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New Zealand Chief of Army Writing Competition 22.1 Winner of the Junior Soldiers Category.



By T. Sanders


Strategy is about creating power. It is about making the most of available resources, achieving more than comparisons of relative strength might suggest would be possible.

Lawrence Freedman (2019)[i]


On 24 February 2022, the Russian government launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the largest armed conflict in Europe since World War II. Being greatly outnumbered with limited resources, Ukraine has confronted the Russian armed forces, which are considered as the second most powerful military in the world.[ii] Many military analysts believed that Russia would secure its strategic objectives within the first couple of days of the Russian invasion. However, the Ukrainian defence has proven to be resilient and Ukrainian forces continue to secure territory as well as maintaining counterattacks until today. This article will outline five key points from the Russian aggression in Ukraine, that the NZ Army can learn from the experience of the Ukrainian armed forces and implement within its own armed forces.

Lesson 1 – Tactics

One of the principal tactics applied by the Ukrainian Army was insurgency warfare. They have deployed light infantry units equipped with shoulder-fired anti-tank weapons in forests and villages alongside major transport routes. The adopted positions of the Ukrainian light infantry allowed them to effectively use ambushing and skirmishing by targeting key Russian supplies of ammunition, fuel and food.[iii] To enable them to protect cities, the Ukrainian forces dug trenches in the suburbs of cities. These methods had proved to be successful and allowed the Ukrainians to secure full Russian tank attacks at the key gateway to Ukrainian cities.

The historical military background in New Zealand has a similar practise of using “hit and run” tactics as well as using trenches of pā during the New Zealand Wars period. The superior British Army used “fire and movement” tactics and artillery was used in the first instance following by the advancement of the infantry. In contrast, Maori’s tactics were primarily based on hit and run attacks and bush-fighting. The intention of such tactics was to assault the enemy by surprise.[iv] The effectiveness of the guerrilla tactics was acknowledged and adopted by the British Army, resulting in formation of the special guerrilla unit known as the Forest Rangers.[v]

The principals of the guerrilla tactics used by the Maori and later by the Forest Rangers two centuries ago is no different to the tactics that the Ukrainian Army is using today, the only difference is that more advanced technology has been applied. The NZ Army needs to absorb the lessons of Ukrainian light infantry tactics and integrate within its own combat structure. The use of guerrilla tactics is not only beneficial for the NZ Army, but it will re-establish the roots of New Zealand strategies which played significant role during the New Zealand Wars but seems to be forgotten today.

Lesson 2 – The Importance of UAVs

The effective use of UAV technology by the Ukrainian Army is another lesson for the New Zealand Army, as Ukrainians had proved to be successful in their limited capacity against Russia. Prior to the Russian invasion, Ukraine was outnumbered in both military personnel as well as military technology (Figure 1).

The West was able to supply advanced defensive weapons to Ukraine, but the Ukrainian Army is still lacking the capability for counteroffensive operations. Having limited resources, the Ukrainian government decided to concentrate on technology that would match the accessible cost and efficiency. As a result, drones, UAVs and UCAVs became an important piece of technology on the Ukrainian battlefield. The Turkish made Bayraktar TB2 became an effective weapon in striking Russian air defence systems and command posts.[vi] The Ukrainians found a unique role in overcoming their lack of combat aircraft by using the Bayraktars as a strategic bomber striking ammunition depos and oil storage facilities deep inside Russia.[vii] Toy drones have also become a useful technology at the tactical level. There are no official tactical drone units within the Ukrainian Army, but most Ukrainian infantry platoons have a drone attached.[viii] It was not only that drones were heavily used in Ukraine, but recent conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh had demonstrated the value of the drones, where the Russian surface-to-air missile systems were destroyed by the Turkish TB2s and change the outcome of the conflict.[ix]

It is time for the New Zealand Army to deeply think about incorporation of the UAV systems within its land component force for at least two reasons. Firstly, it is a cheap technology when it comes to its development, manufacture, procurement, exploitation, maintenance, deployment, etc. Secondly, the contemporary battlefield is moving towards artificial intelligence and the value of drones in future warfare will play a dominant role, as described in the examples for the above. For the US, the Russian – Ukrainian war serves as a warning point of future research and development military investments. As UAVs had proved to be useful for the ground, air and naval forces; simultaneously, does not require a pilot.[x] Considering that New Zealand is a small nation and not capable of procurement or development of its own advanced technology, investment in close air support UAVs and anti-drones’ warfare as well as integration within its defence system can significantly shape the professionalism of the NZ Army as locally as well as internationally.[xi]

