Russia Resorting to Brutality Because They Lack Precision Weapons

They're hitting civilian targets partly because they can't hit military ones.

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Robyn Dixon, WaPo‘s Moscow bureau chief, reports “Russia’s airstrikes, intended to show force, reveal another weakness.”

On Monday, Russia fired 84 missiles, many at Ukrainian civilian infrastructure targets, causing power outages in many cities. On Tuesday, Russia launched another 28 cruise missiles. And on Thursday, the Ukrainian Armed Forced General Staff said Russia had hit more than 40 settlements since the day before. In all, more than three dozen people were killed.

But no matter how many times Russia fires at Ukraine, pro-war Russian nationalists want more, even though targeting civilian infrastructure is potentially a war crime.

“It has to be done constantly, not just once but for two to five weeks to totally disable all their infrastructure, all thermal power stations, all heating and power stations, all power plants, all traction substations, all power lines, all railway hubs,” said Bogdan Bezpalko, a member of the Kremlin’s Council on Interethnic Relations.

“Then, Ukraine will descend into cold and darkness,” Bezpalko said on state television. “They won’t be able to bring in ammunition and fuel and then the Ukrainian army will turn into a crowd of armed men with chunks of iron.”

That Russia is committing crimes against humanity out of embarrassment over a successful strike on Putin’s prize bridge to Crimea is not in dispute. But the key is this:

But the hawks, who are demanding publicly on TV broadcasts and on Telegram to know why Russia does not hit more high value targets, won’t like the answer: The Russian military appears to lack sufficient accurate missiles to sustain airstrikes at Monday’s tempo, according to Western military analysts.

“They are low on precision guided missiles,” said Konrad Muzyka, founder of Gdansk, Poland-based Rochan Consulting said, offering his assessment of Russia’s sporadic air attacks. “That is essentially the only explanation that I have.”

Even as NATO allies on Thursday said they would rush additional air defenses to Ukraine, the experts said the reason Russia had yet to knock out electricity and water service across the country was simple: it can’t.

On Tuesday’s episode of the NYT The Daily podcast, Michael Schwirtz noted that Russia had repeatedly targeted a popular pedestrian bridge in Kyiv and failed to hit it. He implied it was a function of technical incompetence but this explanation rings more true to me:

Since May, Russia’s use of precision guided missiles (PGMs) has declined sharply, with analysts suggesting then that Russian stocks of such missiles may be low.

Tuesday’s attacks mainly used air-launched cruise missiles, which are slower than Iskander guided missiles and easier for Ukraine to shoot down, according to Muzyka. In March, the Pentagon reported that Russia’s air-launched cruise missiles have a failure rate of 20 to 60 percent.

“If Russia had a limitless supply of PGMs, I think that they would still strike civilian targets, because that’s what the Russian way of warfare is,” Muzyka said. He said analysts did not have confirmed information about Russian missile stocks or production levels, and judgments were based on the decline in usage of PGMs and Moscow’s greater reliance on less accurate missiles.

But a clue lies in Russia’s failure to destroy the kinds of targets that Ukraine is able to hit using U.S.-supplied HIMARS artillery.

“If we take a look at what HIMARS has done to Russian supply routes, and essentially their ability to sustain war, they’ve done massive damage to Russia’s posture in this war,” Muzyka said. “So technically, you know, if the Russians had access to a large stock of PGMS, they could probably inflict a similar damage to Ukrainian armed forces, but they haven’t.”

“They actually failed to,” he continued. “They even failed to interdict the main Ukrainian supply roads. They failed to destroy bridges, railway, railway intersections, and so on and so forth.”

Both of the premier tracking estimates of military expenditures put Russia in fifth place globally, with between $60.6 billion (IISS) and $65.9 billion (SIPRI) annually. The latter notes,

Russia increased its military expenditure by 2.9 per cent in 2021, to $65.9 billion, at a time when it was building up its forces along the Ukrainian border. This was the third consecutive year of growth and Russia’s military spending reached 4.1 per cent of GDP in 2021.

‘High oil and gas revenues helped Russia to boost its military spending in 2021. Russian military expenditure had been in decline between 2016 and 2019 as a result of low energy prices combined with sanctions in response to Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014,’ said Lucie Béraud-Sudreau, Director of SIPRI’s Military Expenditure and Arms Production Programme.

The ‘national defence’ budget line, which accounts for around three-quarters of Russia’s total military spending and includes funding for operational costs as well as arms procurement, was revised upwards over the course of the year. The final figure was $48.4 billion, 14 per cent higher than had been budgeted at the end of 2020.

As it has strengthened its defences against Russia, Ukraine’s military spending has risen by 72 per cent since the annexation of Crimea in 2014. Spending fell in 2021, to $5.9 billion, but still accounted for 3.2 per cent of the country’s GDP.

