March 13, 2022

Early Lessons from the War in Ukraine

I figure it is about time to write a longer piece on the war in Ukraine, and what lessons we can draw from it. I'm going to focus mostly on what we have learned so far, and leave my prognosticating to DSL and the comments.

The first lesson is a very old one, best summed up by something Napoleon almost said. "The moral is to the physical as three is to one". Morale and motivation matter a lot. This isn't to adopt the Imperial Japanese approach that they would win because their will was stronger even in the face of overwhelming firepower, but if one side wants to fight and the other doesn't, then the side that doesn't is going to have a very hard time of it. While there are lots of ways to motivate people to go fight, the easiest is to tell them "Bad guys have invaded our land. They're going to destroy your home and enslave or kill you and your family. You need to stop them and you can stop them." So long as people keep believing all of that, they will keep fighting, and it was obvious from the start that the Ukrainians believed. Given that, everything we've seen since then has been pretty much inevitable.

The second lesson is that observers have been overrating Russia, probably for a very long time. The Russian military has failed on almost every level imaginable, from the number of vehicles abandoned when they broke down due to poor maintenance, to the fact that Ukrainian TB2 drones (which have performance that would have made them cutting-edge approximately 100 years ago) have been able to carry out repeated strikes on Russian forces, including Russian air-defense units. I've been skeptical of purported Russian strength for years, but that is still the most shocking event of the last few weeks to me, even more than Germany's U-turn on defense spending.

So why did Russia fail so badly? That question will either be debated for years or quietly forgotten (how many of you remember that there was a controversy over whether the US would beat Iraq in 1991?) but I can suggest a few early answers. One is obviously morale. This has long been a problem in the Russian/Soviet Army, as most methods of getting soldiers to fight don't work particularly well if leadership is seen as corrupt and you get brutally hazed, as Russian conscripts usually are. I suspect that this was hidden in the past because only a few picked units were deployed to Syria and the Donbass, and it's usually possible to scrape up a few units of decent troops no matter how bad your overall quality is.

Another is that a modern military is a perishable thing, and will rot unless you work very hard to keep it fresh. This is perhaps easiest to see at sea, where the adage from the Napoleonic wars, that England controls the sea because "her sailors drink rum while the French stick to port"1 remains true. Russia has long made sure that any major warship deployment is accompanied by a tug in case of mechanical failure, something unthinkable in the western navies. Also unthinkable is losing planes on two different occasions to arresting gear problems, but that happened on Kuznetzov's last deployment to Syria, and the air wing had to be transferred ashore. This kind of rot is easier to conceal on land, because the sea is far less forgiving than a barracks, but that only makes it more likely to be a problem. Modern warfare is incredibly complicated, and doing it well requires mastering countless skills from the obvious (do your troops get enough time and ammo on the range?) to the obscure (how good are your strike planners?) to the downright boring (are the tires on your trucks in good shape?). The US invests a ton of time and money in making sure that its forces are doing all of this, and while it isn't perfect, it has produced a level of peacetime readiness that is frankly astonishing. Russia clearly has not done this, probably thanks to a combination of apathy, corruption, and limited resources. Good training is expensive, and the Russian economy just isn't that big.

Economic problems also seem to be showing up in the quality of Russian equipment. Ever since WWII, it has been increasingly difficult to build good and effective military equipment, and a large part of the reason it takes the US so long to buy things is that we are making sure that the systems work first, before putting them into service. (In the past, it was common for us to do things the other way around, such as the missile frigate California, inoperative for a year due to software issues discovered during her sea trials.) Fundamentally, Russia's economy is about the size of Italy's, and while it has a much higher defense budget and cheaper labor, it's extremely hard to see how they could reach anywhere close to the standards of western militaries. This is particularly true given how little military hardware Russia imports, an excellent method for spreading the cost of validation around.

But how to reconcile this with the long-standing Western reverence for Russian equipment? There are several reasons why I believe that the quality of their hardware has long been overestimated. First and foremost, Russia has strong incentives to hush up any problems they may have, as they have long had a strong export sector, and every incentive to make their hardware sound as impressive as possible. Western militaries and contractors have this same incentive, but it's counterbalanced by free-speech laws that allow journalists to talk about problems with their nation's equipment, which Russia obviously lacks. Second, there's a general ignorance of the problems that military equipment faces, which results in many rather fantastic claims being taken seriously. Third, Russia has long struggled with corruption, so it's quite plausible that many tests are "passed" without being run honestly, with the expectation that they won't be tested enough in service for the problem to become apparent. On the whole, there's long been a distinct lack of skepticism about Russian claims in the military arena, and we can hope that this is at least partially corrected by the events currently occurring in Eastern Europe.

One lesson that seems obvious to me but hasn't been publicly discussed much is the importance of missile defenses. Putin has successfully deterred NATO from intervening largely because he possesses nuclear weapons, but some of his actions with them have given observers reason to question his sanity. The US has spent the last 20 years developing missile defenses, and has largely worked out the practical problems involved, leaving us with systems that work, but that are not available in sufficient numbers to deal with a Russian attack. We could solve this quite easily, given that Russia can only have 1,500 strategic nuclear warheads under the current arms control treaties. With such a shield, we would be far safer if Putin or Kim Jong-Un decide to start lobbing missiles at us. Russia would undoubtedly object, but they have lost all standing as a reasonable actor on the world stage, so we should ignore them. Putin could use to withdraw from the arms-control agreements and build more nukes, but we've bankrupted Russia before and we can and should do it again if they object. The usual objection is that it would be destabilizing and give the US the ability to launch a nuclear first strike without fear of repercussions. This is obvious nonsense, given that we can never be sure that the system will be effective enough, and the downsides of it failing, even once or twice, are potentially massive. What President would be so confident in the system to deliberately invite a nuclear strike? But such a system could give us and our allies a great deal more security in a still-uncertain world.

I think I'll wrap things up there. Undoubtedly, we'll learn more over the next few weeks, and I'll probably post another one of these before too long.


1 No offense intended to the modern Marine Nationale, which does operate at sea.

Comments

  1. March 13, 2022ike said...

    I gave up newspapers for Lent. Is Russia getting pushed back or just bleeding for her gains (much) more than anticipated?

  2. March 13, 2022John Schilling said...

    Mostly bleeding for very little gains, but there have apparently been a few minor Ukrainian counteroffensives in the area between Kyiv and Kharkiv.

    I hate to recommend Twitter for anything, but it is fast (from experience, faster than a North Korean ICBM), and very selectively reliable. If you forgot to give it up for Lent,

    https://twitter.com/JominiW

    is posting daily reports and maps that seem to synthesize the best available open-source intelligence.

    Or for a more conventional internet experience,

    http://www.iswresearch.org

  3. March 13, 2022Directrix Gazer said...

    I'm surprised this piece focused on the equipment as much as it did. The real stand-outs for me have been logistical and operational/strategic blunders.

