Long-Term Lessons from the Ukraine War

 

A few very important lessons have been learned from the war so far:

1: Big dumb platforms are dead. Anti-tank weapons have shredded the most advanced tanks Russia had, and there is little evidence that Merkavas, Challengers, or Abrams would fare much better.

For tanks, APCs, or other large vehicles to survive, they need to get much smarter. They need electronic systems to foil the countless tank-killers that float in the air or mount on a shoulder. Even so, they would not survive the overhead drone dropping a small bomb directly on top. I am skeptical that the future battlefield will have tanks — they are analogous to suits of armor meeting firearms.

2: Manned fighters and bombers are done. There is almost nothing left in their purview that cannot be done as well by a drone, missile, or artillery shell. All the governments that spend and spend to keep the guy in the cockpit will have to abandon those programs.

The best way to defeat drones or missiles, on the other hand, is to blind or confuse them. This can be done directly or by intercepting/hacking their signals. Warfare is going to become ever more electronic.

3: Artillery, with drone spotters, work extremely well. There are countless videos of artillery shells achieving incredible hit rates on vehicles hiding in forests or next to high buildings.

Knowledge becomes ever more important. Whoever has – and can keep – a dominant edge in real-time surveillance can, with intelligent and motivated troops, outfox a larger enemy every time.

Thoughts?

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  1. Amy Schley, Longcat Shrinker Moderator
    Amy Schley, Longcat Shrinker
    @AmySchley

    iWe: Big dumb platforms are dead. Anti-tank weapons have shredded the most advanced tanks Russia had, and there is little evidence that Merkavas, Challengers or Abrams would fare much better.

    I disagree that the evidence is anywhere near this clear-cut. First, “the most advanced tanks Russia had” cannot be compared to anything in the American inventory. Russian equipment has been found lacking modern military basics like GPS maps, much less any kind of precision weapons. The Ukrainians are finding them poorly stocked with 50 year old rations!

    Second, while Ukraine has been using drones and other modern tech, many of their tank kills have been done with leftover Soviet anti-tank weapons from the 80s. (Another reason to not consider “the best Russia has to offer” as equivalent to “the best the US has.”) This has been possible as the Russians have been forced to follow roads, and social media intelligence has let the Ukrainians set up easy ambushes. Presumably, should the Americans find themselves in a tank battle, cell phone and mobile internet jammers will be deployed to minimize intelligence. 

    Third, many tank losses have not been from kills, but from tanks running out of gas or stuck in the mud. That says nothing about how good our tanks are, and everything about how losers study tactics and winners study logistics. I’ll grant that I no longer trust our military to get basic things like logistics right.

    • #1
  2. Dr. Bastiat Member
    Dr. Bastiat
    @drbastiat

    I think one thing that has become clear is that there is nothing to fear from the Russian military other than their nukes.

    I’m not sure if that’s comforting or terrifying…

    • #2
  3. DonG (CAGW is a Hoax) Coolidge
    DonG (CAGW is a Hoax)
    @DonG

    Yes on drones and hacking.   No on fighters and bombers.   Another lesson involves economic warfare.  That has not gone well against a country that provides raw materials to a needy world.

    • #3
  4. genferei Member
    genferei
    @genferei

    4: Everything we think we know about what is going on in Ukraine is wrong. Including the previous sentence.

    • #4
  5. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    iWe: 1: Big dumb platforms are dead. Anti-tank weapons have shredded the most advanced tanks Russia had, and there is little evidence that Merkavas, Challengers or Abrams would fare much better.

    With every advance in armor technology has come an advance in anti-armor technology. With every advance in anti-armor technology has come an advance in armor technology. Due to the introduction of antitank guns, tanks were relegated to the role of infantry support by almost all of the warfare theorists –in 1938.

    • #5
  6. Amy Schley, Longcat Shrinker Moderator
    Amy Schley, Longcat Shrinker
    @AmySchley

    Dr. Bastiat (View Comment):

    I think one thing that has become clear is that there is nothing to fear from the Russian military other than their nukes.

    I’m not sure if that’s comforting or terrifying…

    I’m not sure we ought to be afraid of their nukes, either. I don’t really want to call their bluff, mind you, but I have a hard time believing a military could be so completely slap-dash, incompetent, and corrupt in their infantry, cavalry, and air forces, but the nuclear arsenal is getting all its required funding, maintenance, and overhauling. Nukes aren’t AK-47s that can be packed in grease for fifty years and then used like the day they were made, after all. 

    I find it highly likely that if Putin did decide to push the button, very few of the ICBMs would even get out of their silos, much less hit their targets with something approximating their listed payload. 