So, while Russia is among the biggest military spenders—it typically hovers in the neighborhood of the UK and France—it’s at the mercy of energy prices and often strains to keep up that pace. Further, going back to the Soviet days, the mindset has been that “quantity has a quality all its own,” tending to prefer large stockpiles of less sophisticated weapon systems to smaller numbers of high-tech systems. It’s not surprising, then, that they’re running out. (Hell, our rich NATO allies ran out of key munitions during the relatively short operation in Libya a decade back.)

Russian President Vladimir Putin is juggling so many military problems that some Western analysts are already predicting Russia’s war will fail. Others say it remains too early to write Russia off, especially with hundreds of thousands of conscripted reinforcements potentially headed to the battlefield in coming weeks.

Since day one, Russia has sustained shocking levels of battlefield casualties, battering military morale. It has suffered repeated defeats, including the failure to take Kyiv, a retreat from Snake Island, the rout in Kharkiv and loss of Lyman, a strategic transit hub.

Ukrainian forces also continue to slowly recover territory in Kherson region, in their ongoing southern offensive.

Russia’s military mobilization also remains in shambles, with angry draftees posting videos online almost daily, complaining of insufficient training and poor equipment. Moscow police raided hostels and cafes on Tuesday to grab men and deliver them to mobilization points, and military recruitment is continuing in Russian prisons, according to independent Russian media site SOTA.

These strikes on civilian targets, then, show weakness in two ways. First, they’re demonstrating an inability to hit the targets they need to hit to turn the war effort around. Second, because it’s so obviously a desperate move. They can’t win militarily so they’re lashing out in hopes that it will force the civilian population to demand a peace settlement. It will almost surely have the opposite effect.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Sleeping Dog says:

    …Russia’s air-launched cruise missiles have a failure rate of 20 to 60 percent.

    That’s an amazing statistic and paired with Russian equipment and operational failures throughout the war, it is no wonder that Putin threatens to use nukes. Though given the reliability of Russia’s armaments, they may want to seriously consider whether those nukes may explode before being launched in the general direction of the intended target.

    3
  2. Michael Reynolds says:

    NATO countries have a nominal GDP of ~45 trillion. Vlad has ~1.5 trillion. Who’s going to have more toys, the rich kids or the poor kid? He’s stuck in a war of attrition pitting a reluctant population vs. a highly motivated population, with exterior vs. interior lines, and with financing by Mastercard (Hey, can you raise my limit by another few trillion?) vs. the people who have half the money of planet earth.

    This war should be a wake-up call to the US, NATO and our other allies, to maybe focus on stockpiling smart ammo.

    Should also be a wake-up call to countries like India that buy Russian weapons systems. If they’re looking to balance China they should be buying the good stuff.

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  3. MarkedMan says:

    I remember a report on the Russian smart weapons from early in the war. Examining weapons that failed or were captured revealed that the electronics and code was based on cheap off-the-shelf hardware and open source firmware. There were no meaningful security measures. It makes me wonder if the high failure rate is as much due to hacking as poor build and quality control.

    1
  4. Sleeping Dog says:

    @MarkedMan:

    My thought goes back to Russia’s endemic corruption. Privates Ivan and Igor are responsible for guarding a supply missiles. Knowing that some of the electronics in those missiles will fetch a few hundred rubles on the black market… No one checks and no one is the wiser. The missiles are fired off to land harmlessly when the fuel runs out.

    1
  5. Kathy says:

    You have to wonder what the attrition rate is on Russian defense spending. That is, how much goes to payoffs, kickbacks, and straight up embezzlement.

    In the early days of Bolshevik rule after the civil war ended, there were two broad categories of manufactured goods: scarce and shoddy. the latter were often called “soviet.” As in matches that didn’t light were “soviet matches.”

    Putin has a soviet army.

    1
  6. gVOR08 says:

    The Russians should be able to target fixed, known targets like bridges, power plants, and rail yards but apparently can’t. But another aspect of Ukrainian superiority is, I suspect, effective partisans in the Russian rear. The Ukrainians seem to be able to very effectively hit Russian ammo dumps, headquarters, and anti-aircraft sites. That’s partly U. S. satellite intelligence, but also eyes on the ground. Meanwhile, the Russians seem unable to locate the HIMARS.

    The Ukrainian Air Force the Russians thought to destroy in 48 hours seems more able to fly at the front than the Russian air forces. We were reluctant to supply A-10s supposedly because they were too vulnerable on a modern battlefield. But the Ukrainians seem to be using their handful of old, left over, Soviet SU-25 attack aircraft more effectively than the Russians are using theirs. Would seem to indicate the Russians are also out of MANPADS, man portable air defense systems. Wonder how many anti-tank missiles they have at the front.

    1
  7. just nutha says:

    @MarkedMan:

    cheap off-the-shelf-hardware

    So Russia is buying/contracting from Tesla Defense?

