Week of May 18, 2022

Sweden and Finland consider NATO Membership

 

Peace sure isn’t the favored foreign policy this year.  Ireland is considering its policy of neutrality after Russia held naval maneuvers off Ireland’s coast a few months ago.  It’s only military cooperation currently is to allow US troop aircraft to land in Ireland to refuel.

Switzerland, the benchmark of neutrality for centuries is sanctioning Russia, Even Sweden, which last fought a war in the Napoleonic era wants to join NATO along with its neighbor Finland.

This is a far cry from a few years ago, when analysts argued that NATO should dissolve as it had no use in the 21st century and statesmen regarded President Trump with distain as he asked NATO nations to increase their defense spending as he warned about Russia’s ambitions.

Now NATO nations are voluntarily increasing defense spending and two traditional neutral nations, Finland, and Sweden, want to join NATO.  Formally neutral Finland has seen public support for joining NATO going from 53% when the war in Ukraine started to 76% today.

The Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto stated, “But the Russian invasion of Ukraine changed the mindset of many Finnish people.”

Finland’s parliament is expected to approve plans to join NATO next week.  It will take from 4 to 12 months to complete the process.

Sweden could follow in weeks, although there is some opposition to the move in Sweden’s parliament.  Sweden’s Social Democrats are currently split on the issue and discussing the issue behind closed doors.  However, Sweden’s Foreign Minister Ann Linde said, “Finland is Sweden’s closest security and defense partner, and we need to take Finland’s assessments into account.

Both Sweden and Finland are close to NATO.  Both nations have held maneuvers with NATO troops and Finland has sent troops to Afghanistan and Iraq.

But the move to merge two nations that have worked with NATO in the past means more than additional maneuvers with NATO and meeting goals on defense spending.  There are both political and military issues that impact Europe as a whole.

Political

Since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, NATO has evolved dramatically.  The decades of a lukewarm Cold War of the 60s, 70s, and the 80s are gone.  The war is now taking on the heat of the NATO-Soviet confrontations of the 1950s.

In the early days, West Germany was the shield of NATO.  It would be the battlefield of WWIII and the West German Army was one of the best in NATO.  Today, the German Army is smaller than many other NATO nations, it has spent less on defense than what it has promised, and Germany is addicted to Russian natural gas.

When Ukraine asked for munitions, Germany said that it didn’t have any to spare.  It even refused to send obsolete armored vehicles at first.  It took political pressure from other NATO nations to convince Germany to change course.

While Germany has abrogated its leading role in NATO, a former Warsaw Pact nation is stepping up.  Poland, which has centuries of enmity with Russia has taken on a leading role with NATO.  For year, it has spent more than required on defense and has asked the US to station combat units inside its borders.

Today, Poland is at the center of the rearming of Ukraine.  It is more than a transfer station and has helped quietly move former Warsaw pact equipment out of Eastern NATO nations and into Ukraine.

If this conflict heats up to WWIII, it will be Polish tanks (including the American M-1 Abrams tank) that will be fighting on the frontline.

Another nation that has evolved is a reinvigorated Britain.  In the Cold War days of NATO, Britain was an empire shedding colonies and pulling its forces from “East of Suez.”  Although it was a nuclear power and a center of technology, it was seen by many as a “toothless tiger.”

Today, Britain has taken a more active, leading role in NATO and the rest of the world.  Her new aircraft carrier, HMS Prince of Wales is the command ship of NATO’s Maritime Readiness Force.  She spent March and April off the coast of Norway as a part of Operation Cold Response.  Her sister ship, HMS Queen Elizabeth showed the flag in the Indian Ocean, Pacific Ocean, and China seas, visited military important allies, and showed her support for Taiwan.  She is clearly renewing her role as a world power and serious naval force.

Great Britain has also taken the lead in sending arms (including high tech anti-air and anti-tank weapons) to Ukraine.  It also signed agreements with Finland and Sweden to come to their assistance militarily if Russia should decide to attack them.  This provides a bridging agreement until both countries are fully integrated with NATO.

On the other side, Russia has suffered politically.  Five months ago, Russia was seen as a major military power with vast supplies of natural gas.  Today, Russia’s military is facing difficulties in Ukraine and Europe is considering how to stop using Russian natural gas.

One possible hang up to the expansion of NATO is Turkey.  Turkish president Erdogan has voiced opposition to Swedish and Finnish membership because they allow Kurdish groups to live there.

However, this is probably a negotiating point rather than a solid opposition.  First, NATO expansion would weaken Russia, a traditional opponent of Turkey for centuries.  Second, agreeing to expansion would help Turkey improve its standing in NATO, which has suffered with somewhat chilly relations with NATO allies since Erdogan has been Turkish president.  Third, Turkey has been supporting Ukraine by supplying drones to fight Russia.  Fourth, the expansion of NATO would force Russia to redeploy its military forces to the north and away from Turkey.  Finally, any military redeployment necessitated by a larger NATO would probably mean reducing Russia’s military presence in Syria, which would benefit Turkey’s ambitions.

It’s possible that some negotiations will address the problem.  Sweden especially is regretting its liberal immigration policies, which have led to more crime.  The Scandinavian nations are likely to tighten immigration by militant Kurds, as a prerequisite to join NATO.

The US can and might add inducements for Turkey to allow Finnish and Swedish membership by allowing Turkey to rejoin the F-35 fighter program.

Military

Putin’s decision to launch a military operation into Ukraine has been considered by western analysts as one of Russia’s failures, alongside the Battle of Tsushima in 1905, when Czar Nicholas II ordered the Russian Baltic fleet to the China Sea to defeat the Japanese – only to lose 35 of its 45 ships.

The disastrous war with Japan weakened the Russian monarchy and led to the Russian Revolution – something westerners like Putin to remember.

Putin’s war on Ukraine has changed the military balance in Europe.  Europe (and the US) viewed Russia as a massive conventional army with high tech weapons.  This was one reason why NATO nations didn’t want to send troop into Ukraine.

What NATO are claiming now is that Russia was a “Paper Bear.”  Russia’s massive, armored units suffered from poor maintenance, poorly trained soldiers, and poor logistics.  High tech equipment didn’t operate with the reliability demanded on the modern battlefield.  The modern Russian ships that Putin hoped to challenge US command of the seas proved to be lacking in damage control.

Militarily, NATO is improving with the addition of Sweden and Finland.  Sweden has a vast, modern defense industry that can produce world class tanks, tactical missiles, and fighter aircraft.  Since the end of the Cold War, Finland has bought modern NATO weapons like Germany’s Leopard I main battle tank and the American F-18 fighter.  Finland is also buying the American F-35, which is scheduled for the first deliveries in a couple of years.

Finland’s joining NATO doubles the NATO-Russian border since Finland’s border with Russia is 1,300 km.  This forces Russia to stretch it forces from the Mediterranean to the Arctic Ocean if war comes.

NATO naval operations also benefit.  It makes it harder for the Russians to control the Baltic Sea since the entire coastline, except for Russia’s small part, belongs to NATO nations.  NATO ships can move up the coast to support Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia.  Since modern NATO warships have large anti-air footprints (as well as cruise missile range), they can provide support if Russia decides to attack the Baltic nations.

In a war, the fact that both Norway and Finland are close to the Russian naval facilities at Murmansk will make it harder for it to deploy its naval forces or defend its base.

With Russian naval forces in the east at Vladivostok hemmed in by the Japanese islands and the Black Sea Fleet (or what remains of it) hemmed in by Turkey’s control of the Dardanelles, Russia finds itself unable to move its fleet into the open seas to challenge NATO’s naval supremacy.

Sweden and Finland provide NATO with a defense in depth that it didn’t have in earlier decades.  The traditional Russian attack across Central Europe with massive, armored columns would now face an air and naval threat along the northern flank.

