Streetwise Professor

April 9, 2022

What Ukraine Needs

Filed under: History,Military,Russia — cpirrong @ 6:45 pm

The prospect that the war in Ukraine will drag on for some time has rendered urgent the question of how the west can support the country militarily. Specifically, what weapons can and should the west supply?

Retired General Barry McCaffery recommends supplying the full panoply of an American force–armor, air defense, aircraft. This is unnecessary, and unrealistic.

The immediate answer to the question hinges on the nature of the battle, the time frame, and the ability of the Ukrainian military to absorb and use equipment.

The nature of the battle is now clear: Ukraine is fighting a defensive battle, and will almost certainly do so on a relatively restricted front in the eastern part of the country.

The time frame is compressed. Although it will take some time for the Russians to generate sufficient combat power in Donbas given the necessity of reconstituting units devastated by the last six weeks of combat, Putin is clearly impatient and needs to demonstrate progress soon.

Military hardware can be complex and require considerable training to use effectively. Ukraine doesn’t have the time to train on unfamiliar equipment.

Given these realities, what are the priorities?

Number one, clearly: artillery. Artillery. More artillery. And lots of ammunition. Given that Ukraine is defending, towed tube artillery would do just fine, although self-propelled guns would have some benefits. Also, rocket artillery (MLRS) would be extremely useful.

Ukrainian troops could readily employ conventional artillery and it could play a decisive role in smashing any Russian advance. The stocks of European countries and the US should be adequate to provide a healthy upgunning of Ukrainian forces in relatively short order.

Relatedly: equipment to leverage the effectiveness of artillery. Specifically, counter battery radars (of which the US has already supplied some) and drones (for reconnaissance and battle damage assessment as well as for carrying out precision strikes).

Number two: air defense weapons, especially longer range SAMs. This could be something of an issue. The Ukrainians are trained up on Soviet/Russian weapons (e.g., S-300). It would take time to get them up to speed on western equipment (e.g., Patriots). Further, the US has legitimate security concerns about supplying these weapons, due to the risk of capture and reverse engineering.

A stopgap would be more MANPADs. The Ukrainians have made good use of those, and to the surprise of virtually all, have prevented the Russians from achieving air superiority, or even executing an effective air campaign.

Number three: more artillery.

Armor would be nice, but not necessary. The Ukrainians have already demonstrated a remarkable ability to defend against armor using ATGMs. So more of those, please. A Ukrainian armored assault is not in the offing, which reduces the need for more tanks beyond the T-62s, T-64s, T-72s already in its arsenal. (Not to mention captured Russian armor.). They likely have enough for the local counterattacks that they will need to execute as part of an active defense.

Aircraft would assist Ukraine in denying Russia air superiority, but it is uncertain how many decent pilots Ukraine has, and they would be limited to ex-Soviet aircraft types. Further, the bases would be vulnerable to Russian missile strikes. I doubt they would be decisive.

Get them the big guns, and the shells to feed them. That’s the priority. They would prove essential in a defensive battle.

Although Russia already has its hands full in Ukraine, and has proved to be a military paper tiger, amazingly it is looking to pick other fights. Latvia (the least anti-Russian of the Baltic countries) had the temerity to announce a commemoration of Ukrainians killed by Russians during May, the holy Victory Month. Which caused the Russians to lose their shit (I know, it’s a day that ends in “Y”, but still), and call the Latvians Nazis (of course!) and make threatening noises.

On cue, Russia state television trotted out a mouth breathing ex-military type to lay out how Russia would (and by implication, should) invade not just the Baltics, but Poland and Sweden (specifically Gotland):

Pointing a the map, Colonel Igor Korotchenko [Ukrainian name, interestingly], formerly of the Russian General Staff and air force and currently a reserve officer, said at the start of the invasion ‘a massive Russian radio-electronic strike is inflicted’ as ‘all Nato radars go blind and see nothing’, according to the Sun.