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  8. Scott says:

    Here’s a tweet with graphic on Russian precision missile inventory thru 12 Oct.

    https://twitter.com/ChuckPfarrer/status/1580885538244263936?ref_src=twsrc%5Egoogle%7Ctwcamp%5Eserp%7Ctwgr%5Etweet

    BURN RATE: @oleksiireznikov reports that RU has squandered 66% of its precision missile stocks in a pointless campaign to murder UKR civilians. Even before sanctions, production of Kalibr missiles was at only 2 per month. It’ll take decades for Moscow to replace these weapons.

    Not good.

  9. inhumans99 says:

    I did see a quick news flash on my Echo Show this morning that Ukraine lost a jet because they tried to take down a Russian Kamikaze drone. Regardless, this article seems to lay bare that Russia tends to usually let loose with a ton of fire and forget (that is the saying in the military, right?) missiles. I have always been aware that you have to fire a ton of those munitions to really damage your target as they are not guided with precision to the target, often have a high failure rate, and can actually be shot down before they hit anywhere near the target, all noted in this post by James.

    Still, bad news to lose a jet but drones can be nasty buggers to deal with and I get why they tried to take it out.

    Also, that whole speech about turning the Ukrainians into a bunch of stiff bodies frozen in the snow in the winter unable to do anything but let the cold finish them off, it is a speech worth laughing at if only the situation for the Ukrainians was not so grim.

    I cringe at how many dead bodies the Russians are willing to tolerate, we all know they had much less than half a million troops fighting, and even if they did I bet they have lost 60-100k (some wounded, or hurt so bad among the 100k that they cannot be sent back to the field to fight) troops, which would be around a 20% high casualty rate, which is nosebleed levels high. If at most they had 300-350 troops, we are looking at a loss in the range of at least 25-27%, which strikes me as extreme.

    The Ukrainians might just be able to survive the winter without being taken over by Russia because Russia has squandered so much of their munitions indiscriminately destroying Ukrainian infrastructure such as apartments/homes/schools/hospitals, and the grim reality that Russia just has nowhere near the number of able-bodied troops it needs to wash over Ukraine with a sea of soldiers who can lock down most of Ukraine under Russian governance.

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  10. charon says:

    I believe the premise of this thread is dead wrong. Russia targets civilian targets and infrastructure because that is their habit, it’s what they do – Grozny, Syria etc. It works against countries that can’t fight back, they are too deluded/ideological to adapt.

    That Russia is committing crimes against humanity out of embarrassment over a successful strike on Putin’s prize bridge to Crimea is not in dispute.

    Bulshit, bullshit, bullshit – that attack had already been planned before the Kerch Bridge attack, the timing after the Kerch attack is fortuitous

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  11. JohnSF says:

    @inhumans99:
    “fire and forget” is usually applied to guided weapons that lock on to a target.
    The majority of current Russian missiles seem to be more like “shoot and shrug”.

    2
  12. gVOR08 says:

    @JohnSF: Ready. Fire. Aim.

  13. JohnSF says:

    The current line in Russophile media seems to be:
    “missile bombardment will destroy the Ukrainian electricity grid due to cumulative damage this winter”.
    Have we got any electric grid experts in the house?
    Because my assumption would be, if the repairs are effected, which should be possible, with European electrical engineering goods production available, damage is not cumulative.

    And actually hitting the electric grid targets that a vulnerable and harder to repair i.e. stations and substations, not just pylons and cables, requires either precision missiles, or very large bombardments by less accurate rocketry.

    Given increasing numbers of IRIS-T and NASAMS coming on line that does not seem easily achievable.
    And probably such an effort would merely divert from actually militarily useful targets.

    Though on the whole, Russian air forces and missiles seem to have failed dismally in inflicting sustained, decisive damage on the Ukrainian military.

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  14. Kathy says:

    @inhumans99:
    @JohnSF:

    Based on reading military techno-thrillers, in particular by Stephen Coonts, who flew A-6 attack aircraft in the US Navy, fire and forget applies to munitions that lock on target and can keep pursuing or guiding themselves to the target on their own.

    The alternative are not unguided munitions, but those guided by other means. For instance, I think the Sparrow air-to-air missile was guided by the launch plane’s radar. This means after launching the missile, you had to keep aiming at the target.

    There are other such weapons, like the TOW anti-tank missile, which trails a wire and is guided by the operator keeping their sights on the target. Torpedoes, as I understand, are a hybrid. They can be guided through a wire by the ship or sub that launched them, but if they loose guidance they switch on active sonar and circle until they acquire a target.

    Smart bombs originally homed in on a laser kept on target by the bomber aircraft, or “painted” on the target by a ground unit or other aircraft within line of sight of the target. I think latter generations use GPS guidance.

    A dumb munition, one you can’t affect the trajectory of after it’s fired or dropped, can also be forgotten.

