“Rebels” adjusting artillery fire with a drone.

Yeah, “rebels” who just happened to be in Russian uniform. What are the  odds. The ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine in the eastern regions of Ukraine has been characterized by heavy, heavy use of artillery. Any time either side attempts to mass decisive combat power, the other pounds it with artillery. Sadly, the Russians have done a better job. While they lack the sophistication of UAVs like our MQ-1 Predator or MQ-9 Reaper, these commercial off the shelf drones do provide enough information to make terrain feature recognition and artillery adjustment quite feasible.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=26zA_Uq4Yxo]

The Lessons of the Russo-Ukraine War

A tipster sent this roundup of lessons from the ongoing slow motion Russian invasion of Ukraine. 

It appears that a page or two is missing from near the end (and it badly needs a copy editor) but provides a good deal of insight into Putin’s army’s tactics, it’s operations, and its strategy. Sadly, it also exposes a good deal of the fecklessness of the US in supporting allies and partner nations in Eastern Europe.

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It goes without saying that the Obama administration has done little to nothing to assauge our allies fears of an expansionist Russia. But it must also be noted that there is little public support for a harder line with Russia. Wearied by a decade and a half of war in Afghanistan and Iraq, and a seemingly ever increasing number of other hot spots, the US public isn’t eager to face off with Russia, seeing little to gain, and the potential for much to lose.

Cold War Redux

The XX Committee* has a great post on just who NATO is facing in Russia, and why our responses have been so poor.

As the situation in Ukraine continues to deteriorate, with the Russian military and its “rebel” minions never having honored the Minsk-brokered “ceasefire” for even an hour, something like low-grade panic is setting in among NATO capitals. Western elites have a tough time sizing up Putin and his agenda realistically, for reasons I’ve elaborated, and the situation seems not to be improving.

German has a delightfully cynical line, die Hoffnung stirbt zuletzt (hope dies last), that sums up much of the wishful thinking that currently holds sway in Berlin, Paris, and Washington, DC. As the reality that Putin knows he is at war against Ukraine, and may seek a wider war against NATO too, is a prospect so terrifying that thousands of Western diplomats and “foreign policy experts” would rather not ponder it, so they don’t.

A classic example comes in a recent press report about how Western foreign ministries are striving to prevent Putin from doing more to destabilize Eastern Europe. Amidst much dithering about how to deter Putin — more sanctions? maybe some, but not too many, weapons for Ukraine? how about some really biting hashtags? — NATO leaders aren’t coming up with anything that can be termed a coherent policy, much less a strategy.

Western nations have consistently underestimated Putin’s willingness to use force.

How can we forget Putin overseeing the Second Chechen War? The 2008 invasion of Georgia? We’ve already effectively conceded Crimea. For that matter, who seriously thinks diplomacy will ever return eastern Ukrainian lands from Moscow’s grip?

Will we see a straight up invasion of Germany right out of Red Storm Rising? Probably not.

But almost certainly some “incident” will eventually take place in Latvia or one of the other Baltic nations that will, by amazing coincidence, be used by Putin to justify some Russian intervention.

Which, what a coincidence:

Increasingly frequent snap military drills being carried out by Russia near its eastern European neighbours could be part of a strategy that will open the door for a Russian offensive on the Baltic states according to defence expert Martin Hurt, deputy director at Estonia’s International Centre for Defence and Security.

The Lithuanian and Estonian defence ministries have expressed alarm at the increased military activity, and drawn comparisons with moves prior to the Russian invasion of Crimea.

Commenting on Russia’s announcement last week that its armed forces will not cease holding snap military exercises, Hurt, who has previously worked for Estonia’s Ministry of Defence as well as for the armed forces of both Estonia and Sweden, warned against taking this news lightly.

 

*If you don’t know where they got their blog name from, you most certainly should read this.

The Ukrainian Counterattack

With the hubub over the MH17 shootdown, and the Hamas-Israeli War in the Gaza strip, we tend to forget that there’s quite an actual campaign going on in Ukraine.

For the time being, it appears Ukraine has accepted the loss of Crimea to Russia as something of a fait accompli.

But the pro-Russian separatists trying to cleave “independent republics” from eastern Ukraine, while initially quite successful, have lost the initiative, and have been losing ground steadily for two months or so.

CDR Salamander takes a look at the situation.

