Streetwise Professor

August 25, 2008

Too Quick to be True?

Filed under: Military,Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 8:32 am

David Johnson, compiler of the invaluable Johnson’s Russia List, is a little bit defensive in today’s issue about the balance in his coverage of the possibility that Russia had prepared its incursion far in advance. I don’t think that he has to be defensive, but it is good that he is going the extra mile and printing Pavel Felgenhaur’s article advancing the hypothesis that this incursion was in motion starting in April. I do disagree with David’s assertion that Russian accounts of Russian operational mistakes, not to say incompetence, are inconsistent with preplanning. Mistakes are characteristic of any military operation, and even if Russia committed more than the normal quota of blunders, this is not surprising given (a) the long history of Russian command blunders being redeemed by mass, and the blood and courage of its soldiers, and (b) the dramatic decay in Russian armed forces in the post-Soviet era.

Several of the articles I saw today, including one in JRL, provide additional evidence consistent with the hypothesis that the Russians had laid the bait, and were ready to pounce with Saakashvilli took it. In the Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst Robert Cutler states:

A detailed timeline provided by Georgia’s Prime Minister Lado Gurgenidze during an international telephone press conference disputes that assertion, however. This view is corroborated in most part by several independent sources, and an independent Washington Post reconstruction of events concludes that the Georgian assault on Tskhinvali and the Russian tank column’s emergence from the Georgian end of the cross-border Roki Tunnel could only have been minutes apart at most. Roughly 150 Russian vehicles including armored personnel carriers got through before Georgian forces were able to mount an only partially successful attack on the crucial bridge at Kurta linking the Roki Tunnel with Tskhinvali.

It seems inescapable that Russian tanks must have been on the road from Vladikavkaz, North Ossetia, for some time in order to cross the 100 miles of mountain roads to reach South Ossetia when they did. Novaya gazeta’s respected military analyst Pavel Felgenhauer is only one of several writers who have documented how the Russian invasion is only the culmination of a months-long series of provocations as well as strategic and tactical on-the-ground preparations, for example the construction and equipment of a base near the city of Java, northwest of Tskhinvali, as a refueling depot for Russian armor moving southwards. This should be added to the better-known “railroad repair” troops sent to Abkhazia in recent weeks, who are reliably reported to have constructed tank-launching facilities. The ceremony completing the railway repair was held as late as July 30.

The possibility that Russian tanks were already rolling when the Georgians began shelling, and preempted Georgian attempts to block the road from the Roki Tuunnel, suggests some interesting possibilities, including: (a) the Russians had advanced intelligence of the Georgian assault, and (b) the Russians were so confident that the Georgians would respond to Ossetian provocations that they began their assault in anticipation. In any event, in no way is what happened simply the result of the activation of a contingency plan in response to the Georgian bombardment. Even if the plans had been in place, it would have taken some days to get everything rolling. It is almost certain that they were in the blocks ready to go.

This article also notes that the Russians, for all of their wailing about Georgia’s indiscriminate shelling of Tskhinvali, (a) used the same inaccurate Grad rocket systems, and (b) actually shelled the town more ferociously and indiscriminately than the Georgians did.

Paul Goble’s report that large numbers of Russian journalists were already in Tskhinvali provides further credence to the pre-planning hypothesis.

This article printed in JRL presents a very interesting analysis of Russian operational problems:

Absence of Regional Commands Blamed for Russian Inadequacies in Ossetia

Moskovskiy Komsomolets
August 23, 2008 (?)
Article by Olga Bozhyeva: “Disarmed Forces of the
Russian Federation: Our Army Continues To Win
Only Through its Fighting Spirit”

The dead in Ts’khinvali had not been buried before the medals were being distributed. “Victory” is being conveyed from the television screens. Everywhere, victors. And we don’t judge victors. But should we be reveling in this way over our military victory in the Caucasus? Did anyone, Saakashvili included, doubt that Russia would get the better of Georgia? Consequently, in unleashing war Saakashvili was counting by no means on a military, but on a propaganda, victory. He presented Russia to the world as an aggressor. However much we now repeat over and over “and you,” there’s no washing off us the blood of the people that fell beneath our “pinpoint” strikes. In the West currently even those that are prepared to acknowledge Russia’s retaliatory action as being justified are accusing us of an excessive use of military force. And could it have been otherwise? It probably could. Had we had the army that the politicians have been promising to create for us for more than 20 years now.