    Let's take logistics first. Seemingly out of a belief that the Ukrainians would collapse Real Soon Now (TM), the Russians bypassed vital road intersections and haven't seemed to put much effort into moving their railhead forward, leaving their forward-most units stranded with barely enough supply throughput to support the maneuver battalions of their BTGs. These units are lavishly equipped with artillery, but we keep seeing maneuver battalions push forward with very little fire preparation or support, in complete contradiction with their doctrine and training. Conventional artillery is of course extremely reliant on huge volumes of ammunition moving up from the rear, so this error has tremendous consequences for tactical effectiveness. The tradeoff in modern warfare is between blood and fire, and if you cannot use fire, well...

    In the strategic realm, it is apparent that the most planning-dependent major army on Earth was thrown into this fight without any planning or rehearsal by its tactical elements. We keep seeing indications that many soldiers were not aware they were going to war practically until they were in Ukraine. The Russian soldier has historically been famously moody, especially in offense, and the failure to prepare the army psychologically has had, I think, a horrible effect on morale.

    Operationally, something seems rotten in Russian staff-work at all levels, so far. Very poor coordination, little cooperation between arms, and just generally a lot of stupid flailing.

  4. March 13, 2022bean said...

    It focused on equipment to a large extent because that's been a hobbyhorse of mine for years (something I largely owe to Stuart) and this is my chance to run around saying "I told you so". You're not wrong on your list of blunders, and I may link to it from the original post.

  5. March 13, 2022John Schilling said...

    On the planning front, I suspect that the airmobile forces that tried to take Antonov/Hostomel airport on Day 1 had some fairly well-developed plans, as did the follow-on airborne and Spetznaz forces that were to land and seize Kyiv before the Ukrainians could react. But there's no battle plan that lets a reinforced light infantry company hold against a brigade-strength combined arms attack with close air support, and who knew Ukraine would be able to do that on a few hour's notice?

    The rest of the Russian invasion, seems to have had a plan based on the assumption that demoralized Ukrainians would flee before them as soon as they realized the capital had fallen, and that the critical challenge would be setting up an internal-security regime before the Ukrainians could set up a partisan insurgency.

    The lack of a Plan B reflects some combination of incompetence or overconfidence. I suspect any Russian staff officer with any sense of what really matters would have understood that presenting Putin with such a Plan B before 25 Feb, or even being caught working one up in private, would have had severely detrimental career consequences.

  6. March 13, 2022Inky said...

    Another reason the Russian army has been able to conceal the ineffectiveness of their equipment is that whenever it was blasted to smithereens by a competent adversary (like Israelis have been doing in Syria for quite some time) Russians said something like "well what you can expect from those stupid syrians, the only thing you can trust them is a technical". Basically, blaming the client for equipment failure. Since there is no way to prove who was at the controls of the Pantsirs that were blasted in Syria -- locals or "foreign advisers" that notion continued to be plausible. Until now.

    Adding to this: no country that is a major user of Russian -- sourced equipment have ever been in a shooting war to really test it. This is especially true for high-end things like S-400 SAM complexes which true capabilities would only be evident in a very high-intensity war. Countries which aligned themselves with Russia to buy their stuff (ie Turkey and India) should be watching all of this really closely and making conclusions.

  7. March 13, 2022Lambert said...

    @ike

    Russia also has yet to capture or even encircle more than a couple of Ukraine's major cities (not counting those in Crimea or the seperatist 'republics'). The hardest part of the invasion is yet to come and they're already struggling.

    It seems to me that Plan A looked more like Hungary 1956 or Czechoslovakia 1968 than a real war. (I've seen it claimed but not substantiated that those were the only two times between 1946 and 2021 that the VDV actually parachuted into action like they did last month)

  8. March 13, 2022ike said...

    @Lambert

    Thank you. I imagine the Ukraine's big problem of defending a massive front (Odessa to the Polish border) against a numerically superior foe, without getting isolated and destroyed in detail, remains.

    I guess the bases in White Russia rule out trying to make a stand at the river. Even if the political problems that would present could be solved.

  9. March 13, 2022Directrix Gazer said...

    Oddly enough, I'm probably not as hard on (certain classes of) Soviet/Russian equipment as some here, though I will add that a further observed weakness that's come out in Ukraine is communications and command/control systems. Lots of Russian line units seem to have been relying on unencrypted and commercial equipment, including cell phones, for communications. Part of me wonders if this isn't just a matter of immediacy. Which is faster when you're under attack: opening a paper map, locating the coordinates of the enemy position, sending them to the fire control center via an (old or old-fashioned) encrypted radio, or simply sharing a GPS position via your cell phone and adding the note "200 meters north of there?"

  10. March 13, 2022Alsadius said...

    On the "Russian equipment was never used in a serious war" argument, I thought the Iran-Iraq war had a bunch of their stuff see serious fighting? I'm far from an expert on that one, but the factoid I recall was that those two smallish countries fighting managed to basically drain the entire free spare part supply for all Russian equipment from the entire Warsaw Pact. (Not that the militaries sold all their spares, but all the rest of what was available). Things broke down way more than had been expected, and supply wasn't adequate for even a fairly small war.

  11. March 13, 2022John Schilling said...

    @Gazer: One of those things is certainly faster than the other, but that may just mean a faster way to get an MRLS strike landing on your position. There's a reason sensible armies confiscate cell phones before sending troops against technologically competent adversaries (see also the Nordic exercise where one team was able to direct artillery via mobile dating app).

    And you really can't count on cellphones when you are invading enemy territory and it's their cellular infrastructure.

    Everything I've seen suggests that the Russians are using unencrypted radios, not cellphones, and if they're using unencrypted radios it's because they don't have encrypted radios that work - either hardware sold on the black market, hardware broken, or key management broken.

  12. March 13, 2022Directrix Gazer said...

    Oh, I agree completely about the dangers, John, I was making an argument that momentary expediency or the failure of the authorized equipment could cause people to ignore them.

  13. March 13, 2022Ariel said...

    I wouldn't be so surprised if, at the radio level, modern cell phones are more secure and harder to direction-find than Soviet-era tactical radios, especially in an environment that is fairly rich in cell phones.

    Of course, that only applies until you upload your location and pictures to Facebook, Strava or Grindr. Which any large enough group of soldiers is sure to contain someone that will do.

  14. March 13, 2022Eugene Norman said...

    The problem with the analysis, particularly on missiles, is that Turkey and India have decided to go with Russian s-400 missile. Turkey was sanctioned by the US in doing so, and of course it’s a NATO member. It would have been a lot easier to go with a NATO solution, so why didn’t they?

  15. March 13, 2022Johan Larson said...

    Didn't India use Russia equipment when it fought Pakistan?

  16. March 13, 2022Directrix Gazer said...

    Worth pointing out that both sides in this conflict are using a lot of Russian equipment. Assuming they survive as an independent state, I hope we in the West will have access to Ukrainian assessments of the combat performance of their equipment and will be able to make a better informed judgement than we ever have before.

