How Ukraine blitzkrieg will tear Putin’s forces to ribbons


Ukraine’s counter-offensive against the Russian invasion is upon us. Here are the best options for the killer blow against Putin’s men, writes Stuart Crawford.

It feels like we have all been waiting with bated breath for months for the long-trailed Ukrainian counter-offensive to commence.

What was hailed as the “spring offensive” has now morphed into the summer offensive, and yet there are still no firm signs that it is about to begin.

Sure, there have been indications that preparations are underway. Long range strikes into Russian forces rear areas, some with the UK-supplied Storm Shadow air-launched cruise missile, may indicate that some “shaping of the battlefield” is underway.

These strikes are targeting Russian arms and fuel dumps plus lines of communications and are probably designed to both isolate enemy forces on the front line and prevent reinforcements and supplies being brought forward.

Recent maritime drone attacks on Russian naval vessels in the Black Sea may be intended to force the enemy navy into its protected ports and prevent them launching their missiles at Ukrainian targets. In other words, they will keep the Russian navy quiet and out of the equation as much as possible.

The Ukrainian drone attacks on Moscow, on the other hand, are probably just retaliation for Russia’s drone blitz on Kyiv and not to do with any forthcoming major ground offensive.

We’re witnessing a tit-for-tat drone war. The Muscovites will now know that they’re not quite so distanced from the conflict as they might have thought.

But back to the expected Ukrainian summer offensive. We’re constantly being told that it will happen “soon”, but where might the blow(s) fall? Surprise and secrecy are a crucial part of any country’s military strategy and it’s unlikely that Zelensky or the UkrAF will broadcast their intentions in advance, so we don’t know.

However, having had a long look at this from the outside it seems to me that there are three possible options and one wild card one.

The one most favoured by military commentators, and perhaps the most obvious option, is for the Ukrainians to drive south from the area around Zaporizhia towards Melitopol and then beyond to the northern shores of the Sea of Azov.

This, if successful, would cut the land bridge between Russia and Crimea and severely dislocate Russian forces in southern Ukraine, presenting the UkrAF with the opportunity to turn west and roll up Russian forces in the Kherson Oblast and threaten Crimea.

The Russians are well aware of this and have prepared multiple defence lines in depth to counter the possibility. It’s almost too obvious, but the Ukrainians can bluff and double bluff here to their heart’s content.

Being already on the eastern (left) bank of the Dnipro river there are no major obstacles to their advance and the Russians have to be prepared.

Or the Ukrainians could strike south from Kherson city across the Dnipro. They may already have a few small lodgements on the southern (eastern) bank of the river, but this is an operation fraught with difficulty.

The Dnipro is a mighty obstacle and there are few more difficult military operations in war than an opposed river crossing, and opposed it would definitely be. This one may be too risky.

Alternatively, the UkrAF could choose to batter away in the central Donbas, perhaps around Bakhmut where so much blood has been shed and where there appears to be the possibility of encircling the Russians.

It might recover some Ukrainian territory but is pretty unimaginative stuff.

Which brings me to the wildcard option. Readers will, I suspect, have noted the recent incursion into Russian territory near Belgorod, where pro-Ukrainian disaffected Russian nationals mounted a raid which temporarily captured some Russian settlements and embarrassed the Kremlin until they withdrew.

This took place outside the 900 km fortified frontline between Ukraine and the occupied areas, and on a part of the Russo-Ukraine border where there has been little military activity to date. It showed, however, how lightly guarded this part of the Russian frontier is and how poorly prepared the Russians are to defend it.

What if the Ukrainians exploited this weakness and delivered a wide left hook which struck into Russian territory in the Belgorod region and then turned south? It would outflank the Russian “Maginot Line” along the contested demarcation zone and catch them in the flank – as the Germans did with the Allies through the Ardennes in 1940 during the Second World War.

This indirect approach has much to commend it. If the Ukrainians are bold enough, and the west not too squeamish about “escalation”, then it obviates all the difficulties of the direct assault in prepared Russian positions.

The big question is whether the UkrAF have the wherewithal to carry it out. Intellectually they probably have; materially I’m not so sure. But if they can manage it then perhaps we’ll be looking at a Ukrainian strategic victory before the year is out.

And then what for Putin?

Lt Col Stuart Crawford is a defence analyst and former army officer. Sign up for his podcasts and newsletters at



Tank CommanderLt Col Stuart Crawford’s latest book Tank Commander (Hardback) is available now

16 month’s on and no end in sight

The past week has been a momentous one for both sides in the Russo-Ukraine war. Now well into the sixteenth month of the conflict, there appears to be no end in sight.