It’s obvious that Putin’s strategy to invade Ukraine, cause divisions amongst NATO nations, and precipitate a breakup of NATO didn’t work.  As in the post WWII era, it seems that Russian threats have merely unified NATO, not divided it for now.

Week of May 10, 2022

The Ukrainian War – An Early May Update

 

The Ukrainian War has gone on for 10 weeks.  The promised Russian offensive that was to take Donbas is described by US and British defense officials as “lackluster.”  Under the barrage of heavy artillery, the Russians have managed to advance in some places on the front like the city of Izyum.  However, the advances have been slow, and the ground gained has been generally limited to the roads, as “General Mud” has made armored movement through the terrain difficult.

Here are the main issues:

Mariupol.  As this is being written, Ukrainian forces continue to hold portions of the steel plant, which has a maze of bunkers underground to support civilians during a nuclear war.

Putin has called on the defenders to surrender, however, the chances that the defenders will surrender to the Russians has declined.  Russia may capture the rest of the steel plant in the next few days or weeks, but the siege of Mariupol has been a Ukrainian sign of resistance.  While Ukrainian forces were deployed to defend Kiev, the Maripol defenders kept Russian forces tied down.  Now that NATO supplies are coming in, the Ukrainians are better able to fight the Russians in the east and south.

There are reports that 10 Russian Battalion Tactical Groups have been heavily targeted in the battle for Mariupol and have been sent to the rear for refit and rest.

The focus of the war is now on Izyum, a city south of Kharkov.

Putin’s plan is to move his forces south from Izyum and north from Donbas to encircle Ukraine Army forces.  However, reports from both the British and Americans indicate that the Russian army has hardly advanced in the face of Ukrainian defensive positions.

One problem is that the Russian forces are ad hoc units cobbled together from Russian units that were heavily damaged in the battle for Kiev.  These units have been quickly merged and moved back into combat.  Usually, combining several units that have been damaged in combat require months to refit and maneuver as a single unified military unit.

Another problem for the Russians is that Ukraine forces have gone on the offensive around Ukraine’s second largest city Kharkov.  In the past week, the Ukrainian forces have advanced as much as 40 kilometers east of Kharkov and are posing a threat to the supply lines that are supporting Russian forces in and around Izyum.  This will force Russian forces to reinforce this flank, which will make the slow Russian advance even slower.

If the Russian units protecting the Russian flank around Kharkov break, much of the Russian offensive in the east could fall apart.

While the Russians have been attacking the middle of the Ukraine battle line in Donbas, the Ukrainians have been attacking the flanks at Izyum and Kherson.

The Kherson region is important if Russia has any hopes of taking the Ukraine port of Odessa.  However, the Russians have carried out few offensives, while the Ukrainians have launched some successful counter attacks.

Another issue in the war is the unrecognized nation of Transnistria, a part of Moldova, which is occupied by Russian forces.  Although the number of Russian forces in this undeclared nation only total about 1,500. Putin may use them to try to tie down Ukraine forces that would normally shift to the battlefront in the east.

The Logistics War

A few weeks ago, we mentioned that while amateurs talk tactics, professionals talk logistics.

Apparently both Ukrainians and Russians have decided that logistics is an important part of war.  The Russians have started to take out the Ukrainian logistics of war – electrical power stations, rail lines, weapons repair facilities, and weapons manufacturing factories.  These attacks are usually made with smart missiles, a dwindling part of the Russian arsenal.

The Ukrainians have also carried out attacks.  Since the war started in February, the Ukraine military has carried out attacks on fuel and supply depots in Russia with helicopters, long range missiles, and possibly Ukrainian Special Forces.  This week, Britain promised long range missiles to help Ukraine reach further into Russia to attack supply centers.

One advantage for Ukraine is that much of their supplies come outside the country from NATO nations.  Although these supplies become “fair game” for the Russian military once they reach Ukraine, the supply lines from the Polish border to the front lines aren’t that long and are covered with the still operational Ukrainian Air Force.

How effective the attacks on factories and other logistical targets will be is questionable.  During WWII, the Americans, and British sent hundreds of heavy bombers to attack critical parts of Germany’s supply system.  However, when the Germans rebuilt the factories, they made them smaller, scattered them throughout the country, and camouflaged them.  Thanks to this, some of the highest production of armored vehicles and aircraft came in the last months of the war.

Expect Russia and Ukraine to do the same.

Allied Training

Much was made of the withdrawal of American trainers like the Florida National Guard in the days leading up to the Ukraine War.  US and UK Special Forces were also ordered out of the Ukraine.

That has changed.  According to reports, the British SAS are back in Ukraine training soldiers.  And, the Florida National Guard unit, which is based in Germany and “other locations,” is once again training Ukrainians in the use of high-tech American weapons like the Javelin and Stinger.

The Florida National Guard also changed the Ukrainian way of fighting.  The US teachers taught Ukrainian junior officers to be more flexible in a combat situation and not wait on orders from above.  They also taught aggressiveness in infantry combat and less reliance on heavy weapons like artillery and armored vehicles.

NATO teachers said that the Ukrainians took their lessons to heart and are operating like a modern European army.

What Will Putin Do?  Will He Start a Nuclear War?

There is no doubt that Putin has committed himself to the Ukraine War.  And, to show his commitment, the Russian government has made several aggressive comments that imply that Russia may use nuclear weapons.

Is that a bluff?

Limiting the war to Ukraine and using only professional soldiers is the best way forward.  Mobilizing for war and drafting Russian men will hit Russian households and might create opposition to Putin.  If he wants to stay in power, it makes more sense to keep the war limited to Ukraine and not try to expand it.

“Going nuclear” would be risky as it would risk bringing the war to the average Russian family.  It would also be of limited use as a tactical nuclear weapon designed to counter a major armored spearhead in open terrain like Central Germany.  Given current circumstances, we shouldn’t expect any massive Ukrainian armored spearheads.

This doesn’t consider the ramifications of using nuclear weapons.  It could very well bring NATO soldiers into Ukraine itself.

A more likely move by Putin would be to seek an armistice and pull back by Russia.   Putin could paint the armistice as a victory.

It would also reflect the thoughts of Field Marshal Foch, who said of the Treaty of Versailles at the end of WWI, “This is not peace.  It is an armistice for twenty years.”

Week of May 04, 2022

Are the Belligerents
Running out of 
Ammunition?

 

Although running out of missiles has been a concern for a while, that problem came to the fore on Tuesday when Raytheon CEO Hayes spoke about the production of the Stinger anti-aircraft missiles, which Raytheon produces.

Hayes replied to a question by the media that although Raytheon is producing the missile for an international customer, “We have a very limited stock of material for Stinger production.”

“DoD hasn’t bought a Stinger in about 18 years,” the CEO said.  “And some of the components are no longer commercially available.”

He didn’t see any replenishment contracts until 2023 or 2024.

Now the question is: have the 1,400 Stinger missiles sent to Ukraine depleted the US war reserves?

Probably not.  However, there is every reason to assume that procurement specialists underestimated the need for Stingers in a major conventional war in Europe.

There are also concerns about the stockpiles of Javelin anti-tank missiles.  These have been shipped to Ukraine since the Trump presidency and it is estimated that one third of the US Javelin stockpile has gone to Ukraine.

Underestimating the need for munitions in a war is a common threat.

This principle was evident in WWI, when the shortage of artillery ammunition caused the collapse of the British government.  France was running out of artillery ammunition within 6 weeks.  By November the British and Germans were also running short on artillery shells – thanks in part to the trench warfare that required more and larger artillery shells.  In May 1915, just 10 months after the start of the war., the British government fell because of the ammunition shortage.