    I really don't think the experience of Middle Eastern armies says much about anything other than the crippling defects they suffer at levels far more important to military performance that equipment (see Armies of Sand for an overview). If you had, 5 years prior to the 1st Gulf War, magically equipped the Iraqi army with equivalent-vintage American equipment and the Americans with Soviet equipment, then when it came to the war I think the final outcome would have been similar, though probably significantly bloodier for the Coalition.

  17. March 13, 2022George H. said...

    I'm reading this and thinking you have to look over this twitter 'tread of threads' by Kalin Galeev. https://twitter.com/kamilkazani/status/1498377757536968711 tldr, Putin actively weakens his military to limit any rivals. (Along with other insights.)

  18. March 13, 2022George H. said...

    Dang, Kamil Galeev

  19. March 13, 2022ike said...

    @Directrix Gazer

    I imagine that information will be equally available if they go into exile. What else are you going to do as a military man in Paris?

  20. March 13, 2022EngineOfCreation said...

    Abandonment of damaged tanks can be explained with Russian tank warfare doctrine and is not necessarily, on its own, a sign of incompetence.

    Western tank doctrine wants to maximise performance and minimise the repair/maintenance downtime of each individual, high-value tank. For example, the engine of a German Leopard 2 can be replaced within a few hours and relatively simple tools because of its modular design. Abandoning such a highly repairable tank without being forced to would indeed be against doctrine and you could rightfully suspect incompetence.

    However, Russian doctrine goes for the opposite approach - good enough performance most of the time and low per-unit cost (meaning you can field a higher number of tanks ganging up on smaller enemy units), but impractical to repair in the field because of fixed, compact design. For example, changing the engine of a T-series tank would take 2-3 days of serious effort in a shop. Abandoning a broken down tank and having it picked up later by repair crews in a secured area is the default under this doctrine.

    Therefore, abandoning broken tanks is, on its own, not a sign of incompetence. At most, it speaks of the doctrine being faulty and/or of an inability to fight according to the doctrine.

    Source: A short video series on the Ukraine war by a historian from the German Tank Museum

    https://daspanzermuseum.de/

    specifically this video, auto subtitles available:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wkb3Tb3ayk0&t=1s

  21. March 13, 2022John Schilling said...

    @Ariel: Cellphones can be geolocated with reasonable accuracy by whoever owns the local cellphone towers. Not quite GPS precision, but close enough for government work if the government in question has artillery. Signal strength and time of arrival at multiple towers is enough, and there's readily available software for that.

    Techniques for doing this without owning the cell towers are left as an exercise for the student, preferably the student with an SI clearance and a JWICS account. Ukraine may not have that level of technology, but a lot of people who do have it are not so quietly rooting for them.

  22. March 13, 2022EngineOfCreation said...

    Correction: Replacing the engine of a Leopard 2 is a matter not of hours, but of 15 minutes after arrival of an armoured recovery vehicle, in the best case:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZXxyuBLncds https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=148O1tl9S-M

  23. March 13, 2022bean said...

    I should probably clarify that I don't think every single piece of Soviet/Russian hardware is bad. The Soviet Union knew how to do a lot of stuff, although I have my doubts about their top-end computerized systems. Stuff since then is more dubious, particularly things that have lots of computers and sophistication. I'd single out the S-400 as something that I have many doubts will work well operationally.

  24. March 14, 2022Lambert said...

    I don't know how different Russian military radios are from US emergency services/law enforecement ones, but there are significant usability problems with the latter. It's very easy to broadcast unencrypted by mistake without anybody noticing and re-keying is temperamental. If most federal law enforcement agencies struggle with this I'd not be surprised if the Russian Army had similarly bad encryption discipline.

    source: this Defcon talk https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7awwG9aaR4c

  25. March 14, 2022Inky said...

    @Johan Larson

    India used Soviet equipment mostly. The last big shooting war was in 1971 which was fought with Soviet stuff only, and even in the latest bout of hostilities the only confirmed casualty was Indian MiG-21 shot down over Pakistan. India claims that their newer toys, including Su-30MKI were used in an airstrike on Pakistani training camps and Pakistani claim to have downed some of them but no evidence of downing has ever materialized. An additional point is that a lot of Russian-sourced equipment bought by India is locally manufactured and spliced up with domestically manufactured and in some cases (30MKI the prime case) imported equipment and as such not really reflecting the performance of purely Russian-sourced stuff.

    @EngineOfCreation

    However there were multiple occasions when they abandoned functioning equipment when it simply run out of fuel or sometimes not even that. And it's not only tanks either, APCs, armored vehicles and even self-propelled howitzers and point air defense systems were left in place, being either "procured" or destroyed by Ukrainian forces.

  26. March 14, 2022EngineOfCreation said...

    @inky totally agreed, doctrine is at most a partial explanation of apparent Russian failures, which was my intention. If the Russian military had been expecting a war from the beginning, according to doctrine, they needed to secure the areas they overran, so that retrieving equipment and protecting supplies was possible to begin with.

  27. March 14, 2022redRover said...

    The US invests a ton of time and money in making sure that its forces are doing all of this, and while it isn’t perfect, it has produced a level of peacetime readiness that is frankly astonishing.

    There is "fighting the last war" risk here, but I think to some extent the relatively high levels of US involvement in low intensity conflicts (Afghanistan, etc) have served as a reality check that has kept us from making a lot of simple mistakes around things like tire aging or whatever.

  28. March 14, 2022redRover said...

    The US has spent the last 20 years developing missile defenses, and has largely worked out the practical problems involved, leaving us with systems that work, but that are not available in sufficient numbers to deal with a Russian attack. We could solve this quite easily, given that Russia can only have 1,500 strategic nuclear warheads under the current arms control treaties. With such a shield, we would be far safer if Putin or Kim Jong-Un decide to start lobbing missiles at us.

    Hasn't the traditional argument against wide ranging ABM been that it provides a false sense of security? Current New START limits are that the Russians are allowed 510 launchers (SLBM tubes + ICBM tubes + strategic bombers) and around 1500 warheads. Depending on what your assumptions are about interception and so on, it still seems like you would get at the very least >20 hits, if not >200, in a widespread exchange.

    North Korea and some of the other threats at least have small enough launch capability that you could conceivably "win" by knocking down all or almost all of their warheads, but against Russia you still lose even if you "win".

  29. March 14, 2022bean said...

    @redRover

    Things like the tires aren't happening because Russia doesn't know they have to move their trucks occasionally. They're happening because nobody is bothering to check that it happens, or whoever has that job is being bought off because it's easier than actually doing the job. In a lot of ways, Afghanistan and Iraq were very detrimental to our readiness for hot wars, and we've been rebuilding that capability for the last few years.

    Re ABMs, I'm not arguing that we could "win" a nuclear war with Russia with a full-scale ABM system. Quite the opposite. I'm well aware that it wouldn't stop every warhead, but 90 or 99% of warheads stopped is far better than 0%. And while 1% of his own targets dying might be acceptable to Stalin or Putin, there is absolutely no way it will ever be acceptable to a US president if he has other options. Given that I'm not sure Putin is playing with a full deck, I'd rather we had the system.