This was how the scenario for capturing the countries might look, he added.

Sweden has been politically neutral throughout its recent history, but Russia’s invasion of Ukraine brought the prospect of the Nordic country joining NATO to the fore of political discussion.  

Russia has threatened Sweden and Finland over NATO membership repeatedly since the invasion began.

‘At this time, on the Swedish island Gotland, Russian military planes land, delivering S-400 anti-aircraft missile systems, and Bastion coastal anti-ship systems,’ said Colonel Korotchenko. 

In the video, a border area labelled the ‘Suwalki gap’ is shown – the gap between Belarus and Russia’s Kaliningrad exclave, a leftover territory annexed from Germany after the Second World War.

Colonel Korotchenko explained how Russia would push up from Kaliningrad towards the Suwalki corridor separating Poland and Lithuania, blocking NATO reinforcements from the West.

Is this guy Ripski Van Winkle? Has he been asleep the last 6 weeks? Russia has not been able to blind Ukrainian radars, FFS. It’s vaunted electronic (and cyber) warfare capabilities have proved to be as Potemkinesque as its armored and air forces. And as if Russian transport planes would get anywhere near Gotland: they would all go down in flames due to Nato (and Swedish) SAMs and AAMs. And has Col. Korotchenko noticed that the airborne units that would necessarily spearhead such a mission (a) failed to achieve a similar mission outside Kiev on the opening day of the invasion, and (b) have been torn to shreds in the subsequent combat.

Gotland is an island, you know. Amphibious assault? The Russians haven’t had the stones to do that against Odesa or elsewhere, and the odds of pulling it off in the Baltic are far longer. Ain’t happening.

As for tearing through the Suwalki gap, the Russians haven’t torn through anything in Ukraine. And they could pull this off logistically how, Colonel? Your army has no clothes. Literally, in some cases.

This is the best part:

‘The astonished West and NATO will know that Russia declares a no-fly zone of 400km,’ added the enthused Colonel.

The only thing that is astonishing is that Russia has not been able to create a no-fly zone in Ukraine.

One would have to think this has to be for domestic consumption, to feed the image of a Russian juggernaut capable of taking on Nato to Russia’s northwest, thereby to distract the nation’s attention from the reality of its abject failure against Ukraine to Russia’s southeast. They really can’t be thinking of doing this, can they?

Six weeks ago I would have thought not. Now I am not so sure. The detachment from reality in Moscow is palpable. Ironically, the failure in Ukraine appears to have made the Russian leadership and the Russian people more delusional, not less. The shocking reality has led to denial, and a desperate need to fantasize about military glories to be won elsewhere to compensate for the fact of devastating losses in Ukraine.

Meaning Nato has to be ready for anything. They are just crazy enough to try it.

And in the meantime: send artillery to those who can use it.

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  1. Yes.
    Western towed howitzers can be easily integrated to Ukrainian artillery units.
    Armored infantry vehicles like Bushmaster to provide some protection to the troops of new Ukrainian motorized brigades that don’t have enough heavy APCs. These vehicles don’t require any special knowledge to use.

    Comment by Yan — April 9, 2022 @ 10:06 pm

  2. Given this conflict is basically going to boil down to an artillery duel to the death, anything to boost the Ukrainian’s arty firepower would be more than welcome. On this I have seen reports circulating that the Slovakians have agreed to sell some of the Zuzana mobile 155mm mobile systems to Ukraine – a decent bit of a kit, ideally suited for the shoot ‘n’ scoot type of missions which are needed.

    On the flipside, anything to counter Russian artillery (possibly the only capability of any note in their locker) would equally be welcome e.g.loitering munitions like Switchblade. This conflict has become the perfect test ground for such weapons; western arms manufacturers should be queuing up to offer the Ukes to try out their latest toys. Nothing sells like a weapon which is combat proven, after all.