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  15. dazedandconfused says:

    I have doubts they are deliberately targeting civilians. It doesn’t jibe with the narrative they are short of missiles and the situation of getting their asses kicked on the battlefield. They seem to have targeted power stations, which, as close to half of Ukraine’s trains are electric and trains are Ukraine’s largest transporter of military hardware, are thereby just as much a military target as fuel depots are.

    Something the pundits may be missing is what went down when we were picking off SCUDs in GW1, the anti-missile missiles would break up their targets but the warheads dropped from that point and still exploded where ever that might be. The Ukrainians shot down a heck of a lot of missiles.

    Nevertheless this is a weakness.

  16. charon says:

    I have doubts they are deliberately targeting civilians.

    Why pick rush hour to shoot into city centers?

    Check out this sweet fellow, Segei Surovikin:

    (watch the video, it has subtitles in English)

    https://twitter.com/JuliaDavisNews/status/1579820810751324160

  17. JohnSF says:

    @dazedandconfused:
    My read is that they are using their more precise weapons for anti-electric and other infrastructure and a few other strikes; the less precise they are just lofting into city centres and not giving a f@ck.

  18. JohnSF says:

    @Kathy:
    Yes: three types: self-guided, laucher-guided and non-guided.
    Non guided are still a massive component in some areas, though NATO are tending to decrease them in favour of type 1.
    For instance, the HIMARS and MLRS launchers can and do fire unguided; similar with aircraft rocket pods.
    And I think unguided infantry rockets are still used for “bunker busting” (bu may be wrong on that)

  19. dazedandconfused says:

    @JohnSF:

    I am unaware of any non-targeting cruise missiles. Every one that I am aware of is guided in some way.

  20. Andy says:

    I’ll just repeat this Rumsfeld quote:

    You go to war with the army you have, not the army you might want or wish to have at a later time.

    Russia, in almost every aspect, did not plan for, and was not prepared for, this type of war. They didn’t have the force structure for it. They didn’t have the industrial capacity for it. They didn’t have the necessary mix of weapons and stockpiles. Much of what they are doing now is ad hoc.

    4
  21. charon says:

    @Andy:

    Czechoslovakia 1968 was the template, operation expected to take 3 days, 5 at the most. Not expecting the plane load of paratroops into Hostomel to get shot down, etc. – or the convoy into Kyiv to get stalled by ambushes.

    1
  22. charon says:

    @Andy:

    Russia, in almost every aspect, did not plan for, and was not prepared for, this type of war. They didn’t have the force structure for it. They didn’t have the industrial capacity for it. They didn’t have the necessary mix of weapons and stockpiles.

    War is a great educator, it tends to make visible deficiencies of theories, methods, etc.

    Ben Franklin’s old adage about experience being a school very much applies to war.

    1
  23. Sleeping Dog says:

    @Andy:
    @charon:

    Russia’s expectation is that Ukraine would roll over in days. A combination of hubris and wishful thinking. Saw an article a couple of weeks ago that the type of war that Russia was prepared for was one where they could apply overwhelming force on a battlefield close to home. So yes, they were not prepared for this war.

    1
  24. Andy says:

    @charon:

    War is a great educator, it tends to make visible deficiencies of theories, methods, etc.

    Ben Franklin’s old adage about experience being a school very much applies to war.

    That is very much the case. Few mistakes are punished more than mistakes made in war. It remains to be seen whether Russia can learn and adjust quickly enough to stem the bleeding and avoid total defeat.

    1
  25. charon says:

    @Andy:

    A combination of hubris and wishful thinking.

    Even the CIA vastly overestimated the power, effectiveness, efficiency of the Russian army, no idea how debilitated it was by corruption, lying etc., so no wonder Putin had no idea how weak it is.

    Mark Hertling seems to have had it right though, he was predicting early on the invasion would fail.

    1
  26. JohnSF says:

    @dazedandconfused:

    I am unaware of any non-targeting cruise missiles.

    True; but Russians appear to be using ballistic missiles as well.
    SS-26 Iskander and SS-21 Tochka for instance.
    Exactly if/how they are guided, I suspect varies.
    From the inaccuracy it seems some are just ballistic shots.
    Could be wrong.

    1
  27. Andy says:

    @charon:

    Even the CIA vastly overestimated the power, effectiveness, efficiency of the Russian army, no idea how debilitated it was by corruption, lying etc., so no wonder Putin had no idea how weak it is.

    There’s some of that, which is endemic in authoritarian systems, but the bigger analytical error IMO was underestimating the Ukrainians.

    4
  28. Jay L Gischer says:

    It seems as if the Russians are intent on turning this into a suffering contest. I think they have a core belief that nobody, but nobody bears suffering better than Russians.

    Also, they are kind of expecting a repeat of WW2, where the Nazi’s gained ground in the summer, and gave it back, and more, in the winter.