  30. March 14, 2022Jack said...

    Yes, Russia has 1550 nukes ready to go at a moment's notice. But there is math and then there is treaty math. I have my disagreements with the Federation of Atomic Scientists, but I'd still say their numbers are pretty good for the US. I'd probably add 20% on the Russian side if the only Naval Treaty system shows how people cheated on it.

    https://fas.org/issues/nuclear-weapons/status-world-nuclear-forces/

    They still have thousands in storage, as the US does. Also, it is standard practice to have 2 interceptor missiles per incoming missile. That is a minimum of 3100, and if you miss, the death toll is huge, and we are in a war that is only going to benefit China. The US government is worried about Taiwan and for good reason.

    https://www.defensenews.com/training-sim/2021/04/12/a-us-air-force-war-game-shows-what-the-service-needs-to-hold-off-or-win-against-china-in-2030/

  31. March 14, 2022muddywaters said...

    Fewer deaths is better even if you can't get all the way down to 0, but fewer deaths if a nuclear attack happens has to be weighed against possibly increased risk of such an attack. Such risk can come from the side with the defence being excessively provocative because they perceive themselves as safer (possibly what @redRover is suggesting), or from the enemy perceiving the construction of such a defence as preparation for us to attack them and deciding to attack while they still can.

    I don't know enough to have a strong opinion on whether widespread missile defence is a good idea on net, or on the proper balance between not provoking nuclear powers (because of the risk of nuclear war) and not letting nuclear powers get away with whatever they want (such as the present situation).

    Relevant ACOUP post; they also have other Ukraine-related posts.

  32. March 14, 2022Emilio said...

    Roland Bartetzko has suggested a way to defeat the invasion...

    https://qr.ae/pGLkea

  33. March 14, 2022Neal said...

    As per the article in the Financial Times, it appears Russia is asking China for a jaw-dropping shopping list of kit.

    Now of course this might be one of those situations that is ask for the sky but be happy with what you receive, but it includes missiles, armored vehicles, logistical vehicles, drones, ISR equipment, etc.

    Someone above mentioned a serious lack of staff planning and that seems borne out if the Russians really are going cap in hand for basic warfighting equipment.

    It seems that it's an elephant in the room now as to whether China starts shipping these items.

    Anyone read what kind of missiles they are asking for?

  34. March 14, 2022cassander said...

    An even more important question is why is ukraine doing so well. Ukraine is a country with a gdp per capita of ~4k a head, maybe 13k in PPP terms. To a first approximation, nothing in the country works very well, and it's without a doubt the most screwed up country in europe with massive corruption issues and a huge amount of political instability. Our past efforts to train and equip allies have met with...mixed results. And yet, despite manifest ineptitude shown not all that long ago, they're putting up a credible show today. Someone, somewhere, fixed a lot of something. But who?

  35. March 14, 2022cassander said...

    @emilio

    if we wanted to be really clever, the germans would offer any russian soldier citizenship AND 500k of the 100 billion euros they've pledged to spend over the next decade. If all 200k soldiers in russia take the offer, they come out even and we avert the present crisis!

  36. March 14, 2022ike said...

    @Neal

    They would be crazy not to give a least some help. An America that is fully committed to Europe is one that is not fully committed to Asia.

  37. March 15, 2022AlexT said...

    @muddywaters

    Fewer deaths is better even if you can’t get all the way down to 0, but fewer deaths if a nuclear attack happens has to be weighed against possibly increased risk of such an attack.

    I fail to see why this would be the case. A preemptive strike is something you do when you're sure sh!t is about to hit the fan. Definitely not worth it just because an enemy's intercept chance increases from 10% to 11% or something. And that's what adding one more ABM interceptor does, essentially, and with diminishing returns. It's not a sudden binary switch between undefended and safe.

    Also, contra the 1960 RAND crowd, it doesn't look like the Russians are constantly chafing at the bit to nuke the US. They are not escalating to nuclear even against Ukraine which has zero capability of retaliation.

  38. March 15, 2022Johan Larson said...

    There seems to be an unspoken agreement about this war, designed to keep the war from escalating to WWIII.

    NATO can send money, weapons, and intel to Ukraine but not troops. Russia can use its conventional forces in Ukraine, but will not use weapons of mass destruction. Neither NATO not Russia will directly attack targets in the other's territory.

    A couple of questions come to mind. First, has this arrangement been made explicit in negotiations between NATO and Russia, or is it all tacit? Second, will it be adhered to even if it seems likely one side will lose the war under it?

  39. March 15, 2022Alexander said...

    Further to this, it seems like there are some categories of weapons that are okay to send, but others that are too provocative. The Polish jets episode is the clearest example, but when discussing sending Starstreak MANPADS to Ukraine the UK Defence Secretary explained that they were a defensive weapon, which is a distinction that I don't understand.

  40. March 15, 2022Johan Larson said...

    The UK Defence Secretary explained that they were a defensive weapon, which is a distinction that I don’t understand.

    I'm not sure it is a real distinction, but if we had to try to make some sort of sense of it, it would be weapons that are most useful on the defense rather than on the offense. So, mines would be ok because they are great for stopping attacking armored vehicles but they aren't particularly useful in a counter-invasion. Main battle tanks, on the other hand, would be plenty useful in a Ukrainian drive to seize Voronezh, RU, so those wouldn't be allowed.

  41. March 15, 2022redRover said...

    @JL

    Second, will it be adhered to even if it seems likely one side will lose the war under it?

    I think it depends on how much losing is involved. Tactical losses for Russia are probably insufficient to cause escalation, but sufficiently large strategic setbacks may change the calculus.

    One of the risks that I think we face is that most of the Western chattering classes (not so much the military, but the civil leadership and especially the staffers and influencers outside of the senior civil leadership) have relatively vague memories of the Cold War, with a view of foreign policy and war that has been shaped by 30 years of lopsided conflicts with the opponent not really able to strike directly at core Western interests. While that's sort of true of Russia, it's also not.

  42. March 15, 2022bean said...

    First, I have realized why war has just broken out.

    Which is a distinction that I don’t understand

    There isn't really one. Johan's not wrong that some weapons are more defensive than others, but only land mines are really purely defensive (and there are some which aren't there, too, although the line between them is pretty clear).

    @redRover

    I've actually been impressed by how well our politicians have dealt with this, particularly all the calls for a no-fly zone. Even those who seem most interested in their media presence have been quite clear that a "no-fly zone" is actually being in a shooting war, and we really don't want to do that with Russia.

    (Now that I think about it, the "no-fly zone" is the modern equivalent of the Pacific Blockade. "Yes, this would normally be an act of war, but we're a great power and unhappy with you. Want to make something of it?")

  43. March 15, 2022Andrew Dodds said...

    cassander -

    You might as well ask 'Why did the Germans meet so much resistance in Russia (including Ukraine) when Stalin had spent the previous decade terrorizing and/or starving everyone'. I hate to go on about 'national character', but this kind of stubborn do-or-die defense does seem to be part of how the Russian/Ukrainian people work. Ask Napoleon - even the autocratic Czars managed to encourage resistance. The roots may come from the days of Mongol invasions.

