I have been wargaming the Ukraine War since it began. To be clear this was for professional reasons, not for entertainment.
I believe, as of November 2022, the Russian army in the Ukraine is on the verge of collapse. Whether an army routs after it reaches its breakpoint in wargaming terms is a matter of chance, however, my prediction is the Russian army will rout by the end of the winter.
I have gamed the first start part of the war in 2015 and the cyber dimension many times, but in January 2022, I designed an operational level game set at brigade level to model the forthcoming Russian invasion.
The key features of the wargame were:
- 2 day turns
- Ukraine brigades largely had a combat strength of 4
- The Russian equivalents rolled a six sided combat strength to determine their initial combat strength (their tank units had a plus on the dice roll). The dice roll reflected my understanding about the wild variability in the combat effectiveness of their units. (We now know some of the initial wave of Russian forces included follow on forces, such as military police, rather than just front line combat units).
- Russian artillery was included in their units
- Ukraine had separate artillery units that could be switched from combat to combat to reflect their flexibility.
- In combat each side rolled their combat strength in dice. 5 or 6 caused a casualty, 6 if the enemy was dug in e.g. urban area, constricted terrain etc.
- Rates of advance were based on Depuy’s work (work was quoted by the UK staff college).
- Russia could supply less of its forces, the further it moved from its supporting railways.
- Separatist infantry would not fight outside their home territory
- Russian precision guided missiles (PGMs) were not that effective
- Russian airpower made an impact until losses forced the Russians to reduce air attacks in order to keep their airforce ‘in being’. Soviet era air defence was effective at shooting down Soviet era aircraft.
My pre-war games predicted the actual outcome of the Russian advance grinding to a halt. Ukraine was just too large, with too large an army, with too few axis of advance. Russian logistics meant their axis of advance were rapidly reduced to just a few lines of assault along major roads. Russian airpower and PGMs started by hitting strategic targets, then was reallocated to tactical targets as the advance slowed down.
Since the initial games, I have continued to update the game as it moved into the static phase, then the Ukraine counter attack. I changed the game turns to represent 3 days, then a week, as both sides moved towards exhaustion. I play out the next 4 weeks, then review my model against the actual war. Logistics is a major part of the game, with each side getting a limited number of supply points per turn. Each supply point allows a unit to attack or defend at full strength.
Neither side has shown operational brilliance; the war is all about amassing sufficient supplies in order to launch an attack, as well as causing attrition on the other side with indirect fire.
My game included a Ukraine advance on the east front, until it ran out of supplies, followed by an advance on Kherson.
My wargame has also found that Russia no longer has the PGMs or airpower to cripple Ukraine’s critical national infrastructure. The Ukraine air defence works, the Russia does not work very well, the latter has exhausted most of its munition stock. Ukraine infrastructure is based on the Cold War and was designed to withstand NATO attack.
My model suggests both sides are near their breakpoint as they approach 50% losses, however Ukraine has a higher breakpoint that Russia. I based this rule on the fact that Ukraine has maintained a policy of individual troop rotation, for example giving leave for soldiers to attend weddings and funerals, as well as rotating units out of the front line. Ukraine is also defending its home territory.
There are important questions that will probably be only answered with post war analysis, such as how are the Russian casualties distributed between units of differing training, morale, capabilities and equipment? Or is the entire Russian Army riddled with incompetence due to decades of corruption? Do the Russians have some units in reserve that actually know how to fight?
Prediction is always hard, especially predictions about the future. However, my wargame-based analysis says the Russian army is going to collapse, Ukraine is going to retake most of its lost territory. Of course, I might be wrong, but is it better to base a prediction on a tried and tested wargame model or just a well written piece of narrative as appears in our national newspapers?