First, let’s admire the courage and determination of the Ukrainian military and the civilian volunteers. I think we all knew Ukraine would put up a fight; we all knew they were scrappers. But damn.
Their resistance has been inspiring. And let’s be honest, it’s also been intimidating as fuck. “Here, carry these sunflower seeds in your pocket so the ground on which you die will flower.” That’s ice cold, right there. That goes beyond Josey Wales ‘plumb, mad-dog mean’ levels of scrappiness; that’s deep into Keyser Söze territory. We’re talking grim poetic borderline pathological resistance. And it shows.
Just over seven thousand US troops died in twenty years of combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. Russia has lost more than that in three weeks.
I say Russia ‘lost’ that many troops, but it would be more accurate to they’ve ‘thrown away’ that many. It’s increasingly obvious the Russian military is hollow. The inside has rotten away. A couple decades of systemic corruption left a facade that appeared solid and sturdy, but masked a military that was drastically unprepared for sustained military operations.
What it comes down to is this: the Russian army doesn’t have enough trucks.
We hear a lot about Russia’s 190,000 troops involved in the invasion, the majority of them are support personnel. In the military we refer to this as “tooth to tail”ratio–the number of support troops (the tail) necessary to keep combat troops supplied and fighting (the tooth).
Russia is big. Really big. So big that it takes forever to get from one side to the other. Because of that, their military depends on railroads to rapidly move equipment from one place to another. Trains are more efficient; the army can move military units and supplies around inside Russia pretty quickly. But that all stops at the Russian border. Beyond the border, it comes down to trucks and truck-like supply vehicles.
We know that in the weeks leading up to the invasion, the Russian army amassed a LOT of troops and supplies on their border with Ukraine.
So this is what you need to know. The standard Russian military truck is the Ural-4320. The Ural-4320 is a multi-use truck; there are armored versions to carry troops, versions to transport fuel, and it’s also used as a platform for the BM-21 rocket launcher. But mostly, it’s just a really solid truck used to haul stuff. It has a top speed of around 50mph and can carry about 6.5 tons of material on hard surface roads.
Now, let’s say Ukraine’s road/highway network will allow a Ural-4320 to move at a sustained 45mph, which may be a wee bit optimistic. Let’s say it takes an hour to load six tons of supplies (food, ammunition, replacement parts for armored attack vehicles, medical supplies, fuel, etc.). It takes another hour to dive 45 miles into Ukraine. Another hour to unload supplies. And one more hour to return to the supply depot. That’s four hours.
Let’s say that truck can make four trips per day–sixteen hours. The other eight hours will be spent on stuff like truck maintenance, drivers eating and sleeping. That’s the very best case scenario. That’s assuming nothing disrupts the process–no ambushes, no caltrops in the road, no flat tires or engine issues, no loading or unloading problems, no refueling issues. That means Russian combat troops and assault vehicles can expect to be resupplied up to four times a day. If they’re only 45 miles from the Russian border.
If elements of the Russian army are 90 miles from the Russian border, the very best case is they could only count on resupply twice a day. At 180 miles, only once a day.
Kyiv is about 230 miles from the border.
We see lots of photos and videos of tanks and other armored vehicles destroyed by the Ukrainian army–and yay for that. But perhaps more importantly, they’re taking out resupply trucks at an astonishing rate. That’s one reason we’re seeing so many abandoned Russian vehicles and tanks. No fuel, no food for the troops, no ammunition to fight.
Russia will do as much damage as it can in the hope that Ukraine will give up, but it doesn’t have enough trucks to keep it up or take it very far. And the Ukrainian army won’t relent enough to allow the Russians to establish safe supply depots inside Ukraine. It’s not very dramatic, but in a contest between Ukrainian grit and Russian trucks, the trucks lose. And if the trucks lose, so does Russia.