From the very outset our army in this military conflict was a hostage to hapless politicians, who had brought the situation to the point of war. The military had to win here not with satellite reconnaissance systems, precision weapons, or methods of waging a non-contact war but, as always, by heroism, blood, and the weapons of the 1960s.

It had neither the Glonass space system nor satellite-guided projectiles nor precision missiles or laser-illuminated projectiles. It had hand grenades and old Soviet tanks, which stalled, creating backups in the Roki Tunnel. It had Grad systems, which are no use for pinpoint strikes. High-explosive bombs missing the target by several kilometers.

And the human beings. General Kulakhmetov, commander of the peacekeeping contingent, who held the defense for many hours while his virtually defenseless people were being hit by Georgian Grads. Major Ketchinov, who at the cost of his life rescued defenseless reporters. Boy conscripts, of whom the MoD had washed its hands, maintaining that contract servicemen alone were fighting in Ossetia. General Shrulev, commander of the 58th Army, who was wounded in the very first engagement.

Knowing that there were insufficient men and equipment for a breakthrough into Ts’khinvali, he himself led the tank column. Might he not have done so? Of course. Only how then could he have looked in the eye the mothers of his fallen soldiers?

But why, for all that, did he go, not waiting for reinforcements? As one officer said, first, because people in the city were being killed, they needed to be rescued, second, because there was pressure from above. The Kremlin had already three times reported that Ts’khinvali was under 58th Army control, although this was not, in fact, the case. “Can you think why it was reported three times,” the officer sadly joked. “Because each such report means one more star on the epaulets. In war to each his own: for some, stars, for some, bullets, for some, eternal remembrance….”

Unfortunately, there are with us always more of the latter. They are subsequently spoken of in television reporting and written about in the papers, and children are taught on the basis of their exploits. We love stories about exploits and heroes.But if, for example, an American child were asked to name heroes of the war in Iraq or Yugoslavia, it is hardly likely that they would be remembered. These were nameless wars. Non-contact, as the military says. They had no battlefields as we customarily understand them. An American soldier never even set foot on this country’s territory throughout the war in Yugoslavia but the outcome of the war was decided in a matter of hours here. First NATO aviation with the aid of satellites that guided it to the targets put the Yugoslav air defenses out of action.The airfields, deprived of cover, were then immediately destroyed. With absolute air superiority US planes released 1,500 precision cruise missiles and rapidly destroyed over 500 facilities of Yugoslavia’s state and military support structure. That was it. This was the end of the war. It had no heroes.

Later some military analysts, tallying the results, said that the Americans had fought poorly since they had been unable to wipeout Milosevic’s army, which lost only 1% of its armored equipment and approximately 500 servicemen. But these analysts failed to consider that all these losses were for the United States “collateral,” unplanned, that is. TheYugoslav Army (aside from the air-defense troops) had not been the target of precision strikes at all. Their target was the state of Yugoslavia itself: its economy and political system. And the United States successfully achieved the elimination of this target.The purpose of our military operation in the Caucasus was, as we now know, the “enforcement of peace on Georgia”. We also achieved this purpose.

But at what price? Our “collateral” losses were the peaceful population. We fought not like the Americans–in non-contact fashion–but in very “contact” fashion even: with artillery, tanks, and infantry. As our heroic fathers and grandfathers did in the last century.

Did Saakashvili not know that this was the only way that Russia was capable of fighting him? He probably did. And there was a calculation in this also, evidently: there would have to be the bloodshed of peaceful people in such a slaughter for it manifestly not to result in the eyes of the world community in Russia’s favor.

And did our politicians really not suspect with what and how their army would fight? Although it is they, it would appear, that had an inadequate notion of this. We have in recent years heard so many times about Russia’s superweapons that both those that listened to them and those that spoke about them believed in these tales.

Only you can’t fight in a war with tales. You need real weapons. And what did we see? We saw a long-familiar picture: our boys riding on top of the armor of the APCs–getting about is safer this way because they are not protected inside the vehicles against armor-piercing shells, which pierce them even at distances of 700 meters and incinerate everything inside. We saw our artillery, which was delivering concentrated shelling with Grads, by no means with some guided projectiles or bombs of the Santimetr, Smelchak, or Gran type.

