In the previous post, I argued that the US brought the Ukraine on itself by showing geo-strategic weaknesses at several levels. That does not mean that the US is at fault, Putin is. It does mean that if you want to be the world’s only superpower, you must remain alert to all emerging threats, and never show weakness. Further, you cannot deter by non-stop talking tough and empty threats.
The surprise of the Ukraine war has been the indifferent, and probably incompetent performance of Russian ground forces and the sketchy appearance of the Russian Air Force. I do not have a good order of battle of Russian ground troops. For now assume eleven Combined Arms Armies, each about half the size of a US corps, and four Combined Arms Corps, about the size of a US division, plus some independent divisions. The army overall, however, had a strength of only about 300,000, excluding reserves that might have been called up. Ukraine has 230,000 troops, including 36,000 veterans of the Donbas war with significant combat experiences. And it has a further 400,000 Donbas veterans in reserves, not to mention the tens of thousands – and growing – militia. So the meme of vast Russian forces overpowering a tiny Ukraine army must be jettisoned.
The objective was the occupation of all Ukraine and its return to Russia. Tactically, the first preference was to capture Kiev by a coup de main, install a puppet government, which would order a general ceasefire. If necessary, however, Russia was prepared to attack and capture all of Ukraine east of the Dnieper River, known at the Dnipro in Ukraine. Then Russia would turn their attention to West Ukraine. There was no intention for a limited operation.
What went wrong that Ukraine, with its 200,000 strong army, resisted fiercely, and the Russian advance developed into a slog because of its’s army’s lackadaisical performance. Before I provide details, let me tell you as early as 1970 and continuing into the 1980s I heard multiple rumors that the Soviet Army was riddled with very severe problems of insufficient training, particularly of the reserves, fractured discipline, inability to maintain equipment, and severe alcoholism. Naturally the US/NATO could not build their defenses on the assumption of an army that could not fight. And even an incompetent army could cause enormous damage because if tens of thousands of armored fighting vehicles, masses of artillery, and the expectation that on Day 1 the Russian air force could put up 3000 tactical fighter over Central Europe.
Tom Cooper, an Austrian aviation expert and military generalist, warned the world starting in the late-1990s that based on its performance in Syria, the Russian Army and Air Force could not fight. Obviously no one took any note of Tom, an unknown analyst, no matter how precocious. In recent decades, I paid no attention to Russian forces: with a GDP half that of India, just $1.5-trillion, it did not seem possible Russia was a military threat. All it had going for it was a large nuclear deterrent, which was obviously unusable. Further, after Russia got over the loss of its empire, in the 2000s and 2010s, Russia began to implement military reforms. The assumption was that Russia would have a medium size military force of reasonable competence.
Russia is America’s enemy, but any professional American soldier would be totally befuddled, perhaps even sorry, at how ineffective the Russian Army has been, even with almost every available division or brigade being sent to Ukraine. At present, it seems 8 of Russia’s 11 armies and three of its four army corps are deployed. Naturally it cannot deploy everything, no army can. And if Russia stages a mass reservist recall, it will end up by sending partly trained formation without the skill to survive in the field.
To start, its air force, which was supposed to blast Ukraine forces to oblivion. Yet, the air force has flown relatively few sorties. The 2022 World Air Force reports give the Russians 273 Su-24, 192 Su-25, 350 Su-27/30/35 and 125 Su-34, about 900 fighters. Ordinarily this would more than suffice to fly 500 sorties a day and cause havoc. Pending confirmation and further research, it seems that perhaps 200 or even fewer aircraft are combat ready. The Su-24 Fencers have not been seen by observers closely following the action; there’s lot of Su-27/35s. There appears to be a severe lack of guided weapons. Ukraine started the war with about 95 fighters, and has lost many. But on Day 9 US sources said the majority of Ukraine’s fighter forces. Combined with shoulder-fired SAMs, which they have in plenty thanks to US/NATO supplies, Ukraine has kept the Russian air force at bay and prevented it from undertaking impactful operations.
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