Military News

How Russia and Ukraine ‘exploit the seams’ between military units

Military units working side-by-side often have small breaks in their unit operations, creating seams between them that an enemy can attack.
Logan Nye Avatar
ukraine and russia
Ukrainian T64 tanks move towards Bakhmut. (Photo by Aris Messinis / AFP) (Photo by ARIS MESSINIS/AFP via Getty Images)

Ukraine has launched its long-anticipated counteroffensive. Across the eastern part of the country, armored units are once again maneuvering on each other for dominance. And one of the things they’re looking for, besides dreadfully outdated tanks, is the “seams” between units.

Exploiting the seams, between units, between sections of the enemy organization and between armies of different nationalities is a time-tested method of gaining an advantage against an enemy force.

What are the seams?

Most military units, intelligence agencies and government agencies are effective on their own. When different agencies or units work together, their processes usually have gaps. There are little friction points between their teams.

This includes little stuff like the old joke about how the different military branches secure a building. But it’s also big stuff like failed Army-Air Force coordination heading into the Battle of Takur Ghar, resulting in Air Force attacks on Army special operators and Afghan ally positions. Missed intelligence made a bad situation worse.

In ground fights, this can manifest as units on different radio frequencies taking time to pass intelligence between each other. If a perimeter guard for one unit spots an enemy in front of him, they call it up to their leadership, which passes it to higher headquarters, which hopefully calls back down to the units on either side of the line to let them know about the enemy activity.

Russia and Ukraine war
This grab taken from AFP video footage shows a member of Ukraine’s military looking away as a BM-21’Grad’ MLRS 122mm rocket launcher fires on the outskirts of Soledar on January 11, 2023. – Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has said fighting is still raging in a key eastern frontline city that a Russian mercenary group earlier said it controlled, as Moscow announced a new military commander in Ukraine. The fate of Soledar in eastern Ukraine was uncertain after Russian group Wagner claimed it controlled the gateway town — but the Kremlin cautioned against declaring victory prematurely. (Photo by Arman SOLDIN / AFP) (Photo by ARMAN SOLDIN/AFP via Getty Images)

Exploiting the seams

That delay in intelligence sharing is mirrored in coordination. Two units fighting side-by-side just can’t coordinate as well as a single unit, especially if they’re from different branches or nations, and both sides know it.

For instance, U.S. forces and their allies in the Pacific are working to reduce the seams between them. European powers are doing the same for their own defense. But in Ukraine, Russian and Ukrainian forces are looking for the seams in their opponent’s forces.

And for the Russians, that’s likely a larger problem than for the Ukrainians. While both sides are filled with new recruits, Ukrainian forces are reportedly getting good, if limited, training. But Russians are reportedly being sent to the frontlines with little training on military basics, let alone how to quickly coordinate between units.

So we should expect that the Ukrainians are currently looking for seams or another opening to get through Russian lines. But even if the Russians are disorganized at the seams, they’ve had months to prepare for this fight. They have deep trench mines, mined approaches to their territory, and have prepared artillery and kill zones.

Even if the Ukrainians find seams, it’ll continue to be a tough fight.