An Observation About Possible Military Lessons from the Ukraine War

Today, 7 February 2024, it is becoming clear that military prospects are turning quickly in favor of the Russians, this for reasons that I’ve noted in past posts and will address again in the near future. Now, however, seems a good time to write down some initial observations regarding things our Army will necessarily be looking as, hopefully, ‘lessons learned.’

There’s a lot to consider from a purely military standpoint.  By ‘purely’ I mean trying to distance oneself from the politics and geopolitics of the thing. Some phenomena are obvious enough even for those of us who cannot have been on the ground there and who have no access to information gleaned from high end intelligence systems or trusted agents. In other words, there are at least of few things that can be said by someone admittedly ignorant of what might be the “good stuff.”

Here, then is what I see:

Along the front lines in Eastern Ukraine the death of a Russian soldier (or at least the destruction of a vehicle he’s riding in) became the elemental proxy for mapping Russian military progress or loss. Conversely the Ukrainians. The community of “mappers” of the war figure that if a Ukrainian drone, artillery or missile strike against a Russian target is reported with video proof, then, if geolocated, it well represents how far the Russians gotten – key to the logic being that a Ukrainian doesn’t blow up one of his own and publish the video. Conversely the Russians. Obvious enough maybe, but I don’t remember a war in which there was so much near-term public aerial video reporting that an information standard could be established for broad geographic and temporal proof. It makes a lot of sense, though. The website Military Summary Channel has been following the rubric for a long time now. One of the consequences is an enjoyable exposure of deceptive propaganda by both sides. We are allowed a pretty good idea where the front is, giving a few thousand yards and a week or two one way or the other.

The drones did that (crushed the Bagdad Bobs), but maybe the neocons will forgive us for arguing that the drones’ lethality is more consequential than their reportage. The two are linked. A small drone can only bomb a little, but it can call to its 155 mm big brother.  And there are so many drones. There are horrifying high-def videos out there of individual soldiers trying to hide from some drone operator, even begging to be spared. Then they are not spared; they get blown to pieces. The moral hazard is evidently less for a drone sniper than for the classic one.

Drone warfare has evolved before our eyes. Drone on drone combat, use of drones against older aircraft types, use of drones to enter buildings and holes, drone-based leaps in electronic warfare, drone swarm attacks, long distance swarm attacks. The price points for these things are so relatively low that calling them a “game changer” just doesn’t cut it. Not just the machine costs are way less. The pilots. And the manufacturing base. The probability of distributing their manufacture to cottage industries (the way the Colombian FARC did landmines) is too certain. Their impact has been rapid and frightening enough that efforts to counter them technologically are being pressed at the greatest speed. Lasers, they say. Jeeze, the infantryman has never been fond of all the metal things those other people send to kill him on the battlefield. He sure isn’t going to like high energy lasers, even if they rid his life of the drones.

Which brings us to what might be the most significant of all the observations we have to process from the Ukraine War: The surface is so dangerous, as well as the sky above it, that the only readily available answer for keeping the kid alive is several yards of dirt, rock and concrete over his head – mole life. We don’t read much about the progress being made in digging machines, but it’s out there. A key issue in underground combat movement: How do you get back out of the ground without their noticing?

In the middle of the Ukraine War, Hamas attacked Israel. We can pin the disheartening normalization of atrocity on Hamas. Other than that wicked innovation, all the things I mentioned above about the Ukraine War ditto for the Hamas War. Two examples should be enough. Ground combat changed pdq.

One other thought, that might be premature, but probably not by much.  There are plenty of historical examples of wars in which regular formations maneuvering on the battlefield could not resolve the contest, could not win the war. The side less able to prevail in position and maneuver warfare (but nevertheless having the resolve and other wherewithal to carry on) refused to submit and devolved the contest into an ugly, drawn-out, debilitating guerrilla fight. That might be where things are headed in the Ukraine.

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