Are the NATO countries and Russia having the same problem?  Germany excused its failure to support Ukraine with arms with the claim that it had no more to spare.  NATO pressure changed the German government’s position and ammunition, and heavy equipment is now moving from Germany to Ukraine.

Although they aren’t talking about it, the Russians are probably running short on missiles as the number of cities being hit by missiles every day has declined.  Now, much of their firepower is based on traditional bombs and artillery bombardment.

But, what about the high-tech munitions of the West?  Are they running out of the missiles that stalemated Russian aircraft and tanks?

Stockpile numbers of ammunition are secret.  We do know that the US government is activating some small arms ammunition factories that are kept in mothballs for a military emergency.  They aren’t producing missiles, but they are producing some of the small-arms ammunition that Ukraine is running short of.

But, what about the high-tech missiles?  Is NATO running out?  Are they not needed as much as they were in the opening days of the war?

The Stinger and Javelin missiles were designed in the Cold War when NATO was expecting a massed tank attack through Germany.  They were designed to give small units being overwhelmed by the Russians a potent way to fight back.  Given how well they worked in Ukraine, it appears that they were well designed for the mission.

Although the Russian attack on Ukraine was large, it wasn’t as massive as what would have been unleashed on NATO in a conventional WWIII scenario.  That means that there should be sufficient supplies left – a concern since this war is slowly sliding into a major world conflict.

A review of other sources indicates that there are more missiles in US and NATO reserves.

A 2020 press release by defense contractor Aerojet Rocketdyne may give us a clue about how many Stinger missiles have been produced.  In celebrating the production of its 5,000th Stinger rocket motor at its Camden Arkansas plant, they noted that they had delivered 60,000 rocket engines for the Stinger program.  Current production is to increase the missile’s shelf life by 10 years, so some of those rocket engines are likely replacements for earlier models.

Even if every Stinger has been updated with a new rocket engine that means there were about 30,000 Stingers produced.  Although some were used in the Afghan war against the Soviets, the 1,400 Stingers given to the Ukrainians is not enough to endanger the US or NATO.

There is also the question if Stingers and Javelins are the best weapon for the current Russian offensive against Ukraine in the east.  Remember that they were designed for the envisioned mobile battlefield of central Europe.

The current battle is slowly heading into a stalemate.  The Ukrainians are generally controlling their airspace with their air defense and fighter aircraft.  It also appears that they currently have more tanks in the theater than the Russians.

Although the Russians are making slow advances, they seem unable to take urban areas or well defended Ukraine defensive positions.  They are also sticking to roads, which means that there are large areas still controlled by the Ukrainian Army.  Since they have made a dent into their missile arsenal, the Russians are relying more on artillery bombardment in this offensive.

This change in tactics wasn’t unexpected.  The push to resupply the Ukrainians has not been for portable missiles, but heavy equipment.  Soviet era anti-aircraft missile systems have been exported by NATO nations to Ukraine.  Soviet tanks and armored vehicles have been shipped to Ukraine in return for promises by the US that they will “backfill” those NATO nations with newer American armor and air defense systems.

There also remains talk about sending Russian made fighter aircraft from nations formerly part of the Warsaw Pact.

The US has also changed its resupply of Ukraine.  It is sending millions of dollars of small arms ammunition.  It is also focusing more on artillery.  Howitzers are being sent, along with thousands of rounds of ammunition.  They are also sending counter battery radar, which allows the Ukrainians to determine where incoming artillery is coming from so they can immediately return fire to destroy the Russian artillery batteries.

Obviously, the US sees the current battle as more of a trench war of the WWI style than the Blitzkrieg of WWII.

Meanwhile, in the US, politicians and Defense Department procurement officials are trying to speed up weapons production.  In a bipartisan move, the House Armed Services committee wrote to the Defense Department, “We believe this is a matter of the highest urgency.”

They continued, “Events in Europe have demonstrated the importance of such a capability and the need for the Army and Marine Corps to develop a plan to invigorate the industrial base.”

It appears that any future legislation to give Ukraine more arms and supplies has a readymade majority in both the House and Senate.

The fact is that the US industrial base can react quickly if needed.  Weapons that would usually take years to field can take months or weeks when needed.  The Switchblade Drone sent to Ukraine is an example as it took months to produce instead of the usual years.  Another example was the armored vehicle that was designed to survive roadside bombs in Afghanistan and Iraq.  The Defense Production Act helped to field these in about one year.

With Putin showing little desire to back down in Ukraine, we can expect to see the Defense Production Act to be used frequently soon.  No doubt other NATO nations will do the same.

We can also expect to see more nations go into their war reserves to activate older equipment to send to Ukraine.  There are reports that the UK will send its older Chieftain tanks to Ukraine.  And the chances that the Ukraine will receive more fighter aircraft are only growing.

Don’t expect this demand for more munitions to cease.  On Thursday, Biden asked for $33 billion for more aid to Ukraine.  This was on top of the $13.6 billion aid package passed last month for Ukraine and Western allies.  Although this package was to last the Ukraine for five months, half of the approved money for weapons and equipment for the Ukraine military has been drawn down already.

Of course, as it becomes obvious that more nations are willing to go further to support Ukraine, the question remains at what time this evolves from the Russo-Ukrainian War to World War Three?

Week of April 26, 2022

How US Military Analysts Assess
Russia’s Latest Offensive

 

On Thursday, Russian President Putin declared that the Ukrainian city of Mariupol had been “liberated,” even though about 1,000 Ukrainian troops continued to resist the Russians and still held the Azovstal steelworks.  The Russians intend to hold a Victory Day parade in Mariupol to celebrate the victory over Nazi Germany in 1945 and the liberation of Mariupol.

In addition to declaring the battle of Mariupol over, Putin also ordered troops to seal off the Azovstal steel works so tightly that even “a fly cannot pass through.”

So much for moving the troops from Mariupol to the front.  Historically sieges are hard to maintain, and they require more soldiers than the defense.  Since the steel plant is bordered by the Kalmius river and the Sea of Azov, it shouldn’t be hard for soldiers and civilians to escape from the plant if they wish to.

Of course, from Putin’s point of view, his forces control the roads in the Mariupol area, so he does have the coveted land bridge from Russia to Crimea.

There are reports coming out about a partisan resistance between the Crimea and Mariupol.  Information is scant about this force, but it reportedly operates in an area larger than Mariupol and is closer to Ukrainian lines so supplies can reach them.

Russian commanders may have another front to worry about after refitting their Mariupol units.

Meanwhile, the battle for control of the Donbas continues.  The US Army has told reporters in press briefings that the Russians have made probing attacks but have not made any major breakthroughs.

The Russian strategy appears to be to cut off the eastern part of Ukraine by driving north from Donetsk, which is north of Mariupol, and south from Izyum.  If successful they will capture an important coal mining region.  If the Ukraine army continues to fight along the current battlefront, they will be surrounded.

Of course, if the Ukrainians retreat from Donetsk, they will be surrendering a large part of the country.

According to US analysts one major problem for the Russians is that the jumping off point for the northern part of the Russian pincher is Izyum.  Russian supplies run on a road that goes from Belgorod, Russia, skirts the Ukrainian held city of Kharkov, and ends up at Izyum.

This road has become a target for Ukrainian attention, including destroying Russian rail bridges and attacks on Russian villages near the border.

As we have noted in the past, modern conventional warfare requires a continuous supply of parts, fuel, food, and other things necessary for modern warfare.  It doesn’t help that the modern Russian Battalion Tactical Group (BTG) is very reliant on logistics, even though it is considered superior to the American Brigade Combat Team.

Ironically, the Russian BTG was created by the Russian Army to move away from the Cold War military structures of divisions and armies.

