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Lessons From Ukraine or How not to do a war

Over a month into the invasion of the Ukraine it’s clear that the ‘Special Military Operation’ has not gone as Putin and many others expected. So, what have we learned?

The pre-invasion Russian Army was not designed or set up for an invasion of 2022 Ukraine. As far as I can see, and I’m not a military expert, the Battalion Tactical Group (BTG) concept of multiple comparatively small but heavily armed all arms units seems to have been designed to fight a fast war in open country against opposing mobile forces – think Russia v NATO in Germany, Poland etc. Or, for that matter Eastern Ukraine in 2014. In fact the invasion seems to have been planned to defeat the Ukrainian Army of 2014 which was pretty useless. It’s a truism that Army High Commands are always training to fight the last war so if you add the Georgian and Chechen campaigns you can understand why the expectation was that they would blow through Ukrainian resistance with ease. Of course, that hasn’t happened so the next question is, why not?

We could start with Operation Orbital where the UK, USA predominantly trained 22,000 Ukrainian soldiers in sniping, counter sniping and use of anti armour and anti air missiles to counter the Russian numerical superiority. Add to that the massive provision of latest generation NATO anti tank missiles and we see that it has become a different game. We also see that the bulk of the Russian armour was T72 & T80 with some T90. T72 & T80, even if up-armoured with ERA (Explosive Reactive Armour) are USSR era Cold War tanks so some 40 years old. Even T90 is equally unable to survive in the face of Javelin & NLAW never mind T72 & T80. We haven’t seen any T14 Armata’s in action either, despite it being touted as ‘the best tank in the world’. There are suggestions that Russia doesn’t have many of them (because they are hideously expensive), the ones they do have may have technical issues or they may also be vulnerable. As soon as the quick Blitzkrieg was obviously not on the smart thing to do would have been to stop. Instead they carried on. Bear in mind Ukraine is a big country, at this time of year you famously get mud off the roads and you then have long supply routes along roads. There’s also quite a few woods and forests where you could quite easily stick a few soldiers with some missiles. There is also the fact that tanks burn huge amounts of fuel. Another military truism: ‘Amateurs study tactics, professionals study logistics’. The initial Russian logistic load was for a lightning campaign. For extended movement of large armoured forces look at the logistic effort in Desert Storm – they spent months building up Log Base Alpha with a constant circuit of trucks along the TAPline road. Also look at the US supply convoys in Iraq – heavily escorted and still took a hell of a hammering. Furthermore, a logistic capability has to be built over time and it’s not sexy for the politicians in the way that shiny new ‘super-tanks’ are. Take fuel, as mentioned previously, armoured vehicles burn a lot of fuel. Absent a pipeline, you have to truck it to where the armour is. For Ukraine, now, that means road travel as the spring mud renders cross country travel impracticable. Even if you have specialised off road capable fuel bowsers it’s roads only as the mud stops, I believe, even tanks. This holds true for the current Phase 2 of the invasion. The Ukrainians have been deliberately focussing on taking out the supply echelon, there are plenty of tanks and IFVs in the reserve stockpiles (how many of them are good to go is quite another question of course) but you can bet there are very few special purpose support echelon vehicles in reserve, things like Combat Enginer Vehicles, fuel bowsers and those sort of vehicles so you can cripple an armoured force by cutting off it’s resupply and it looks like this is what has happened.

So, we are now into Phase 2 of the invasion where the Russians propose to storm the 2014 Unrainian fortified positions, capture the rest of the Black Sea coast and seize the rest of the Donbas. With what I ask? Well, the troops that were attacking Kiev etc. that have now been withdrawn and are being ‘reconstituted’ apparently will be used plus Chechens, Wagner mercenaries and various Syrian and Libyan mercenaries. I’m not convinced this will do the job. The basis on which the invasion was planned was, apparently, predicated on the FSB being given huge amounts of money to buy off the Ukrainian politicians and generals so they would roll over as soon as the Russians turned up. Unfortunately the FSB embezzled the money. Equally the Army was given funding to bring the BTG’s up to full strength. Guess what happened there? Yup, having created a kleptocracy that has, reportedly, made Putin the richest man in the world we can be amazed that the lower levels are corrupt as well. This was institutionalised in the USSR days and has obviously carried on full blast since then.

