Saturday, 19 November 2022

My wargame says Ukraine is going to win as the Russian army collapses

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?


  1. Interesting. I've been following the war closely since February, and while it is clearly going badly for the invaders, the more dialed-in analysts seem to think Russia can sustain operations at least into 2023 (barring some drastic change in governmental leadership). Doesn't mean I don't hope you're right, however!

    I'd think the main issue with running a model/simulation simultaneously with the actual conflict is the lack of knowledge we have of both sides' (but especially Russia's) initial resources with respect to men, material, and ammunition. Well, that and the usual 'fog of way' stuff. But I do see the benefit of trying to model it regardless...I'd guess you're not the only person attempting such a project.

    Personally, I find the war both fascinating and horrifying. Best of luck with codifying your game of 21st century warfare...what you have so far sounds promising. Hopefully your predictions are accurate.

  2. Wargames are a way of including consideration of time, space, terrrain, weather, ORBATs, logistics into a single model. Wargaming as a methodology is a challenge to the traditional narrative analysis of war that appears in the media; to me the former consistently out performs the latter. That is why the computer industry uses models such as UML to describe how system work instead of just essays. We can model in the face of unknowns, however one should always be aware of this uncertainty.

  3. My hasty post above has attracted attention on other forums. My value, if any, to the wargaming community, is my application of the academic method to validate assumptions. I was the one who wrote the referred journal article that wargaming was an essential but flawed tool. I analysed classified professional wargaming rules written during the Cold War and demonstrated that they included major errors. (This was not the fault of the wargamers, but of the operational analysis the games were based on). As you can imagine the presentation of this at professional wargaming conferences in the UK and USA and Australia was not well received by all.
    However, despite my reputation for seeking evidence, people still want to talk to me. I
    My initial wargame, despite uncertainties, was the only one I know of that predicted the failure of the initial Russian invasion. However, it should be noted that I upset some supporters of the narrative of “Ukraine tactical brilliance v Russian incompetence” with my conclusion that both sides were not very good at war; the campaign stalled due to geography and logistics. I did tactical analysis of enough video footage of combat to demonstrate neither side was well trained at that stage.
    Wargames allow one to experiment. So I played with the ORBATs and I found that Russia needed 300% more aircraft committed to the campaign, 500% more PGMs and 800% more airborne forces in order to take eastern Ukraine within in weeks.
    As for sources, I read NATO sources, but I am not using them. I have other sources. I am always seeking metrics to inform my wargames e.g. rates of advance, casualty rates, tank repair rates etc.. e.g. a generalisation is that artillery shells land on average 300 metres from their target. This is due to the largely worn-out barrels on both sides- no-one expected artillery barrels to be used to fire so many shells. This means that maths indicates it takes perhaps 100 shells to hit a particular trench. That is a lot of shells when one needs to keep moving locations due to counter battery fire (such as drones/ missile strikes).
    To be clear, my income is not dependent on me saying what people want to hear. My efforts are not western propaganda, I doubt anyone knows I exist outside of the wargaming world. And I might be completely wrong. The future is not yet written, both Ukraine and Russia can do things that means the Russian army does not break by the end of the winter.
    If I am wrong I will happily admit it, then analyse why, then inform my future practise.

    1. All that sounds very sensible. Good luck!
      : )

  4. I predicted the Russian Army will break by the end of the winter. Russia thinks this is an outside possibility too, see not certain that sending actors, musicians, entertainers etc. will improve the morale of the troops more than providing warm clothing, food and artillery shells.

  5. You state above in your article that "My wargame has also found that Russia no longer has the PGMs or airpower to cripple Ukraine’s critical national infrastructure." I assume you are aware that Ukraine's national electrical system has been severely degraded by Russian precision guided air weapons. With this contradiction between reality and prediction have you reconsidered how valid your gaming model as a predictive tool is?

  6. Good question. Models must be continually reevaluated in the face of actual real world data. My crude model is only a model and is not reality. I assumed Russia would keep 33% of their PGM as a strategic reserve v NATO or Chinese aggression. I was wrong, Russia has used almost everything they have (leaving them very vulnerable especially to China). In the real world, leaders make decisions that may be different from those used in a wargame (even if those decisions are not rationale). The Ukraine power system has been hit badly, but it is not to the extent that the country is moved back to the 19th century. This is because Ukraine has a large repair capacity that is expanding, Europe is feeding in power directly to the Ukrainian grid and spares are coming in from around Europe. The majority of Ukraine has had no interruption to its power supplies. Also the military and the state war machine are largely inoculated from civilian power shortages, as the former tends to have generators and fuel. Hitting the Ukraine power system may cause misery for some, but it does not impact Ukraine national combat power. So in summary, Russia has used far more PGMs than I expected (I was wrong), but it would need many times more PGMs fired within a short period of time to create a lasting impact. Will Ukraine decide to advance during the winter? Will Russia fall below the critical level of resupply and have to fall back? Will the Russian army rout? I think the answer is probably yes to all three questions, but probably is not 100% certainty. Of course, senior leaders may also make decisions that change the outcome. If you want to know why the Ukrainian power system is still up see the Reuters article

  7. Thank you for your response. You state here that "The majority of Ukraine has had no interruption to its power supplies." My Ukrainian stepson reported Christmas morning that the city in which he lives (a regional capital in NE Ukraine) that they are currently getting 2 hours of electricity a day and this occurs at unpredictable intervals. This has been going on for some time. He characterized their living conditions as "stone age". To my unsophisticated understanding these conditions would qualify as a serious case of interruption of the power system of Ukraine. Which source for information is better in understanding a reality - testimony from those on the scene or the statements of government officials?

    I understand that trying to predict the future is a perilous undertaking. I also understand that predictive models such as war games tend to reflect and confirm the assumptions that go into making them - the old garbage in, garbage out phenomenon. It will be interesting to see if events track with your expectations.