The Vaunted Russian Military

Is unjustifiably vaunted.

[Update Thursday morning]

The very model of the modern Russian general:

Russian operational doctrine relies on a brittle top-down approach to command, which means that when (not if) a plan encounters unexpected setbacks, subordinates lack the flexibility and initiative to adapt to the new circumstances. Without a professional non-commissioned officer (NCO) corps and subordinate commanders who are expected and trusted to adapt to changing circumstances, senior Russian commanders, fearful of being sacked, have been required to expose themselves to hostile fire to direct tactical details rather than focusing on strategic or operational concerns. But the progress of the war thus far suggests that Russian problems are systemic and cannot be corrected by even the presence of senior officers doing the job of colonels and majors.

The relief of Russian commanders, which set this entire sequence into motion, has led some to suggest that a U.S. shortcoming in recent years has been our failure to fire unsuccessful generals. In the words of one critic, “a private who loses his rifle is subject to greater punishment than a general who loses a war.”

…The real problem that the U.S. military faces today is its loss of focus on the factors that underlie military effectiveness. “Diversity,” “inclusion,” and other buzzwords do not win wars. As the Russian experience in Ukraine suggests, neither does a broken system. The continued stalemate in Ukraine, which has dampened this year’s Victory Day celebration in Moscow, illustrates that the modern Russian general faces a task even more daunting than that of his American counterpart.

Both systems are broken, in different ways.

42 thoughts on “The Vaunted Russian Military”

  1. Neocon propaganda? Who knows. Never heard of this website or who owns them. Also featured on the site an article with the title
    “New audiotapes have leaked of Sen. Lindsey Graham saying that Trump ‘went too far’ and ‘plays the TV game,’ while calling Biden the ‘best person to have’ post-January 6”

    Yep, solid reporting there and Lindsey is a total Neocon.

    1. In the case of people who complain of ignorance, I’m normally inclined to advise that search engines are your friends. In the case of your seemingly bottomless proclivity to believe baseless nonsense, however, search engines would likely not be your friends as their outputs would likely cause your head to explode.

    1. Enh, Russia has been getting the shit kicked out of them.

      When they opened the war, it looked like they had their stuff together but after that, all of their problems were exposed. Any one thing Russia could probably deal with but they have a lot of bad things happening at the same time.

      Then they discovered that the West has weapon systems designed specifically to take advantage of Russian tank design flaws.

      Then a rando billionaire provided a communications network that can’t be jammed and can handle lots of data that allows for Ukraine to operate much the way the US would, if we were creative.

      The USA is discovering that while Ukraine is thankful for the help, they are going to make decisions based on what is good for them and not the USA. This creates a dangerous situation.

      1. Yes. As we’ll soon learn, it’s hard to be the world’s policeman when you’ve loaned out your gun to someone on the street….

        1. We’re providing a lot more ammunition than guns, per se. But even the “guns” aren’t exactly pocket pieces and require spare parts and maintenance. Withholding those has proven to be a pretty effective de-fanging approach with, for example, the Islamic Republic of Iran and all the U.S.-built weaponry it “inherited” from the late Shah. And Ukraine isn’t exactly Iran.

        1. That depends on how spiteful the Russians are and whether or not we have some secret weapons to counter them should they decide to poison the water.

  2. Pictures of western handheld GPS units mounted in the cockpits of frontline Russian fighters have been around since 2016 or earlier. It’s pretty common knowledge in military aviation circles.

    1. And we (the US Military) was doing it in Desert Storm.

      The issue is that we installed them permanently – even in 1970s aircraft like the A10.

    2. Old, old meme (I wonder if some Roman Legionnaire said something similar?)…

      There are also old stories about Air National Guard pilots buying Fuzz-Buster radar detectors, with their own money, and using them in dogfights against more modern USAF pilots. Or an anecdote I heard even earlier than that was a friend that got back from Alaska, back when it was a “leg Infantry” unit and talking about using Off-The Shelf civilian items because it took decades to get anything approved through military procurement…

      1. Servicemembers often purchase their own gear, because what is issued is designed by a committee and may not be best for the individual.

        Lots of folks buy their own boots, for example: I find that the issue boots are quite comfortable (for me) and some of the big name brands are not. When I was still in the Air Guard, we had customized helmet bags and pubs bags, which is still a thing (although the pub bags are MUCH smaller since it’s all on a tablet now).

      2. I don’t know about Air Guard using “fuzz busters” but early USAF/USN aggressor squadrons flying older aircraft (A-4 / T-38 etc) not originally equipped with an RWR (radar warning receiver) would use them so they could detect the air to air radar of fighters they were going up against.

        1. I recall reading in the 1980s that Navy fighter pilots had modified FuzzBusters in their cockpits because their standard radar warning receivers had not been upgraded to detect the latest frequencies being used.

    3. The Russian provided HIP I rode around in while secunded (1997 or so) to the U.N. in NW Sahara used civilian GPS to navigate.

      1. I flew an Air Guard C130 to Armenia in 1988, taking an urban search and rescue team.

        From California we flew to DC, then Maine, then Scotland, then Finland where we picked up a Russian AF navigator, who had to direct us in Russia.

        All ADF. No VOR, no Tacan. We actually installed a second ADF into the aircraft just for this. No ATC transponder, either – I don’t know if they were just unable, or just aholes. Considering how much the Soviet naviguesser smoked, I’m going with ahole.

        We could not look at his charts, either (classified). From Helsinki, we went to Moscow, then to Armenia, and a few days later returned via the same route: By the time we got there, any hope had pretty much passed.

        But that was all pre-GPS. Our NAV did have a portable civilian Loran-C but it didn’t work too well.

