Thoughts on the War in Ukraine

The Russian Horde has proven less than able to hold their initial gains into the neighboring country, and now the Ukrainians are pushing back.

As the war drags on, Russia’s stocks of high end modern systems dwindles to the point where they are openly looking to Iran for drones and North Korea for artillery. Meanwhile Ukraine is using every captured T-80 that they can put into service, while “combat testing” many different NATO systems like Polish and French artillery. And make no mistake, the Russian invasion of Ukraine is boiling down to artillery as the center of combat capability for both sides.

Air power on both sides is absolutely useful, but neither side was or is capable of utter domination of the air domain along the lines of NATO.

Ground power, the Russians have “mass” in terms of men and material, but the men are generally not seasoned veterans, fighting away from their homeland, for a vague purpose. The Ukrainians have less in terms of men and material, but they have a “qualitative advantage” in defending their home turf, with soldiers largely trained by NATO cadre since 2015.

Artillery is the interesting comparison point here, both sides have plenty of old Soviet artillery tubes, but the Ukrainians have been able to create a modern “fires complex” where the “sensor to decision maker to shooter” links are fast and accurate. And the Ukrainians have largely done this by creating smartphone apps that can communicate over their organic cellular or WiFi networks using top end commercial encryption. The few western systems, American HIMARS rocket artillery, Polish Krab systems, French CEASAR systems, FH70s donated by Estonia and Italy, are proving their worth delivering what the old Soviet gear cannot, long range precision fires using precision guided munitions (PGMs).

The Russian Electronic Warfare (EW) units should be, in theory, capable of degrading PGM accuracy, but years of sanctions have taken their toll on Russian EW equipment. Meanwhile years of over-using EW on Ukrainians have created a combat force that is accustomed to operating in a contested, congested, electromagnetic spectrum environment. These two factors have made Russian EW largely irrelevant to the fight up until now, and Ukrainian EW units can regularly identify and geolocate Russian emissions (communications, jammers, radars, etc). And they can feed that data into the artillery app, and get accurate fires on target quickly.

And this gets us back to the same lessons learned after the 1973 Arab-Israel conflict, “see first, shoot first, conduct a survivability move” is the key to survive and then win a high intensity conflict.

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