    Equally, I suspect that a conventional western invasion of Russia would hit the same problem.

    I also think that an offer of citizenship and cash to surrendering Russian soldiers (including some family members) would be a good idea. Targeted bribery has had a place in the arsenal since Roman times, if not before.

  44. March 15, 2022Hussar said...

    One of the possible reasons for the relative success of the Ukrainian defence is the fact that the UK and EU have been training them for years. They are not fighting like "Russians" but like outnumbered westerners. Russian lack of "success" can be attributed to many things but poor preparation and poor logistics do seem to be real factors. What we really have to hope for is that the Ukrainian defence can break the resolve of the Russians to succeed before the whole country is levelled. Either that or a quiet revolution in the Kremlin. Watch out for headlines from Russia saying, "The President has succumbed to a sudden and unexplained bout of Corona-virus and is being temporarily replaced by ..insert name here".

  45. March 15, 2022redRover said...

    @bean

    Now that I think about it, the “no-fly zone” is the modern equivalent of the Pacific Blockade. “Yes, this would normally be an act of war, but we’re a great power and unhappy with you. Want to make something of it?”

    I think no fly zones and random drone strikes in Yemen or whoever both fall into the category of "this is an act of war, but the power disparity is so large we expect you to sit and take it." Which is fine if the targets can't materially strike back, but if they can it's clearly an act of war.

    I’ve actually been impressed by how well our politicians have dealt with this, particularly all the calls for a no-fly zone.

    Yeah, I think the senior leadership has been surprisingly good about this.

    But I think the surrounding environment of talking heads and lesser politicians and so on are somewhat less on message about this, or at least appear less concerned about the nuclear side, especially to the extent that people are hoping 'regime change' is a credible way out.

  46. March 15, 2022cassander said...

    @Andrew Dodds

    the amount of resistance the germans met from the russian people (not the red army) is often exaggerated, and what there was can easily be explained by the fact that hitler's plan was to enslave/murder most of them.

    More to the point, though, it's not just "they're tough". Ukraine is a country that's at least as corrupt as russia, and is much poorer, and yet they don't seem to be having nearly as much trouble with military fundamentals. Granted, defense is easier than attack, but there's a very large material gap here that they're not overcoming, but coming a lot closer to overcoming than most people thought they would

    @hussar

    that begs the question of why could we train the ukrainians so much better than we did the iraqis and afghans?

  47. March 15, 2022bean said...

    I don't think you can look at Ukraine today without talking about 2014. That was a major wakeup call for them, and they've spent the last 8 years cleaning house and getting ready in case something like this happened. Corruption looks to be down (they're above Russia, which wasn't true in 2013) and they've rebuilt their army from scratch, with a lot of US/European training.

    the amount of resistance the germans met from the russian people (not the red army) is often exaggerated, and what there was can easily be explained by the fact that hitler’s plan was to enslave/murder most of them.

    Worth pointing out that when the Germans reached Ukraine in 1941, they were greeted as liberators, because it seemed anything was better than Stalin. It turns out, of course, that they had been under the second-worst regime of the 20th century, and not the worst, so that changed pretty quickly.

  48. March 15, 2022Jade Nekotenshi said...

    I think some of the training gap might be cultural. Ukrainians are culturally a lot closer to Americans than Afghans or Iraqis are - I think a lot of the training US and European forces are giving them makes sense on some level instead of being completely alien and strange.

  49. March 15, 2022Johan Larson said...

    At least in the case of Afghanistan, it's also possible that the Taliban, being from Afghanistan in the first place, simply had more credibility as locals than the Russians do in Ukraine. I'm not sure how much the Afghans ever really trusted the American-backed government in Kabul. Possibly some of the most westernized folks did.

  50. March 15, 2022Alexander said...

    I'm pretty comfortable with arming Ukraine, and was puzzled by the situation with the MiGs. Assuming that Ukraine could operate them, I'd be happy to send them Rapiers, or FV510s. I'd even consider the Tranche 1 Typhoons, or a Trafalgar class, if you waved away the difficulty of getting it to the Black sea or crewing it. But presumably some weapons are more provocative to provide than others. What equipment would be a good balance between helpful to Ukraine, but relatively non-escalatory?

  51. March 15, 2022Jade Nekotenshi said...

    I'd think SAMs and possibly shortish-range ASM batteries. Nothing that would let them deny the entire Black Sea but something that could defend their coasts - Harpoon, Exocet, maybe RBS-15?

    For SAMs, I figure NASAMS might be handy. Does a truck-mobile version of RAM exist? Patriot, possibly? Something based on Aster or Standard would be sufficiently capable to keep all but the most modern Russian aircraft at bay, but probably hard to lash together a road-mobile version quickly and a static installation would probably be highly escalatory. They'd read it as a NATO base even if it's entirely crewed by Ukrainian forces.

    Fighters have a potentially offensive use, I'd think Russia might get antsy about that. Though I do wonder about proxying the sale through another non-NATO state like Sweden or Finland. In particular, Finland had, and maybe still has, some former Soviet kit.

  52. March 15, 2022Hussar said...

    Chapter VII: Article 45 of the UN Charter states: “In order to enable the United Nations to take urgent military measures, Members shall hold immediately available national air-force contingents for combined international enforcement action. The strength and degree of readiness of these contingents and plans for their combined action shall be determined, within the limits laid down in the special agreement or agreements referred to in Article 43, by the Security Council with the assistance of the Military Staff Committee.” It could be read that the UN can deploy a no fly zone, without it being a NATO act however I suspect that Russia might veto any proposal to deploy a UN Air Force a la Korea in 1950?

  53. March 15, 2022Johan Larson said...

    What equipment would be a good balance between helpful to Ukraine, but relatively non-escalatory?

    How about something that let them knock out the Crimean Bridge? But that's a couple hundred km inside Russian-held territory at this point.

  54. March 15, 2022Alexander said...

    ATACMS?

  55. March 15, 2022Emilio said...

    @cassander

    What... NO! Germany must spend that in weapons!

    Us too, in Italy!

  56. March 15, 2022ADifferentAnonymous said...

    Just in case 'national character' really is a thing, can we broker a deal to resettle Ukrainian refugees in Taiwan? Maybe prioritizing the 17-year-old boys?

  57. March 16, 2022Ian Argent said...

    I've said it before and I'll say it again; the post-WWII American Way Of War is "Get a grip on the enemy and beat them to death with our mighty mighty logistics." Both the literal kind, but also the corollaries; what is covered under "staff work." Take the Time-On-Target artillery barrage; an american invention. (Metaphorically a logistics issue - ensuring on time delivery to the recipient, regardless of the origin of the "shipment). Nowadays, allegedly a lot of militaries can do it. But I have noticed the new hawtness in SP Artillery is pieces that can deliver 3-5 rounds Time On Target from the same piece. Which sounds great in theory, but it's a small-scale solution to a large-scale problem - IE that the operator militaries don't have a 3-5 tube battery that can deliver time on target. Both aspects of that are logistical...

