I don’t want this to be one of those long articles I’m known for, but parts of it will require more than a few sentences of explanation. There are several inter-related moving parts that make for what could and should be a lengthy discussion of each but instead I will note them and ask you to keep each in mind as you read an abridged version
- The long awaited Ukrainian counter-offensive began last month. They’ve taken back some territory and are inflicting a lot of damage on Russia but it’s tough going. For those who understand this type of fighting this was expected, so contrary to popular belief by too many things haven’t “bogged down”
- The U.S. is sending a significant number of cluster munitions (mostly artillery) to Ukraine, a decision that’s generating some controversy
- Ukraine in recent days has forcefully and publicly pushed for immediate entry into NATO. President Biden and others have said “not yet”
Again keep all that in mind because they are all significant and related in a fluid situation.
Let’s start with the last one first. Many, including and especially civilians see Ukraine having f-16s as the “magic bullet” that will crush Russia’s forces and bring about a swift end to the war. The problem is not just the training required to fly it, not to mention in close attack combat as well as air-to-air defense is that maintenance is a significant issue. It’s the old logistics, logistics logistics thing and like it or not that’s part of war. Also, while the aircraft themselves are quite expensive, the maintenance of them is even more so. However if Ukraine becomes part of NATO then NATO nations can start flying missions right away. Not to mention bring other aircraft to bear (I keep thinking how devastating the A-10 Warthog would have been in this war) and other assets with NATO members taking direct part in the war. It WOULD bring about a much faster end. The problem would be establishing a just and lasting peace. Especially as it could lead China which hasn’t provide the kind of support people think might decide to do so. And other non-NATO nations would rethink things too.
So that’s not an option. There’s no doubt Ukraine will one day be part of NATO, but first they have to rebuild some and establish a solid working government free of the corruption that Putin worked so hard and for so long to foster.
That brings me to numbers 1 & 2. While Ukraine was spending all those months training, planning and setting up solid lines of communications (in military terms that means being able to ship troops, equipment and ammo/supplies where needed and get equipment ant troops back to rear areas. Maintenance for equipment and rest for troops. Russia wasn’t doing nothing. Take a good look at the title picture.
There have easily been upwards of a hundred thousand, perhaps closer to two hundred thousand conscripts sent to Ukraine. Much has been made of their lack of training, or even equipment. And that part is true. But shovels and picks are easy to provide, and it takes no training to put them to use. Russian combat engineers have the lessons of WWII that still work and are second to no one when it comes to organizing defensive positions. If there’s enough labor they can dig a LOT of damned tough to attack positions and that’s exactly what they spent all those months Ukraine was prepping (for the counter-offensive) doing. Especially in the south of Ukraine so as to protect their “land bridge to Crimea.
Russia didn’t need troops trained to fight so much as they needed laborers to dig. Back breaking work to be sure but when the choices are work to the point of exhaustion day after day digging or being summarily executed those guys mostly have dug. Mile after mile of defensive trench lines, each area with at least several rows of excellent trenches with machine gun emplacements and even anti-air positions. With barbed wire and minefields in between. Once again, look at the title picture. In particular look behind the Russian shown digging.
You’ll see a series of zig-zags, pretty much at right angles with each zig or zag. There’s a militarily scientific reason for this. An artillery shell dropping into a straight or even curved trench can kill troops with shrapnel and via secondary explosions of ammo, hand grenades and mortar rounds. However, when such a blast hits a right angle little of it makes the ninety degree turn, but instead goes skyward. Incredible as it seems, someone can be fairly close to that right angle turn, around the corner from the blast and not only survive but be able to fight!
It takes a LOT of artillery rounds to score even one direct hit into a trench. Given what I’ve explained about proper construction (and again, this is something Russia learned how to do before any of us were born) there is nowhere near enough artillery and mortar rounds to do large amounts of damage to Russians manning those trenches. Cluster munitions on the other hand greatly increase the odds of landing and exploding in trenches. Most of the artillery shells will likely be the type that disperse a couple hundred bomblets and over a decent enough sized area that it’s akin to a hand grenade – if you’re within the kill radius of a hand grenade (30 meters back in my day) you’re toast. multiply that by a factor of five to ten for a cluster bomb and it’s easy to see why Russia, which has used these things with great effect in Ukraine is sh*tting bricks at the prospect of thousands of cluster bombs raining down on THEM!
Ukrainian forces still will have the problem of those minefields to contend with but if they can kill or badly wound large numbers of those in those trenches, the problem is more manageable. It gives them a better chance of breaking through to the rear of Russia’s defensive lines and that’s when the tide truly turns and Russia is screwed.
The problem with cluster munitions is the same one that exists with land mines and led to so many countries banning their use. As with land mines, not all those bomblets in cluster bombs explode when they are supposed to and can lie just under the ground for years. Decades even. And kill or badly wound civilians long after a war is over. They are tough to find, even with good records of where they were deployed. Hence the controversy about sending much of the stockpile we held on to over to Ukraine. It’s one of those moral choices that will be forever debated. For the record, I’ve given it a lot of thought and with a lot of it from the perspective of having once been a Marine grunt. And I come down on the side of yes, President Biden made a tough but correct decision on this.
You might disagree and I can respect that. But keep in mind how I started this. There are three inter-related issues interacting this very minute and will do so in the months to come. This war is over 18 months old now and while NATO and other countries are holding firm, Putin can’t back down either. By fall Russia needs to be much deeper in the hurt locker than it already is or support could start to waiver come winter. Ukraine needs a breakthrough, particularly in the south and they need it in the next month or two.
I realize this still got longer than many of you wanted to have to read but I thank those of you who did. I spent most of the day coming up with something even of this length that would convey the basics, and trust me when I say what I’ve laid out regarding all three points is pretty basic.