Lesson 3 – Effective Use of Military Technology

Facing enemy with military technological advantage, the Ukrainians had to think of other options to outmanoeuvre a sophisticated adversary. The Ukrainian Army demonstrated that older, less advanced technology can still make significant impact against superior technologies. Ukraine has a long tradition of advanced engineering, allowing Ukrainians to establish a solid understanding of military technology. Also, Ukrainians have a deep awareness of the engineering of the Soviet military as well as tactics and strategies that post-Soviet Union nations would normally use with their technology. In combination with this knowledge, Ukrainians were able to apply effectively Western anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons such as Javelins, NLAWs and Stingers. The Ukrainian Army carefully chose areas of defensive positions and their own terrain, that high-precision weapons can be used to maximum advantages (Figure 2).[xii]

It is not only that Western weapons were used effectively by Ukrainians, but application of its own developed weapons system had shown a future potential of the Ukrainian Army. The Ukrainian anti-ship cruise missile R-360 Neptune is based on a Soviet anti-ship missile but was developed by Ukrainian military engineers following the threat posed by Russia after annexation of Crimea in 2014. The Neptune has succeeded in sinking the flagship of the Black Sea fleet, the Moskva. However, the Ukrainians employed a different strategy, they sent a drone to distract the attention of the Moskva and at the same time discharged two missiles targeting the ship. As a result, the ship caught on fire and sunk.[xiii]

Effective use of technology for the Ukrainians means not just its application, but the way that technology can be improved and developed at the same time. In 2016, the US was cautious in giving the Ukrainians their counter mortar radars as the fear were that Ukrainians do not have sufficient knowledge in using this peace of technology. Instead, the Ukrainians examined the radar and developed new tactics, technics and procedures of how to use them, thereafter, they were training the Americans of how to use their own technology.[xiv]

This is the time for the NZ Army to seriously establish relationship with the Ukrainian Army. The NZ Army can learn a lot from the Ukrainians of the efficiency in using sophisticated military technology. As the NZ Army has limited capacity in military technology, it is necessary to improve its effective use to maximum benefit of the Army. Therefore, valuable lessons from Ukraine needs to be studied by New Zealand experts and developing its own know-how at the same time. For instance, this can be achieved by emphasising initiative/innovation challengers and being more flexible in adapting new tactics and thinking within the NZ Army. The variety of contestants from those who study or use technology in practise will have the opportunity to be creative and beneficial to the NZ Army, NZDF and the country as a whole.

Lesson 4 – Intelligence

The intelligence has also helped to shape the battlefield in Ukraine’s favour. Even though, the US and other NATO countries’ intelligence have contributed major support to the Ukrainians, such as air defences by providing information of where and when the Russians have an intention to strike;[xv] however, the Ukrainian intelligence have contributed substantial input in the overall Ukrainian plan. One of the strategies that the Ukrainian intelligence service uses is slowing down the advance of Russian troops by targeting command and control headquarters. The outcome of such efforts has caused the death of numerous Russian generals and officers.[xvi] Due to security policies, it is unknown of how exactly the Ukrainian intelligence is receiving information about their enemy and there is a possibility that many years will pass by until we can find out about the way they operate today. However, following the annexation of Crimea and invasion of East Ukraine eight years ago, the Ukrainian intelligence have been continuously developing its own tactical approach. What we know today is that one of the ways of gathering information is interception of Russian phone calls. It is also believed that continuous cyber-attacks from Russia have shaped a way that the Ukrainian intelligence operates today.[xvii]

For the NZ Army, intelligence should be one of the most important elements of the entire structure. New Zealand belongs to the Five Eyes partnership as well as the weakest link among its partners. Therefore, the foremost focus of the New Zealand intelligence and particular of the NZ Army needs to be considered as priority number one.