  58. March 16, 2022Chuk said...

    US intel has been having an absolute field day in this conflict, and I believe it's one of the hidden elements that is giving the Ukrainians a leg up. Playing the great game with Russia is what US intelligence agencies were founded on, and is frankly more fun and exciting for them than cross-referencing some insurgent leader's P*rnhub searches so we can bomb a cave. Unlike material assets, properly screened and presented intelligence info is eminently deniable, and I can only imagine we have been passing it on to the Ukrainians in volume. That is whatever we don't just openly publish for everyone to laugh and gawk at.

    I would really like to see a good comparison of how this progressed vs the annexation of Crimea, since one suspects the successes then gave Putin a overly rosy view of how his forces would perform and the Ukrainians would react.

  59. March 16, 2022Chuck said...

    @ADifferentAnonymous

    I was taken aback by your suggestion and left wondering what you were implying until I realized that I had misread "Taiwan" as "Thailand", an error that markedly changed the tone of the post.

  60. March 16, 2022Michael Tint said...

    @emilio

    weapons are expensive, Russians are cheap. A half a million euros is ~35x the average annual Russian salary. We should bombard them with certified checks they can redeem at European banks.

    @ian argent

    “The United States military (Waterhouse has decided) is first and foremost and unfathomable network of typist and file clerks, secondarily a stupendous mechanism for moving stuff from one part of the world to another and last and least a fighting organization.”

  61. March 16, 2022Johan Larson said...

    Anyone want to take a guess at how many active-duty US service members are currently in Ukraine, including land, sea, and airspace?

  62. March 16, 2022cassander said...

    @emilio

    weapons are expensive, Russians are cheap. A half a million euros is ~35x the average annual Russian salary. We should bombard them with certified checks they can redeem at European banks.

    @ian argent

    “The United States military (Waterhouse has decided) is first and foremost and unfathomable network of typist and file clerks, secondarily a stupendous mechanism for moving stuff from one part of the world to another and last and least a fighting organization.”

    @bean

    can you kill that earlier post? thanks.

  63. March 17, 2022quanticle said...

    The Russian military has failed on almost every level imaginable, from the number of vehicles abandoned when they broke down due to poor maintenance, to the fact that Ukrainian TB2 drones (which have performance that would have made them cutting-edge approximately 100 years ago) have been able to carry out repeated strikes on Russian forces, including Russian air-defense units.

    I think that's underselling the plucky little TB2 a bit. As Armenia found out in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, TB2s are relatively hard to see on radar, compared to jets or helicopters. They're small, and mostly plastic, which gives them a fair amount of stealth-like characteristics even though, to my knowledge, they haven't been deliberately designed with stealth in mind.

    Speaking of stealth, though, I think one of the lessons of this conflict (at least for me) has been a reinforcement of the lesson that stealth is a game changer. One of the reasons the US was able to demolish Saddam's air defenses in the Gulf War (and in the 2003 Iraq War) was because we had stealth aircraft that could hit the air defense systems and the command and control nodes for the Iraqi military. Russia doesn't have that advantage. As a result, Russia hasn't really been able to conduct the sorts of deep strikes on Ukraine that we were able to do in Iraq. Yes, in theory they should have been able to substitute their short-range ballistic missiles for air strikes, but in practice it turns out that those ballistic missiles aren't as accurate as advertised.

  64. March 17, 2022redRover said...

    @quanticle

    Re stealth, I think that poses interesting follow on questions for the decision to go with new build F-15s, as well as the secondary impact of more capable dispersed / man launched weaponry. Like, you can find an S-400 or whatever and target that with stealth platforms, but if MANPADs get super capable you face the prospect of never really having air dominance that permits the sort of helicopter operations that the US has used recently.

  65. March 17, 2022redRover said...

    Also, to what extent do the issues the Russians have suffered in their conventional forces extend to their nuclear forces? Not that you would ever want to gamble on that, but it seems like a reasonable question.

  66. March 17, 2022quanticle said...

    Like, you can find an S-400 or whatever and target that with stealth platforms, but if MANPADs get super capable you face the prospect of never really having air dominance that permits the sort of helicopter operations that the US has used recently.

    It's a risk, but I'm not sure how much of a risk it is. As bean has pointed out in his article on missiles, improvements in electronics get you improvements in the seeker head. The capability of the overall system is still going to be limited by the fact that it needs to carry enough propellant to get to the helicopter, and enough explosive charge to bring down the helicopter once it gets there, and still be small enough and light enough to be carried by one or two people.

    And of course, any such improvements in sensors can be applied by both sides. The defense has a cheaper better sensor for its MANPADs? Well, by the same token the offense can have cheaper, better drones that can fly ahead of its heliborne infantry, or better sensors on its attack helicopters which are going to escorting the troop carriers. And of course, the offense still has the advantage of speed, given that it's on a helicopter, whereas the defense is on foot.

  67. March 17, 2022ike said...

    @redRover

    Russia had a LOT of rockets. They can't ALL have been stolen.

  68. March 18, 2022bean said...

    @quanticle

    I am a noted skeptic of the stronger version of stealth. The reason the US won in Iraq is because we were better at everything than Saddam. Stealth may have helped, and may have made the victory easier, but it wasn't the reason for it. Russia should have been able to deal with Ukraine's air defense system, at least above the MANPADS level, and the fact that they couldn't is more evidence in the "actually, Russia has a 3rd World Military" pile.

    @redRover

    I suspect that Putin has concentrated his money and his reliable personnel into the nuclear forces. That's the normal play when nukes are involved.

  69. March 18, 2022Anonymous said...

    bean:

    It turns out, of course, that they had been under the second-worst regime of the 20th century, and not the worst, so that changed pretty quickly.

    There were even worse regimes that those, OTOH the ones worse tended to be pushovers at war so only really much of a threat to their own.

    Jade Nekotenshi:

    I think some of the training gap might be cultural. Ukrainians are culturally a lot closer to Americans than Afghans or Iraqis are

    Probably related to industrialization which the Soviet Union had been for generations when it collapsed and Ukraine still is.

    quanticle:

    One of the reasons the US was able to demolish Saddam's air defenses in the Gulf War (and in the 2003 Iraq War) was because we had stealth aircraft that could hit the air defense systems and the command and control nodes for the Iraqi military. Russia doesn't have that advantage.

    It looks like the Su-57 may have entered the fight.

  70. March 18, 2022redRover said...

    @quanticle

    True that the physics are still basically constrained by the limits of man portability, aerodynamics, etc, so their basic envelope (targets under 15k altitude, max range <10 miles) is unlikely to change that much, and as a result high altitude bombers and fighters don't really face any threat.

    However, within that envelope my impression is that if you can get the warhead on target they're reasonably effective. Given that improved electronics make a hit more likely, that shifts the balance of power towards the MANPAD and the defenders.

    by the same token the offense can have cheaper, better drones that can fly ahead of its heliborne infantry, or better sensors on its attack helicopters which are going to escorting the troop carriers.

