A Blog by Jonathan Low


May 20, 2022

Marine Vet Training Ukrainian Soldiers Reveals What US Can Learn From Them

Veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan now training or fighting in Ukraine report that what the largely inexperienced Ukrainian troops face in the war against Russia is far more frightening and intense than anything encountered in 20 years of combat in the Middle East. 

If NATO is to not repeat the Russian Army's failures, it must recognize that war continues to evolve and that fighting a heavily armed opponent with modern weaponry is different from fighting lightly armed, if effective jihadis - and that having the humility to understand this reality is essential. JL  

Stavros Atlamazoglou reports in Business Insider:

Few in the US military have experienced the intensity of combat experienced by our Ukrainian counterparts. Shouldering an anti-tank weapon against a column of T-72s knowing that you are well within range of the enemy's weapons or sitting in the basement of a half-demolished house while Russian artillery pounds the ground above you waiting for the first Russian foot soldier to come down the steps so that you can kill him are experiences that few of us in the West have shared. And Ukrainians are humble enough to realize that experiences like that don't by themselves make proficient soldiers. Ukrainian infantry thrown into the defense of Kyiv had to learn on the job.

How Volunteers Help Ukraine's Overwhelmed Doctors Treat Flood of Wounded

Some who cannot serve or have not yet been called up in the armed forces are volunteering in hospitals and on ambulance crews to help deal with the flood of wounded from Russian shelling in eastern Ukraine. 

Others are helping acquire much needed medical supplies. JL 

Michael Schwirtz and Lynsey Addario report in the New York Times:

As Russian forces pummel eastern Ukraine with artillery, airstrikes and rocket attacks, frontline hospitals have become overwhelmed. They are severely short-staffed. Volunteers have pitched in to pick up the slack at locations on the edge of the battlefield where wounded soldiers are picked up by ambulances and rushed to the nearest hospital. Most of the surgeons operating out of the hospital in Kramatorsk are volunteers. A member of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, after training in California, put out an appeal through the society’s newsletter for equipment and medical supplies.

Captives Confirm Data That Russian Troop Strength Is Significantly Overstated

A Russian BTG (battalion tactical group) is the standard measure of that army's combat potential. 

But recent reports suggest that most BTGs still serving in Ukraine are shells of authorized manpower and weaponry, some as low as 90% below standard. They do not have enough functional equipment to attack, let alone retrieve dead and wounded. JL 

Daily Kos:

On paper, a Russian BTG should have 600-800 soldiers, 10 tanks, and 40 infantry fighting vehicles (along with assorted artillery, air defense, and logistics/support vehicles). In reality, deployed BTGs rarely arrived at full strength, in large part because of grift. At this point, Russian BTGs are mostly shattered remnants. At Dovhenke, a normal company is four platoons, each of which should have 30-40 infantrymen. Each platoon has four sections, 7-10 soldiers each. What should’ve been a company with 120-160 soldiers, had 13. "Company commanders in the two battalions of the 752th regiment told (us) that we are being sent to a sure death, since the Ukrainians are well prepared. So they said, decide for yourself if you want to go or not. Four fifths of us refused."

Why the Decade of Cheap Uber Rides Is Over

Investors subsidized cheap ride hailing for a decade in order to corner the market and drive out cabs as well as public transportation. 

The investors now want their return on investment - and drivers who have options thanks to the Great Resignation - expect to make a living wage. Which means those who came of age expecting a $5 ride anywhere face a lifestyle change. JL 

Henry Grabar reports in Slate, image Andrew Kelly, Reuters:

Uber has lost an astounding sum since its founding in 2009 - $30 billion in the five years since the company’s finances became public. This amounted to an enormous, investor-fueled subsidy of  ride-hailing habits. Those days are over.  Rides have been getting - and will continue to get - more expensive. Uber prices rose 92% between 2018 and 2021. Both Uber and Lyft have added a surcharge for riders that helps drivers account for high gas prices. (But) that subsidy distorted the market, quashed business models that might have thrived. Those effects might reverse if rising prices push people back onto the bus.

People Problems: Russia Cannot Win In Ukraine While It Mistreats Its Soldiers

The Russian military has for centuries been notorious for mistreating its soldiers. 18th century peasants would hide their sons from the Czars conscriptors. Stalin's KGB often shot WWII troops who retreated. 

And now Putin's army is sending its soldiers on suicidal missions, shooting wounded and withholding pay. But in the modern era, this has an adverse impact on morale and operational effectiveness evident in the army poor performance in Ukraine. JL  

Dara Massicot reports in Foreign Affairs, image Maksim Levin, Reuters:

Despite its multiple advantages on paper, Russia has stumbled strategically, operationally, and tactically in Ukraine. Its problems are linked by a core underlying theme: the military’s lack of concern for the lives and well-being of its personnel. In Ukraine, the Russian military (fails) to retrieve the bodies of its dead, obscures casualties, and is indifferent to worried military families. This culture of indifference lowers troops’ morale and degrades combat effectiveness. Feeding the country’s young men into a (military) “wood chipper” does not bode well for future recruiting and retention.

How Ratios Including Intangibles Shape Military Strategy, As Evidenced In Ukraine

Force ratios measure the weight of specific numbers an attacker must have over a defender in order to prevail. 

Initial assessments of such ratios suggested Russia would quickly overwhelm Ukraine due to its vastly larger army and its weaponry. But force ratios have also focused renewed attention on the generally unmeasured power of intangibles like leadership, morale, intelligence, logistics and tactical competence. Which is why Ukraine is winning. JL 

Josh Zumbrun reports in the Wall Street Journal:

The 3:1 rule (is) the ratio by which attackers must outnumber defenders in order to prevail. The war in Ukraine has brought renewed interest in force ratios. Other ratios in military doctrine include the numbers needed to defeat unprepared defenders, resist counterinsurgencies or counterattack flanks. Russia’s military has quadruple the personnel and infantry vehicles, triple the artillery and tanks, and 10 times the armored personnel carriers. (But) Russia’s struggles underscore how real wars are far more complex. Ratios don’t account for Western intelligence and materiel support, for Ukrainian resolve, for low Russian morale, for Russia’s logistical struggles, or for Russian tactical errors.

May 19, 2022

The Reason Ukraine Is Winning the Drone War Against Russia

The Russians underinvested in drones during the 1990s and early 2000s, not believing in their capabilities. 

The Ukrainians were more interested, in part because of their closer connection to US tech trends. Russia is now attempting to catch up but is unable to access crucial parts due to sanctions, while Ukraine continues to innovate and expand its fleet, with impressive results. JL 

Dan Sabbagh reports in The Guardian, image Stars and Stripes:

Moscow had long lagged behind in drone technology. The Ukrainian military took advantage of the fact that Russia did not control the airspace and did not have persistent electronic warfare defenses. As the war becomes increasingly attritional, and armed drones are knocked out, the US has agreed to supply to Ukraine 700 of the kamikaze, Switchblade drones, with a range of six or 25 miles, loitering munitions that can hang in the sky and smash down, with fearful effect on their target. “Drones are a war-enabling technology, and what we have seen is Ukraine responding in a quicker and more agile way.”