The pro-Russian Telegram analyst “Atomic Cherry” uses data provided by the Russian LostArmour OSINT team combined with WWII and 20th century Soviet military studies to determine an estimated number of Ukrainian casualties in the 5+ months of the war between Ukraine and Russia. As per their estimation, while Ukraine has likely lost up to 25 thousand killed and over 100 thousand in total casualties (killed, wounded, captured), the claims of the media in Russia about the Ukrainian armed forces reaching their disintegration point due to losses is far-fetched. In fact, where combat losses have reached significant numbers, the Ukrainian forces remain very much combat-capable. The analyst predicts the Ukrainian army will be capable of continuing conducting military operations for at least 1,5 – 2 years.
The number of 25 thousand killed does not seem very far from the truth (surprising for a Russian source): in June, the Guardian quoted Oleksiy Arestovych and Mykhaylo Podolyak both saying the Ukrainian losses are between 150 and 200 killed every day and 800 wounded, which at the time of writing of this article would constitute losses of up to 33 thousand killed and 132 thousand wounded in total. So the source is actually providing smaller estimation in places.
As a reminder, the Russian Ministry of Defence reported that irreversible losses of the Ukrainian army reached over 24 thousand on 17 April 2022, nearly four months ago.
Previously, in texts dealing with the Ukrainian-Russian conflict, I avoided the topic of military losses, both for moral and ethical reasons, and also due to a lack of data from which any conclusions could be drawn.
However, I recently came across a very interesting figure obtained by the Russian LostArmour (LA) OSINT team, which collected and summarised data about killed officers of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. In total, we are talking about 960 commanders in the rank from colonel to junior lieutenant (I note that LA in this case is a biased source, ideologically interested in the most accurate numbers of losses of the Armed Forces of Ukraine – in this situation, this fact plays a positive role).
Why is it important? Based on the exact numbers of casualties among the officer corps, one can gauge what losses the Ukrainian army has suffered over the past 5 months of hostilities.
First, an important clarification needs to be made – the current conflict is characterised by a massive use of artillery, and it is the actions of artillery that are considered the main cause of losses among the personnel on both sides. For the correct calculation, it would be best to rely on the research of statistics of losses during the Second World War, which by its nature is closest to the current battles.
In our case, these will be:
➖ Study “The Cost of War: the human losses for the USSR and Germany, 1939-1945”, carried out by The Journal of Slavic Military Studies (1996);
➖ Study “THE RELATIONSHIP OF BATTLE DAMAGE TO UNIT COMBAT PERFORMANCE” by Leonard Weinstein of the Institute for Defence Analysis (1986);
➖ Article “Fight Outnumbered and Win… Against The Odds” by US Army Colonel D. Hans, published in Military Review (1981).
How do we calculate?
➖ On average for the armed forces, the ratio of casualties of officers to soldiers is 1:24.7
➖ The classic ratio of wounded to killed in wars with an extensive use of artillery systems is 1:3
➖ The unit loses combat capability upon reaching 35% casualty level
➖ On average (taking into account the development of modern military medicine) 9% of the wounded become disabled, unable to return to duty
What losses did the Ukrainian army suffer?
➖ From 23 to 24 thousand killed
➖ From 70 to 72 thousand wounded
➖ From 6.5 to 7 thousand wounded who will not return to duty
➖ The total number of irretrievable losses (killed, disabled, captured) is 37 thousand military personnel
➖ The total number of losses (sanitary and irretrievable) is 108 thousand soldiers
The above figures, given the correctness of the data on the dead officers, are quite accurate – the margin of error fluctuates around 5,000 people. At first glance, such a number of dead and wounded seems staggering – and, of course, it is so from the point of view of universal morality.
But from the point of view of military science, these figures look quite different.
In the 5 months of large-scale hostilities (in conditions of a total fire superiority of the Russian troops), the Armed Forces of Ukraine suffered irretrievable losses of 14.5% of the total number of the pre-war professional army (255,000 thousand) or 5.3% of the wartime army (700,000 thousand people).
This suggests that structurally the Ukrainian army did not suffer losses that could undermine its ability to fight (for this, at least 35-40% of its personnel must be lost).
Moreover, the Armed Forces of Ukraine have crossed the “psychological threshold” of 100 thousand wounded and killed – in a number of studies one can find statements saying that upon reaching such a “threshold”, armies that have certain defects in their organisational structure lose the ability to perform combat missions, which is not something we can observe in the example of the Ukrainian armed forces. Therefore, the statements of individuals (or the media) about the imminent disintegration of the Ukrainian army due to “heavy losses” should be considered, at a minimum, irresponsible or incompetent – or, at a maximum, disinformation.
P.S.: The number of prisoners of war in the calculations is based on Russian data, according to which there are from between 6 and 8 thousand Ukrainian soldiers in captivity.
Continuing on the topic of military losses, the following key points should be noted:
➖ Noteworthy is the extremely low number of prisoners of war. The usual ratio of killed to captives in such conditions is 1:3. What is this related to? Probably, a combination of factors, including a rather high motivation of personnel, and a certain indicator of the quality of their training. The nature of hostilities certainly plays a role;
➖ The 35-40% casualties threshold also does not mean that upon reaching it, the process of disintegration of the army begins – this indicates a significant decrease in its effectiveness and ability to conduct military operations;
➖ The overall level of losses does not reflect their impact on the combat capability of mechanised units – these require calculations of a different nature, taking into account both losses in armoured vehicles and personnel;
➖ The theses that are based on the fact that upon reaching a certain threshold of losses the unit loses the will and motivation to continue combat operations are false. Where the morale of the troops is high, even very large losses will not bring the unit out of combat capability;
➖ The average monthly losses of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, including sanitary ones, range from 21 to 22 thousand soldiers;
➖ The Ukrainian army is capable of conducting combat operations with the preservation of the current effectiveness for at least 7-8 more months, depending on the nature of their intensity, without the infusion of additional mobilised units. Taking into account the emerging positional confrontation, this period can stretch up to 1 year; taking into account the infusion of fresh reinforcements – from 1.5 to 2 years (these figures do not take into account changes in the military-technical equipment of troops in the direction of decreasing or improving quality);
➖ Apparently, the additional stability of the Ukrainian army is secured by the fact that the mobilised soldiers are used to be deployed in the “Soviet-type” battalions, i.e. with a large number of personnel that is directly involved in hostilities. Such units can continue fighting even when losing 70% of their personnel.