    Sure, but the point is that it's still contested at some level.

    Not that they're the same, but I think it's in some ways like a minefield (or random IEDs) - any single one isn't necessarily a huge threat, and if the attacker knows where they are they're comparatively easy to destroy, but they force the attacker to have a much more conservative posture and divert efforts into hunting one and two person MANPAD teams.

  71. March 18, 2022Ian Argent said...

    @Cassandra: Cryptonomicon is my second-favorite Stephenson book and a top 10 overall favorite. Stephenson-as-Waterhouse was (and remains) absolutely (and literally!) correct in that description of the US Military; and that is the US Secret Sauce For Victory. Computers have replaced the vast majority of the clerks and filing cabinets, but (somehow) the US Military set "amateurs study tactics, professionals study logistics" as their cornerstone, and everything else follows.

    You don't get to "burn out" two artillery tubes without "a stupendous mechanism for moving stuff..." https://www.marinecorpstimes.com/flashpoints/2017/11/02/marine-artillery-barrage-of-raqqa-was-so-intense-two-howitzers-burned-out/

  72. March 22, 2022bean said...

    Ran across an interesting interview with a retired Ukrainian naval officer. Frustratingly short on details in certain areas, most notably their coastal artillery, and doesn't mention their (former) Krivak at all. But still more insight into their navy than I've seen previously.

  73. March 23, 2022Suvorov said...

    Russia should have been able to deal with Ukraine’s air defense system, at least above the MANPADS level

    Hmm, really?

    Yugoslavia maintained air defense capability throughout NATO's 78-day bombing campaign, and I generally assume NATO has prioritized SEAD/DEAD much more heavily than the Russians. I would also expect Ukraine's systems to be more mobile and better at evasion than the ones at play in Yugoslavia.

  74. March 23, 2022bean said...

    They're not really the same thing. NATO lost a total of two aircraft to enemy air defenses during the entirety of the 78-day campaign, both to a very clever Yugoslavian commander. Wiki lists at least 7 Russian tactical aircraft lost in the campaign so far, which is approaching the four week mark, and there are probably a few that haven't been confirmed yet.

  75. March 23, 2022Suvorov said...

    They’re not really the same thing.

    Do you have a better historical analogy? If the Yugoslavian forces managed to preserve enough SAMS to present a threat for the duration of the conflict, it seems reasonable to assume the Ukrainians could do the same, doesn't it?

    Wiki lists at least 7 Russian tactical aircraft lost in the campaign so far, which is approaching the four week mark, and there are probably a few that haven’t been confirmed yet.

    If the Russians lost, say, 10 tactical fixed-wing aircraft over ~21 days, they are arguably doing better so far than the US coalition in the Gulf War (39 aircraft lost over 42 days)-- even though I think we should expect them to be doing worse, given that the Ukrainians almost certainly have better comparative equipment and training than the Iraqis, and the Russians would be expected to have worse equipment and training than the Americans -- yeah?

    Or you could compare it to Russia's war against Georgia, where it lost at least four (including a strategic bomber) and maybe 6 - 7 aircraft over the course of 12 days. Russia losing 10 - 12 aircraft so far doesn't seem far off from that, does it?

    Or are you just saying all of Russia's jets should have the technical means to defeat Ukrainian SAM threats?

  76. March 24, 2022bean said...

    That's a decent point, and shouldn't take too long to figure out. My Desert Shield Factbook (published 1991, but ready to hand) gives Iraq 350 Long-Range SAMs and 4000 air-defense guns. No details on types. (Remember, Iraq was a petrostate that had just come out of an 8-year war with Iran, so it had a huge military.) Wiki currently gives Ukraine 4 batteries of S-300 (maybe 24 long-range launchers) plus at most 80 medium-range systems. More numerous short-range systems, including 300 ZSU-23-4s (AA guns). So at a first cut, it looks like Iraq had an order of magnitude more systems than Ukraine does today.

    I will give you that in retrospect, this should have been less surprising than it was, but that's the lovely thing about hindsight. Almost everyone (myself included) expected Russia to dominate the air very quickly in a way that just didn't happen.

  77. March 24, 2022Suvorov said...

    So at a first cut, it looks like Iraq had an order of magnitude more systems than Ukraine does today.

    That's a good point, I had forgotten just how many AA defenses Iraq brought to the table.

    Almost everyone (myself included) expected Russia to dominate the air very quickly in a way that just didn’t happen.

    Me too; I thought the Ukrainians would collapse generally in the face of Russian forces, but it seems like they have really prioritized their military since 2014. It seems like the Russians also underestimated their enemies, so I don't think we should feel too bad.

    That interview with the retired Ukrainian naval officer was a good read, BTW, thanks for posting it.

  78. March 24, 2022Goose of Doom said...

    @Suvorov

    Don't we also have to consider the density of losses (for lack of a better way of terming it)? If the Russians are flying half the sorties (e.g.), then having equal losses means that they are losing aircraft twice as quickly, relative to their actual use of those aircraft.

    I mean, the best way to ensure they don't lose any aircraft would be not to use them at all--and perhaps that's part of why they don't seem to have used them much at first. But an air force that comes through a war without losing anything is not by that token a better air force than one that performed 116,000 sorties and lost 75 aircraft (to use the figures I find for Desert Storm).

    Do we have any reliable figures on how much use the Russians are getting out of their airplanes right about now? I'm seeing 300/day, for whatever that's worth, or 1/10 of averaged Desert Storm levels.

  79. March 24, 2022Suvorov said...

    Don’t we also have to consider the density of losses (for lack of a better way of terming it)?

    Yes, that's a good way of looking at it. It does seem they have a much higher density of losses than we did in Desert Storm (which, given that the Ukrainians are sticking to their guns, makes sense if you share my assumptions, I think.) I'm also not sure how front-loaded losses in Desert Storm were, though -- it could be that the Russians fly, say, 30,000 sorties by the end of the conflict and only lose 20 aircraft, as Ukrainian air defenses are gradually destroyed, grow more reluctant to illuminate, or are overrun on the ground.

    perhaps that’s part of why they don’t seem to have used them much at first.

    I am also partial to the theory that it was easier for them to use their SAMs than try to deconflict their airspace. This has been a problem for the US/NATO in the past, with several friendly-fire incidents; I'm not sure how good Russians are supposed to be at IFF, but the Ukrainians are also using similar aircraft, and might be able to spoof Russian IFF signals.

    Obviously reporting at this stage is early, but it seems they were able to hit a Ukrainian Flanker over Kiev with an S-400(?), so they certainly seem to have the reach with their strategic systems to pursue such a strategy, at least in some areas.

  80. March 24, 2022quanticle said...

    With regards to aircraft losses, specifically, the Oryx blog has a post dedicated to tallying aircraft losses, in addition to their post documenting equipments losses overall. As of today (March 24) they list 66 known Russian aircraft lost, 15 of which are fixed-wing aircraft.