Much of the world’s attention has been focussed recently on the battle for Bakhmut, which has been raging for many months. It seems to be reaching some sort of conclusion now, with Russian forces having captured most if not all of the city and with their Wagner troops proclaiming victory. Indeed, they say the Russian flag now flies over the ruins.

The Ukrainians, on the other hand, are not so sure, claiming defiantly that they still maintain a toehold in the outskirts. Such is the fog of war here that it’s difficult to verify either claim independently, and there is some evidence that the UkrAF have regained some ground on either flank of the city.

Whatever the truth of the matter and whichever side wins, it will have been a truly Pyrrhic victory. Bakhmut has been flattened and little remains, while both sides have suffered catastrophically in blood and treasure.

In particular, I suspect the Russians have exhausted themselves and will be unable, in the short term at least, to exploit any success they may have had. The reported redeployment of Wagner forces away from the area would seem to confirm this, but we shall see.

Away from Ukraine itself all eyes have been on the G7 meeting in Hiroshima, where Zelensky was a guest as part of his round of friendly nations to keep them onside. Although its main geopolitical focus was on Taiwan and China’s increasingly aggressive signals towards that island, what is happening in Europe also took up some conference time, as you would expect.

Zelensky’s diplomatic round seems to be focused on encouraging further weapons supplies from the west and also on dissuading western leaders from allowing the conflict to become “frozen”, that is stalled along current lines. If that were to happen a stalemate could ensue lasting years if not decades, with the prospect of the war flaring up again. Nobody, except possibly Putin, wants that result.

One bit of good news for Ukraine, though, was that US President Biden signalled that he was now willing to allow the transfer of European-owned F-16 Fighting Falcons to Ukraine, something Zelensky has been pleading for over many months. Why the US has been pussyfooting around this issue remains a mystery, to me at least, but now the block has been removed.

When the ‘planes arrive in Ukrainian hands they will be a significant addition to the UkrAF arsenal. They will not, however, win the war on their own, and although they are a definite step up for Ukraine they will still be vulnerable to the more modern radars and longer range air-to-air missiles carried by Russian aircraft, plus of course their enemy’s comprehensive and capable ground based air defence systems.

And, while the world still waits for Ukraine’s counteroffensive, the latest news tells of a ground advance into Russian territory. The Ukrainians have attacked into Russia before now, of course, but it has been almost exclusively via armed helicopters and uncrewed aerial vehicles (UAVs) or drones.

This time two organisations calling themselves the ‘Russian Volunteer Corps’ and the ‘Free Russia Legion’ seem to have advanced into the Belgorod region which borders Ukraine and claim to have captured – or ‘liberated’ as they have put it – a couple of settlements there. These troops appear not to be from the Ukrainian army proper but recruited from exiled Russians and deserters who are opposed to the Putin regime.

Ukraine is not claiming responsibility but has not entirely disassociated itself from the groups’ actions. As ever, details are sketchy and independent verification of the news will take some time to come, but it’s an interesting development nonetheless. Whether these raids are planned as a diversion or feint to draw Russian military attention from elsewhere is a matter for speculation.

However, it’s unlikely that Vladimir Putin will draw a distinction. He is likely to use this as propaganda to his own people that Russia is the victim, not the aggressor, in the war. Whether the Russian population will believe him or not remains to be seen.

In Ukraine itself it’s reported that the ground has hardened up at last after the rain and mud of spring. Armoured vehicles may once again manoeuvre off-road over the flat farmlands. The Russians have spent much time and effort in fortifying the areas where they most expect the Ukrainians to attack.

It can’t be long now. Watch this space.

Lt Col Stuart Crawford is a defence analyst and former army officer. Sign up for his podcasts and newsletters at




Tank CommanderLt Col Stuart Crawford’s latest book Tank Commander (Hardback) is available now

US F-16 Permission Makes A Big Difference

For many the highlight of the recent G7 summit conference held in Hiroshima was US President Joe Biden signalling, at long last, that the USA would not stand in the way of European nations donating their redundant F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine.

By announcing this at the G7 summit, and also stating that the US would train Ukrainian pilots to fly these aircraft, he cleverly coerced his allies into supporting the decision. This was a clever piece of diplomacy, and not before time in my opinion. How long has Zelensky been asking for them? Well, he appears to have got his way in the end.

Earlier in the month, Britain’s Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and his Dutch counterpart Mark Rutte had agreed to work together to build an international coalition consensus to support Kyiv with pilot training and the procurement of F-16 jets. Now Washington has agreed to allow Western allies to send their US-made jets to Ukraine and also has started its own programme for training Ukrainian pilots..

It seems that President Biden’s initial reluctance to sponsor the F-16 programme was caused by fear of escalating the conflict. That this caution has been overcome suggests that the White House’s appetite for risk has been enhanced somewhat.