    But they aren’t fighting Nazis. Maybe Ukranians bear suffering even better than Russians, since the Russians have a habit of dishing it out on them.

    1
  29. just nutha says:

    @charon: Even though war may be a great educator, it will not have success with a student who doesn’t want to learn. Putin may well be like special ed students I’ve had in the past whose learning disability was “don’t want to be here.”

    1
  30. JohnMc says:

    @JohnSF: Have seen couple twits alleging that the Ukr power substations were built during cold War to survive nuke exchanges, predicting Rus would fail at wide power disruptions.

    2
  31. Michael Cain says:

    @gVOR08:

    Ready. Fire. Aim.

    Increasingly true. AUIU, the US cruise missiles are now all capable of being retargeted in flight. The latest version of the Excalibur artillery round has the option to be fired into an area, identify a specific target or type of target, even if it’s moving, and hit it. (I’ve been wondering if railroad locomotives are on the list of target types.) Some of the new air-to-air missile targeting package descriptions strike me as treating the missiles like a dog: point it in a general direction and tell it, “Go find it, boy!”

    1
  32. Kathy says:

    @JohnSF:

    Traditional artillery has a very hard time with guidance systems. This is due to the massive shock munitions are subjected to when fired off a gun. Also, I guess being cheaper, it’s easier to saturate an area with shells than to guide them in.

    Missile artillery is a different matter entirely.

    @Jay L Gischer:

    Also, they are kind of expecting a repeat of WW2, where the Nazi’s gained ground in the summer, and gave it back, and more, in the winter.

    Both the French and the Germans had an awful time in the Russian winter. Also with the mud season after rains in the fall and snow melt in the spring.

    But these will be Ukrainian winter conditions, to which I suspect Ukrainians are acclimated and have gear for.

    The best chance Mad Vlad has for a decisive victory is to keep NATO from continuing to supply weapons and support to Ukraine. This may happen, but it’s unlikely for a few more months yet, maybe another year.

    1
  33. JohnMc says:

    Also, too… it’s often mentioned that ‘ultranationalists’ and ‘milbloggers’ have pushed Putin to greater atrocities & aggression. It seems that the barrage that swarmed Ukr air defense and hit urban targets Monday was to placate that crowd. But was unsuccessful because numbers of the precision weapons is depleted.

    Well, today twitter is wondering at the strange silence from that chorus.

    And on a twitter feed from “special kherson cat” (@bayrakter_1love) is word that the 9 most noted milbloggers are being investigated by Putin’s media police.

    Very uneven terrain for Russians walking this beat.

    2
  34. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Andy: @JohnSF:
    I heard/read that 10,000 newly-trained UKR soldiers are on their way from Britain to the battlefield.

    Whether that number is accurate or not, it caused me to wonder if there is a way to approximate a ratio of usefulness between well-trained and untrained troops. I think back in the muskets-in-lines days the difference would have been smaller than it is when so much technology and so much tactical experience is involved. The learning curve is steeper, and the killing power of a single soldier flying a drone or aiming HIMARS is far greater.

    Further speculation: might the raw recruit in a modern war might be a net negative, at least for a while?

    1
  35. JohnSF says:

    @Kathy:
    I’m fairly sure at least one variant of the MLRS and MARS II/MLRS-E munitions is unguided, the M26.
    And the Ukrainian have their own unguided rocket artillery munitions, as do the Russians.

  36. JohnSF says:

    @inhumans99:
    @Jay L Gischer:
    @Kathy:
    In regard to fighting in winter, we have a clue from February, when there were periods of extreme cold and snow.
    And from the last eight years in Donbas.
    Ukrainians on average were much better equipped than the Russians.

    Russians were frequently running vehicle main engines for heat, using up fuel and standing out like a lit up Christmas tree to IR sensors.

    It’s widely suspected that loads of Russian winter gear has been sold off on the black.
    Russian army surplus gear is pretty common on market traders stalls in the UK!

    Numerous reports of Russian troops suffering frostbite or trench-foot, due to inadequate gear.

    2
  37. dazedandconfused says:

    @JohnSF:
    Even the older Tuska has inertial guidance, just doesn’t work very well.

  38. JohnSF says:

    @Michael Reynolds:
    That’s the number I’ve heard for Operation Interflex; though whether all are going now, or in stages, is less clear.
    Another similar sized number should start training this winter.
    And that’s in addition to the 22,000 odd trained in UK and in Ukraine under Operation Orbital

    And I’ve heard they are very good; they already had basic training in Ukraine, and have a core of reservist veterans of the Donbas fighting.

  39. Jay L Gischer says:

    @JohnSF: Your details are appreciated, as always. But (Wow, I’m actually using “but” rather than ‘and’) I was more trying to describe my best understanding of Russian psychology, not the actual situation on the ground.

