The Exploitation Phase of Offensives. Why The Ukrainians Get There And The Russians Don’t.

  1. Preparatory Phase: Sometimes called “shaping the battlefield.” It certainly includes degrading enemy capabilities in the intended area of attack. It includes efforts aimed at disrupting in advance the enemy’s ability to respond to your upcoming attack by interrupting their supply, command and control, preempting reinforcement, and degrading artillery capabilities that could disrupt your attack. However, it also includes preparing your own forces for sustained offensive operations. This means building the logistical tail behind those forces to support phase 4.
  2. Contact Phase: While the defense has the advantage of secured and prepared ground, the offense has the advantage of “initiative.” That means the offense has the advantage of deciding where and when the battle will be fought. If the offense has properly shaped the battlefield (see above) that will be at a time and location favorable to the offense. This phase may include multiple “contacts” aimed at finding the weak point in the enemy lines.
  3. Attack Phase: Bringing decisive combat power to bear at a point of contact to destroy the enemy in that area and breakthrough enemy lines. This phase is best executed when multiple types of forces bring pressure to bear on the attack point. E.g. armor and infantry strike the enemy front lines while artillery and air power deny the enemy capability to react and reinforce and bring forward reserves that could frustrate this phase. The objective is to break through enemy lines and get you to the most favored phase of offensive operations, below. This phase is often associated with high casualties on both sides.
  4. Exploitation Phase: Getting to this phase is what all the other phases are all about. In this phase the enemy is in retreat, preferably disorganized retreat. As it turns out, retreating forces do not generally fight well. The defensive ground they prepared has been abandoned, they are on the run, and it’s difficult to shoot with your backs to the enemy. From the offensive players point of view, things get fun. Chase the enemy, and as they run, kill them. Destroy their unit cohesiveness and morale. Let mostly destroyed, demoralized, scattered units run to the rear spreading the terror of what is coming to the soft units behind them. This stage is characterized by lots of enemy killed, lots of POWs, and lots of enemy equipment captured as it is abandoned in the rush to escape. All with little losses to the side on offense. To be sure, this stage involves its own delicate balance. When does one continue the offensive, and risk outrunning your ability to supply it (again see phase 1) vs. pausing and letting a panicked enemy retreat off the hook? But here’s the thing. That’s a better dilemma to have than being the forces in the panicked enemy retreat.

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Keith

Retired lawyer & Army vet in The Villages of Florida. Lifelong: Republican (pre-Trump), Constitution buff, science nerd & dog lover. Twitter: @KeithDB80