America’s other worry, that the Ukrainians would not be able to operate these jets effectively, was always a nonsense excuse for inaction. One concern easily dismissed was the stated fear that it would take up to four years to train Ukrainian pilots. Recent US Air Force experience showed that experienced Ukrainian pilots could learn to fly them in four months. They were hardly starting from scratch after all.

In fact, the speed with which the UkrAF have been able to adopt and operate western provided weapons in much shorter timescales than the providers usually demand is highly embarrassing. They have proven time and again that, when push comes to shove, NATO extended and expensive training practices can be cut down to a minimum. Necessity is indeed the mother of invention.

The Ukrainians maintaining the F-16 in combat should not prove to be an issue: it is a straightforward, single-engine aircraft, produced in great numbers and fielded in numbers by European nations. Many of the donors have retired these ‘planes and are replacing them with more modern models, and so aircraft and spare parts are plentiful.

The Ukrainians are also though not to need to replicate the NATO approach to air operations, replete with supporting infrastructure and platforms. Kyiv does not need to operate deep into Russian territory. It only needs to keep the Russian air force (VKS) on the back foot in the skies over Ukraine.

The F-16, with its longer-range radars, sensors and missiles, will give the Ukrainian air force a qualitative and quantitative edge and redress the imbalance in the air.  This will, in conjunction with the UkrAF ground based air defence systems, protect both Ukraine’s ground forces and its critical infrastructure, and thereby facilitate the long-awaited counter-offensive.

It will be important, though, to ensure that Ukraine receives, and continues to receive, sufficient supplies of F-16 compatible western missile and ground attack weaponry to sustain them in combat. This will not be cheap, and although current holdings are classified it’s a fair bet that NATO stocks are not exactly buoyant. A ramping up of production and supply chains may be critical.

And then there’s the moral and ethical aspect to be taken into account. Ukraine is clearly, however you may wish to dress it up, fighting a proxy war on behalf of NATO against Russia. They are fighting so that we don’t have to, not yet anyway. Against this background I believe that we are honour and practically bound to give Zelensky all the help he’s been asking for and to give it to him as soon as possible. .

The F-16 decision is a big step in the right direction. The announcement will already be influencing military and political calculations in the Kremlin. As I have written previously, the F-16 will not win the war on its own, but it certainly helps to level the playing field.

There is more good news for Ukraine. Much as the UK decision to send Challenger 2 tanks to Ukraine prompted Germany and USA to agree to send their tanks also, so has Mr Biden’s decision to allow F-16s to be donated encouraged others to do the same.

Sweden has now decided to allow Ukrainian pilots to train in flying the JAS39 Gripen fighter jet, another capable aircraft well suited to Ukraine’s needs. The Swedish Ministry of Defense confirmed following an official request from Ukrainian Defence Minister Oleksii Reznikov. This is very encouraging.

To repeat yet again what I have said oftentimes before: give Zelensky the tools to finish the job!

Lt Col Stuart Crawford is a defence analyst and former army officer. Sign up for his podcasts and newsletters at



Tank CommanderLt Col Stuart Crawford’s latest book Tank Commander (Hardback) is available now

Babcock International has announced the appointment of Sir Kevin Smith CBE as Non-Executive Director


Babcock International has announced the appointment of Sir Kevin Smith CBE as Non-Executive Director. Sir Kevin will join the Board with effect from 1 June 2023.

Sir Kevin brings a wealth of experience of the Defence and Engineering sectors to the Board. Sir Kevin spent almost 20 years at BAE Systems plc predominantly in its Military Aircraft Division and BAe Defence before becoming Group Managing Director with responsibility for new business and international strategy.

After BAE, SirKevin joined the Board of GKN PLC, the FTSE-listed global engineering and manufacturing company, initiallyleading the Aerospace and Defence businesses, and then serving 9 years as Group Chief Executive. He went onto spend 4 years in Hong Kong as a partner at Unitas Capital. His Non-Executive career includes 8 years at Rolls-Royce Holdings plc where he was the Senior Independent Director.

Lt Col Stuart Crawford is a defence analyst and former army officer. Sign up for his podcasts and newsletters at



Tank CommanderLt Col Stuart Crawford’s latest book Tank Commander (Hardback) is available now

Scotland’s Place in UK Defence

For the last twenty-five years or so I have been writing and speaking about defence matters in Scotland. Whilst still a serving army officer my interest was initially sparked by the question of how an independent Scotland (iScotland) might go about organising its own armed forces on leaving the UK. The question always was, however, how could it do so, not that it should do so. My thinking was very much that if it’s going to happen then it needs to be done properly and was more of an academic exercise than anything else.