    • #6
  7. Doug Watt Moderator
    Doug Watt
    @DougWatt

    The decision to try and seize Kiev at the beginning of the war a tactical mistake. Perhaps Putin believed that Russian forces would be welcomed as liberators by Ukrainians. So much for the Russian belief that they are the daddy in the Great Slavic Brotherhood. 

    Ukrainian forces have adapted by striking Russian forces in hit and run attacks. Ukraine is about 89% of the size of Texas. Russian airpower doctrine is not the same as NATO and US airpower doctrine. Russians use aircraft as artillery. NATO and US airpower have a two-tier doctrine. The first is to establish air superiority. The second tier is once air superiority is established then A-10’s and other ground support aircraft can strike armored columns, artillery positions, and supply lines. You cannot seize territory with aircraft.  

    • #7
  8. Hang On Member
    Hang On
    @HangOn

    4. That the intelligence agencies of this country are totally politicized and corrupt. And anyone who believes anything being published about the state of the Russian military is deluded.

    5. That the US military command is the biggest bunch of liars on the planet. We’re supposed to believe that our military that lost to a bunch of goat herders in a 20-year stupid adventure is capable of taking on the Russians and winning?

    • #8
  9. Mark Camp Member
    Mark Camp
    @MarkCamp

    Amy Schley, Longcat Shrinker (View Comment):

    Dr. Bastiat (View Comment):

    I think one thing that has become clear is that there is nothing to fear from the Russian military other than their nukes.

    I’m not sure if that’s comforting or terrifying…

    I’m not sure we ought to be afraid of their nukes, either. I don’t really want to call their bluff, mind you, but I have a hard time believing a military could be so completely slap-dash, incompetent, and corrupt in their infantry, cavalry, and air forces, but the nuclear arsenal is getting all its required funding, maintenance, and overhauling. Nukes aren’t AK-47s that can be packed in grease for fifty years and then used like the day they were made, after all.

    I find it highly likely that if Putin did decide to push the button, very few of the ICBMs would even get out of their silos, much less hit their targets with something approximating their listed payload.

    In history, whenever

    • a would-be attacker becomes confident he can prevail, and
    • his target becomes confident he can successfully defend

    what always happens next?

    • #9
  10. Postmodern Hoplite Coolidge
    Postmodern Hoplite
    @PostmodernHoplite

    Hang On (View Comment):

    4. That the intelligence agencies of this country are totally politicized and corrupt. And anyone who believes anything being published about the state of the Russian military is deluded.

    5. That the US military command is the biggest bunch of liars on the planet. We’re supposed to believe that our military that lost to a bunch of goat herders in a 20-year stupid adventure is capable of taking on the Russians and winning?

    A qualified “like”: regarding #5 – Yes. The questions are “why,” and “how did we come to this?” (I have my own hypothesis about this, but will save it for another time.)

    Regarding #4 – I agree with the underlying premise, but not that all the resulting intel is to be disbelieved. I continue to follow the 50-50 rule: half of what we’re getting is accurate, and half is inaccurate. The problem is sorting it out.

    • #10
  11. Franco Member
    Franco
    @Franco

    These are  minor tactical discoveries that have far less “long-term” impact as compared to the other reverberations coming (and still to come) from this war. Every war exposes outdated thinking weapons and tactics.

    It’s good to see the Russian military as incompetent – up to a point. I hope you have accumulated enough historical knowledge to understand that a ‘weak’ or wounded enemy is still a threat – and perhaps even moreso. Along the way we get to see the limits and drawbacks of economic warfare badly administered pushing our opponents into enemies and forcing them into a stronger alliance. 

    The economic consequences are staggering for the entire world, where Russia is by no means hardest hit. 

    Ultimately, Ukraine will not “win” this war, unfortunately.  They have already lost and will be unable to re-gain territory after they surrender. 

    Fighting Putin was like resisting arrest with an armed cop. Maybe you got some punches in, maybe we see the cop isn’t in great physical shape, but sooner or later, you’re going to have to surrender. 

    Meanwhile, Putin, or the next guy, will shore-up all of their military, possibly revamp all their weaknesses and become more formidable in the future. 

    And 40 billion dollars isn’t chump-change. Most of it will probably end up in the pockets of corrupticrats in Ukraine, the USA and across the globe. 

    • #11
  12. Amy Schley, Longcat Shrinker Moderator
    Amy Schley, Longcat Shrinker
    @AmySchley

    Hang On (View Comment):
    That the US military command is the biggest bunch of liars on the planet. We’re supposed to believe that our military that lost to a bunch of goat herders in a 20-year stupid adventure is capable of taking on the Russians and winning?