    One other area which could be a gamechanger is night-vision kit. From what I’ve seen, the Russians certainly don’t own the night, nor have the means to do so (unless you count flares..). If the Ukes could shift their focus to predominantly night-time ops, it could rapidly – and decisively – shift the balance of this conflict.

    On a related note, I’ve just seen that the Russian ambassador to the US has been bleating about western arms flows into Ukraine. Great stuff – we must be doing something right as they’re clearly beginning to sweat! Let’s keep on truckin’

    Comment by David Mercer — April 10, 2022 @ 5:10 am

  3. Anti-ship missiles and the related stuff. Russian Black Sea Fleet should not be freely loitering wherever it wants launching cruise missiles to whatever it feels. And there should be commercial shipping safely going along the west coast of the sea, between Odessa and Bosphorus. With NATO military convoys if needed. Not to attack the Russian ships, mind you. But just to prevent them from doing something stupid, like shooting at a bulker under a neutral flag.

    Comment by LL — April 10, 2022 @ 10:56 am

  4. I think you’ll find, prof, that this Gotland today tomorrow the World rant was a wet dream reported in late February by the Daily Mail. So no longer operative.
    I wonder if the nutty colonel has now been sent to the front to replace the senior commanders who appear to have been getting more than a simple reality check.

    Comment by philip — April 10, 2022 @ 1:12 pm

  5. I have no military experience, so whatever is needed to enable snipers to terrify the Russians in occupied areas would be good to me. People protesting in Kherson won’t do a damn thing.

    Otherwise, yes, they need to be able to move substantial war assets to the south and east to take back territory and hold it, so cover from artillery will be critical. I wonder what scenario could arise where Ukraine fired regularly into Russia proper.

    And I still wince over what drastic thing Putin could come up with if they continue to struggle or get beaten back again. He will not go down with a whimper. A new commander has been brought in and God knows what horror he will bring. At some point, leveling Ukraine may become their plan.

    Comment by Howard Roark — April 10, 2022 @ 8:51 pm

  6. Exactly the post I’ve been looking forward to: A “streetwise” assessment of what Ukraine really needs. I’m glad to see that the west (with the unexpected but still dreadful exception of Germany and France) is starting to trickle those needs into the country.

    Comment by HibernoFrog — April 11, 2022 @ 6:09 am

  7. “dreadful exception of Germany and France”: the two countries that thought it a fine idea to threaten to restart a terrorist war in Ireland to frighten the British off Brexit.

    If only there were some way to let the Russians take Berlin, Brussels, and Paris without buggering everyone else up.

    Comment by dearieme — April 11, 2022 @ 7:50 am

  8. SWP:

    WOW. David Mercer & dearieme all on the same page & sounding like they’re both on ‘our’ side. It is the proverbial silver lining on the old black cloud.

    Welcome aboard, boys.

    VP VVP

    Comment by Vlad — April 11, 2022 @ 5:09 pm

  9. I wish that you would stop talking about the Russian people when in fact you mean a few brass hats in the Russian armed forces.

    At this moment not only in the captured territories of Ukraine but in Russia itself there is a reign of terror that would have made Robespierre proud.

    Comment by Michael van der Riet — April 11, 2022 @ 11:12 pm

  10. Hallelujah

    Comment by Yan Naroditsky — April 13, 2022 @ 3:20 pm

  11. One of the few good results of the war is watching the commenters at ZeroHedge completely lose their shit. Every colossal Russian failure results in hysterical screeching about “Watch out, Vlad is really gonna take the gloves off and fuck ’em up now”

    Comment by Ren — April 13, 2022 @ 10:55 pm

  12. Ok, so scrub the anti-ship missiles from their shopping list. These won’t be needed anymore… And there was me thinking the events in Berdyansk was the pinnacle of Russian naval incompetence.

    @Vlad: Eh? More like you’re joining my side, for once. Strangely quiet from the other regulars though.

