This transparency of the battlefield is invaluable for artillery and air forces to attack targets. Until recently, “vagueness” would have been the gentlest way to interpret the thousands of shots needed to ensure a target could be destroyed. And given the vagaries of weather, wind and a host of other factors, even with real-time, visual tracking of targets and modern computers calculating precise ballistic data, it still often takes hundreds of “dumb” artillery shells fired over distances of 20 miles to destroy a target. But 21st century precision munitions solve this problem.
It is this combination of near-perfect information from drones and near-perfect guided munitions attacks that is new to the battlefield. We no longer need thousands of cartridges; Today’s maxim is “one hit, one kill.”
Then there is the profound change in cost. Short-range observation drones can now be purchased commercially, and even military-grade drones equipped with target designation lasers loaded with precision munitions are a fraction of the cost of HIMARs – the iconic weapon of the Ukrainian conflict. And while HIMARs remain important, they require dozens of million-dollar launchers, dozens of support vehicles, and hundreds of troops to fire, repair, and resupply them. In contrast, guided drones with precision munitions are a war on the cheap.
Of course, for the front-line troops of a Ukrainian brigade or Russian Spetnaz battalion fighting door-to-door in Bakhmut, these elements may have little direct effect except to reduce supporting fire or delay the necessary ammunition. On the front, soldiers understand the words of historian TR Fehrenbach that “one can fly over a country forever; you can bomb it, nuke it and wipe it of all life – but if you wish to defend it, protect it and keep it for civilization, you must do it on the ground, as the Roman legions did – by putting your soldiers in the mud.
But for the battlefield supply chain, this change means everything.
Ukraine now solves the age-old military dilemma of how to find, repair and finish off the enemy – and at low financial cost. Today, the ability of a military force to take advantage of distance and geography to hide its equipment and forces far from the front lines is virtually non-existent, significantly changing the nature of tactical combat.