    Define winning. 

    We have the most powerful military in the world, and it’s the best on the planet when it comes to killing people. If it had been ordered to kill everyone in Afghanistan, I have no doubt it would have succeeded with 2 years, much less 20.

    Our problem isn’t that our military isn’t good at what it does; it’s that we keep using it to do things it’s not meant to do. Sure, you *can* use your flat-head screwdriver as a prybar, but when it fails, is it really the screwdriver’s fault? 

    • #12
  13. Barry Jones Thatcher
    Barry Jones
    @BarryJones

    It is difficlult (really difficult) to draw significant conclusions from a military conflict where one side uses flawed or faulty(actually really, really bad) tactics. The Russian military leadership has shown itself to be everything from poor to outright incompetent on the battlefield. Most of the battlefield “lessons” pointed out are not so much equipment related as tactical stupidity related. On top of all that, the Russians don’t appear to be able to learn from their mistakes. Time will tell. In short, don’t count out manned aircraft or armored fighting vehicles yet – maybe not ever.

    • #13
  14. Concretevol Thatcher
    Concretevol
    @Concretevol

    iWe: 1: Big dumb platforms are dead. Anti-tank weapons have shredded the most advanced tanks Russia had, and there is little evidence that Merkavas, Challengers or Abrams would fare much better.

    From what I understand this seems to be more a function of tactics not hardware.  US forces combine multiple weapons platforms and infantry units with armor which makes them much more effective.  The Russian forces seem to have been undertrained conscripts and their tactics were to just drive the tanks straight into the teeth of mobile anti-tank units.  

    • #14
  15. OmegaPaladin Moderator
    OmegaPaladin
    @OmegaPaladin

    • #15
  16. Locke On Member
    Locke On
    @LockeOn

    I’d take this lesson so far:

    The usage rate of ‘smart’ munitions on a near-parity 21st century battlefield is well beyond anything the combatants (or the US) planned.  What happens when the smarts run short or out? Ukraine and Russia are finding out.

    It’s not a surprise for those who’ve modeled/gamed it out in the past. It’s been somewhat of a dirty little secret (to steal from Jim Dunnigan) that no military wants to admit because of the implications for stockpiles and therefore budgets.

    • #16
  17. iWe Coolidge
    iWe
    @iWe

    Percival (View Comment):
    With every advance in armor technology has come an advance in anti-armor technology.

    Well, yes and no. Paradigm shifts certainly do occur.

    Chain mail gave way to gunpowder and never recovered.

    Thick castle walls stopped being improved when mortars and artillery rendered them speedbumps.

    • #17
  18. iWe Coolidge
    iWe
    @iWe

    I would add that if you see the precision artillery work you’d better understand my point.

    Watch this video, for example. As long as there are eyes in the sky and artillery is within range, the tanks are, simply, toast. Artillery rounds are awfully hard to shield against.

    The drone in the sky is a cheap consumer model.

     

     

    • #18
  19. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    iWe (View Comment):

    Percival (View Comment):
    With every advance in armor technology has come an advance in anti-armor technology.

    Well, yes and no. Paradigm shifts certainly do occur.

    Chain mail gave way to gunpowder and never recovered.

    Thick castle walls stopped being improved when mortars and artillery rendered them speedbumps.

    I don’t think we are there quite yet.

    • #19
  20. Hang On Member
    Hang On
    @HangOn

    Amy Schley, Longcat Shrinker (View Comment):

    Define winning. 

    We have the most powerful military in the world, and it’s the best on the planet when it comes to killing people. If it had been ordered to kill everyone in Afghanistan, I have no doubt it would have succeeded with 2 years, much less 20.

    Our problem isn’t that our military isn’t good at what it does; it’s that we keep using it to do things it’s not meant to do. Sure, you *can* use your flat-head screwdriver as a prybar, but when it fails, is it really the screwdriver’s fault? 

    We don’t have the most powerful military in the world because we have the most inept political leaders in the world. I agree that the military is being asked to do things it was not designed to do. But is the military to be absolved of all blame? After all, they do get constantly trotted out and lie through their teeth. 

    • #20
  21. Hang On Member
    Hang On
    @HangOn

    The basic problem the US military has now is the same problem the Germans had during World War II. We design extremely expensive weapons in small numbers and our military doctrine is designed around that. As I result, I think we will have the same fate as the Germans during World War II.