We saw our downed planes. As the MoD maintains, there were four of them. According to Saakashvili, more than 20, and according to MK’s information, eight. But even if we accept the official figure of four, this is, nonetheless,too many for three days of fighting.

Why were we unable to avoid these losses? Could our ground-attack planes really not have eliminated the radars–the “eyes and ears”of Georgia’s air defenses–then and there? After all, we had been assured that tactical aviation was armed with the X-28 (range of 90 km) and X-58 (range of120 km) anti-radar missiles? Where are they? Why were the precision X-555 missiles not employed? We have been told that they “go right through a window from 2,000 kilometers away.” Two thousand? Splendid! So pinpoint strikes may be conducted without even entering the air-defense zone.

Yes, they may. Only according to our expert, the last time that the MoD ordered a consignment of several dozen X-555s was back at the end of the 1990s. For tests. They were successful, but no more X-555s were ordered–there was no money in the budget. The pilots say that the last three or four of this consignment were fired by Vladimir Putin personally during his celebrated flight on a Tu-160 strategic bomber. So what’s the point of holding the military to account? They fought with what they could, this is why, possibly, they did not always hit the target. When the first reports that Russian aviation was bombing Georgian villages were received, I immediately began calling a pilot friend of mine: “Is this true?” He really took fright, began to make inquiries, and called back several minutes later: “We are not bombing any villages, of course.” He was then silent for a while and softly added: “Well, only if the bombs were off by about eight kilometers.” How much is this–eight kilometers–for tiny Georgia? Thanks to such “pinpoint” attacks of our aviation and artillery, Saakashvili now has an opportunity to wave in the faces of Western politicians photographs of demolished Georgian homes and wounded and dead inhabitants. The simplest thing is to say that all this is a forgery. It is much harder to acknowledge mistakes. Only who should acknowledge them: the military or the politicians that are incapable of arming their own army?

It came to the point of the military, having tired of waiting for the new arms promised it in the national weapons procurement, itself rectifying the situation. Through trophy. In the Georgian-Ossetian conflict zone our troops captured more than 100 pieces of equipment, including five Osa air-defense systems, 15 BMP-2s, D-2 guns, Czech-made self-propelled artillery mounts, and American APCs. Of course, none of this is the latest equipment but they were short even of this. As Colonel Igor Konashenkov, aide to the Ground Troops commander in chief, says, “of the 65 captured tanks, we destroyed 21 since they were either beyond repair or of old configuration. The 44 that are in working order, in fine condition, we took for ourselves.”

We are in luck. We have gotten rich. For our own state last year supplied them with only 30 new machines.

The war in Georgia has laid bare not only problems of arms but also of the combat employment of the fighting forces. Military specialists, for example, were shocked by the announcement of the downed Russian Tu-22 aircraft. Everyone has been asking: why was this long-range heavy bomber employed at all in a local conflict? The MoD’s official version–that the Tu-22 was flying for reconnaissance–evoked from the pilots themselves merely a wry smile. Here’s the opinion of our expert:

“Why the Tu-22 was sent there is clear: it carries as much in the way of munitions as 10 Su-25s–up to 20 tons–and could have alone eliminated the entire airfield from where Georgian Su-25s were taking off to bomb Ts’khinvali. But the Tu-22 cannot be employed without preliminary reconnaissance and the elimination in its flight area of enemy air-defense points. None of this was done, of course. As a result, the Tu-22 became a giant target for Georgia’s air defenses. In addition, the Tu-22’s accuracy of targeting from a bombing altitude of 6,000-8,000 meters is of the order of 1.5km–not the best performance characteristic for operation in densely populated area.”

Who sent the crew of the Tu-22 to certain death, it is hardly likely that we will ever know, of course–war writes off everything. Meeting with the military in Vladikavkaz, President Medvedev has already said that they are all great guys, that our Armed Forces have overcome the crisis of the 1990s, and the latest hostilities have shown that combat training in the army is on a sound level.

