Monday, August 8, 2016

The New Russian Artillery

King of Battle!

The performance of Russian artillery in Ukraine strongly demonstrates that, over the past two decades, the Russians have gotten a technological jump on us. The United States’ strategic drones, the ones that plink terrorists from bases in Nevada, are more advanced than Russia’s. But Russian tactical drones, which spot for artillery, are far superior (and far more numerous) than ours. In 2014, when the Battle of Debaltseve began, the Ukrainians reported that as many as eight Russian tactical drones orbited over their heads at any one time. 

Additionally, the electronic warfare technology demonstrated by the Russians in Ukraine is the best in the world, far better than ours. During the 240-day siege of the Donetsk airport, the Russians were able to jam GPS, radios and radar signals. Their electronic intercept capabilities were so good that the Ukrainians’ communications were crippled. Ukrainian commanders complained that a punishing barrage would follow any radio transmission within seconds.

Does this mean that the Russian army is superior to ours? No, not at all. If we fought the Russians today, we would win. Ours is a highly trained force of half a million soldiers. Two-thirds of Vladi­mir Putin’s 800,000 soldiers are one-year conscripts whose fighting skills are questionable. The Russian air force is also no match for ours. 

But the Ukrainian experience tells us that the cost in blood of any such contest would be high.

A tragic decline of a war-fighting arm that once was our Army’s most lethal should serve as a cautionary tale. This diminution of war-fighting capability in our European army comes at an inauspicious time: when Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump publicly questions the value of defending Europe and the 44th administration is spending hundreds of billions of dollars on big, high-tech systems optimized to fight at sea in Asia. 

Yet in today’s wars, more prosaic weapons such as small arms, mines and artillery are killing our soldiers. Add in the fact that we have forfeited what formerly was an overwhelming U.S. battlefield capability, and we can only imagine what deadly consequences may result from our good intentions.