    • #21
  22. Amy Schley, Longcat Shrinker Moderator
    Amy Schley, Longcat Shrinker
    @AmySchley

    Hang On (View Comment):

    The basic problem the US military has now is the same problem the Germans had during World War II. We design extremely expensive weapons in small numbers and our military doctrine is designed around that. As I result, I think we will have the same fate as the Germans during World War II.

    Please don’t tell me you’re a fan of the T-34.

    • #22
  23. Barry Jones Thatcher
    Barry Jones
    @BarryJones

    iWe (View Comment):

    Percival (View Comment):
    With every advance in armor technology has come an advance in anti-armor technology.

    Well, yes and no. Paradigm shifts certainly do occur.

    Chain mail gave way to gunpowder and never recovered.

    Thick castle walls stopped being improved when mortars and artillery rendered them speedbumps.

    More like chain mail gave way to plate armor which did pretty well on the battlefield up to at least the 16th century (and now has reappeared as ballistic armor which seems to just get better at stopping bullets and lighter) and thick castle walls got shorter and wider(Vauban ring a bell?) then morphed into field fortifications in the face of gunpowder weapons. The point is that people adapt to changing conditions or die. Then the surviors adapt and continue. Call it Darwin at work or the OODA Loop, still the same result. As for what is coming out of the Ukraine – artillery is operating in a virtually counter battery free environment. People can and do shoot back even at artillery. Also, Iron Dome and CIWS like defenses are getting better and better and when at the appropriate size and portability may well start to accompany and shield front line combatants.

    • #23
  24. iWe Coolidge
    iWe
    @iWe

    Percival (View Comment):

    iWe (View Comment):

    Percival (View Comment):
    With every advance in armor technology has come an advance in anti-armor technology.

    Well, yes and no. Paradigm shifts certainly do occur.

    Chain mail gave way to gunpowder and never recovered.

    Thick castle walls stopped being improved when mortars and artillery rendered them speedbumps.

    I don’t think we are there quite yet.

    Here’s the thing: if drones can be had for cheap, and they can easily help artillery locate and destroy targets… then how do you oppose that? Can all signals be jammed effectively to prevent drone comms/guidance?  One solution is rapid laser elimination of drones – Israel has one such system. 

    Tank armor does not stop artillery rounds. Up until now that has not been such an issue since rapid acquisition and accurate fire were hard. But watch that video – the Ukrainians have it dialled in. And I can see artillery forces getting faster and smoother. Where does that leave armored vehicles?

    Anti-drone tech is going to be very important. I see that as the next offense/defense seesaw, not tanks versus anti-tank.

    • #24
  25. Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patriot) Member
    Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patriot)
    @ArizonaPatriot

    Dr. Bastiat (View Comment):

    I think one thing that has become clear is that there is nothing to fear from the Russian military other than their nukes.

    I’m not sure if that’s comforting or terrifying…

    I think that you’re incorrect about this.

    It is still hard to tell what is going on in this war.  I don’t know of any source for casualty figures that I would find credible, unfortunately.

    The Russians still appear to be slowly winning.  I don’t know whether or not they will persist.  The economic consequences may well have been worse for us than for them.  After a brief spike, the ruble is actually stronger than it was before the war.  Oil prices are way up, and wheat prices are way, way up.  I don’t think that this is the only reason for our inflation and possible recession, but it is a contributing factor.

    The Russian military has conquered quite a bit of Ukrainian territory, and is generally advancing.  The Russians are conquering precisely the areas that they said that they wanted — focusing on Luhansk and Donetsk, and holding the land bridge to Crimea.

    Edited to add:  I do think that the overblown fears of the Russian military have been shown to be wrong — specifically, the fears of the folks who thought that the Russians could roll all the way to Warsaw, or maybe even Berlin, with no problem.  My own view was that the Russians could take Ukraine if they wanted, but didn’t have the power to seriously threaten the rest of NATO (except the Baltic States).  This is good news, I think — except for those who seem to want to draw us into this war.

    • #25
  26. Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patriot) Member
    Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patriot)
    @ArizonaPatriot

    Doug Watt (View Comment):

    The decision to try and seize Kiev at the beginning of the war a tactical mistake. Perhaps Putin believed that Russian forces would be welcomed as liberators by Ukrainians. So much for the Russian belief that they are the daddy in the Great Slavic Brotherhood.

    Ukrainian forces have adapted by striking Russian forces in hit and run attacks. Ukraine is about 89% of the size of Texas. Russian airpower doctrine is not the same as NATO and US airpower doctrine. Russians use aircraft as artillery. NATO and US airpower have a two-tier doctrine. The first is to establish air superiority. The second tier is once air superiority is established then A-10’s and other ground support aircraft can strike armored columns, artillery positions, and supply lines. You cannot seize territory with aircraft.