After the Cold War, NATO’s interventions in the Balkan nations, Iraq, and Afghanistan caused their armies to evolve into smaller, more mobile units for fighting insurgencies.  In the case of the US, they developed the Brigade Combat Team, which became the basic unit of maneuver for the US Army.  There are three types of teams: infantry, Stryker, and armored.  They are light enough to be deployed anywhere in the world by air transport and operate on their own.  They were ideal for insurgencies like those in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria.

In 2008, Russia moved away from its conventional organization of divisions and transitioned into the BTG.  These units were lighter, easier to deploy around the world, and self-contained – including everything from tanks to mobile air defense.  They were considered superior to the American Brigade Combat Tea, (BCT).  They proved their worth in Syria.

Ironically, their problem was manpower.  Relatively untrained conscripts were 25% – 50% of the Russian BTG manpower.  They were usually kept in non-combat roles like maintenance and logistics.

However, thanks to the large number of heavy weapons attached to the BTG, much of the professional soldier strength was dedicated to operating and protecting the weapons systems.

After subtracting the conscripts and the professional soldiers attached to their heavy weapons that left about 400 to 500 infantries.  After further subtraction of patrol and security, about only 250 soldiers were available for infantry assault tasks.  Given the 3 to 1 ratio of an attacker to defender, that means that a company of about 80 soldiers could possibly hold off a BCT infantry attack.

Another weakness of the Russian infantry is their reliance on fighting inside an armored infantry vehicle.  Unlike their American counterparts, they are not trained in dismounting and carrying out aggressive infantry attacks.

In nations like Syria, the Russians were able to supplement their lack of infantry by using Syrian infantry units.  That’s one reason why the Russians are trying to sign Syrians and others from the Middle East.

The BTG also suffers from the fact that it is designed for insurgencies in remote areas.  It isn’t designed for a large conventional war in Europe, which it is required to fight today in Ukraine.  Large conventional wars require staff of officers to handle the complex problems of conventional warfare.

Although staff have been considered an unnecessary bureaucracy in the military, in warfare on a grand scale, they can solve problems of transportation, logistics, and supplies.  This leaves the generals to develop strategy and the junior and field grade officers to direct the fighting.

Without the staff, the senior officers must frequently visit the front to handle what staff officers once did.  This is one possible reason that the Russians have suffered so many losses in their flag officer ranks.

Although the Russian BGTs are capable, they have been designed to fight in places like Syria, instead of Ukraine – especially Ukraine with some of the most modern weapons available.  They also need large amounts of supplies like fuel, ammunition, repair parts, and food.  Without the constant stream of supplies, the BGTs are limited in what they can do.  Traditional Russian military doctrine of massive artillery bombardments before pushing through enemy lines seems quite difficult.

At this point, the battle of Donbas is in the balance.  Russia’s BGTs lack enough trained manpower.  Their units require a secure logistics system.  They lack the aggressive infantry manpower and tactics that are necessary to support their armored units.  And, if they do advance, there is no guarantee that their supplies will keep up with them.

Pentagon officials like to highlight what they claimed to be a weakness of the Russian Navy, which has lost a cruiser – the biggest Russian navy loss since World War Two.

NATO nations are aware that the key to victory is keeping up the supply of ammunition and man portable anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles.  To keep Ukraine in the field will mean hundreds of millions of dollars per week of munitions.

It also appears that NATO is willing to step up its contributions.  The US military has admitted that modern military aircraft have been shipped to Ukraine, along with tanks and armored vehicles.  NATO nations have also ordered their civilian weapons providers to gear up to wartime status.

This leaves Russia in a tight position.  Critical parts for their weapons systems are produced in the West and are now unavailable.  And, although they have a war industry to supply consumables like ammunition, they can’t hope to keep up with NATO’s resupply of Ukraine.  They can try to stop supply convoys from reaching eastern Ukraine, but that will require using its overstretched air force and rapidly disappearing smart munitions.  They can’t use the guerilla tactics the Ukrainians used to attack the Russian convoys in the north of Ukraine.

Again, US and NATO are aiming for a long war of attrition, where Ukraine will continue to resist thanks to the logistics support of NATO.

Week of April 12, 2022

Cyberwar: Fad or Weapon of War?

 

For all the talk about cyber warfare in the past few years, the first major conventional war in Europe since WWII is raising some questions about how important cyberwar capability really is.

It seems that the most important weapons of war are anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles.  The Ukrainian President keeps asking for more missiles but has hardly mentioned cyber warfare systems.

Then, there is the perceived poor performance of Russian units, even though Russia is considered a leader in cyber warfare and has a large cyber warfare group that regularly hacks into Western computer systems.

So, what is the truth?  Is cyberwar a fad or a powerful part of modern warfare?

Admittedly, a Russian tank being blown up by a missile makes for a more exciting video than the quiet infiltration of computer systems.

Computer experts say that Ukraine has been hit by more than 150 cyber-attacks in this war.  On the opening day of the war (February 24), Microsoft said its Threat Intelligence System detected “destructive cyber-attacks directed towards Ukraine’s digital infrastructure.”

Microsoft said that the malware used that day, called FoxBlade, was designed to wipe data from connected Ukrainian devices.  However, while there have been successful attacks on Ukrainian networks, there haven’t been any dramatic attacks on infrastructure that have changed the direction of the war.

There are three major methods of cyberattack.  The first is a “wiper,” which deletes data from a computer network.  This keeps people from using the network and accessing their own data.  Wiper cyber attacks are part of Russian cyber warfare doctrine and are taking place right now, but they aren’t impacting the war as the Russians hoped.

One of the wiper malwares used before the attack was WhisperGate, which was injected into Ukrainian government systems on January 13th.  It was like the cyberattack malware used by the Russians in 2017.

A wiper that was used in conjunction with the beginning of the war was HermeticWiper, which hit on February 23rd, the day before the war.  It has spread to some of the Baltic countries.

A Russian wiper deployed the day the war started was IsaacWiper.

Another type of cyberattack is DDoS (Denial of Service).  This simply overloads websites so they can’t respond.  Although it is a simple method of attack and can be easily countered, it is effective.  This was what was used to crash the Ukrainian defense ministry’s website during the early hours of the war so Ukrainian citizens couldn’t get any information from government sites.

Another cyberattack method is defacement attacks and fake news.  This is where websites are attacked to change the information on the site.  This can be used to report defeats to ruin civilian and military morale. Western analysts are claiming that this method is being used by the Russians against their own population and military to keep bad news about the war from them.

Although the Russians have more sophisticated cyber warfare technology, it appears the Ukrainians are winning the cyberwar by effectively spreading its view of the war to its citizens and other nations.

The major Ukrainian factor in the digital battlefield is its President Zelenskyy, who was a former actor and knows how to communicate to people.  His daily reports to his citizens and speeches to politicians and parliaments around the world have galvanized support for Ukraine.

Private cell phones have become a major part of cyber warfare as Ukrainians have taken pictures and videos of destroyed Russian armored vehicles and aircraft – strengthening the narrative that Ukraine is winning.

Cell phone imagery documenting “Russian atrocities” has only strengthened support for Ukraine and will likely mean more arms shipments to the Ukrainian military, including tanks, air defense systems, and possibly combat aircraft.

Which brings us back to the question; is cyber warfare a fad or a useful aspect of warfare?

Ironically, the most effective piece of cyber warfare is spreading information, which is only a digital replacement of propaganda spread through radio, printed media, and television.

The rest of the cyberattacks have merely spread chaos for a short time.  It doesn’t appear to be changing the direction of the war.

The reality is that what happens on the real battlefield is more important than what happens on the digital battlefield.

That’s why shipments of anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles have proven to be more devastating than all the Russian cyber-attacks.