  3. It has been amazing watch Russia flounder. Even if they had well maintained equipment and supply lines, they still would have been overwhelmed by the help from the West. The one they could control and the other, they should have anticipated to some degree.

    Things change though, as all the history nerds here know, so we can’t count on Russia always doing the wrong thing and that they won’t decide to treat us like the active participant we are. We also can’t count on American civilian or military leaders. Well, that isn’t true. We can count on them to try and find a way to get some of that $40 billion.

    1. We’re at the point where this can’t end well, no matter the outcome. Oh,, well. At least we proved our missiles actually work. That’s gotta be good for business. My new conspiracy theory is that the Progressive/Neocon Axis of Evil thinks we’ll wind up with a Chinese style world government with themselves in charge. Speaking of things not ending well.

  4. Well little unfair we comparing the Russian ineptitude through the lens of the US and kinda tough to compare with this. There a reason why there is a whole lot less successful wars’ of aggression. Even when we are doing it, and we have been more successful than most, especially if it has been telegraphed.

    I have a feeling a lot of the Ukraine advantage is not exactly the lethal weapons systems but everything else , Western Night vision, GPS, Drones, communications and electronic warfare. Along with a far less corrupt military procurement system that doesn’t buy cheap tires and a lot of western training.

    I suspect this may have thrown a lot of cold water on China Taiwan ambitions for the immediate future. Though I am sure China is studying it and reorienting themselves accordingly.

    1. About the “this”…

      Even without “universal healthcare” the US spends at least 4x more on the current version of our Welfare State as we do on DoD.

      1. We can’t compare Russia to the USA because Russia spends so much on healthcare…

        I think even with these inflated budgets, Defense is still a smaller chunk than entitlements and both are dwarfed by the discretionary slush fund being pumped into Democrat NGOs, and government agencies. Having a military has objectively not stopped us on spending as much money as Democrats want on everything they want to spend money on.

        1. And yet, healthcare outcomes in the US are tremendously better than in Russia. Always have been, too.

          How often to you hear of a prince or potentate going to Russia for health care? Not even Castro went for his cancer surgery.

    2. “I suspect this may have thrown a lot of cold water on China Taiwan ambitions for the immediate future. ”

      I don’t.

      It’s much easier to resupply Ukraine from depots in Western Europe and then back-fill the depots from across the Atlantic.

      It’s impossible for Putin to interdict the resupply without attacking western European countries. That starts a European war.

      It’s less risky to zap/interdict/blockade re-supply ships, in international waters, on their way to Taiwan. NOT risk free – but much less risky.

      1. Since everyone is speculating about all kinds of scenarios, there are some good threads floating around. I read one about the geographic challenges of invading Taiwan that was a little reassuring. Knowing how Western and Russian equipment performed in Ukraine has to cause China to re-evaluate their own preparedness and effectiveness considering a lot of their equipment has a Russian pedigree.

        I don’t think it changes China’s desires but it does change their calculations.

      2. The russians have trouble extending beyond 100km of railroads.

        Think the Chinese are going to do better over 160km of ocean?

  5. There was a time – soon after the end of the Vietnam War, that the US considered its forces “hollowed out” and ineffective. That changed with Reagan.

    It is not impossible for Russia to realize they fooled themselves regarding readiness for sizable battle and make the necessary changes in the future.

  6. Back during the Israeli ’72 War, we resupplied Israel with huge amounts of armaments. And this was to the detriment of US force readiness.

    At that time I spoke with an Army reservist who told me that things got so bad for troops in Europe that he could not get a replacement barrel for his .45.

  7. Both systems are broken, in different ways.

    I’d love to hear of historical examples of civilizations that flourished following the principles of diversity, inclusion and equity as their primary objectives.

    …Still waiting….

    1. Singapore is a multicultural country that works. It’s population is 18% Muslim but people seem to get along with one another and prosper.

  8. Could we please stop whistling past the graveyard here?

    To give one example of unquestioned Russian superiority, let’s take a look at their main battle tanks, everything from the T-64 to the T-90M. Those use autoloaders for main gun ammunition, conta US tanks which use manual loading.

    While autoloaders are actually slower than a well-trained loader (so no speed advantage), and do require that the ammo be stored in the crew compartment rather than in an armored box with blowout panels, Russian tanks have an unquestioned (and well-demonstrated in many engagements over the years) advantage over US tanks; turret elevation.

    As an example, take a look at this photo of a T-72 tank turret, which weighs about 12 tons, in elevated mode (where its field of view is vastly enhanced). No tank in the US arsenal can match this, due to none having autoloaders.
    https://nypost.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/2/2022/05/russian-tank-strike-05.jpg

  9. The post-enlightenment Russian military has maybe three big notches in it’s belt, and they are all protection of the core country against deep incursions by foreign empires from the West (Sweden, France, Germany). Not insignificant. But it has not conquered new territory without first bleeding itself near the point of death since at least Peter through Catherine the Great; and their conquests were largely north Asian backwaters.

    This is not an indictment. Anyone who has played Risk knows the Russian strategic position is terrible. They sit on an unbelievably large plot of flat land with a population that has little chance of organically defending it.

    To the east there are 3 vectors for invasion (Scandinavia, northern European plain, Romania) straight to the heart of their most productive and populous territory.

    To the south are Islamic and Indian empires with historically high variance. When they are low they are protected natural barriers that are asymmetrically far from the Russian homeland and so make no sense to try and conquer when they are weak. When they are strong they can break the mountain and desert barriers and overrun thousands of kilometers of productive land.

    To the west, endless horse tribes that come out of nowhere to take over the world every 500 years or so. If not them, Chinese kingdoms who can sacrifice more people in battle than the entire Russian population. Death by swamp, mosquito, ice, mountain, and desert if you’re foresighted enough to try to defend it.

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