    I’m not sure about this.

    I do agree that the Kiev offensive looks like a tactical mistake, in hindsight.  It reminds me of McClellan’s attempt to take Richmond early in the Civil War.  That particular offensive failed, but the Union ended up winning anyway.  This does not necessarily mean that the Russians will win, just that a particular advance and withdrawal doesn’t necessarily dictate the ultimate outcome of a war.

    I’m also skeptical about the claims regarding Ukrainian attitudes.  Attitudes often seem to shift quite quickly during war.

    My own view about the attack on Kiev is that it was worth a try (from the Russian point of view).  It might have toppled the government.  In this case, it didn’t, so the Russians withdrew and focused on other targets.  This strikes me as a sensible approach to warfare.

    The Ukrainians have been more successful in their defense than I expected.  Like the Russians, they seem to be pretty smart and pretty well equipped.

    The last month or so hasn’t exactly been a stalemate, but there’s been little change.  The Russians have taken some territory in the Luhansk/Donetsk region, and the Ukrainians have had some successful counterattacks around Kharkov and Kherson, I think.

    Sometimes, stalemates drag on and on, with no victory.  Sometimes, there’s a stalemate for a while, then a breakthrough for one side.  The smaller, weaker side is rarely the one that gets the breakthrough, so I’m not sanguine about Ukraine’s prospects for ultimate victory.

    At this point, my prediction is that the Russians will partially succeed in their war aims.  I think that they’ll end up taking the rest of Donetsk and Luhansk, and then stop.  They’ll have those regions, plus the land bridge to Crimea.  I think that they will give up on the “demilitarization” and “denazification” war aims.

    I think that the Russians’ most significant goal was keeping Ukraine out of NATO, and I think that they’ll succeed at this.

    Of course, predictions are always tricky, especially about the future.

    • #26
  27. TBA Coolidge
    TBA
    @RobtGilsdorf

    Doug Watt (View Comment):

    The decision to try and seize Kiev at the beginning of the war a tactical mistake. Perhaps Putin believed that Russian forces would be welcomed as liberators by Ukrainians. So much for the Russian belief that they are the daddy in the Great Slavic Brotherhood.

    Ukrainian forces have adapted by striking Russian forces in hit and run attacks. Ukraine is about 89% of the size of Texas. Russian airpower doctrine is not the same as NATO and US airpower doctrine. Russians use aircraft as artillery. NATO and US airpower have a two-tier doctrine. The first is to establish air superiority. The second tier is once air superiority is established then A-10’s and other ground support aircraft can strike armored columns, artillery positions, and supply lines. You cannot seize territory with aircraft.

    “Good news, we’re here to liberate you!” 

    “You…you just killed thousands of people and blew up our roads and buildings.” 

    “So, BFFS, amirite?” 

    • #27
  28. David Foster Member
    David Foster
    @DavidFoster

    GPS is extremely jammable…those signals are very weak by the time they reach earth from space.  The US military conducts GPS jamming tests all the time, sometimes to the discomfiture of pilots who didn’t read (or ignored) the Notices to Airmen in which they were announced.

    Worth thinking about what has to happen to make precision munitions workable on a GPS-denied battlefield.

    • #28
  29. Hang On Member
    Hang On
    @HangOn

    Amy Schley, Longcat Shrinker (View Comment):

    Hang On (View Comment):

    The basic problem the US military has now is the same problem the Germans had during World War II. We design extremely expensive weapons in small numbers and our military doctrine is designed around that. As I result, I think we will have the same fate as the Germans during World War II.

    Please don’t tell me you’re a fan of the T-34.

    Don’t tell me your a fan of Panzers.

    • #29
  30. Dr. Bastiat Member
    Dr. Bastiat
    @drbastiat

    Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patrio… (View Comment):
    The Russians still appear to be slowly winning. 

    If this is what winning looks like for the Russians, I can’t imagine losing.

    Russia has been effectively removed from the world markets.  Everybody from Starbucks to Exxon is racing to the front of the line to not do business with them.

    You’re right that stalemates can drag on sometimes.  But I don’t think Russia can handle too much more of this.

    Their military looks bad.  Their economy looks worse.  And neither shows any hope of improvement in the near future.

    Russia has problems.

    I think Ukraine wins the stalemate.

    But heck, what do I know.  Could be wrong.

    But just the lack of container ships and tankers in Russian ports is telling.

    Russia has problems.

    • #30
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