 miles per day), would put the Russian forces at the outskirts of Kyiv either now (from Belarus) or in another 6 days (March 17). As of late yesterday, Russian forces were 9 miles from the city center of Kyiv.
As part of the invasion of Iraq, the United States launched 100 Air Launched Cruise Missiles and 500 Sea Launched cruise missiles. And as of March 9th in Ukraine, Russia has launched 710 missiles against Ukrainian targets. We will continue to see Russia use missiles against Ukraine as long as there is contested airspace.
Updated Russian Invasion Force Information
A Battalion Tactical Group, or BTG, is the primary combined-arms maneuver used by the Russian Army. In NATO militaries, this grouping would be called a Task Force. A typical BTG is comprised of one tank company, three infantry companies, one Anti-Tank (AT) missile company, one engineer company, two field artillery batteries, and one Surface to Air Missile (SAM) Battery. Each BTG has approximately 600 soldiers assigned to it.
BTGs formed the mainstay of Russia’s military intervention in Ukraine from 2013–2015 and now in 2022. In other words, the BTGs are the “tip of the spear” for the conventional Russian military. As of August 2021, Russia had approximately 170 BTGs scattered across the country.
The total vehicles in a Prototypical BTG are 10x T-72 tanks, 33x BMPs (Infantry Armored Personnel Carriers), 4x Shturm-S ATGM Carrier (Anti-Tank Missiles), 3x BAT-2s and 2x IMR-2s (Engineer Vehicles), 6 x 152 mm 2S19 Msta (Field Artillery), 6x BM-21 122mm MLRS (Field Artillery), 6x Pantsir-S1 Surface-to-Air Missiles, and 7x MT-LB ACRV (Command and Control). The diagram below depicts the organizational structure of a typical BTG.
The order of battle tries to depict the hierarchical organization, command structure, strength, disposition of personnel, and disposition of equipment of military units participating in a military operation. Corporate types would recognize this as an org chart. Discussions with Jomini of the West (@jominiW on twitter) and Henry Schlottman (@HN_Schlottman on twitter) caused me to increase the number of BTGs in the Russian Invasion force to 94 BTGs. On February 24, a 94 BTG Russia invasion force would have had approximately:
- 940x T-72/80/90 Tanks
- 3,102x BMPs/BTRs (Armored Personnel Carriers — Infantry)
- 376x Shturm-S ATGM Carriers (Anti-Tank Missile Launchers)
- 282x BAT-2s and 188x IMR-2s (Engineer Vehicles)
- 564 x 152 mm 2S19 Msta (Field Artillery)
- 564x BM-21 122mm MLRS (Field Artillery)
- 564x Pantsir-S1 (Air Defense Artillery)
- 658x MT-LB ACRV (command and control)
There would also be about 56,400 troops in the BTG formations. The rest of the Russian invasion force (reported to be over 150,000+) is in the support forces. Here is Jomini of the West’s (@JominiW on Twitter) map of the Russian Invasion Plan.
Ukrainian Defense Forces
On the other side, Ukraine bases their army to fight as brigades (as does the United States Army). There are at least 17 Ukrainian brigades fighting in defense of their country — 2x Tank Brigades, 6x Motorized Brigades, and 9x Mechanized Brigades. This would be the equivalent of ~68 BTGs. Here is the organization chart of a typical Motorized Brigade:
All-in-all, the Ukrainian defensive forces would have approximately:
- 630x T-72/80/90 Tanks
- 2,215x BMPs/BTRs (Armored Personnel Carriers — Infantry)
- 306x 152 mm 2S19 Msta (Field Artillery)
- 306x BM-21 122mm MLRS (Field Artillery)
- 476x MT-LB ACRV (command and control)
There are an estimated 40,800 soldiers in the BTG equivalents and a total of 209,000 soldiers in the Ukrainian Army.
Here is Jomini of the West’s (@jominiW) map of the current situation in Ukraine:
Crowd Sourcing Battle Damage Assessment
The invasion of Ukraine began on February 24, 2022. Each day the conflict continues, both Russian and Ukraine forces lose vehicles from combat. These vehicles were destroyed, damaged, abandoned, or captured in battle. Battle Damage Assessment, or BDA, is “the estimate of damage composed of physical and functional damage assessment, as well as target system assessment, resulting from the application of lethal or nonlethal military force.”