It’s clear that the Phase 1 offensive did some pretty significant damage to the Russian armed forces. The Airborne troops (VDV) have taken huge losses to the point that unused units are reportedly refusing to deploy. The first line ‘assault’ troops have also been destroyed, yes, you can replace the vehicles from reserve stocks and the manpower from conscripts and buying in mercenaries but, inevitably they are not going to be as good as the first choice. We can see this in the Wagner casualty figures reported as 3000 dead out of 8000 deployed. 37% killed? How many wounded? And these are meant to be an elite. You’ve then got the loss of the Moskva. So no amphibious assault on Odesa then and you can bet that no Russian warships will come within missile range of the coast. Phase 2 means that the second rate (if that, Putin is not using Syrian and Libyan mercenaries through choice!) troops will take on the best of the battle hardened Ukrainian forces in heavily fortified positions liberally supplied with anti air and armour missiles. I don’t see that as a winning position for Putin. It also puts the recent rhetoric about not stopping at Ukraine, the Baltics are next etc. etc. into context – having failed to defeat the Ukraine the rump of the Russian Army is going to take out NATO? Really?

Some interesting developments in Russia as well; first the Oil plant in Belgorod hit by two Ukrainian helicopters (allegedly…) then there’s the Russian Military Research Centre in Tver and the Dmitrievsky Chemical plant and the Space Research Centre in Korolev. Coincidence or Ukrainian action? Because, that’s exactly what I would do in their place – sabotage parties of Ukrainians infiltrated into Russia to hit key targets. Now they are discussing taking out the Kerch Bridge which has got the Russians absolutely frothing. As can be seen by their reaction to the sinking of Moskva they appear to not expect the Ukrainians to attack them and class it as terrorism. Obviously not at home to Comrade Irony then. It’s now, well into May, very clear that Ukrainian special forces are attacking targets well within Russia itself, explosions on the streets of Moscow? Not to mention a plethora of military targets elsewhere. This always seemed to me to be an obvious option for the Ukrainians as a) the Russia – Ukraine border is porous following Soviet times b) there are a lot of Russians with Ukrainian heritage and or partners. So fertile ground for Fifth column/ subversion & sabotage even without the intermingling along the border and very very difficult to prevent or counter, especially as much of your military strength has been committed to Ukraine. This includes the Rosvguardia aka the Russian National Guard who, I believe, were intended as second echelon population control resources but were used as assault troops (allegedly).

Some more speculation on the sinking of the Moskva: The massive missile strikes from Russia following the sinking pretty effectively kill the ‘accidental fire on board ignited some ammunition and it then sank in a storm’ as a remotely credible narrative. So what did happen? It seems that two Ukrainian missiles did hit Moskva and eventually sunk her with a heavy loss of life. Bearing in mind that Moskva was a Guided Missile Cruiser designed for an Air Defence role (among other things), on paper it should have easily defeated two not particularly smart/high tech/modern missiles and even if one or both hit they shouldn’t have been able to sink it. There are a lot of articles on YouTube looking at this and the most credible for me refers to some video footage from a Russian Frigate offshore during the Georgian incursion. None of the sailors are wearing anti-flash clothing, in fact they are almost all stripped to the waist and they are not at anything approaching Action Stations. Bearing in mind that Moskva had been hanging around off the Ukrainian coast since the start of the invasion not doing very much it seems credible that the crew believed that there was no threat so, they weren’t closed up at Action Stations with all internal hatches closed (Condition Zulu in the Royal Navy) to prevent the spread of fire and, if the radars were operating, no-one was actually watching the screens. Why would they? The Black Sea was their lake after all. I’m thinking that’s perhaps also one of the differences between the Russian conscript sailors and Western/NATO professionals. Because if they had been at Action Stations and the the ship was closed down they should have been able to shoot the missiles down before impact. OK, assume Murphy’s law applies and, for whatever reason, one got through it still should not have sunk the ship as any damage would have been confined to a relatively small space. But they didn’t shoot the missiles down (or even attempt to) and both hit and Moskva sank. Probably the most credible analysis I’ve seen and this was from an ex Danish Navy guy and self confessed Naval Geek.

No doubt more to follow.

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