Military fads have come and gone over the decades.  After WWII, everyone thought that nuclear weapons would control the battlefield.  Then it was “push button” warfare.  After that, it was going to be ballistic missiles.  The military has also gone through remote control drones and sophisticated “command and control.”

The reality is that winning wars depends on something older – infantry.

When writing about the infantry, the Fort Benning program on the use of infantry says, “The role of the American infantryman has remained constant since the earliest days of American military history: to close with and destroy the enemy.”

Although technology has changed the tactics and the lethality of the battlefield, the role of infantry has remained the same – to take and hold ground with the infantryman.  Aircraft, ships, ballistic missiles, and even tactical nuclear weapons can’t take and hold ground.

Although cyberattacks can cripple computers, it can’t take the place of the basic infantryman.  This was proved in the Battle around Kiev.  Ukrainian infantrymen held the ground off the roads and in the marshes, where they could launch missile attacks against Russian vehicles and aircraft.

It was Ukrainian infantrymen dug in around Kiev that were more important than Russian missile and aircraft attacks.  While the missiles and bombs could kill and wound the Ukrainian infantry, it was the fact that they continued to hold the ground after the attacks that proved the winning factor in the battle.

Clearly cyber warfare has a place on the modern battlefield.  However, at best it can only hold the digital battlefield.  In the end, the war is won by soldiers who can take, hold, and defend the real battlefield.

Week of April 04, 2022

Russo Ukrainian War and the View from America

 

Although Biden made several controversial statements in Europe last week, one that drew attention was his statement that the US is “helping train the Ukrainian troops that are in Poland.”  It didn’t take long for the White House staff to “walk back” that presidential statement.

On the face of it, the Biden statement wasn’t that controversial.  The US currently has 10,500 troops in Poland according to National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan.  This is part of the 100,000 American troops in Europe.  Since some of the troops in Poland are concerned with transferring weapons to the Ukraine, it’s obvious that some interface between the soldiers of the two nations would take place.

The training statement was also denied by the US military.  General Tod Wolters, NATO’s supreme allied commander contradicted Biden by telling a Senate Armed Services Committee, “I do not believe that we are in the process of currently training military forces from the Ukraine in Poland.”

The general added some nuance by continuing, “There are liaisons that are there that are being given advice, and that’s different from [what] I think you are referring to with respect to training.”

The general noted that NATO expects to learn from Russia’s tactics and how they may impact NATO’s defense posture.  General Wolters said the invasion offers the opportunity to “reexamine the permanent military architecture that exists on the continent.”

 

What is the Average American Thinking?

Although some critics said that the idea of training Ukrainian troops was a huge provocation to Russia, there may be another reason for the change.  After all, the large shipments of weapons to the Ukraine, the intelligence provided to the Ukrainian commanders, and the shipping of a former Soviet S-300 to the Ukrainians is provoking, in addition to Biden calling Putin a “War Criminal.”

The fact is that despite the wholehearted support of the Ukrainians by the US, there are some people, on both sides of the aisle, that oppose America’s wholehearted support of the Ukrainian government.

More than a dozen Democratic leaning organizations sent a letter to Biden urging him to seek a diplomatic solution to the war and to avoid doing anything that would cause a further escalation.  Compromise is necessary to diplomacy and will save lives,” the letter said.

The letter also said that any direct clash between the US and Russia could risk a nuclear escalation.  This is a serious threat as the UK’s Daily Mail reported on March 30, that two Russian fighter jets that “violated Swedish airspace,” were equipped with nuclear weapons…a deliberate act designed to intimidate Sweden according to a Swedish news channel.

Of course, the Republican Party is also split.  Some see the threat that the US will be sucked deeper into the war.  Others who are more isolationists are of the opinion that this is a problem that must be solved by European nations.

Polling shows that most Americans are on the Ukraine’s side.  However, not all Americans side with the Ukraine or total support of Ukraine.

There is bi-partisan support for admitting Ukrainian refugees into the US and for American businesses to stop doing business with Russia.

But this support isn’t helping Biden, whose popularity is still hovering at its lowest point.

A recent NPR/Ipsos poll taken last week shows the split.

Only 39% think the US should be doing more to help the Ukraine.  However, that outpolls those who think America should be doing less (7%).

The difference comes out when the concept of more aid for Ukraine entails the threat of a large military conflict between Russia and the US.  62% support giving Ukraine some, but not all the support they have asked for to avoid a major conflict between the US and Russia.

17% favor giving the Ukraine all the support they require even if it increase the possibility of a conflict between Russia and the US.

The split between doing is bipartisan.  46% of Republicans favor doing more, while 37% of Democrats favor giving more support.  Independents are marginally less interested in giving more aide (35%)

Wars are usually good for the president’s popularity, but not in this case.  Only 36% think Biden’s response if good.  Of course, the split is wide between Republicans and Democrats.

Nearly half (45%) think Biden has been too cautious.

One reason why Biden hasn’t benefited from the Ukrainian war is that Americans are more worried about inflation (42%).  94% say that they are spending more on gas, housing, and food since last year.  And Biden is getting much of the blame.

Biden’s popularity is in the high 30s percent or low 40s percent depending on the poll.  Probably more troubling is that Trump is leading Biden in a hypothetical match-up in 2024.  Trump would get 47% and Biden 41%.

Vice President Harris does even worse.  She would receive 38% to Trump’s 49%.

There are troubling numbers from other polls.  An NBC poll released this week showed that 8 out of 10 Americans say they were worried mishandling of the crisis by Biden will lead to nuclear war.  The poll also discovered that 7 out of 10 have low confidence in Biden’s ability to handle the conflict between the US and Russia.

Although it’s over two years to the next presidential election and Biden is doing poorly because of inflation, he must play it carefully if he doesn’t want his Ukraine policy to further damage his popularity.

It’s not just Biden’s popularity that is at risk.  The Democrats could be facing an election massacre this November.  Pollster Bill McIntruff, who helped conduct the NBC poll said, “What this poll says is that President Biden and Democrats are headed for a catastrophic election.”

A major election loss is just as frightening to Democrats as increasing tensions between Biden and Putin.  Given that, we can expect to see Biden tiptoeing through the Ukrainian minefield for the rest of the conflict.

Week of March 23, 2022

Russo – Ukrainian War Update

 

Despite stories of attacks and counter attacks across the Ukraine, the fact is that this conflict is turning into a stalemate.

The Russians have the equipment for carrying out an offensive but lack the logistic chain to support these fuel and ammunition hungry armored vehicles.  And, since they haven’t captured any significant cities, they don’t have the transportation network to bring the supplies up to the front.

The Ukrainians, on the other hand, have proven themselves experts in defensive warfare, especially with the NATO anti-aircraft and anti-tank weapons that are being shipped to them.  The problem is that these weapons are great for a defensive fight, but not ideal for a massive offensive designed to force the Russians out of Ukrainian territory.

The result is a stalemate that is bleeding out both sides.  Russia has a larger population and military, but America estimates that 75% of its land forces have already been committed to the Ukrainian war.  The remaining forces are marginal at best.

While the Ukrainians are doing much better than anyone imagined, they don’t have the forces to wage a battle of attrition with the Russians, even with the latest NATO weapons.  There have been claims by the Ukrainian high command that they have pushed the Russians back north of Kharkov, but this hasn’t been independently verified.

Kiev remains the key to this war.  The Russians are on the northeastern, western, and northwestern edges of the city, but are hardly advancing.  Russian commanders have the choice of outflanking the Kiev defenses in the outer suburbs but leaving their artillery out of range of central Kiev or pushing further into the city and incurring heavy casualties.