    1
  40. charon says:

    Is this info solid? Dunno.

    https://twitter.com/Euan_MacDonald/status/1580930099947659264

    First real data on number of missiles Ukraine reckons Russia has left in its arsenals. Enough for a few more attacks on the scale we saw on Oct. 10, and then that’s it. Russia will have to produce more missiles, quicker, and it’s not clear it can with sanctions in place.

  41. JohnSF says:

    @Jay L Gischer:

    …my best understanding of Russian psychology…

    Very valid point.
    I’ve come across lots of reporting of Russian telegram accounts, and social media that appears to replicate Russian nationalist thinking.
    They are fixated on “we will win in winter”:
    – because RUSSIA! because WINTER!
    – the anti-electric campaign I mentioned; such as it is: it’s patchy at best from what I can see
    (and even if it worked, Ukraine could probably still function using local generation)
    – still convinced European economies will collapse this winter and freezing, unemployed soft Europeans will demand a settlement

    This seems to partly a Kremlin propaganda line, but there are, once more, serious indicators that Putin is high on his own supply again.

  42. dazedandconfused says:

    @Andy:

    Another relevant Rumsfeld quote: “Six days, six weeks, I doubt six months.”

    What may yet prove to be a decisive factor in this conflict is Putin not bothering to gin up his own people for this, nor his troops.

  43. JohnSF says:

    @Jay L Gischer:
    Also, there is still, despite everything, the massive ingrained Russian, or perhaps more accurately “Muscovite metropolitan”, contempt for Ukrainians.
    They still seem to regard their resilience and victories as just luck, or conspiracy, or failure to be brutal enough, or failures of some generals, or due to the machinations of NATO, or whatever.

  44. JohnSF says:

    @dazedandconfused:
    Putin pattern: he always seems to defer decisions until too late, or fails to choose.

    If Russia had cut all gas in spring, Europe might not have been able to fill the reserve storage (now at 91.6% full)

    If he had mobilized as soon as the Kyiv assault failed, he might have got appreciable troops into action before the field army and cadres were mangled.

    If he had concentrated on one area instead of going for Kyiv and Sumy and Kharkiv and Donbas and South Coast, might have got a decisive victory on one of them, maybe, instead of stalling out on all.

    etc.

  45. gVOR08 says:

    Moscow is 55 deg N. Kyiv is about 50. Kherson is around 46, about the same latitude as Munich or Lyon. Odessa and Sevastopol are ice free ports and resort towns. Winter, and mud, will be factors, but we’re not talking Napoleon’s retreat or the Wehrmacht in front of Moscow.

    3
  46. gVOR08 says:

    @JohnSF: A question, if you know. I keep seeing European storage is x% full. But I never see any indication of how big the reserve storage is. Are we talking enough reserve to heat Berlin for a week in January? Or enough for northern Europe for the winter?

  47. Michael Cain says:

    I think one of the telling things on the logistics front that is that Ukraine is starting to fly air missions, and we’re seeing videos of Ukrainian tanks moving. If this is about to become a NATO-plan rapidly moving combined forces sort of thing because the Russians are out of anti-air and anti-armor, this is going to get ugly in a hurry.

  48. gVOR08 says:

    @gVOR08: Went “doing my own research” on my question. Storage capacity is apparently about 25% of annual usage. Best thing I found quickly is an Al Jazeera article. It concludes Europe can get through to spring with fair reserves if they can cut usage 9%.

  49. JohnSF says:

    @gVOR08:
    Around 1000 terawatt hours total energy; c. 4,250 billion cubic feet by volume.
    Sufficient for three months at averaged winter consumption with zero additional input.

    Given input from LNG terminals, Norway and North Sea, Romania fields, should be enough to get through to next summer with no Russian gas.
    By that time additional LNG terminals both sides of the Atlantic should be in play.

    Train done gone, Vova.

    1
  50. dazedandconfused says:

    @JohnSF:
    I suspect had he reckoned full mobilization was needed he wouldn’t have done it.

    George Bush and his buds thought that inside every Iraqi was an American waiting to be liberated and Putin made the same mistake. When General Shinseki suggested it would take more men to occupy the place than to take it he was fired on the spot. The reason we did Iraq II was because we thought it would be easy.

    2
  51. JohnSF says:

    @gVOR08:

    … same latitude as Munich or Lyon

    Latitude is one thing; continental effect another.
    Kherson is about the same latitude as Portland or Maine
    It averages below 0c in January., around 0 in Februaray, a bit above in December.
    Not Moscow; but not something you can endure for too long without the proper equipment either.

    More inland areas like Kyiv or Donetsk are about -5c in Jan/Feb.

    And of course, that’s average: gets a lot colder at night.
    And the night in winter lasts for around 15 hours.