The culmination of all this came in October 2012, when the Royal Inited Services Institute (RUSI) was kind enough to publish my study A’ The Blue Bonnets: Defending an Independent Scotland as one of its papers. In writing it I was assisted by Scotland-based economist Richard Marsh, who costed the proposals contained therein. The paper is still available to download from the RUSI website[1].

Up until that point, most discussions around the topic approached it on the basis of defining a hypothetical defence budget, usually based on a percentage of GDP, and then deciding what could be afforded. This cack-handed approach, much used by politicians and others who have little knowledge of military matters, is no way to design armed forces. We took the reverse approach, and examined what would be required in terms of manpower and equipment and then worked out what it might cost.

This all took place over ten years ago, and yet it is still, to my knowledge, the only properly costed model of what an independent Scotland’s armed forces might look like. Since then Richard and I have modified our findings and recommendations in the light of advances in technology and tactics[2], but the methodology employed in the original report remains pretty solid I think.

To précis our ideas I would stress the following:

  • An iScotland could not hope to adopt a “full spectrum military capability” or mini-UK posture in defence terms. It would be unaffordable and unsustainable. Accordingly, it would have to specialise and rely on allies and coalition parties to fill the capability gaps.
  • iScotland armed forces would have to eschew high-end weaponry like aircraft carriers, submarines, fast jets, attack helicopters, main battle tanks, and various other equipments. It might be able, though, to negotiate a larger “share” of UK military equipment that would be useful to it in any independence negotiations that might take place.
  • Scotland hosts three military facilities that are of the utmost importance militarily to the rest of the UK (rUK); the naval shipyards on the Clyde and at Rosyth, RAF Lossiemouth, and His Majesty’s Naval Base, Clyde (HMNB Clyde), the latter colloquially known as Faslane.
  • Naval shipbuilding in Scotland depends almost entirely on orders from the Royal Navy (although currently there is an order on the books for one ship for Ukraine). Orders from an iScotland navy would not be sufficient to sustain these shipyards in work.
  • RAF Lossiemouth is now the only operational fast jet airfield in Scotland and is home to four squadrons of Typhoon FGR4 fighter squadrons. It is also home to the UK’s Poseidon MRA1 fleet, in the maritime patrol role, and will be the base of the RAF’s new fleet of three Boeing Wedgetail AEW1 airborne early warning and control aircraft, with deliveries commencing in 2023. More significantly, it also supports the US and Norwegian Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft as required, making it in effect a de facto NATO base.
  • Faslane is the most important military establishment in Scotland, if not in the whole of the UK. It hosts the RN’s nuclear armed SSBN fleet – the independent deterrent – and soon the whole of the RN’s submarine fleet, plus assorted other vessels.

The major lesson to take away here is, I think, that the relationship between Scotland and the rUK in defence terms is one of interdependence. An iScotland would not have the means, expertise, or wherewithal to design and administer a credible defence policy of its own without outside help. The best that could be hoped for, in the first decades of independence at least, would be some sort of “armed neutrality” along the lines of that espoused by Ireland.

At the same time, Scotland leaving the UK would have a significant impact on the UK’s defence posture. Cover of the “High North” is facilitated from RAF Lossiemouth in concert with NATO Allies, and loss of access to the air base would be a blow. I addition, the RN would have to reorientate its naval ship procurement to south of the Border, which although probably feasible in the medium to long term would not be without its problems.

However, what to do about Faslane and its neighbouring armament depot at Coulport is a problem of a completely different dimension. It is likely that an iScotland would not wish to retain the rUK’s nuclear deterrent within its territory, but there is nowhere else in the UK where it can be based in the short to medium term.

The simplest solution to this is for an iScotland to lease Faslane to the rUK for a period of time, say twenty years or so, whilst a new base is established elsewhere. When I first mooted this some years back there were howls of protests from nationalists, but now they seem to be more comfortable with the idea, not least perhaps on account of the revenue that any such arrangement might bring.

All that being said, there is little doubt that Scottish independence would not be a good thing for UK defence, nor would a fledgling Scottish independent state be as secure, initially at least, as it is within the UK. However, with the prospect of a second independence referendum increasingly unlikely this is perhaps a topic that will not need to be addressed in a serious fashion for some time to come.

[1] A’ the Blue Bonnets: Defending an Independent Scotland | Royal United Services Institute (

[2] Stuart Crawford and Richard Marsh: Defending an Independent Scotland post-Brexit – Source (

Lt Col Stuart Crawford is a defence analyst and former army officer. Sign up for his podcasts and newsletters at



Tank CommanderLt Col Stuart Crawford’s latest book Tank Commander (Hardback) is available now