Another problem with surrounding Kiev is that the Russians probably don’t have enough quality forces to surround the city.  This would leave the Ukrainian Army with interior lines, which gives them the ability to strike the Russians in any direction.  It’s also obvious that Kiev has stockpiled large quantities of food and ammunition – including the high-tech NATO weapons that would be ideal in an urban conflict.

The threat that Russia and Belarus would attack further west to cut off supply lines hasn’t materialized. The Ukraine and Belarus border is in the Pripyat Marshes and most traffic, especially heavy armored vehicles, are limited to traveling on paved road.  This leaves them vulnerable to attacks by small groups of Ukrainian soldiers who have man portable anti-armor missiles.

Then, there is what the Russians call General Mud,” the time of the year when temperatures rise above freezing, leaving anything that is off the paved road stuck in the mud.  A look at the long-range forecast for Kiev is that daytime temperatures will remain above freezing for the rest of March.  This further gives the Ukrainians another advantage.

In addition to the threats of ambush in the Pripyat Marshes, Russian forces closing on Kiev from the northeast have yet to capture Chernihiv or Sumy.  These are both transportation hubs that are necessary to provide the supplies and fuel for a sustained offensive against Kiev.

The slow movement of the Russian forces has given the Ukrainians the chance to fortify Kiev.  Kiev is also crisscrossed with many rivers that would have to be crossed by Russian troops while under fire.  Now many military analysts are skeptical about Russia’s ability to capture the capital city in battle.

If Kiev is not captured by the Russians, there is little chance that they can win a major victory over the Ukrainians.

To the east of Kiev, the battle of Kharkov is still being waged.  Although the elite First Guards Tank Army has been involved in this urban warfare, they have made little progress and the city has yet to be surrounded.

If there is any major movement, it is south of Kharkov, where there is a push to surround Ukrainian forces southeast of Kharkov in the Luhansk Oblast.  We don’t know if the Ukrainian Army is withdrawing from this trap or if they intend to try to hold out until a ceasefire is called.

The southern front has seen some movement.  However, Mariupol remains defended by the Ukrainians despite strong Russian bombardment.  The Russians would dearly like to see Mariupol captured because it gives Russia a land bridge to its land on the Crimean Peninsula.

Russian forces along the Black Sea were expected to attack Odessa.  However, they have been stopped by the number of rivers.  The Russian Navy has been shelling Odessa and could land some amphibious forces near to Odessa but supporting them logistically would be harder than supporting the Russian forces near Kiev.

The final battlefront isn’t on land, but the air.  The Ukrainian Air force and anti-aircraft missile defenses system has prevented the Russians from dominating the air space over Ukraine

There is also the Ukrainian border with Poland, which has become the major supply line for weapons and humanitarian supplies into Ukraine.  Last week Putin warned NATO that he considered these supply lines and convoys to be legitimate targets.  And he followed up soon after by hitting several airports in Western Ukraine.

While hitting these bases certainly hurt the supply routes into the front lines, some of the missiles hit just a few miles from Poland.  And, since NATO has made it quite clear that an attack on the soil of a NATO member is an attack on all NATO nations, the Russians have toned back missile attacks that could accidentally hit a NATO member.

So, what does the future look like?

Although Russia could carry out a war of attrition and win, the cost would be dear.  In addition to the Ukrainians carrying out a guerilla war and NATO spending more to rearm, some nations like Sweden and Finland are looking more seriously at joining NATO.

Another problem is that Russia is expending much of its war equipment.  Currently, they don’t have the economic resources to rebuild its army with newer technology.  If they wish to be considered a major power with a powerful military, they can’t afford to waste much of their carefully built high tech equipment in a useless war on the Ukraine.

Another problem is that so far, this war has been waged by the best of Russia’s military.  The 25% of Russia’s land forces not involved in the Ukraine conflict are substandard, which was why they weren’t sent into the conflict before now.

The Ukraine must maintain a careful balance between seeking peace and committing itself to continuing the war.  Although situations can change, it appears that Russia might be willing to give a little to get a ceasefire.  However, any intransigence by the Ukrainians could force the Russians to continue the war of attrition.  Yet, if they show too much willingness to compromise, Russia may come out the winner in the ceasefire agreement.

In the meantime, keep an eye on the battle of Kiev.  Failure to surround and capture the city will damage Russia’s and Putin’s credibility.

It’s also important for the Ukraine to keep its supply lines open to the besieged cities.  Ukraine’s success depends on a continuing supply of high-tech weapons by NATO.  If these are cut off, the Ukrainian Army will have a hard time stopping Russia.

Also look for international assistance by other countries.  It appears that Syrian volunteers are coming to the aide of Russia.

The Ukraine, meanwhile, is building a foreign unit that has members from several countries, including the US, Canada, and Britain – including some former special forces veterans with experience in Afghanistan and Iraq.  However, there aren’t enough rifles for the Ukrainian volunteers, and they only get to practice on the rifle range with 10 rounds of ammunition each.  Many of the volunteers are buying their own firearms.

Although there are several possible scenarios, the most likely are a war of attrition or a ceasefire by two exhausted nations.

Week of March 08, 2022

The End Game for the Russo – Ukrainian War

 

Although the fighting rages on, especially in the cities of Kiev and Kharkov, an end will come eventually.  The question is what that “peace” will look like.  We look at five possible scenarios and how they will play out in the long run.

Total Russian Victory.  This is one of the more likely scenarios.  In this scenario Kiev is taken and Russian and Belarusian forces take all the country up to the western international border.  A pro-Russian government is appointed by the Russians, possibly headed by former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych.

A peace treaty will be signed by the new Ukrainian government that recognizes the breakaway republics and much of the land captured by the Russians.  Belarus will also gain some territory as a reward for backing Russia.

As part of the treaty, Ukraine will agree not to join NATO.  It will also promise not to arm its military with any sizable number of heavy weapons like tanks, military aircraft, air defense systems, etc.  Russian “advisors” will also be stationed at Ukraine military bases.

The Russians will be asked to stay as a “peacekeeping force.”  Of course, the peacekeeping will primarily be defeating Ukrainian nationalist insurgents and finding stores of anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles.

This scenario is fraught with danger for the Russians.  As they discovered in their attack, Ukrainian nationalistic fervor is high, and a sizable guerilla movement could rise up.  With covert help from NATO nations, Russian forces may find themselves in the type of war they fought in Afghanistan.

It is likely that NATO nations will not only send in weapons, but special forces to train and assist the insurgents.  Remember, that the US Green Berets were originally formed to help the guerillas fight the Soviets in communist countries.
All other scenarios below are remotely and hypothetically possible:

A Rump Ukraine.  Rather than continue fighting until all the Ukraine is captured, Russia may stop its offensive and leave a rump Ukraine in the West.  The advantage is that they can stop the loss of troops and equipment, while avoiding fighting Ukrainians on a shortened front.  Stopping before reaching the western international border of the Ukraine would lessen the likelihood of an accidental conflict with a NATO nation.

Since NATO nations supply large amounts of weapons to the Ukraine through their mutual borders, the Ukrainian forces in Western Ukraine may be better armed and likely to inflict more damage to a battle worn Russian army with longer supply lines.

Again, a pro-Russian government would be installed in Kiev, which would recognize the breakaway republics and much of the land captured by the Russians.  And it would agree not to join NATO.  Russian peacekeeping forces would remain in Eastern Ukraine.

This scenario might lead to the same situation we saw in Germany after WWII.  Eastern Ukraine and the breakaway republics would be Russian allies, while Western Ukraine would be reliant on the West and NATO.

Since Western Ukraine would be filled with refugees, it will be an ideal base for guerilla activities. It would also be likely to push for NATO membership.

A rump Ukraine would be a benefit to Russia as it would mean pro-Ukrainian refugees would flood Western Ukraine, not Eastern Ukraine.  Internal unrest might be lessened.