    Also, in news that's more on-topic for this blog, the Russians have apparently lost an Alligator-class LST to fire as it was unloading supplies at the port of Berdyansk. It's unclear whether that fire was caused by Ukrainian attack or whether it was accidental.

  81. March 24, 2022bean said...

    Trying to do a detailed analysis of relative performance of air defenses is the sort of thing that seems like it should be left to those who get paid to do it. Depending on the details of the defenses and how things are set up, adding more sorties could have any number of effects. For instance, if you're going up against someone using flack-box tactics, I believe each plane would have the same chance of being shot down, regardless of how many are in the raid. On the other hand, if they're primarily reliant on SAMs, then at some point, there are more aircraft than SAM launchers, and losses are going to essentially level off no matter how many planes are sent in.

    But yeah, by all available metrics, the Russians are not doing very well.

    That interview with the retired Ukrainian naval officer was a good read, BTW, thanks for posting it.

    You're welcome. I've been quite enjoying The Dispatch as a whole, not just on Ukraine.

    Also, in news that’s more on-topic for this blog, the Russians have apparently lost an Alligator-class LST to fire as it was unloading supplies at the port of Berdyansk. It’s unclear whether that fire was caused by Ukrainian attack or whether it was accidental.

    West Loch just called...

  82. March 24, 2022John Schilling said...

    Yeah, on the list of things I never expected in this conflict, Ukraine may actually be winning the tonnage war. I count Ukrainian losses at ~6,500 tons, mostly the scuttled frigate plus an oceangoing tug and a small LST captured in port.

    The Orsk (Project 1171 LST) is a total loss, that's 4,700 tons full load, and one of the Project 775 LSTs that pulled out immediately afterwards was visibly aflame when she did. That would be another 4,000 tons full load if the didn't put out the fire, and both ships appear to have been laden when hit.

    Ukraine is apparently claiming this was a Bayraktar TB2 attack, and one video I saw showed 3-4 small explosions consistent with ATGM-class weapons shortly before the big kaboom. Not something that would normally sink a major warship, but the Orsk had just started offloading supplies and those supplies presumably included fuel and/or munitions.

    Let's have someone put that Ukrainian naval officer in touch with one of NATO's many fine armaments manufacturers that has some shiny new coast-defense missiles in need of combat trials and free advertising...

  83. April 14, 2022Ryan said...

    Re: Turkish Drones. They were successful at the very start of the war but the Russian military managed to figure them out or whatever. They've all been shot down, been over a month since a successful attack.

    I think the big lesson from this war is that Hezbollah vs Israel in 2006 was not a fluke. If you have underground bunkers that protect you from airstrikes/artillery and light infantry with effective anti-tank weapons, you can stop a tank army in its tracks.

  84. April 14, 2022John Schilling said...

    @Ryan: Shot down or just run out of compatible munitions - they were making a lot of attacks in the first weeks of the war. And I don't think they've all been shot down.

  85. April 14, 2022bean said...

    Not surprised. I kept looking for last confirmed drone attack date in the early days of the war, and not finding it. Does somewhat salvage the basic thesis, modulo a couple weeks.

  86. April 14, 2022John Schilling said...

    I'm seeing a lot of indications that Ukraine is still doing good work with the drone/artillery teamup; that doesn't necessarily mean Bayraktars, but suggests that they still have drone survivability over the battlefield. It's only deep strike that is conspicuously absent now.

    Though if they can get Mi-24s 50km inside Russia and back, and if they can get something in position to call shots against an OTH missile cruiser, I don't think survivability is the reason for no more deep strike.

  87. April 14, 2022Ariel said...

    I think the big lesson from this war is that Hezbollah vs Israel in 2006 was not a fluke. If you have underground bunkers that protect you from airstrikes/artillery and light infantry with effective anti-tank weapons, you can stop a tank army in its tracks.

    Especially if most people in the attacking army are not really interested in waging war. And yes that's another parallel with the 2006 Lebanon War - I read (in Hebrew) that the IDF intentionally didn't have too detailed plans for a ground war in Lebanon, because they were afraid that politicians that know about war plans might start a war.

  88. April 14, 2022c1ue said...

    Interesting since the article (regarding Russian military gear and doctrine) is 100% at odds with what was presented to West Point by Professor Philip Karber in 2018: https://youtu.be/CMbyWPjk4

  89. April 14, 2022Phil Goetz said...

    Wait, we have defenses against nuclear missiles? Why haven't I heard of this?

  90. April 15, 2022bean said...

    I'm not really sure. My best guess is that strategic ideas which should have been discredited when they brought disaster half a century ago continue to stalk the land, and as such, nobody wants BMD capabilities to be widely known, because they think the public will demand something destabilizing. More cynically, nobody in the military really wants the system that much because it soaks up budget they'd rather spend elsewhere. These people are stupid, and we should buy more missile defense.

  91. April 15, 2022Ian Argent said...

    It appears the Ukranians are using COTS drones as Forward Observation systems. And scoring cat-kills on MBTs with what I would presume are non-PGM-shells that way. I am moderately impressed. Rumor has it they are NOT using DJI drones after an incident when a drone command team came under heavy mortar fire shortly after launching some DJI drones, though. Plausible, for a couple of reasons.

  92. April 15, 2022John Schilling said...

    @Ian, regarding "dumb" artillery vs. tanks, https://imgur.com/gallery/gIjCo

    Bottom line, the US Army finally got around to actually testing this with real artillery against real armor in 1988, and found that the tanks were taking far more damage than their models had predicted. It didn't take a direct hit to cause a mission kill, and from the pictures some of those "mission kills" were close to catastrophic.

    It does take a fairly substantial volume of artillery to have decisive effect against armor, and the tanks usually have the option to drive out of the impact area faster than the forward observers can correct the aim. But if your target is limited to e.g. one paved road with impenetrable muck on each side..

  93. April 15, 2022Ian Argent said...

    30 m lethal radius was a little wider than I was expecting; but not a lot more based on the videos I saw. What I was moderately impressed by was the time-to-On-Target - that the Ukranians were able to Fire For Effect rapidly. Now, I must caveat that with I have no way of knowing if the video I've seen is typical of their capabilities.

  94. April 17, 2022Kaleberg said...

    Two words to remember when sizing up Russian capabilities: Mathias Rust. (He's the former teenager who flew a single engine plane from Helsinki to Moscow during a fraught stage of the Cold War in the 1980s.)

  95. April 17, 2022quanticle said...

    With regards to Mathias Rust, it's important to remember that he did not pass undetected through Russian air defenses. He was seen, at various points, by Russian radar. However, he was flying right after the disastrous Soviet shootdown of KAL 007. As a result, the Soviet air defense commanders were under strict orders to only shoot after receiving positive authorization from Moscow. This was sufficiently slow in coming that, by the time they got orders, Rust's little plane had flown into the next sector, and the process would repeat.

    I would categorize Rust's flight to Red Square more as a failure of Russian command-and-control caused by overcentralization and excessively strict rules of engagement than a failure of the the technical capabilities of Russian equipment.

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