We’re working with instructors at the Air Force Institute of Technology (AFIT) to model and simulate supply chains supporting the Russian invasion of Ukraine. These supply chain models are used by students studying military logistics at AFIT and the Air Force Logistics Officers School (AFLOS). Versions of the model are available in the online library (different versions reflect the situation at different dates as noted in the model names). There are also other simulations: one models the supply chains used to attack Kyiv; another shows use of an airlift component, and another illustrates a plan to increase supply chain capacity and deliver 20 days of supplies. We’ll post updated versions periodically as the situation changes, and as we get more information.
A March 4 status report on the website of the Institute for the Study of War (ISW), observed: “The Russians continued to attack piecemeal, committing a few battalion tactical groups at a time rather than concentrating overwhelming force to achieve decisive effects. Russian commanders appear to prefer opening up new lines of advance for regiment-sized operations…”
Battle Strategy and Logistics are Two Sides of the Same Coin
Based on the supply chain models we are creating and the simulation results we are seeing, we believe the Russians cannot at this time logistically support the big troop concentrations needed for overwhelming force. So they continue attacking in smaller numbers (brigade and regiment size units) at multiple locations to try to spread out and thin out the Ukrainian defense forces.
Current consensus indicates the Russian main effort is to encircle and attack Kyiv. This means the supply depot supporting that main effort is most likely located in the city of Gomel in Belarus (circled in red in the screenshot below). We also see some Russian units supported by the supply depot at Voronezh bypassing Kharkiv and heading west toward Kyiv. The screenshot below shows how we are defining and locating specific Russian combat units and supply depots based on information from daily reports on the ISW website. Blue lines on the map show routes used to deliver supplies from the depots to the combat units they support.
The Russian drive on Kyiv is at present heavily dependent on trucks to deliver supplies. The roads those trucks must travel are narrow, and wind through small towns and forests with bridges across rivers and streams. The screenshot below shows our supply chain model for the drive on Kyiv. We made some guesses as to daily demand for food, fuel, and ammunition to support a mechanized infantry brigade – in this case the Russian 76th Brigade (76th BDE).
[Any feedback readers can provide to improve this supply chain model is much appreciated. Better data on demand for food, fuel, and ammunition will make the model and simulations even more accurate – firstname.lastname@example.org ]
Assuming those estimates are at least in the ballpark, we zoomed in and turned on the satellite view to look more closely at the supply route (also known as “ground line of communications” or GLOC) supporting the advance of the Russian 76th BDE in its push toward Kyiv. The screenshot below shows our estimates for the cube weight and volume for fuel containers (similar estimates were made for containers carrying food and ammunition). Shown in the other popup boxes are estimates for vehicle capacities and speed, and estimated route delivery amounts of products needed to meet daily demands at this brigade.
A few things are immediately clear. The supply route for the 76th BDE goes through territory where ambushes are relatively easy. Our simulations show that approximately 275 trucks must travel this route every day to deliver what the brigade needs to stay operational. That number assumes all trucks will arrive and deliver their cargo to the 76th BDE. The number of trucks would need to increase if some percentage of those trucks were to be destroyed in ambushes.
Russian Army is on the Horns of a Logistics Dilemma
The Russians are operating in hostile territory. They can send big supply convoys every few days, or many smaller convoys every day. Big convoys are big targets. But many small convoys are hard to protect. And travel after dark is always dangerous. So there are only 12-15 hours each day to make deliveries. As shown in the screenshot above, the popup box for Route shows this route already takes about 14 hours for trucks to make the trip to the brigade and back. The trip time will get longer as the brigade advances further toward Kyiv.
This is also true for routes supporting the other units converging on Kyiv (one of which is the 60 kilometer long convoy stuck on the road northwest of Kyiv). The screenshot below shows the location of a brigade supply dump and the routes that deliver supplies to this brigade. Providing security for routes like these requires continuous use of large numbers of troops that are then not available to mount offensive operations. Instead, they and their convoys become the target of offensive operations by Ukrainian Territorial Defense Forces.
