While talk has been rife on when, where and how Ukraine will launch its much-awaited counter-offensive, one rule of thumb revolves around the deployment of a sufficient number of heavy brigades, and armored vehicles numbering in the hundreds, retired Lieutenant General Ben Hodges says.
Writing on the Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA) site, Lt. Gen. Hodges, who has frequently provided comment to ERR on the Ukraine war, writes that we will know that the main offensive has gotten underway once we see " large, armored formations join the assault," adding that in the war to date, a concentration of several hundred tanks and infantry fighting vehicles (IFVs) in an attack has not yet been witnessed, from the Ukrainian side.
In any case, the offensive is incredibly important for Ukraine's future, he adds, though urges caution on the difference between starting any offensive, and the main prong of that attack, or the main effort of the operation.
"The offensive has clearly started, but not I think the main attack," Lt. Gen. Hodges writes.
On this basis, the start date of the campaign overall can be dated to June 4, two days before the sabotage of the Kakhova Dam
In terms of numbers, Lt. Gen. Hodges puts a Ukrainian armored battalion at just over 30 tanks, with an armored infantry battalion comparable, plus armored vehicles relating to support elements such as logistics.
This puts the size of an armored brigade at around three tank battalions and one or two mechanized infantry battalions, totaling 250 or more assorted armored vehicles across that brigade, Lt. Gen. Hodges went on.
Ukraine could have anywhere from seven to 12 such brigades at present, comprising various proportions of Ukrainian, western-provided and captured Russian equipment, he added.
One key question before launching the offensive would be if there is sufficient combat power to cut through Russian linear defenses – which the enemy have now had several months to build up – and not only that but to achieve key strategic goals such as severing the land bridge which Russia created in its invasion between occupied Crimea and the Russian "mainland", via occupied Ukrainian territory.
Other key questions Gen. Valerii Zaluzhny, Ukraine's commander in chief, would have posed ahead of the offensive would have included whether Russian defenses, logistics and transport have been sufficiently degraded, is Russia's military leadership sufficiently nonplussed about Ukraine's intentions, and another key point – is the ground now dry enough to support the movement of hundreds of heavy, tracked, armored vehicles.
Overall, two or three brigades (500-750 armored vehicles) concentrated on a narrow front could render possible to say that the main attack is underway, and at what location.
An intelligence aspect will be at play here too, since the Ukrainians are unlikely to want to telegraph these things ahead of time, and are likely to welcome misinformed tweets, including from friendly accounts, on the issue.
In terms of goals, the liberation of Crimea from Russian occupation by the end of August is likely to be one major aim, Lt. Gen. Hodges said.
What is also at stake is greater supplies of western aid off the back of success in the counter offensive.
This cold prove decisive too, and Lt. Gen. Hodges listed supplies of U.S. short-range (up to 300km (186 miles)) ground-to-ground ATACMS ballistic missiles as among the possible rewards.
Estonian defense intelligence chief Col. Margo Grosberg said last Friday that Ukrainian forces were at the time still looking for ideal pressure points at which to press home a counter-offensive.
Lt. Gen. Hodges is a former commanding general, U.S. Army Europe. He has been Senior Advisor to Human Rights First since June 2022 and also serves as NATO Senior Mentor for Logistics.
CEPA is according to its website a Washington-based NGO , focused on strengthening the transatlantic alliance rooted in democratic values and principles, and dedicated to building networks of future leaders versed in Atlanticism.
Editor: Andrew Whyte