  52. charon says:

    @charon:

    Check out this sweet fellow, Segei Surovikin:

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2022/10/12/sergei-surovikin-russia-ukraine-war/

    Russia’s missile strikes on Ukrainian cities Monday, which President Vladimir Putin said targeted “energy, military command and communications facilities,” also hit downtown streets, a playground and residential areas, bearing a grim resemblance to Russia’s brutally indiscriminate military style in Syria, where the Kremlin’s new top commander of the war on Ukraine, Gen. Sergei Surovikin, rose to prominence.

    snip

    But Surovikin, whose appointment was announced by Russia’s Defense Ministry on Saturday, is most assuredly tasked with shifting results on the battlefield, where Russian forces have suffered a string of setbacks, including a near total rout in the northeastern Kharkiv region and territorial losses throughout regions that Putin decreed annexed in violation of international law.

    Surovikin, 56, who earned the nickname “General Armageddon” in Syria, is the first overarching commander of the onslaught in Ukraine to be designated publicly by the Russian government.

    snip

    Such a merciless bombing represents a style of warfare similar to that for which Russian generals became infamous during the 2015 incursion into Syria, when Moscow sent thousands of troops to prop up the government of Bashar al-Assad. The aerial bombardments left Syrians reeling and caused widespread destruction of civilian infrastructure. Some Ukrainians are fearful they will now suffer the same fate.

    snip

    Surovikin’s first tour in Syria took place in March 2017 and was supposed to last about three months as Moscow sought to give firsthand combat experience to as many high-ranking officers as possible. But Surovikin ended up overseeing the campaign until the end of the year and was promoted to air force commander, despite moving up the ranks as an army general leading tank and other types of units.

    The Russian Defense Ministry repeatedly credited Surovikin with achieving critical gains in Syria, saying that Russian and Syrian forces “liberated over 98 percent” of the country under him.

    The Russian metrics for success.

  53. JohnSF says:

    @dazedandconfused:

    …thought it would be easy.

    Agree.
    The other Putin pattern, beside procrastination and indecisiveness.
    Self-deception, or perhaps wilfully allowing himself to be misled, by what others think he wants to hear.
    Kyiv will fall; Ukrainians are as demoralised as Russians; Germans will never give up Russian gas; West is weak and timid; Syrian tactics will work in Ukraine; Russian army is a superpower peer; etc. etc.
    Perils of being an autocrat.

  54. JohnSF says:

    @charon:
    Said on another thread:
    What often gets overlooked, in Russian accounts of the success of Russian forces and their tactics is:
    Syria was a permissive environment for the Russian Air Force
    Syrian rebel were divided into umpteen rival factions, no state institutions. no organised armed forces, no manufacturing or engineering capability, minimal external support

    And the cherry on top of the cake: the ground troops were provided by Iran, Hezbollah, and the Alawites.
    Most of the time the effective commander on the Russian/Syrian side was Qasem Soleimani, not Sergei Surovikin.

    Surovikin is going to find that Ukraine plays in a whole different league to Syrian rebels.

  55. charon says:

    @JohnSF:

    Russia (not just Putin) is largely infatuated with its success in the Great Patriotic War, which it fancies it won mostly by itself, save for a wee bit of help from allies. It thinks the right way to do is per its notion of how that went down, it’s still trying to repeat that success (including Red Army tactics).

    While its true the bulk of Wehrmacht casualties were on the Eastern front, winning wars takes more than just killing people. Strategic bombing of Germany was a big factor also, Russia had no role in that. Lend-lease supplies to Russia were also a bigger factor than the Russians care to think about.

    Russian army is a superpower peer

    Not just the army, the whole empire. The notion of Russia as a superpower isn’t just Ivan Ilyin and Aleksander Dugin, it’s widespread and is part of Russian culture going back to people like Dostoevsky. The idea of dominating some or all of Europe, of Asia is not just Putin and his cronies, it’s common

    4
  56. Ken_L says:

    So, while Russia is among the biggest military spenders—it typically hovers in the neighborhood of the UK and France …

    Why, then, has America been badgering NATO nations for years to increase its defense spending? Who is the potential enemy against whom they are supposed to be so inadequately defended?

    A cynic might be forgiven for thinking the US is just trying to drum up more business for its biggest export industry.

    1
  57. JohnSF says:

    @charon:

    Strategic bombing of Germany was a big factor also…

    Yes; waffled on about this in comments here from time to time.
    I think Philips O’ Brien is the main current proponent of this analysis:
    that manpower engagement is not the decisive metric for modern war but the application/attrition of industrial/technological capability.