Supplies for the attack on Kyiv can be airlifted into the captured Antonov International Airport (also known as Hostomel) outside Kyiv. But can that airlift deliver enough to make a difference? Stinger missiles could make quick work of heavily loaded transport aircraft. The screenshot below shows simulation results from a scenario where Russian airlift is added to deliver supplies to their 104th Air Assault Regiment reported operating out of Antonov International Airport.
Building models and running simulations of these supply chains, plus looking at satellite views of facilities and routes, leads us to conclude that use of the Ukrainian railroad network is the only way the Russian Army can sustain a long campaign, trucks alone will not be enough. The Russians had planned for a quick campaign leading to Ukrainian surrender in a few days. Then their troops would live off the land by requisitioning local supplies of food and fuel. But that did not happen. (This is investigated further in an article on the Bloomberg website, “Railways Helped Drive Russia Off Track and Into Ukraine’s Cities“)
After their experience with the 60 kilometer long convoy of trucks and tanks stranded on the narrow road northwest of Kyiv, the Russians know they need to use railroads for their supply chains. At the same time, the Ukrainians are concentrating their forces to defend the bigger cities which are also key transportation hubs that control movement on the railways. Even if they retreat from some of those cities they will likely destroy the railroad junctions and cargo handling facilities.
The diagram below shows the rail network in Ukraine. Whoever controls the main railroad junctions can also control large sections of the network.
Lviv will be the main entry point of supplies for the Ukrainian Army. From Lviv, supplies will be distributed to Ukrainian combat units by rail, truck, airplane, drone, and horse. The Russians probably cannot stop this because they do not have the logistics capacity for moving and sustaining enough troops to seal off Lviv in addition to attacking Kyiv. The Gomel supply depot now supporting the attack on Kyiv, probably cannot also support a separate operation against Lviv. The army of Belarus most likely will not try to attack Lviv, even though it theoretically could, because its soldiers are even less motivated and less well trained than the Russians. And its logistics capabilities are also less than the Russians.
Probable Ukrainian Defense Strategy is Based on Logistics
The last time the Russian Army rolled through this land they were fighting the Germans during World War II. Ukrainians were on the side of the Russians, and Ukrainian guerilla units were attacking and destroying the German supply chains. Now the Ukrainians are attacking and destroying the Russian supply chains.
We believe Ukrainian Army strategy will be to concentrate on holding the big cities and force Russian units to get involved in costly urban combat. If the cities can hold out, Russian troops will have to dig in and get bogged down while they besiege those cities. Large Russian troop concentrations surrounding cities scattered across Ukraine will generate a continuous demand for supplies on a scale measured in thousands of tons per day.
Supporting these troops will require extended and vulnerable supply chains running through hostile territory. Much of the Ukrainian highway network is composed of narrow roads winding through forests and small towns, with bridges crossing rivers and streams along the way. Hit and run raids using mines, missiles, and machine guns will inflict significant damage on vehicles and soldiers using those roads. Ukrainian Territorial Defense Forces can also deny Russians use of the railways by blowing up tracks and railyards, and attacking trains. Javelin missiles can destroy trains as well as tanks.
The Russians cannot guard every kilometer of the roads and rails they need for their supply chains (as the Germans found out 80 years ago). Russian units besieging Kyiv and other cities will be forced to withdraw back to Russian territory (perhaps as early as June or July 2022) because their supply chains cannot sustain them in hostile Ukrainian territory.
This strategy will result in significant casualties. There will be massive destruction of cities and transportation infrastructure. But this is probably the only way for the Ukrainian Army to hold off and wear down the much larger Russian Army.
It will be a strategy that plays out while the rest of the world watches, day after day. And that will also be part of what brings this war to an end.
We are looking to partner with people interested in building out these models and analyzing simulation results. We are also looking for people qualified to comment on the military implications of what the supply chain simulations predict. Contact us at: email@example.com
- SCM Globe can automatically import all needed data for products, military units, vehicles, and routes
- The supply chain model can be automatically updated and changed every day or hour to reflect actual events in Ukraine
- As updates occur, simulations show the most likely supply chain problems to occur in the following days
- Simulations also show the best ways to disrupt these supply chains