When the history of Russia’s proxy war against NATO — i.e., the Special Military Operation in Ukraine — it will mark the point in history where conventional military operations predicated on doctrine established in World War II will be vanquished. ISR — i.e., Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance — is the true game changer and Russia, not NATO nor Ukraine, emerges as the military that has recognized this reality and adjusted its tactics accordingly. The West, by contrast, was lulled into complacency over the last twenty years because it employed its ISR, especially drones, against enemies that could not counter Western technology or shoot down our drones.
It is now impossible for conventional militaries to move men and equipment without being detected. During World War II the Soviets and the Brits were very creative and effective in deception operations, such as creating fictitious armies, that fooled the Germans into believing an attack was coming from one direction while failing to detect the real build up of forces. Locating enemy forces on the move or gathering in strength relied solely on fixed wing aerial surveillance, limited interception of encrypted communications and human sources (i.e. spies).
Today, the ISR capability of both the West and Russia is like the all-seeing eye of Sauron. During World War II darkness and cloud cover enabled commanders to move forces without a great risk of being detected. That is no longer the case, especially with satellite coverage of contested territory. Satellite optics and those on board fixed wing aircraft — both manned and unmanned — pierce the night and the clouds.
What does this mean for the Generals charged with preparing and executing battle plans? You must assume you are being watched by the other side and take measures to mitigate the various eyes watching your troops move into battle.
This brings me to the Ukrainian counter offensive and why it is failing. Ukraine, following the advice of NATO planners, is sending its forces across heavily mined, open fields without any air cover. This is the equivalent of a World War II banzai charge by despairing Japanese soldiers who are low on ammunition. They ran towards entrenched American positions hoping their numbers would overwhelm the defenders. They rarely succeeded and suffered devastating casualties in the process.
Today Ukraine is employing a similar tactic. But Ukraine is not sending 200,000 men in thousands of tanks and armored personnel carriers hoping to overwhelm Russia’s capability fire enough artillery, drones, missiles and bombs to stop the assault. Instead it is sending units, perhaps as large as 2000 men with a scattering of tanks and vehicles, and are melting away in the face of a Russian firestorm.
The following videos highlight the desperate plight of the Ukrainian forces:
If you want a benchmark for comparisons sake I suggest you read Big Serge’s latest on substack — Götterdämmerung in the East. The size and scale of the Soviet offensives in 1944 and 1945 dwarf anything happening today in Ukraine but illustrate the power of large scale troop movements backed up by robust artillery, thousands of tanks and air superiority. Neither Ukraine nor NATO are capable of anything on this scale.
Russia is being very chary about revealing publicly its disposition of forces. However, I find it hard to believe that the United States and NATO, thanks to their ISR assets, do not have a pretty good idea of how many troops Russia has deployed along the 900 mile line of conflict. Any plans for attacking a strong point is a simple math problem — you have to have enough men and firepower to overwhelm the Russians. Yet we know the answer to that calculation — Ukraine is lacking in manpower, tanks, vehicles, artillery, mobile air defense and combat air. It does not have the power to punch through all of the Russian defenses, much less even the first line of defense erected by General Surovikin last fall.
So here is the billion dollar question — why did the West not encourage, hell, demand that Ukraine use Himars and Storm Shadow missiles to attack those defensive lines while they were being constructed? I believe the answer is simple — Ukraine lacked the offensive tools required for such a mission and, even if such supplies had been available, the odds are high that Russia could have thwarted those efforts.
We are witnessing military malpractice by the West on a grand scale. Did the NATO planners really believe the propaganda nonsense that portrayed the Russian military as a decrepit, doddering army of incompetents? If so, the West is now learning a very hard lesson and now must come to grips with the fact that NATO’s delusional calculation that Ukraine could shatter the Russian military is a complete bust.