In the old days, the Battalion or Brigade Intelligence Officer had to collect reports from helicopter pilots, Air Force pilots, forward observers, and ground forces who engaged the enemy. Based on these reports, the Intelligence Officer would make an assessment of how badly the enemy had been damaged from the actions of friendly forces.
Stijn Mitzer, along with Joost Oliemans, Kemal Janovsky, Dan Janovsky, and Jakub Janovsky, have taken this idea into the 21st Century. The five people are attempting to crowd source battle damage assessments in real-time from both the Russian and Ukraine armed forces during the invasion of Ukraine on The Oryx Website.
The team finds photos of destroyed, abandoned, and captured vehicles and then tries to count them based on the vehicle type. They also categorize them based on the vehicle being destroyed, abandoned, or captured. The team does its best to make sure that they are not counting the same vehicle twice and are updating it daily. Check it our yourself — the link to their regularly updated article is here.
Russian BDA (As of March 11, 2022 at 11:00 AM EST the Oryx Website)
Russian forces have lost:
- 184 Tanks (T-72s, 80s, and 90s — 64 destroyed, 2 damaged, 35 abandoned, and 83 captured)
- The Russians have lost 44 tanks since Monday, March 7 — an average of 11 per day
- 243 Armored Personnel Carriers (BMPs or BTRs — 65 destroyed, 35 abandoned, and 81 captured)
- The Russians have lost 62 BMPs/BTRs since Monday, March 7 — an average of 14 per day
- 2 Shtrum-S ATGM Carriers (1 destroyed and 1 abandoned)
- 36 Engineering Vehicles (including 1x BAT-2, 1x IMR-2)
- 72 Field Artillery pieces (including 13x 2S19 Mstas and 16x 122mm BM-21 Grads)
- 29 SAM Systems (including 4x Pantsir-S1s)
- 69 MT-LB (17 destroyed, 12 abandoned, and 34 captured)
The latest US estimates of Russian casualties are 4,750 soldiers killed. Remember casualties in war are killed, wounded, and captured. This would also imply that there are 25,000 Russian soldiers wounded or captured. (This figure uses the 1:5 killed to wounded ratio that the Soviet Union experienced in Afghanistan from 1979-1989.) I think this number might be a bit high but I can’t find any sources for the US estimates.
Ukrainian BDA (As of March 11, 2022 at 11:00 AM EST the Oryx Website)
I believe these numbers are low since the Russian forces are not using social media and it makes it difficult for the Oryx team to crowd source the data. However, it is a good start point. So far, according to Oryx,
Ukrainian forces have lost:
- 47 Tanks (T-64s and 80s — 16 destroyed, 10 abandoned, and 21 captured)
- 57 Armored Personnel Carriers (BMPs or BTRs — 65 destroyed, 35 abandoned, and 81 captured)
- 24 Field Artillery pieces (including 2x 2A65 Msta-B)
- 7 MT-LB (Command and Control)
Alternatively, a US spokesperson has estimated that the Ukrainian military has lost 10 percent of their forces. This would be the equivalent of 63 Tanks, 220 Armored Personal Carriers, 60 Field Artillery Pieces, and 47 MT-LBs.
Current US estimates of Ukrainian casualties are 3,000 soldiers killed. Remember casualties in war are killed, wounded, and captured. This would also imply that there are 15,000 Ukrainian soldiers wounded or captured. This uses the same ratio (1 killed to 5 wounded/captured) from the Soviet experience in Afghanistan and does not include civilian casualties.
Just counting damaged, destroyed, and captured vehicles is Basic BDA. Taking the raw numbers and then assessing the impact on the invasion force is Advanced BDA. Advanced BDA helps military leaders understand the context and make better decisions.
The military uses three categories to measure the impact on enemy units: suppressed, neutralized, or destroyed. As you would expect, each of these terms has a military definition. These terms use the US Army’s Field Artillery percentages for suppressed, neutralized, or destroyed.