Lesson 5 – Ukrainian Spirit

The case with the Russian-Ukrainian war is like the former New Zealand General Piers Read used to say: “It is not the size of the dog in the fight, it is the size of the fight in the dog.” To enable to understand “the size of the fight in the dog” for the Ukrainians, is to study their longstanding history of fighting for freedom. They had nearly four centuries under Russian rule, when their culture, language and history were suppressed by various rulers. With Ukraine becoming independent it was still difficult to manage their freedom and, finally, the Russian invasion. The motivation that has developed in Ukrainian soul is not only limited to the Ukrainian armed forces, but to the entire nation. From the early days of the war, the Armed Forces of Ukraine cooperated with the civilian population, who were able to secure some rear areas from Russian penetration as well as maintain awareness of saboteurs’ presence. The Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy also did not flee the country, thus, encouraged his people to enhance their motivation.[xviii] In contrast, the Russian forces resulted in demoralisation of their men and the unwillingness to fight. Motivation versus demoralisation served one of the key components in Ukrainian grand strategy.[xix]

Courage, commitment, comradeship and integrity are the core values of the NZ Army. All these core values are relevant when it comes to spirit and determination that the Ukrainians demonstrate during their fight for freedom. This is an invaluable lesson, and the NZ Army needs to think of how to integrate civilians into a joint effort, thus, the aim of the NZ Army needs to focus of how to become one of the most trusted institutions in the country. The war is not over yet and the NZ Army should maximise the opportunity to study the new generation of warfare.



[i] Lawrence Freedman, Ukraine and the Art of Strategy (New York: Oxford University Press, 2019). 164.

[ii] Martin Armstrong, “The World’s Most Powerful Militaries,” (Statista, 2022, accessed 18 April, 2022).

[iii] James Marson and Daniel Michaels, “Ukraine’s Troops Fight War of Ambush and Skirmish Against Russian Invaders,” (The Wall Street Journal, 2022, accessed 25 April, 2022).

[iv] Pete McDonald, Foot-tracks in New Zealand: Origins, access issues and recent developments (Pete McDonald, 2011). 76-77.

[v] Ian Knight, “The New Zealand Wars 1820–1872,” (New York: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2013). 42-43.

[vi] “Drones in Ukraine – Lessons for Other Countries,”  (YouTube, 2022, accessed 25 April 2022).

[vii] Ragip Soylu, “Ukrainian TB2 Bayraktar drone ‘bombed oil depots deep inside Russia’,” (Middle East Eye, 2022, accessed 30 April, 2022).

[viii] Stephen Shankland, “Ukraine Is Fighting Russia With Drones and Rewriting the Rules of War,” (CNET, 2022, accessed 25 April 2022).

[ix] Stijn Mitzer, Jakub Janovsk, and others, “The Fight For Nagorno-Karabakh: Documenting Losses On The Sides Of Armenia And Azerbaijan,” (Oryx, 2020, accessed 25 April, 2022).

[x] James Stavridis, “What the U.S. Military Needs to Learn from the Ukraine War,” (Time, 2022, accessed 30 April, 2022).

[xi] Tetyana Sanders, “NZ Army – Remaining a Partner of Choice,” (Knowledge Enabled Army, 2021, accessed 25 April, 2022).

[xii] Meredith Deliso, “Key lessons from the Ukraine conflict about conventional warfare,” (ABC News, 2022, accessed 28 April, 2022).

[xiii] Jeffrey R. Cares and Anthony Cowden, “More on the Sinking of the MOSKVA,” (RealClear Defense, 2022, accessed 30 April, 2022).

[xiv] “The Struggles of the Russian Military in Ukraine,”  (YouTube, Time 51:30 – 52:40: Council on Foreign Relations, 2022, accessed 29 April, 2022).

[xv] “How U.S. intelligence Sharing Is Impacting The War In Ukraine,”  (YouTube: MSNBC, 2022, accessed 30 April, 2022).

[xvi] William Booth, Robyn Dixon, and David L. Stern, “Russian generals are getting killed at an extraordinary rate,” (The Washington Post, 2022, accessed 30 April, 2022).

[xvii] Greg Myre, “How does Ukraine keep intercepting Russian military communications?,” (NPR, 2022, accessed 30 April, 2022).

[xviii] Can Kasapoğlu, “A Winning Strategy in Ukraine,” (Hudson Institute, 2022, accessed 30 April, 2022).

[xix] Rouben Azizian, Tetyana Sanders, and Terry Johanson, “A Discussion on the Russian Invasion of Ukraine,” interview by Wil Hoverd, The Defence Studies Program, 2022,