Posted by Jack Heslin on 14:02:56 07/08/23
Superior mobility on the battlefield is always measured relative to an opponent s mobility.
It is axiomatic that you cannot get a favorable decision in war if you do not have superior mobility over your enemy. Without one side or the other having superior mobility on the battlefield the results are a stalemate. The battlefield is always defined as the contested space whether it is a local conflict or a global conflict. Some people are asserting that the current situation in the Ukraine conflict is a stalemate with neither side able to break the stalemate and get a favorable decision. I do not agree.
Without taking a long walk-through history to illustrate this concept, I will use the Indochina wars as an illustration and then look at the current situation in the Ukraine conflict.
In the first Indochina War, which lasted from December 1946 to July 1954, the French, because of their many military vehicles, appeared to have a mobility advantage over the Viet Minh forces. In addition, the French forces included aviation units and paratroopers that could be deployed anywhere they could find a drop zone. However, the French forces were mostly road bound because of the difficult terrain of Vietnam to operate cross country.
The Viet Minh on the other hand, had very few vehicles, and what they had, were mostly used for logistics purposes. The Viet Minh were foot mobile light infantry who were able to cross difficult terrain often through dense jungle areas. They were not dependent on roads and therefore they could select the time and space to attack the road bound French forces using very effective ambush tactics. The Viet Minh had superior mobility, vis a vis the French, and they were able to exploit that when and where they wanted to. The Battle of Mang Yang Pass on June 24th, 1954, was a classic example of an extremely effective ambush made by the light infantry troops of the Viet Minh against the long column of the French Group Mobile 100. The catastrophic defeat of Group Mobile 100 for the French, along with their defeat a short time before in the Battle of Dien Bien Phu, sealed the fate of the war in favor of the Viet Minh forces. The French Military Cemetery where the bodies of the members of Group Mobile 100 are buried is located on the West side of the Mang Yang Pass. I have flown by it many times.
In the second Indochina War, which is best known as the Vietnam War, large scale American forces were introduced to Vietnam starting in November of 1965. The Vietnam War has often been referred to as the helicopter war because of the large number of helicopters used by the American forces.
The first large US Army unit deployed to Vietnam was the 1st Cavalry Airmobile Division which engaged large North Vietnamese regular army units in the Central Highlands, near the Cambodian border, during the Battle of the Ia Drang Valley on November 14, 1965.
The large-scale use of helicopters by the Americans introduced a dimension of mobility not seen in any previous conflict. Because of the tremendous versatility of helicopters, units could be moved around the battle area rapidly to confront enemy units even if there were no roads that could be used. Unlike the French, the American units were not road bound. However, American and South Vietnamese tanks and armored vehicles were still road bound, and they were often ambushed along the highway. The ability of the American military to rapidly deploy units to engage enemy units was a huge advantage. The helicopters could carry troops, logistics supplies, do medical evacuation and they were also armed as close air support attack aircraft. Even though there were heavy losses of helicopters, most of the aircrews survived and were able to rejoin the fight in other helicopters. Many of us who flew helicopters on combat missions in Vietnam were shot up many times and shot down at least once. I have a fellow pilot who was shot down ten times during his two one-year tours.
On the battlefields of Vietnam, the American forces maintained superior mobility throughout the war. When comparing casualty rates, major battles were won by the American forces. However, there was a greater sensitivity to battle deaths for the Americans than for the North Vietnamese. American losses were reported almost daily to the American public through the media. No such daily accounting was made in North Vietnam to the public through any media outlets.
American air assets were able to deliver fire against North Vietnam, and the North Vietnamese were never able to reciprocate against South Vietnam. American fire delivered by B-52 bombers reached a decisive level in December of 1972 which resulted in the signing of the Paris Peace Accords in January of 1973. American forces had greater strategic mobility than the North Vietnamese did and the outcome of the signed Peace Accords was a clear statement of an end to the conflict, at that time, on terms agreeable to the American political leadership. In 1975, in the absence of American military forces, the North Vietnamese military achieved superior mobility vis a vis the South Vietnamese and the results were decisive.
In the Ukraine Conflict we are watching the Ukraine military try to break through the Russian defense lines without success. It is obvious to all, at this point, that the failed offensive has cost huge casualties for the Ukraine military and that they are unable to gain superior mobility vis a vis the Russians to get a favorable decision on the battlefield. Much vaunted predictions of NATO trained and equipped armored columns swiftly punching through the Russian defenses has proven a catastrophic failure and now we are hearing from many Western leaders and news outlets that the conflict is a stalemate similar to the trench warfare of World War I.
As many have now predicted, it is likely that Russian forces will launch an offensive that will most likely be decisive. They will have superior mobility with the use of armored and mechanized forces along with a large number of helicopters which will be able to bypass Ukraine defenses and strike deep into Ukraine territory. Supporting long range artillery and rocket systems along with aviation assets will prove decisive. The Russian military will be able to achieve their objectives without the use of the high value fire of tactical nuclear weapons.
In the early stages of the Russian Special Military Operation air mobile and airborne units struck quickly, deep into Ukraine and attacked the Antonov Airport in a lightning assault near Kiev using 30 60 helicopters. It is likely that a swift strike of airmobile forces will be used by the Russians in the coming offensive. It would be impossible for the Ukraine military to accomplish such a strike. The initiative and superior mobility now rests completely with the Russian military.
If any of you would like to explore this topic further, I have provided a link to a paper I did as a student at the United States Naval War College in 1978.
The Battle of Kontum COMBAT POWER: AN ONTOLOGICAL APPROACH