Big noisy clumsy war
February 26, 2015 § Leave a comment
Look at Russia’s war against Ukraine. It has been hailed as the first 4th generation war, a smart, hybrid, decentralized war that renders the old 3rd generation type of war obsolete, the standard force-on-force contained battlefield war most people can relate to since WWII onward. However, the Russo-Ukrainian war is 4th generation warfare only inasmuch the initial contact goes, until 3rd generation war cranks up in earnest.
4th gen war worked fine in Crimea becase there was no readiness on behalf of the defender. Complete strategic surprise was acheived and ”small green men” could successfully embed with the civilian population to evade standard battlefield annihilation. Not that Ukraine was ready to leverage such destruction as would be necessary, but, still, it worked, and it was dubbed 4th gen war.
In the ramp-up to overt combat in Sloviansk and Kramatorsk, in Donetsk, Luhansk, Horlivka and thirty other little places where town halls and police stations were overpowered by ”local separatists”, 4th gen war also worked to perfection. The aggressor embedded with the populace and merged with bona fide local combatants – little did it matter that these ”bona fides” were drunks, outcasts and cheaply bought criminals – to evade standard battlefield annihilation. Ukraine’s army and security forces were powerless to intervene lest they be dubbed murderers of civilians. Russia hid its combatants behind and in amongst a human shield. Land grab ensued.
Other aspects of 4th gen war are of course in evidence, such as: intense psychological warfare; terrorism as a tactic; economic, political and social warfare; maskirovka in terms of identity and leadership (who’s boss today, will he be boss tomorrow?); and noncombatants, used as political tools and as hostage against standard military annihilation.
However, ten months later, we’re back to generation 3 or even generation 2 on the evolutionary scale of warfare. War in Donbass has deteriorated and stripped away – at least in the front line – the outer shell of modern contactless warfare and revealed the raw machinery beneath.
Back to Gen 3
Now war is waged with regular battlefield formations employing the full gamut of tools save piloted combat aircraft. Russia has driven in BM-21 GRAD, BM-27 Uragan, BM-30 Smerch and their newest Tornado multiple rocket launchers (MLRS); the fig leaf ”separatists” are operating the newest T-72B2 and B3 tanks; there are enough mortars, medium and heavy artillery to deliver round-the-clock bombardment in depth of the chosen battleground; and there are armored combat vehicles and small arms in just about every bush along the clearly delineated front.
Russia is now waging a generation 3 war, down to massive artillery barrages, massed frontal assault employing tanks and human wave tactics, infiltration tactics and, in the end, close combat with guns, knives and teeth. It is as ugly as it can get, and there are pictures and video to prove it.
Generation 4 warfare continues however, beyond the front line, in depth of Ukraine and in depth of Europe. It is waged by economic means, by fear and intimidation, by internetz trolls and by denial and lies in the highest halls of diplomacy. There are essentially two front lines, one for each generation of war, each requiring its own set of tactics to counteract and overcome.
The small cheap distributed war to come?
Quite the introduction eh? My main point with this article is to point at some readily available technology that could, theoretically, tip the scale in the standard generation 3 front line. As described above, the war in Donbass has degenerated to raw muscle and hefty logistics. Fourteen ”humanitarian aid” convoys and daily shipments of ammo and supplies by train to railheads, as well as the twin 6-month long battles for Donetsk Int’l Airport and for Debaltseve indicates that this is a grown man’s war waged with brute force and batallions.
Can such force be broken by anything but reciprocal brute force? Sure it can. That’s what the US Army and other armies of the West have been specializing in for the last three decades. A few things spring to mind:
Small, cheap and disposable drones.
The PD-100/T (IR) nano-UAV or Personal Reconnaissance System (PRS) augmented by laser designator and/or GPS targetting could conceivably pave the way for delivery of smart munitions, such as Hellfire and Javelin missiles, laser-guided bombs and LG mortar/artillery shells. Snug in a foxhole or behind a hill, the soldier can unleash the petite PD-100 and pinpoint enemy hardware for instant destruction, without putting him/herself in harms way.
There’s a whole bevy of similar nano-UAVs in the skunk works. UAV spiders, roaches and bugs, robotic snakes and yet smaller and autonomous nano warrriors the size of mosquitoes, may soon stand ready to infest the battleground – listening, monitoring, pinpointing and ultimately, fighting.
Fire detection radar and automated response
Weapon locating systems, employing radar and/or simple triangulation, to determine where a rifle shot or artillery shell is fired from, is part of the basic army toolkit and have been so for quite some time. If you fire a gun, you’ll have your counter-battery shell coming down on you within seconds. This is why modern artillery pieces shoot and scoot: you have 30 seconds to redeploy before the reply comes crashing down. In Donbass this materiél is largely amiss on the Ukrainian side, allowing Russian artillerymen to remain in situ without much fear of counter-battery fire.
These systems are now becoming smaller and ever more portable. Vehicles packing machine guns and autocannon can respond immediately and defeat an attacker within milliseconds of discharge. A Personal Warning System for individual soldiers is also coming of age and is being integrated in standard-issue army combat gear as we speak. This will give soldiers a fair indication of where fire is coming from so as to guide the grunt in responding quickly and effectively. These things are of course pretty expensive and cannot be deployed throughout the army at large – more likely, small and specialized units will field these systems while the general-issue grunt goes without.
Great. However, there’s a prerequisite: before small, smart and inexpensive tools of trade can be employed, you will need a large, expensive and noisy army to establish a suitably stable front line.
Given the combination of masses of cheap disposable nano-warriors and swift unexpected death from above, how can any 3-gen soldier expect to get out alive? Hiding under a bush or in a foxhole will bring no relief from these unseen warriors and their annihilating thunderbolts; night is as day and there can be no safe haven, anywhere. Why even attempt to fight under such circumstances? Against such a threat, all you can do is surrender or walk away without fighting. This is of course the constant and hollow promise of new technology, for there will always be ways around, ways to circumvent or defeat the threat by other means.
Finally, what’s available to one is soon available to all, requiring countermeasures in kind. And both UAV’s and smart munitions can be defeated by electronic warfare measures and potent close-in anti-aircraft systems such as the Pantsir-1, which will no doubt be ubiquitous wherever Russia lays its Schwerpunkt.