Both of these documents were sent to us by a retired senior special operations officer who is employed in an influential position in operations planning. The authors of the first (and more recent) document recently did a stand up in front of, if we have this right, Joint Ops at the Pentagon. So you’re learning here what American colonels, generals, and senior policy civilians are learning about our Russian rivals.
“Rival” is, we think, the right word; so far, Russia sees itself as in competition with the democratic West, and not entirely at war. In fact, Russian leadership, which was Soviet junior leadership during the Cold War, seems intent on a new Cold War with the same broad spectrum of rivalries: political, economic, propaganda, and military via proxy wars. We have not seen a return to terror sponsorship on the level of the pre-1992 KGB and GRU, but we can’t tell whether that’s because: today’s Russia actually eschews this as a tactic, either on moral or practical grounds; today’s Russia is better at doing it undetected than the USSR was; or, increased surveillance of terrorists and their sponsors heightens risks for state sponsors. (If we had to pick one we’d go with #1, Russia is not sponsoring terrorists, because Russian policy does not permit that at this time. But we don’t have evidence for that).
The first article is a nine-page extract from Army Magazine, the usually low-value trade mag of the Association of the US Army, an organization that young lieutenants are dragooned into joining. But it’s by two serious guys, Professor Phil Karber, a reformed Marine who’s been a heavyweight in US Army ground forces strategy for over 40 years, and LTC Josh Thibeault, a typically overeducated (heh) Operations Analyst.
(Note that we made three small corrections in the file, a typo in the filename, removed a blank tenth page, and ran it through our own OCR. If you are planning on sending this around anonymously, get the Army version from the Early Bird or “they” can trace you to WeaponsMan). Here’s an edited excerpt:
Russia represents a real threat, to real allies, on real terrain. Though Russian President Vladimir Putin’s intentions might be unknowable, we do know what his game plan is.
It’s called “new-generation warfare,” and it targets Western weaknesses, not strengths. New-generation warfare differs from Western views of hybrid conflict in that it combines both low-end, hidden state involvement with high-end, direct, even braggadocio superpower involvement.
Russian new-generation warfare is manifested in five component elements:
– Political subversion.
– Proxy sanctuary.
– Coercive deterrence.
– Negotiated manipulation.
Contrary to Western politicians, the Russian leadership understands these military options and plays them like a Stradivarius.
Karber and Thibeault do examine each of those in depth, and review such newly evident Russian competencies (many of which, in fact, the old Soviet Army was not at all weak on) and their consequences for US Army RDT&E, strategy and doctrine. These areas including electronic warfare, unmanned aerial systems (new, as is the way the Russian Army uses them), tank and IFV developments, air and missile defense.
Russian artillery is particularly well-developed. Always a historic strength, new technology has made this artilllery more effective, accurate and lethal, and Karber and Thibeault project a bit of what might happen to American units if they were hit as two Ukrainian mech battalions were hit two years ago, in July 2014. (The authors don’t mention this, but the units were moving as agreed with the Russians under a cease-fire agreement).
Russia launched fire strikes with long-range artillery and multiple rocket launchers employing top-attack munitions and thermobaric warheads against two Ukrainian mechanized battalions in the open. This intensely concentrated fire strike lasted only a few minutes yet inflicted high casualties and destroyed most armored vehicles, rendering both battalions combat-ineffective.
In combat situations like this, when up to 30 percent of a unit is killed or incapacitated, command and control breaks down and the unit is unable to treat its own wounded, much less reconstitute itself and continue its mission. The Army needs to develop reconstitution teams at the brigade level that will re-establish command and control, provide triage and other medical support, and quickly coordinate reconstitution. Likewise, units at all levels must frequently train in mass-casualty scenarios.
It’s an interesting idea, but the reconstitution team can’t work as long as the artillery continues.
Needless to say, fifteen years of desultory low-intensity warfare against rifle- and RPG-armed primitives in plastic flip-flops has not prepared the United States Army to fight against a competitor like this. (And what is a Russian capability today is a Chinese capability tomorrow, and a global second-tier state’s capability in months or a year. We are not the only ones studying these battles).
Meanwhile, we have a leadership adept at social engineering, but incompetent at war planning or even weapons procurement. What the Russians did to those two Ukrainian battalions, the US can’t do, because the US has unilaterally disarmed from thermobaric and cluster munitions. The article’s conclusion on that:
Russian artillery maintains an approximate 3:1 size advantage over the Army’s artillery, and they have a capability advantage as well with their use of dual-purpose improved conventional munitions and submunitions. For the Army to be competitive, the DoD must repeal then-Secretary of Defense Robert Gates’ 2008 directive to comply with the provisions of the Ottawa Treaty, which resulted in the removal of all submunitions from the Army’s inventory.
Note that, while Gates is often thought of one of Obama’s lousy defense officials, when he made this lousy decision he was still one of Bush’s lousy defense officials. This is a defense problem, not a partisan problem.
One more thought: military planners love infantry fighting vehicles. You know who doesn’t? Infantrymen. After seeing what protection a BMP provides, Ukrainians ride on top. In Chechnya, Russians rode on top. In Vietnam, American mech infantry rode on top. None of these things can resist artillery fires. Which right now the US unilaterally has disarmed itself of, believing that navigation satellites (subject to other Russian and other weaponry) and air supremacy were permanent conditions of US deployments.
And one final thought, on aviation. The Russians swept the Ukrainian fast movers and helicopters from the sky. Flying this high could be deadly (20 August, 2014):
So could flying even lower:
Ukrainian helicopters were reduced to flying 3 to 5 meters above ground or treetop level to avoid the larger surface-to-air missiles from the self-propelled systems, but ambush teams of two to five manportable air defense systems, cued by the integrated air defense network, shot them down. Without adequate suppression of enemy air defense assets or hardened bases and defenses, Ukraine was powerless to stop this.
Some other interesting tactics have been emerging, too, but this is a start. As we said, there are two articles; the other tomorrow or Thursday (we have to hunt it up).