  58. steve says:

    “I think back in the muskets-in-lines days the difference would have been smaller than it is when so much technology and so much tactical experience is involved. ”

    I think your sentiment is broadly correct because we have much better force multipliers now. That said, back in the musket era experience and training mattered an awful lot. Experienced soldiers in that era expected the militias to run when facing a real fight and they were largely correct. (Go back further and look at how Alexander ran over armies much larger than his.) If you ever get a chance visit the site of the Battle of Cowpens, the only true double envelopment of that war. The British got slaughtered. Morgan took advantage of the knowledge that the experienced Brits expected the militia to run, so ordered them to fire once or twice then run. The Brits ran headlong into the experienced American troops and were rolled up. (A little more complicated than that but good enough for a short explanation.)

    Steve

    2
  59. JohnSF says:

    @Ken_L:
    Problem is, European defence spending is diverted through some 25 or so states.
    Imagine, if each state state in the USA was maintaining its own armed forces, from chiefs of staff through air forces and armoured brigades to marching bands.
    And every contractor, of course, eager to jam their snoot in the funding trough.

    Massive levels of inefficiency.
    But as I’ve said before, if US lobbyists imagine a European budget at 3% of GDP will have its weapons procurement fall into the pockets of US firms, they need to wake up and smell the coffee.
    European corporations like a payday as much as the next conglomerate. 🙂
    And European politicians have similar incentives to Americans.
    Nor is European technology anything to scorn: see NASAMS, IRIS-T, Leopard 2, Eurofighter Typhoon, nuke subs, QE carriers, etc etc etc.
    Very close to US weapons tech. capabilities; ahead of China; way ahead of Russia.

    1
  60. James Joyner says:

    @JohnSF: The M26 were the first-generation rockets we used when I was an MLRS platoon leader. My understanding is they’ve all been phased out of our inventory in favor of guided GMLRS rounds.

    1
  61. JohnSF says:

    @James Joyner:
    Thanks.
    Does that also apply to German and British MLRS, do you know?
    I’m sure I’ve read somewhere that the MARS-II still uses them, but can’t find the ref.
    I suppose it all depends what munitions have been supplied.

    Ukraine has certainly receive lots of Grad rockets and launchers from Poland, Slovakia etc, and I think the majority of those are unguided types.

  62. James Joyner says:

    @JohnSF: I honestly don’t know what others were using but would be surprised if the Germans and Brits were using the old stockpiles. Aside from the guidance issue, we abandoned them because they had a high dud rate and killed folks we didn’t intend to kill, including apparently our own troops. Even though we did not sign on to the Landmine Convention, almost exclusively over the Korean DMZ, we’re adhering to the principle that munitions shouldn’t kill folks after the battle is over.

    1
  63. Andy says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    As far as these Ukrainian troops go, they have probably achieved basic proficiency by western standards. Just as a comparison, it takes the US Army 22 weeks (almost 6 months) to train a basic infantryman. Specialized roles can add quite a bit of additional time. I don’t know how long these Ukrainian troops have been training, but the US Army pipeline is a good benchmark.

    Whether that number is accurate or not, it caused me to wonder if there is a way to approximate a ratio of usefulness between well-trained and untrained troops.

    I think quality tends to trump quantity in modern war (and I think the US has proven that), but there are always exceptions, and training and technology are not the only factors or the most important factors. As we’ve seen in this conflict, morale and other intangibles play a very large role.

    Even if new Ukrainian troops are at basic proficiency, it is a lot better than what the Russians are getting, but green troops are still green troops, and experience matters quite a bit. This is where leadership and, especially, a professional NCO corps come in. Again, here Ukraine has a significant advantage – Russia still operates with very few professional NCOs. Instead, they depend on officers, they don’t have enough of them, and many of their best have already been killed.

    And here is where western support really matters for throughput. Russia has a significant problem in getting new manpower trained because it has too few qualified individuals to both man frontline units and train and stand up new forces. Ukraine, by contrast, can rely on the UK and others to train new troops, so that experienced Ukrainian soldiers can stay in operational units. That is a huge advantage.

  64. wr says:

    @Jay L Gischer: “Also, they are kind of expecting a repeat of WW2, where the Nazi’s gained ground in the summer, and gave it back, and more, in the winter.”

    Which would be insane. Because the Nazis were the invading force and thus were essentially out in the open for the winter. Here Russia is the invading force…

  65. JohnSF says:

    @Andy:
    The information I have is that almost all the Ukrainians in the second group trained in the UK had already been through basic training in Ukraine.
    And a significant number are reservists with previous combat experience in Donbas.

    Initial plans were for the UK training to be for four months for 10,000 at a time.
    The first training group was rather smaller, and rather rawer; finished in early July.

    The second full group, that recently completed, started training in UK a little earlier, and had been through about three months basic in Ukraine.
    Training courses for different sub-groups have included urban combat, light artillery and heavy infantry weapons use, trench warfare, field medicine, patrol tactics.
    Basically, a shortened version of the UK light infantry induction training.

    1
  66. Andy says:

    @JohnSF:
    Thanks for the context John. In that case, they almost certainly got more advanced skills that focused more on tactics and coordination than basic proficiency.