    Comment by David Mercer — April 14, 2022 @ 3:59 am

  13. They still have quite a few smaller ships (frigates etc.) that still are capable of launching cruise missiles. So no, the anti-ship missiles are still on the list.

    Comment by LL — April 14, 2022 @ 4:09 am

  14. @10, here you go David. Ukraine has a corrupt and vile government. Russia has a corrupt and vile government. Dirty internal politics plus international meddling has instigated a war between them. Innocent Ukrainians are getting killed and generally fucked over. Probably both by Russian and Ukrainian military.

    A rational western policy previously would have been to not meddle. A rational western policy now would be to keep the war from spilling over into Poland. A rational post war policy includes burying the dead, succoring the wounded and helping with cleanup.

    But the Biden crime family has much to lose in Ukraine. If the Russians prevail and abscond Ukrainian government files, they’ll probably and with glee publish the documents demonstrating all the payoffs to, and crimes of, Joe Biden and his vile relatives. Hence the present White House interest to prevent a Russian victory at (almost) all costs.

    Meanwhile the war is a wonderful distraction for the MSM to divert attention from their collusion in the mass murder speciously called the Covid vaccine rollout, in the spectacularly systematic destruction of freedom across the western world, and in the concomitantly willing Gestapo-ization of police forces there.

    Those last are the real issues — the existential issues — that should concern everyone.

    War in Ukraine is a murderous sideshow to those real threats and may even be a consequence of them.

    Comment by Pat Frank — April 14, 2022 @ 9:57 am

  15. Air Force -FAIL, no control
    Army – FAIL, withdrawal from Kiiv
    now Navy – FAIL, flagship sunk

    This sh¡tshambles invasion is going to be a case study topic for the rest of the century.

    Prof, I bet you wish you were a lecturer at staff college now. Such stunning incompetence, with added corruption, war crimes and shooting the generals.

    Russian military morale must be as buoyant as the Moskva. All that’s needed now is for Mariupol to do a Stalingrad and the besieging troops to be surrounded and we have the full house.

    Comment by philip — April 14, 2022 @ 3:14 pm

  16. @Pat Frank

    “X has a corrupt and vile government.”

    What country name can you substitute for X to make the expression false? If you can’t, what was the point?

    “Dirty internal politics plus international meddling has instigated a war between them.”

    Yep. Since his early days back in Leningrad: if Putin thinks he can steal something and not suffer the consequences, he just can’t help himself. His disregard for the will of the Ukrainians is probably based on his experience with Russian internal politics, thus he came to believe he can steal Ukraine. Whereas international meddling in the form of Obama’s “reset button”, Merkel’s Nordstream etc. must have convinced him he won’t suffer the consequences.

    “A rational western policy previously would have been to not meddle. A rational western policy now would be to keep the war from spilling over into Poland”

    Except, of course, had the West “meddled” correctly by providing Ukraine with deterring level of military support earlier, there would be nothing to spill over to Poland.

    “But the Biden crime family has much to lose in Ukraine.”

    Hm, I have heard Hunter is a wildly successful artist. What does he possibly have to lose in Ukraine that he cannot easily compensate with just another couple of paintings?

    “systematic destruction of freedom across the western world, and in the concomitantly willing Gestapo-ization of police forces there.”

    Whereas the Ukrainians have successfully defeated the attempted Gestapo-ization of police forces by Yanukovych regime and are now paying in blood to prevent the destruction of freedom by Russia.

    Could it be that the key to tackling real threats is to stop dismissing similar and even more acute threats to others as a sideshow? As in “First they came for the Jews…”

    Comment by Ivan — April 14, 2022 @ 5:01 pm

  17. @14 Ivan — I presently can’t name a country that hasn’t a vile and corrupt government. Perhaps there is one, I haven’t searched. But that’s not the point is it. When two junk-yard dogs are fighting, it is better for the other dogs to stay away.

    If Russians expose the Biden family corruption in Ukraine, the Biden regime in the US will likely fall. Bad for the Bidens, good for the US. It’s doubtful the Ukrainians enjoyed freedom under Zelensky any more than they did under Yanukovych.

