Russians Are Having Huge Supply Issues. So Does Everybody

Supply SNAFUs are the rule — especially when you're advancing

As the most recent Russian invasion of Ukraine enters its second week, some observers are starting to suggest that the Russian army’s slow progress and supply problems are evidence that the invasion is in trouble.

Russia may be facing logistical problems. But my research on the logistics of military operations suggests that this early in a campaign, such difficulties can be overcome.

Supply problems are the norm, not the exception

Even successful offensives usually have moments of high drama caused by supply shortages.

Indeed, success on the battlefield often causes supply shortages. As a force advances, its supply lines get longer, requiring more resupply vehicles in order to maintain the same rate of replenishment. The amount of broken and malfunctioning equipment also increases, which in turn increases the demand for spare parts, recovery vehicles and maintenance teams. As two historians writing about World War II observed:

To supply staffs, a breakthrough by their own forces presented problems almost as formidable as one by the enemy, for the methodical disposition forward of depots, dumps, fuel pipelines, and transport systems could not possibly keep pace with racing armored columns, even if the capacity of supply lines to the rear could be expanded rapidly enough.

More recently, the U.S.-led campaign to expel Iraqi forces from Kuwait in 1991 — widely regarded as one of the most successful military operations of modern times — had its supply headaches. For example, the ground portion of the war famously lasted just over four days, but the U.S. Army’s 1st Armored Division nearly ran out of fuel on Day 3 while trying to attack the Iraqi Republican Guard.

As Michael Gordon and Bernard Trainor note in their history of the conflict, crisis was averted only by cobbling together an 18-hour emergency convoy of fuel tankers driven by a hodgepodge of soldiers trained for other jobs.

There were close calls during the 2003 invasion of Iraq, too. The U.S. Army’s 3rd Infantry Division was supposed to be resupplied two days after the invasion began. But a confluence of events conspired to delay the first resupply until six days into the offensive. By then, despite stretching their initial supply of food and water as far as possible, some units had only enough on hand to last them a few more hours.

The supply problems in 2003 are rarely remembered now, but they were known and widely discussed at the time. As a Rand Corp. monograph on the logistics of the campaign noted:

Articles written in the midst of combat operations cited fears that the forces would soon run dry of critical supplies or provided descriptions of isolated problems. Later accounts catalogued lists of shortfalls, such as no spare parts delivered during combat operations, or described the sustainment system as one that was close to failure.

Indeed, articles in the New Yorker, the Wall Street Journal and elsewhere documented the many problems and expressed worry that the effort might stall or, worse, fail because of them.

Large military operations move slowly

The striking speed and maneuverability of modern tanks notwithstanding, military forces rarely advance at anywhere near the top speed of their vehicles. During the campaign against Iraq in 1991, for example, the average pace of the U.S. force was a little over 1 mph. Even the fastest division barely managed a little over 2 mph — the speed of a leisurely walk.

The 2003 invasion of Iraq was no faster. It took U.S. forces about two weeks to cover the 350 miles from the Kuwait border to the outskirts of Baghdad. Some units took indirect routes and some sprinted over short distances, but the net pace of the invasion was about the same as in 1991.

These speeds may seem slow, but they are not unusual. In an old but still very useful study on how fast large forces advance during military operations, Robert Helmbold found that “even the most rapid advance rates of land combat forces are at least one or two orders of magnitude below that of their principal modes of movement.” Most military units, it turns out — even those participating in a successful invasion — spend the vast majority of their time standing still.

Units halt for any number of reasons, but a common one is to wait for supplies. This makes sense when we consider the mechanics of resupply. On average, resupply convoys must maintain an average speed much faster than the units they support because of the need to shuttle back and forth. The net result is to slow the overall pace of the advance, even if everything is going as planned.

It is still very early

None of this is to suggest that things are going exactly as planned for the Russian army or that it will succeed in Ukraine. However, it’s important to distinguish the difficulties that every operation confronts from those that are severe enough to lead to failure and defeat.

Only over time do shortages become decisive. It is the accumulation of resource deficits that leads to defeat, not a shortfall in any one unit. In successful operations, supply problems are common but isolated; in operations that founder on logistics, the number and scale of supply problems increase over time to the point where there is not enough combat power to continue the advance.

During the German invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941 — perhaps the most famous example of supply problems leading to defeat — it wasn’t until German soldiers were on the outskirts of Moscow and were exposed to subzero temperatures, low on ammunition and living off a third of their daily rations that the advance stalled for good.

Whether the supply problems the Russian army is experiencing will be decisive remains to be seen. But the bare fact that some units are having trouble and the invasion is proceeding slowly is not a sufficient reason, on its own, to conclude that the operation will fail.

Source: The Washington Post

Editor’s note: I suspect the Russian supply issues are somewhat greater than American ones since they already started before the war.

But another way to look at it is that Russians have always won wars, and this is the best their supplies have ever been.

  1. guest says

    What do you mean “supply issues” ?
    It is the first week of the campaign. They are 20-40 km from the border. There is paved road. Helicopters can fly undisturbed.
    At Kursk they had supply issues, not near Harkov or Maryupol.

    If there is not enough ammunition and food, it is a fuckup issue.

    How come the Azov Brigade could resupply themselves, deep inside pro-Russian territory ?

    1. ken says

      Have you seen equipment from any army that was not clearly marked. In Russia it would be the big Red Star. Trucks, etc would have markings of the unit they belong to on their front bumpers and rear.

      Not just a big V. Only times I have seen markings like this is in war games.

      This is the strangest war I have ever seen and it appears the West is trying to use whatever this is as a seed for a wider war….

  2. guest says

    Could it be that Sean Penn had better inside information than Vladimir Putin ?

  3. steveo says

    The Russian army of the Napoleonic era was renown for having a non-existent supply system, compared to other European armies at the time.

    .. not a “poor” system, but a completely non-existent system. Like – nothing at all.

    They didnt perform as well as – say the French, who had a very lean supply situation anyway, or the Prussians, Bavarians and Austrians – who had a very good supply system , but that didnt stop them.

    Russian armies just use time and space in a different way to other armies. If it costs a million acres of land, and another 6 months, thats fine, just do it.

  4. Steve Ginn says

    Has Anti Empire been reduced to having to use biased hacks from WaPo to write rubbish!

  5. ken says

    “More recently, the U.S.-led campaign to expel Iraqi forces from Kuwait in 1991 — widely regarded as one of the most successful military operations of modern times”

    Yeah,,, it was pure hell trying to catch up to the Iraqi’s they were leaving so fast.

  6. XSFRGR says

    THIS IS NOT RUSSIAN WEAPONS OR EQUIPMENT !! Gentle reader, you must remember that the Ukies, and the Russians have essentially the same equipment. It appears that this is either equipment that was abandoned during a hasty retreat or equipment that has broken down or run out of fuel. The Russians have a very sophisticated vehicle recovery system, and they do not leave recoverable vehicles on or in the proximity of the battle area. MORE BULL SHIT !!

Leave A Reply

Your email address will not be published.