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Put your JPME to good work there shipmate. Look at what has happened in the last two months.
1. Ukraine secured its maritime territory.
2. Ukraine managed to re-establish control over most of its borders  – though in a thin salient in some places. Not firm control as we know traffic is getting through, but at least partial control to the point they are willing to claim it.
3. They are pushing to widen the salient in the south while increasing its SE bulge, pushing north along the Russian border.
4. From the north, they are pushing south along the Russian border.
5. Yes kiddies, we have a classic pincer movement to envelope a pocket of the enemy, nee – a double envelopment at that. As a matter of fact, a secondary double envelopment is about to take place in that middle thumb centered on Lysychansk – or at least there is an opportunity for one.

He’s certainly right that the thumb at Lysychansk looks ripe for the picking.  Unfortunately, there doesn’t really appear to be a decent road network for Ukraine to use to execute a pincer movement.

The Thumb

There’s some in the area, but ideally you’d want a good east-west road across the base of the thumb to exploit, but there doesn’t appear to be one.

Further, on the southern side, the Ukraine forces are likely to push north, rather than east, to gain room to maneuver, rather than attempt a deeper flanking movement. That long salient exposed to the Russian border would make any general think twice.

What impact the shootdown of MH17 will have going forward, I don’t know. But it’s hard to see it inspiring greater support for the separatists.

If you look at the names on the map, this is an area that has known more time of war than of peace through the ages. But we need to remember this warfare today is certainly not on the scale of World War II with masses of millions clashing cataclysmically. This is actually fairly small scale warfare, with troops often numbering in the hundreds, not hundreds of thousands.

SA-11/17 Buk Missile System

By now you’ve seen speculation that the Malaysian Airlines flight in Ukraine was brought down by a “Buk” missile system. The NATO code name for this system is either SA-11 GADFLY or SA-17 GRIZZLY for the follow-on variant. The Russian (and Ukraine) name for the system is “Buk.”

 

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LSXMhaFntrU]

Both Russia and Ukraine operate the Buk. And the pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine claim to have captured some.

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A Buk battery consists of a command post vehicle, a surveillance radar vehicle, several  launcher vehicles, and vehicles carrying reloads. But the SA-11/17 can be fired and guided solely from its launcher vehicle, without integrating with the command post and surveillance radar.

The system is highly mobile, and intended to provide air defense for army formations in the field, though Ukraine does also use it as a portion of their fixed national air defense network protecting its cities and critical infrastructure.

Infographic: Current Ukrainian and Russian Military Deployments

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Various open sources place the total current Russian troop deployment at around 40,000. We know that Edward Snowden is working with the Russian government (remember the good old days when we’d shoot traitors?) and because of this the Russians probably have a better idea of how to evade US satellites (and shall we say “other” intelligence assests) that are currently monitoring the Russian military. I think a safe bet would be to add at least 30% to the open-source number.

Just my opinion anyway.

Scramble!

Lithuania, a tiny Baltic nation bordering Russia, and long under the thumb of the Soviet Union, has been wary of its large neighbor to the east. The small nation can hardly provide for its own air defense needs. Accordingly, NATO nations rotate the duty of providing additional air defense assets to Lithuania.

Currently, the US Air Force is a part of that rotation. And given the events in Crimea and Ukraine, the US is anxious to remind Russia that its territorial ambitions have limits.

That’s why The Aviationist can bring us some video of US F-15Cs practicing a scramble.

Similarly, the US has deployed F-16s to Poland and to Romania as well.

Cutaway Thursday: IL-76MF "Candid"

Apologies to reader but I’ve been a little overwhelmed with other (read personal) things over the past few weeks. Anyway this week’s cutaway is Ilyushin’s IL-76 (NATO codenamed “Candid”).

The Candid first flew 2 days ago in 1971 and is the primary tactical transport aircraft for Russian military forces. Quite a few Candids were involved in moving Russian forces to Crimea and continues to support Russian forces in theater.

IL-76 CutawayYou can learn more about the IL-76 here.

Ukraine-What next?

Russia so far has tried very hard to make its incursion into Crimea as non-violent as possible. That’s a pretty smart move. The Russians certainly aren’t universally loved there, but it is a far smarter approach than making an explicitly punitive expedition. As it is, Putin has presented to the West a fait acompli in Crimea. We can bluster all we want, but the US, the EU, and NATO aren’t going to go to war over the Crimea. For that matter, the heart of the EU isn’t even going to try economic sanctions over the matter.

So, does Russia simply hold what it has, and have a “referendum” in a month or two, or does it expand its reach.

Galrahn notes that as a practical matter, Russia can seize a line from Odessa to Kharkov with little or no effective resistance. That’s territory Russia would rather have effective control over than actually physically occupy.

Will Russia sit tight? Will they seize eastern Ukraine, and then negotiate from there? What say you?

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