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Trenches Do Not Win Wars, Ammo and Bodies Do

Updated: Mar 15

The war in Ukraine has been ongoing for two years now. The conflict has greatly evolved throughout its duration. New tactics reveal the nature of modern war: it is not in Ukraine’s favor and never has been.

Most recent conflicts have been asymmetrical, a developed military power fighting a grass-roots paramilitary insurgency or improvised rebellions. The offensive forces use small-scale maneuver warfare tailored to incapacitate or demoralize the smaller force.

Ukraine is no such case, however. It is the largest country in Europe. It has a sizable standing army with a diverse arsenal of Western and Soviet-era weapons, albeit a far cry from the immense Russian military. When Russia invaded Ukraine in February of 2022, it was met with a surprise. 

Russia opened up the operation with an attempt at shock and awe. Jets bombing critical infrastructure and military airfields, helicopters moving troops deep into Ukraine, an attempt at an air bridge near Kiev as well as a convoy of armor headed there. It did not go as planned. 

The main reason for this failure was the unexpected impact of new defense technology on the battlefield. Shoulder launched anti-air missiles locked onto Russian aircraft from kilometers away. Anti-tank weapons ambushed convoys, destroying hundreds of millions of dollars in equipment in minutes, with relatively cheap hardware. Drones spotted Russian movement and directed artillery with live-time feedback, making it unprecedentedly accurate. Some drones were made to drop grenades on advancing troops, others were made into kamikazes designed to smash into enemy positions or vehicles. Maneuver warfare had been outmatched by modern defense systems. 

Russia ultimately pulled back from its offensive in northern Ukraine and focused on the south and the east. Both Russia and Ukraine dug trenches and replaced large-scale combined arms operations with small-scale movements and stagnation. Tanks and aircraft now avoid the frontline as much as possible and are used more as indirect fire. Small teams of infantry-supported drones and one or two vehicles storm trenches to gain intel on enemy strength in a position. 

The advent of shoulder-launched defense systems and cheap drones made maneuver warfare obsolete seemingly overnight. These systems are much cheaper than the 20 million dollar tanks or aircraft they destroy. Since drones have made artillery more accurate with live correction, they easily neutralize offensive movement. Artillery is thought to cause 70-80% of the battlefield casualties. That is more than both world wars.  

This form of fighting is brutal and costly, but it is not new. World War I trench warfare is back in style. This means war is not won by hardware any longer. It is won by manpower, artillery shells and time. Russia has more of all of these. Despite being stunningly embarrassed at the outset of the offensive, time will reward Russia's advantages in both shells and manpower.

The weapons and aid supplied by NATO have not put out the fire but have poured fuel on it. NATO nations get intel on the impact and effectiveness of their weapons, and at the same time fight Russia with Ukrainian bodies. 

Some will say ‘Ukraine was invaded, it's just defending itself.’ This is true, but what is the use of providing aid when the main deficiencies are not addressed? The West cannot give enough shells to provide Ukraine an offensive capability and manpower is obviously out of the question. Ukraine is losing the war, it always has been and it always will be. The surprise victory two years ago around Kiev and one successful counteroffensive, are but droplets in the grim rainfall of defeats Ukraine has suffered and will continue to. 

Aid is drying up, artillery ammo is running out and men are being killed that cannot be replaced. Aid sent to Ukraine only prolongs and worsens their suffering, it does not in any way lessen it. NATO used a surprising shift in tactics, which Russia was vulnerable to, to fight a proxy war that has hurt Ukraine and the West even more than it has Moscow. Ukraine will inevitably be defeated, and all that there will be to show for it is economic collapse, war porn and cemeteries.  

Soldiers on the frontline digging trenches in Ukraine’s fertile black earth uncover bones of men killed in the very same spot generations ago. Many of these forgotten men, Russian and Ukrainian alike, were on the same side. Now they are killing each other in the sunflower fields their forefathers died to protect.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the individual author.

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