What else could it be if we won? True, just a couple of months ago General Aleksandr Kolmakov,
first deputy defense minister, said that until recently “the training of our fighting forces had remained at the1960’s-1970’s level.” It is a long time since we had heard such strong and truthful words from army generals. Although combat veterans disagree even with this. They believe that everything is even worse.

“It was known after Afghanistan that you can’t plow up mountains with bombs,” Colonel-General Vitaliy Pavlov, former commander of army aviation and commanding officer of a combat aircraft group of the Russian troops in Afghanistan. “I recall that once, when aiming, I was off by only 50 cm, and the missiles deviated by about 5 kilometers–that’s the mountains for you! Why was the Tu-22 sent to such mountains now? Did the experience of Afghanistan teach nobody anything?…”

It did, but, following all the army shakeups called reform, it has, evidently, been happily forgotten. In Afghanistan, for example, when upon a landing approach several of our military transport planes were shot down in succession, the so-called “Kabul approach”–a super-steep landing with an abrupt maneuver descent–was devised. Now, specialists say, when the Tu-22 crew was assigned the mission, “the flight profile should have been very competently selected and the maneuver developed” also. “But this was not thought through, by all accounts.” Or another example: could we really imagine in Afghanistan that tanks would go on the offensive without air cover provided by army-aviation helicopters? Of course not. But they did in Ossetia. Why? Possibly because there was no time to reach agreement on joint operations. After all, five years ago the reformers took army aviation from the land armies and placed it under Air Force command. The tactics of its employment had nothing to do with it here. They acted according to the principle: all that flies should be in the same hands. It is odd that intercontinental nuclear missiles were not given to it also–after all, they too fly pretty well.

Many people are now asking why the Russian Army took so long to go to the assistance of our peacekeepers when they were being bombarded by Georgian Grads. Why did the enemy planes have air dominance for almost 24 hours? Where was our aviation? These questions were answered for MK by Vitaliy Shlykov, member of the Foreign and Defense Policy Council and chairman of the Commission for Security Policy and Expert Appraisal of Military Legislation of the MoD Public Council: “This is a question of the ystem. And here once again the subject of united commands surfaces. Why was aviation late in appearing? Could the Ground Troops commander have given orders to the pilots? Of course not. This all had to go through superior levels, approval, time, that is, was needed. And don’t forget also about the disputes, poses, honor of the uniform. With the current system of leadership, it could not have been otherwise not only for the Armed Forces but for the country’s defense as a whole.”

The Americans have had united theater commands for exactly half a century now. Each is directed by a four-star general. Everything: Army, Marine Corps, aviation, reports to him in the sphere of command responsibility. He does not in case of necessity need to apply for air support to the commander of the service. This general has only one superior officer–the president or his representative, the defense minister. He needs a maximum of 30 minutes to obtain approval for the employment of all his men and equipment.

Had we had such united commands, our response to Georgia also could have been instantaneous and would not have resulted in such casualties. The Ground Troops, for example, were very well prepared for such a development of events. It had been said in the North Caucasus District since May that a military conflict was inevitable. And intelligence had surely reported this, so no tactical surprise on the part of Georgia was achieved. It is simply that all our troops were waiting for the order, which took too long to get to the fighting forces.

The subject of the formation of regional commands has long been raised here. No one, theoretically, is opposed to their formation, seemingly. But in practice the commander of any service of the Armed Forces is the complete master of his troops, and for some other colleague of his to order him to do something? This is unacceptable. The generals are resisting for the added reason that they are not prepared for leadership of united forces. When the Americans switched to such a system, they had to change the entire structure of military training. We will not get away with the simple appeal–let’s fight together–here either. This has to affect the entire system of military organization, the training of the troops, and the commanders themselves.

It is possible that the politicians and the generals will one day reach agreement on what our army should look like in the 21st century. It would be good were this not to happen too late.This is hardly of any concern to anyone today, when medals are hanging in the buttonholes, in any event. All is well with us for the time being, and all are heroes. But as one expert whom I know said, when politicians adopt a posture of standing up straight without a performance-capable army at their back, this could end badly for them.

Several SWP themes appear in this piece: (1) The importance of organizational decisions regarding the allocation of control over weapons, (2) the lack of new weapons actually reaching the front line troops, and (3) the precision and stealth revolutions have not reached the Russian military.

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