The Russian war on Ukraine offers valuable lessons to the Swedish Armed Forces and other Western militaries. In this text, I want to highlight three key takeaways from the conflict described by Colonel Hans Granlund as “World War I and World War III at the same time”[1], emphasizing the importance of flexibility to adapt to the evolving nature of warfare, sustained warfighting capability to withstand prolonged conflicts, and the realities of urban operations.

Firstly, the need to quickly absorb a surprise attack through primarily operational and cognitive flexibility is paramount to ensure the nation can endure a prolonged conflict with elements of industrial-based attrition warfare. [2] Considering Sweden’s accession to NATO, this flexibility becomes even more crucial, requiring seamless interoperability with allied forces. The Swedish Armed Forces must develop and exercise rapid decision-making processes, adaptability to changing operational environments, and the ability to integrate new technologies effectively.

Secondly, the war underscores the importance of a sustained warfighting capability supported by a robust industrial base, domestically and from the rest of the Western World.[3] The Swedish Armed Forces must balance the traditionally offensive-based maneuver warfare with defensive operations to weaken the enemy’s fighting power. Building and maintaining strong relationships with domestic and international partners ensures a reliable supply chain, access to cutting-edge technology, and the ability to execute offensive and defensive operations effectively. As Sweden moves towards NATO accession, fostering these partnerships will become vital for maintaining a robust and resilient defense capability.

Lastly, the conflict highlights the importance of urban operations even though they are costly, vicious, and best avoided. Cities are political centers of gravity, logistic hubs, and road network nodes, making urban combat challenging to prevent.[4] Accordingly, the Swedish Armed Forces must be prepared for the complexities of urban operations by developing comprehensive urban warfare doctrines, training, and organizations. This preparation should strike a balance between minimizing own casualties and collateral damage with operational effectiveness while being able to withstand the urbicide policy that Russia enforces by reducing cities to rubble.

In conclusion, the Russian war on Ukraine provides crucial lessons for the Swedish Armed Forces and other Western militaries. By embracing flexibility, investing in a sustained warfighting capability, and preparing for the complexities of urban operations, we can ensure that our forces remain ready and capable of addressing the challenges of modern warfare as Sweden integrates with NATO.

The author is a major and serves at Arméstaben.

 

[1] Lund, Lina and Lundborg, Beatrice: ‚ÄúSvenska √∂versten i Kiev: ‚ÄĚSom att bevittna f√∂rsta och tredje v√§rldskriget p√• samma g√•ng‚ÄĚ,‚ÄĚ Dagens Nyheter, 2023-07-09, https://www.dn.se/sverige/svenska-oversten-i-kiev-som-att-bevittna-forsta-och-tredje-varldskriget-pa-samma-gang/, (2023-07-17).
[2] Finkel, Meir. On Flexibility: Recovery from Technological and Doctrinal Surprise on the Battlefield, Stanford University Press: Palo Alto, CA, 2011.
[3] Fox, Amos C:¬† ‚ÄúThe Russo-Ukrainian War and the Principles of Urban Operations‚ÄĚ, Small Wars Journal, 2022-10-11, https://smallwarsjournal.com/jrnl/art/russo-ukrainian-war-and-principles-urban-operations, (2023-07-17).
[4] Hills, Alice: Future War in Cities: Rethinking a Liberal Dilemma. Routledge: London, England, 2004.