The NY Times is running a weirdly detailed report on how the plan for Ukraine's recent offensive took shape. According to this piece, Zelensky put his military under a lot of pressure to win a victory before winter, and he was interested in launching a major offensive in the south. This was discussed along a bunch of channels, including regular conversations between US national security adviser Jake Sullivan and Andriy Yermak, a top adviser to Mr. Zelensky, and via talks between the Ukrainian leadership and the US and British military attaches in Kyiv.
One critical moment this summer came during a war game with U.S. and Ukrainian officials aimed at testing the success of a broad offensive across the south. The exercise, reported earlier by CNN, suggested such an offensive would fail. Armed with the American skepticism, Ukrainian military officials went back to Mr. Zelensky.
“We did do some modeling and some tabletop exercises,” Colin Kahl, the Pentagon’s policy chief, said in a telephone interview. “That set of exercises suggested that certain avenues for a counteroffensive were likely to be more successful than others. We provided that advice, and then the Ukrainians internalized that and made their own decision.”
The stakes were huge. Ukraine needed to demonstrate that this was not going to become just another frozen conflict, and that it could retake territory, for the morale of its people and to shore up support of the West.
Throughout August, at the behest of Ukrainians, U.S. officials stepped up feeds of intelligence about the position of Russian forces, highlighting weaknesses in the Russian lines. The intelligence also indicated that Moscow would struggle to quickly reinforce its troops in northeast Ukraine or move troops from the south, even if it detected Ukrainian preparations for the counteroffensive. [According to other sources, Ukraine also stepped up its intelligence sharing with the US and Britain.]
“We saw the fact that the Russians actually relocated a lot of their best forces down to the south in preparation for the other counteroffensive that the Ukrainians kicked off,” Mr. Kahl said. “So we had reason to believe that because of the persistent morale challenges, and the pressure of the Ukrainians, that there might be pockets of the Russian military that are a little more brittle than they appear on paper.”
Instead of one large offensive, the Ukrainian military proposed two. One, in Kherson, would most likely take days or weeks before any dramatic results because of the concentration of Russian troops. The other was planned for near Kharkiv.
Together Britain, the United States and Ukraine conducted an assessment of the new plan, trying to war game it once more. This time officials from the three countries agreed it would work — and give Mr. Zelensky what he wanted: a big, clear victory.
Ok, that's great, but why are we already learning about it? Is is just that the Americans can't keep themselves from bragging about the part they played? I mean, it has been a while since we came up with a good military plan. Or is there some kind of signalling going on? Yo, Putin, we're in this to win it, and we're now putting our personal reputations on the line as well? Do they want to rub it in that they have a better planning staff than the Russians?
Also, since there are rumors of a third Ukrainian offensive in the works, maybe this talk of a two-pronged attack is another ruse?
There is also an interesting tie-in to western military aid. One thing all the smart observers have figured out by now is that the demands for more aid Ukrainian leaders make in public are political acts, not necessarily having any relationship to real military needs. It seems that the actual flow of weapons and supplies is worked out between military staffs who understand the limitations of the pipeline, the actual shortages being faced by the military, and the need for training on new systems.
But the plan, according to an officer on the general staff in Kyiv, depended entirely on the size and pace of additional military aid from the United States. . . . Before the counteroffensive, Ukraine’s armed forces sent the United States a detailed list of weapons they needed to make the plan successful, according to the Ukrainian officer.
Specific weapons, like the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System, or HIMARS, are having an outsize effect on the battlefield. The satellite-guided rockets fired by these launch vehicles, called GMLRS, each contain a warhead with 200 pounds of explosives and have been used in recent weeks by Ukrainian forces to destroy more than 400 Russian arms depots, command posts and other targets, American officials said.
More recently, Ukrainian forces have put American-supplied HARM air-launched missiles on Soviet-designed MiG-29 fighter jets, which no air force had ever done. The missiles have been particularly effective in destroying Russian radars.
“We are seeing real and measurable gains from Ukraine in the use of these systems,” General Milley said last week in Germany at a meeting of 50 countries that are helping Ukraine with military and humanitarian aid. “They’re having great difficulty resupplying their forces and replacing their combat losses.”
This, it seems, is what NATO planners are looking for, not laundry lists but an actual strategy for deploying weapons, training people to use them, and using them in batle. For example, HARM missiles would not have been supplied until Ukraine showed that they had figured out how to fire them from their existing aircraft. (This was quite a trick, since in NATO air forces the missiles are tightly integrated with aircraft radar and navigation systems.)