A Ceasefire.  If the battle lines become static and both sides are exhausted, both Russia and the Ukraine may seek a ceasefire.  For the Ukraine, a ceasefire would stop the war and allow it to rearm and regroup.  For the Russians, it would stop a war that has embarrassed the Russian military and could lead to a reduction in the international sanctions that are crippling it economically.  It would also leave Russia with a large piece of the Ukraine.

Demilitarized zones would also be part of the agreement.

The Ukraine might also be able to get some NATO nations to station troops in the Ukraine as tripwires to prevent future conflict.

Of course, ceasefires don’t always hold and either side could decide to break the ceasefire if it feels it has an advantage.  However, there have been ceasefires that hold and become the basis of a more permanent peace.

The Ukraine Holds Out.  Although not a high probability, it could happen that the Ukraine holds out and Russia seeks an end to the war to relieve itself of the sanctions.

What happens would depend on the situation on the ground.  An exhausted Russian army that has serious supply problems may decide to surrender some of the land that it has captured.  It would probably insist on recognition of the breakaway republics and a land bridge to the Crimean Peninsula.  The Ukrainians would undoubtedly want a withdrawal of Russian forces around Kharkov and Kiev.

Any agreement like this would also probably include UN observers, peacekeeping forces, and a demilitarized zone.

A Russian Coup against Putin.  Some western analysts are wishing that Putin may become unpopular given the protests across Russia and stories of sabotage of Russian equipment by Russian soldiers, especially those who have been drafted.

Thy claim that a coup against Putin is a possibility, not a probability.  He is surrounded by loyal bodyguards and his inner circle is unlikely to support his ouster.

Ironically, the unit that would be the most important in any coup is the elite First Guards Tank Army that is usually stationed around Moscow and is considered loyal to the Russian leadership.

However, units of that force are fighting in and around Kharkov and according to the Pentagon have taken considerable battle damage due to the Ukrainian anti-tank missiles.  Should a coup take place, they would be hard pressed to disengage with the Ukrainian Army and move to Moscow.

Another possibility is that the war demoralizes the First Guards Tank Army, and they mutiny.

If a coup removes Putin from office, what happens next will depend on who takes control.  It’s possible that they may agree to a peace and withdraw from the Ukraine.  Or they may agree to withdraw from land captured in this war but insist on the sovereignty of the breakaway republics.  Then, there is the land bridge from mainland Russia to the Crimean Peninsula.

The terms of the agreement would depend to a large degree on the lifting of sanctions by the international community.

However, until then, the fighting continues.  Kharkov is undergoing a fierce bombardment and is fighting Russian forces within the city.  Mariupol, the last major roadblock to the land bridge to the Crimean Peninsula is holding out despite heavy shelling but may fall into Russian’s control in days.  Kherson, in the south has been reportedly captured by the Russians and opens the road to Odessa.

Kiev is still awaiting the massive Russian convoy.  The convoy has remained relatively stationary for some days, which has been a mystery to military experts.  Has fighting with the Ukrainians around Holstomel stopped the advance elements of the convoy?  Have supply problems hindered the advance?  Or, has the Ukrainian Army managed to ambush the convoy along its flanks so it can’t move?  It’s likely a combination of all three. Or it is a military tactics by Russian to wait until they could encircle Kiev from south and east?

This convoy probably will be the biggest determinant of the future of the Ukraine.

Week of February 20, 2022

Is America Headed towards a Civil War?

 

When we first mentioned the possibility of another American civil war over ten years ago, the idea was generally dismissed by political analysts.  However, today, mainstream analysts are seriously considering the possibility.  Last week, Ray Dalio, the founder of the largest hedge fund, Bridgewater Associates stated that America’s financial problems could lead to an American civil war.

“The US appears to be on a classic path toward some form of civil war,” he wrote on the LinkedIn posting.

Aside from the financial reasons mentioned by Dalio, there are other issues in America that raise the potential for civil war.

The signs were more visible since the election of former President Trump and subsequently his refusal to accept the election of Biden, the current weak American President.  An Interactive Polls poll released last weekend showed Biden with 56% disapproval and 34% approval.  His approval amongst Hispanics has dropped 40% in the last year and 2 out of 3 independents disapprove of him.  He is behind in every swing state that pushed him to victory in 2020.

Historically, weak leaders like Russian Emperor Nicholas II or Louis XVI have been a catalyst of civil war or revolution.

Then there is inflation, which has gotten out of hand and has also historically been a spark for civil war.  Inflation is the worst in 40 years and is even worse if the inflation model used in 1980 is applied.  In that case, the inflation rate is 15%, not 7.5%.  Producer prices, which will inevitably hit consumers is up 9.7% over the last year.

In addition to these, Biden is facing opposition for his foreign policy failures like Afghanistan, shortages of consumer goods on the nation’s store shelves, the growing divide between rich and poor, the chaotic  border with Mexico, and Biden’s growing mental problems.

These are all serious problems, but do they threaten a durable democracy like the United States?  The Biden Administration thinks so given their actions in regard to the peaceful Canadian trucker strike against Covid measures.

The White House said that the demonstrations are a shared problem between the countries.  The Biden Administration pushed the Canadian government to end the blockade, saying it was hurting the economy, although the damage to the economy is less than the government mandated Covid shutdowns of last year.

Another problem is that Americans support the Canadian Trucker strike.  According to a Rasmussen poll released this week, 59% of American voters support the Canadian truckers.  They also think a protest like that in Canada would be a good idea in the United States.

Another sign of American support is financial.  Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau said that around 50% of the funds flowing to the trucker organizers were from the US.

Clearly, the Biden Administration is anxious for the Canadian government to squash the trucker demonstrations before they catch on in the US.

In that regard, they are too late as convoys are already being planned to travel from California to Washington DC.  And the Department of Homeland Security is already monitoring the US convoys and linking it to domestic terrorism.  The DHS bulletin of February warned of a heightened terrorism threat because of “false and misleading narratives” misinformation and conspiracy theories.

But are all these really a major threat?

Barbara Walter is a former member of the Political Instability Task Force, which is a group funded by the CIA.  The purpose of the task force is to gather data and determine which countries are likely to descend into civil conflict.

There are three factors they look at.  The first is whether a country is in transition towards democracy or a totalitarian government – what she calls “anocracies.”  Those that fall between the two poles are twice as likely to experience political instability or civil war as the totalitarian regimes and three times more likely than democracies.

The second factor is “factionalism.”  This is when political parties are based on ethnicity, religious, or race, much like the civil wars that hit the former Yugoslavia.  She says that this is the best indicator of future civil unrest.

The third factor is “downgrading.”  This is when a group experiences a reversal in status and loses political power.  Walter maintains that these three factors are troubling for the US.

“We are a factionalized anocracy that is quickly approaching the open insurgency stage, which means we are closer to civil war than any of us would believe,” she said.

Not everyone agrees with her.  The model she espouses is clearly more in line with the thinking of Democrats and progressives.  Republicans focus on the loss of liberty and growing federal power in the recent history as the two major factors threatening instability.  They also fear that a “downgrading” of government power may spark government sponsored unrest.

If the political factors and the civil unrest modeling foresee a civil war, what will it look like?

“It would look more like Northern Ireland and what Britain experienced, where it’s more of an insurgency,” Walter said.  “It would be more decentralized than Northern Ireland because we have such a large country.”

Undoubtedly, a second American civil war wouldn’t look anything like the one that raged from 1861 to 1865.  That was a more conventional war with clear battle lines and conventional armies.

Although states and state rights had much to do with the American Civil War, it may be different this time.  While there are states that clearly tilt one way or another, there are many states that could split in any conflict.

