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Why charisma is a more important weapon on the battlefield than the size of an army

Ukrainian troops have scored unlikely victories over Russia because they were 'sufficiently confident' to know they could outfight Vladimir Putin's forces - Ukrainian Presidential Press Service/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock
Ukrainian troops have scored unlikely victories over Russia because they were 'sufficiently confident' to know they could outfight Vladimir Putin's forces - Ukrainian Presidential Press Service/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

Charismatic commanders on the battlefield are more important than troop numbers, the head of the British Army has said.

General Sir Patrick Sanders, Chief of the General Staff, said that Ukraine would win the war against Russia because of its mindset on the front line.

Sir Patrick told delegates at the Future Atlantic Forum in New York that it was the “extraordinary impact” of individual examples of leadership that has led to the Ukrainians putting up such a strong counter-offensive.

“Charismatic commanders on the battlefield can make all the difference regardless of force ratios,” he said.

Gen Sir Patrick urged those gathered not to “lose sight of those intangibles”, adding that: “We are not good at measuring them.

“We are not very good at predicting the present, let alone being able to cast into the future.”

General Sir Patrick Sanders was speaking at the Future Atlantic Forum in New York - Kevin Walton/Royal Navy
General Sir Patrick Sanders was speaking at the Future Atlantic Forum in New York - Kevin Walton/Royal Navy

When Russia invaded Ukraine in February, its army had 900,000 troops - making it the fourth-largest military on the planet. In comparison, Ukraine had just 361,000 troops when the fighting broke out.

“The physics told you the Ukrainians couldn’t win because they didn’t have enough force ratios and yet on several occasions, they were sufficiently confident in their own moral component to know they could outfight the Russians,” added Gen Sir Patrick.

He said that such a mindset came down “to the cause that you are fighting for”, coupled with the “will and the cohesion of the forces and the population”.

He also spoke of the importance of “the impact of shock”, which is “something that we as military commanders seek to achieve”.

He added: “For those who have experienced it, it is debilitating, it paralyses your decision-making and it causes panic - and we saw some of that playing out on the front of Kharkiv.”

Ukraine’s offensive in the Kharkiv region has proven that tanks, when properly used with supporting infantry and air cover, remain crucial to offensive manoeuvre warfare.

Ukrainian servicemen on board a captured Russian tank. General Sir Patrick Sanders says tanks remain crucial on the battlefield - Paula Bronstein/Getty Images
Ukrainian servicemen on board a captured Russian tank. General Sir Patrick Sanders says tanks remain crucial on the battlefield - Paula Bronstein/Getty Images

It is a point that Gen Sir Patrick stands by, having said that "land will still be the decisive domain" if a battle were to break out between Nato and Russia.

In his maiden Royal United Services Institute (Rusi) speech as Chief of the General Staff, Sir Patrick warned that the UK Army’s capability was “well below what it should be for a nation of our standing”.

“You can’t cyber your way across a river,” he said.

It is a sentiment that has stuck with him. Speaking at the forum earlier this week, Gen Sir Patrick said: “Land is the domain where wars get decided and where conflict termination occurs, but what we’ve seen is it is just so much harder if you are not exploiting the other domains.

“For features for the future, it will be integrated and allied. You may not be fighting with the British Army, but you will be supporting someone’s army.”

Summing up his thoughts on how the war in Ukraine will end, Sir Patrick cautioned that “war is such a complex activity, there is so much friction and uncertainty that I’m not sure that the combination of politics and violence is something you can easily model”.

He added: “Terrains get in the way. Fortunes are decided on whether or not you can get across a river and there is no amount of cyber or AI that is going to help you do that.

“It is about attrition, it’s about mass, it’s about fires, and stockpiles and logistics really matter.”