    “They” are already coming for America in the guise of medical tyranny and stolen elections. Our attention should be focused on that.

    Comment by Pat Frank — April 14, 2022 @ 6:10 pm

  18. @Pat Frank

    “When two junk-yard dogs are fighting, it is better for the other dogs to stay away”

    I don’t know if other junk yard dogs tend to join the fight when two of them are fighting, but:

    1) it would be objectively beneficial for them to growl together and scare away the rabid one rather than allow the spread of the disease one fight at a time;

    2) the dogs might not be sufficiently smart to realize this;

    3) the usefulnes of the junk yard dog model to determine optimal nation-state behavior does not seem very obvious.

    Hence I have yet to see your point.

    “If Russians expose the Biden family corruption in Ukraine, the Biden regime in the US will likely fall.”

    Erm, because most Americans still believe it was Hunter’s enormous competence in oil products that warranted his Burisma salary, but some maybe existing documents produced by Putin will finally open their eyes? If you believe this, I have a really new bridge over Irpin river to sell to you.

    “It’s doubtful the Ukrainians enjoyed freedom under Zelensky any more than they did under Yanukovych”

    It’s doubtful you have any basis whatsoever for such doubts. Zelensky is no angel, but he has seen a precedent and learned from it.

    “medical tyranny and stolen elections. Our attention should be focused on that.”

    Like I said, might have something to do with the propensity to dismiss violent spread of tyranny elsewhere until it bites your very own ass.

    The Russians, BTW, also don’t like tyranny against themselves, they only support it against all those hated neihbors in their apartment block and everyone else even further away.

    Comment by Ivan — April 14, 2022 @ 11:16 pm

  19. @16 Ivan “Hence I have yet to see your point.


    Comment by Pat Frank — April 15, 2022 @ 7:15 am

  20. @Michael van der Riet. Really? When I write “the Russians” is clearly a shorthand for those making decisions, or the Russian military.

    That said, at the very outset of the war a Russian friend of mine said that it was too early to say whether the Russian people were complicit, but that it could reach that point. By all indications, most Russians are currently supportive–many enthusiastically so–of the war, and are in denial about atrocities. Perhaps this is due to a “reign of terror” as you say. But I doubt it. And if I am right, the point of complicity has been passed and the Russian people have lost any presumption of innocence.

    Comment by cpirrong — April 15, 2022 @ 3:23 pm

  21. @Vlad. Come on, dude. You know I’m all about bringin’ people together.

    Comment by cpirrong — April 15, 2022 @ 3:32 pm

  22. Paul Joseph Watson on the fate of western volunteers in Ukraine:

    Comment by Pat Frank — April 16, 2022 @ 8:55 am

  23. Prof, re your statement about loosing the presumption of innocence. I can’t evaluate the mood of the Russian society as I am outside of Russia together with my family now but rather a well-known guy whom I used to know in the golden years of my country (and who sadly seems to be leaving us forever) claims that 90% of Russians are against the war.
    Personally I am against the war and waiting for the sequel of “the death of Stalin”

    Comment by A.russian — April 20, 2022 @ 12:44 am

  24. Something cheap that could be a game changer is the use of Thermal Cameras made by Flir. I have an old FLIR MWIR Prism literally made in the 90s that I can see hundreds of yards away in perfect (scary) resolution. I bought an old A40M for $400 that runs at 60hz and 320×240 resolution that would be more than sufficient/very light weight. The Exk series also used embedded firmware to artificially reduce the frames per second so FLIR could use the same processors on their manufacturing line but have three different versions to sell. You can jail break a few thousand of those bad boys that sell for $100-200 and slap them on the helmets of every soldier and the darkness may wind up bringing a relative benefit for the much more mobile Ukrainians

    Comment by MP — April 20, 2022 @ 7:42 pm

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