- Suppress is a tactical mission task that results in temporary degradation of the performance of a force or weapons system below the level needed to accomplish its mission. It is the lowest level and typically equates to 3% of a friendly or enemy unit’s equipment being destroyed, damaged, abandoned, or captured.
- Neutralize is a tactical mission task that results in rendering enemy personnel or materiel incapable of interfering with a particular operation. It is in the middle and usually equates to 10% of a friendly or enemy unit’s equipment being destroyed, damaged, abandoned, or captured.
- Destroy is a tactical mission task that physically renders an enemy force combat-ineffective until it is reconstituted. It is the highest level and usually equals to 30% of a friendly or enemy unit’s equipment being destroyed, damaged, abandoned, or captured.
Russian Advanced BDA
Remember the order of battle of the invasion force? I will use the OoB numbers as our denominator, as I try to figure out if the Russians are suppressed (3%), neutralized (10%), or destroyed (30%) as part of the Advanced BDA process. This helps to provide context for the losses reported on the web. Based on the crowd-sourced losses on the Oryx website on March 11, 2022:
- 184 Losses out of an estimated 940x T-72/80/90s Tanks — 19.6% Losses (Neutralized)
- Average of 12x tanks damaged, destroyed, abandoned and captured per day of the conflict
- 243 Losses out of an estimated 3,102x BMPs/BTRs (Armored Personnel Carriers) — 7.8% Losses (Suppressed)
- Average of 16x BMPs/BTRs damaged, destroyed, abandoned and captured per day of the conflict
- 2 Losses out of an estimated 376x Shturm-S ATGM Carriers — .5% Losses (No impact)
- 36 Losses out of an estimated 282x BAT-2s and 188x IMR-2s (Engineer Vehicles) — 7.6% Losses (Suppressed)
- 72 Losses out of an estimated 564x 152 mm 2S19 Msta and 564x BM-21 122mm MLRS (Field Artillery) — 6.3% Losses (Suppressed)
- 29 Losses out of an estimated 564x Pantsir-S1 (SAMs) — 5.1% Losses (Suppressed)
- 69 MT-LB out of an estimated 658x MT-LB ACRV (Command and Control) — 10.4% Losses (Neutralized)
- Average of 5x MT-LBs damaged, destroyed, abandoned and captured per day of the conflict
So what, right?
Neither the crowd sourced BDA or the OoB is perfect. But it gives me, and hopefully you, a better understanding that the Russians’ tank and command and control (MT-LB) forces have suffered pretty significant losses.
Watch the Oryx Website in coming days to see if the Russian tanks, BMP/BTRs, and MT-LBs keep taking losses. For instance, I’m watching very closely to see if and when the Russians have 282 tanks destroyed, abandoned, or captured. This could happen on March 20th if they keep losing 12 tanks per day as the conflict drags on. At that point in time, their invasion could grind to a halt with almost a third of their estimated tanks out of the fight.
Ukrainian Advanced BDA
Remember the order of battle of the defensive force? I will use the OoB numbers as our denominator, as I try to figure out if the Ukrainian forces are suppressed (3%), neutralized (10%), or destroyed (30%) as part of the Advanced BDA process. This helps to provide context for the losses reported on the web. Based on the crowd-sourced losses on the Oryx website on March 11, 2022:
- 47 Losses out of an estimated 630x T-64/80s Tanks — 7.4% Losses (Suppressed)
- Average of 3x tanks damaged, destroyed, abandoned and captured per day of the conflict. Estimated to be neutralized on March 16
- 57 Losses out of an estimated 2,215x BMPs/BTRs (Armored Personnel Carriers) — 2.6% Losses (Suppressed)
- Average of 4x BMPs/BTRs damaged, destroyed, abandoned and captured per day of the conflict.
- 24 Losses out of an estimated 306x 152 mm 2S19 Msta and 306x BM-21 122mm MLRS (Field Artillery) — 3.9% Losses (Suppressed)
- 7 MT-LB out of an estimated 476x MT-LB ACRV (Command and Control) — 1.4% Losses (No Impact)
So what, right? Lastly, neither the crowd sourced BDA or the OoB is perfect. But it gives me, and hopefully you, a better understanding of the conflict.