One example is Colorado, which is liberal and pro-Democrat around Denver.  However, the population in and around the Rocky Mountains is much more conservative.  Minnesota is Democratic around Minneapolis but is Republican in the western part of the state.

These states could fracture, with different groups controlling different parts of the state.  There is also the open question of Native American Tribes, who are recognized as sovereign nations by the US.  Would they break away?

There is also the issue of the military, which is spread across the nation.  At present, they do not have the forces to retake any large part of the US.  Would they support the Commander-in-Chief?  Would they merely remain in place to protect military bases and America’s strategic nuclear forces?

Then there are the private militias.  Are they as powerful as some maintain or are they akin to the White South African militias of the 1990s that folded and ran away?

And no discussion of American military strength can ignore the states’ National Guard and reserve forces that fall under the control of the state governor.  Some of the National Guard units have already refused to follow the Pentagon vaccine mandates.

One interesting fact about the Canadian protests is that Trudeau called upon the Canadian military, only to be told that Canada’s military wasn’t empowered to get involved in domestic issues.

If a civil war or insurgency takes place, expect the cities, which are more Democrat, to side with the federal government.  Rural areas would be more Republican.  The suburbs would be the battleground.

Unlike the American Civil War of 150 years ago, when the South was agrarian and unable to compete with the North’s industrial capacity, potential insurgent areas have more industry, especially in terms of arms manufactures.  They also produce more of the agricultural goods.  The cities would control the financial power of the US.

However, there is no way to predict what will happen.  Generals in 1914 thought WWI would be a war of maneuver instead of trenches.  Nations have also stepped away from civil unrest at the last moment.

However, it’s important to remember that no one thought that British and American forces at Lexington would exchange fire on April 19th, 1775.  Several confrontations had ended peacefully in the previous years, and no one had any inkling that things would be so different this day in Lexington.  It was the belligerent actions of British Major Pitcairn, who held the militia units in disdain that led to the confrontation.

America is in the same state now.  Common sense could stop a civil war.  However, belligerent actions could cause a tense situation to break out into all-out war.

Week of February 15, 2022

General Kurilla to Command CENTCOM

 

Several months ago, after America’s Kabul failures, we noted that America’s military leadership had virtually no military combat experience.  Secretary of Defense Austin had never been in combat during his military career and had served on several staffs.  General Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff had experienced limited combat in Panama over 30 years ago.

This may be changing.  Lieutenant General Michael Kurilla is clearly a warrior who has led his troops in the heat of battle.  As an infantry officer, he has fought in the CENTCOM areas of Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria.  In addition to his CENTCOM service, he has served in Panama in a combat role, Haiti, Kosovo-Macedonia, and Bosnia-Herzegovina.  He has been the commander of the 82nd Airborne Division.

He has received two Purple Hearts for receiving combat injuries.  He has been awarded a Bronze Star with a “V” device for valor for his life saving actions in 2005 in Mosul, Iraq.  Neither the Secretary of Defense nor Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff have received these highly regarded medals.

In Mosul, when his troops came under fire, he charged to the front and came under fire.  Although he was shot three time (one bullet broke his femur) and was lying in the middle of the street, he continued firing his rifle, while directing his men.  His actions saved several seriously injured American soldiers.

A war correspondent at the firefight wrote, “Make no mistake about Kurilla – he is a warrior, always at the front of the charge.  But it is that battle-hardened bravery that makes him the kind of leader that Americans admire.”

This event was not a chance happening.  Kurilla went on missions nearly every day for that year.  That is unusual as field grade officers like Kurilla usually stay at headquarters and rarely go out on combat missions.

After Senate confirmation, he will replace General McKenzie, who is retiring this spring.  After his confirmation hearing on Tuesday, he headed to Europe, where he commands the 18th Airborne Corps, which has sent troops to Eastern Europe to counter Russian military movements.

Along current CENTCOM General McKenzie, Kurilla agrees that Iran is the major regional problem as it has attacked US forces in Iraq and Syria.  They are also behind other destabilizing activities against US allies in the region.

“They try and hide their behavior and it can cause them not to take action for a period of time,” Kurilla said.  “That is my experience when I was at CENTCOM.”

Although he is suspicious of Iran’s activities and noted that US policy is that Iran can’t get a nuclear weapon, he endorsed an “enforceable agreement that limits Tehran’s ability to gain nuclear weapons.”

He warned the Senate committee that easing sanctions against Iran could help fund operations that endanger US forces.

He also wants to publicly share Iranian behavior when the intelligence can be safely exposed.

Kurilla admitted that current airborne surveillance operations over Afghanistan aren’t as effective as hoped because they are launched from a distance, and they spend two-thirds of their time flying to and from Afghanistan.

“It’s resource intensive to do the finding, and then the fixing and finishing of the targets that you are going after,” he said

To improve American intelligence of Afghanistan, Kurilla said he would consider some “case by case” intelligence sharing with the Taliban, if it proved fruitful in targeting ISIS-K, which is a common enemy to both the US and Taliban.  He also favored rebuilding “human intelligence capability that was lost during the withdrawal” from Afghanistan.

Kurilla admitted that the US has spent little time tracking the actions of ISIS-K and al Qaeda and he would, if confirmed, look at the best options to keeping them from attacking the American homeland.

Kurilla also stressed alliances with nations in the CENTCOM area.  He urged help from nations like Saudi Arabia.

Kurilla noted that CENTCOM is home to nine out of ten most dangerous terrorist organization in the world.  He also noted that there are two long running wars in Yemen and Syria.

“I think going through our partners and allies and strengthening those with a united front with all of our partners and allies is the best way to confront them.

Kurilla also sees potential for collective Arab (GCC and Jordan) Israeli air defense.  This could include integrating air defense radar systems and even coordinating which nation will launch the air defense missiles.

Kurilla also spoke of the sacrifice made by Americans during the Afghan War.  “While we are no longer in Afghanistan, we must honor and acknowledge the sacrifice by more than one million service members.”

 

What to expect of Kurilla as CENTCOM Commander?

Since both Republican and Democrat senators are praising Kurilla, he is certainly the next CENTCOM commander.

But how will his experience change CENTCOM?

Kurilla has a warrior’s ethic.  When new officers came to his command, he would give them the book Gates of Fire, a book about the Battle of Thermopylae where three hundred Spartan warriors held off Persian King Xerxes army of over one million soldiers for six days whole the main Greek Armies mobilized for war.  The deaths of those 300 Spartans gave Greece the time to eventually win.

Kurilla ordered his junior officers to read the book.

We can expect Kurilla to make the CENTCOM forces more combat ready and the officer corps to take their responsibilities and combat training seriously.

In addition to going out daily on missions, Kurillla would regularly meet with Iraqi police and army officers and drink coffee in small cafes.  He wanted to know what was happening at the local level instead of relying on intelligence reports.

Admittedly, Kurilla will have to meet many military officers and politicians during his time as CENTCOM but, don’t be surprised if he finds a way to meet the other ranks – especially the average American soldier.

As someone who has been in combat and been wounded, he will not be eager to commit his forces to combat unless they are well prepared.  He will also carefully plan operations unlike SecDef Austin’s and General Milley’s poor planning in Kabul last August.

Expect him to be aggressive in combat.

Since the commander of CENTCOM is an operational position, if there is any military action in the CENTCOM area, he will be the overall commander of all forces in the area, not just Army forces.  In addition, there is no military officer between him and the president of the United States.  Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Milley can’t countermand his orders.  Only the Secretary of Defense and President can give him orders.

Conversely, Kurilla has no authority regarding diplomacy or relations with other CENTCOM nations.  He will meet with leaders of many nations, but anything coming out of those meetings is informal and not necessarily binding or agreeable to the president or State Department.