By: Jacek Bartosiak
Sometimes offensive actions and the maneuver of heavy units are necessary, but they must be well thought out and planned, because this is completely different from defensive actions, especially on the modern battlefield, where there are many sensors and the enemy’s movement is quickly detected, and on top of this there are various ways of destroying concentrated forces at the front.
Of course, a low military saturation of the front serves for manoeuvring and penetration of the front line, but more for fast-moving motorised units, even using pickups, off-road vehicles that consume less fuel but can still transport infantry troops with anti-tank missiles, which allowed the Ukrainians during the counteroffensive in the north in September 2022 not only to sow chaos in the rear, but also to maintain the occupied territory in the event of local Russian counterattacks. With good coordination with one’s own tanks, in the absence of enemy air control, one can use mobile tank reserves on local sections.
Firing action without maneuvering destroys and exhausts the opponent, but it remains unclear who ultimately wins and who loses. This was evident in the Donbas before the Ukrainian counteroffensive in September. By contrast, maneuvering gives clear operational results: success or failure — like near Kyiv or Izium. Admittedly, the Russians made a well-ordered retreat from Kyiv before it reached a turning point, where the Russian army would have been crushed by logistical deficiencies, as was the case in December 1941 and in the following months with the German army, which was not withdrawn in time and Germans lines of communication stretched deep into the Soviet Union were not shortened. It is too early to say what it was like at Izium and Kupyansk.
The upsetting of the balance caused by the maneuver surprises the defense. This results in uncoordinated and non-integrated operational activities and the inability to operate effectively and command effectively, including breaking the chain of command, as well as quarrels between commanders and subordinates resulting from a lack of trust. This ends with a loss of coherence and of the integrity of individuals.
Fire power can assist in a maneuver, but it cannot replace it. In fact, one supports the other, because movement in war elicits the opponent’s reaction in the theatre of war and thus creates targets for the fire maneuver. It is like tossing grain on a sieve; the movement of the grinder causes the grain to move. That is why, during active defense, it is so important to have offensive maneuvering skills, because this is how you create additional targets for artillery, rockets and the air force: the enemy starts to move, becomes dislocated and thus reveals their firing positions, march routes, etc. The theatre of war remains “agitated”: the goals reveal themselves.
Psychologically, a fire maneuver alone cannot throw the opponent off balance; defenders incurring losses continue to survive in a war that becomes a war of exhaustion, a war less “military” and more economic and geopolitical. This can be seen in the Donbas. It was visible during the Iran-Iraq war, especially in its second part. Even fire-influenced command systems have the extraordinary ability to restore their own abilities. Only a maneuver effectively weakens and eliminates them. Our commander-in-chief Rydz-Śmigły escaped from Warsaw, threatened by a German maneuver towards the road to Częstochowa. Taking the area prevents the defender from adjusting.
If there is no physical maneuver, people subjected to artillery fire can command even primitive methods and further organize; there are carrier pigeons, couriers, mobile phones. Yes, fire at a distance is important, because it destroys infrastructure, shows escalation dominance and weakens the operational capabilities and strategic strength of the state, affecting the perception of its weaknesses. The fire maneuver can be systematically used to destroy the opponent’s structure of strength and operation. Yes, the Russians are attempting to destroy Ukraine, but not to throw it off balance, because the human ability to adapt to being fired at from a distance is greater than that of firing to throw it off balance.
Maybe that’s why the Russians wanted to take Kyiv so quickly, because the Russians in the general staff know very well what a maneuver on the battlefield means.
Whether drones and anti-tank guided missiles eliminate the maneuver is currently under discussion. There are thousands of them at the front, easy to use, and easy to train the staff to use them. The IDF during the 2006 war in Lebanon was very ineffective. The harassment zone that Hezbollah created was doing a lot of damage to Israelis, along with a distributed command system that effectively counteracted the effect of Israeli armored forces, and with a very short decision-making loop in well-prepared terrain, often mined. All this over time took away the strength of the Israeli army and made it possible to attack its logistical effort. If it comes to acting on the enemy day and night, all the time, as was done to the Soviets in Afghanistan, we have a picture of the situation. To deal with this, the Soviets used “blocking and combing” in isolated sectors, starting in 1985.
The positional war for destruction must be broken by a maneuver on the ground, otherwise there is no control of the course of the conflict, unless you control the wider geopolitical and strategic levers that shape the kinetic conflict environment, such as energy and water sources, access to currency, oil or gas, such as Russia partially controls over Europe. Winter will test how much. Winter will therefore be an important moment for this war and the future of Europe. In the Kremlin it seemed until recently that a war of exhaustion, if waged well, could serve Russia’s interests.
That is why little Israel has a military strategy of active defense. It is strategically defensive, but operationally aggressive, because the response to the threat is an attack, shifting the war to the enemy’s territory and striving for a quick resolution, so that geopolitical strength and various strategic levers around the kinetic conflict: oil, the influence of Arab states on the world economy or the size of the population do not began to be more important than Israel’s military strength itself.
It seems that Poland will try to field all the elements necessary to have a military strategy of active defense. For this to be effective on land, we will also have to have an efficient air force, which in the active defense strategy is a handy “toolbox” necessary in case of a threat, because they react very quickly and far, giving offensive options to politicians without the risk of ground fighting, during which there are always losses. In addition, when we have a well-tailored reconnaissance and strike system creating an anti-access system against an offensive maneuver, it will allow us to put up the entire military system that will protect us against forceful pressure from Russia.