New York Times, Defense Intelligence Agency Go Wobbly on Ukraine Prospects as Militias + Russia Continues to Grind Down Opposition in Donbass

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One robin does not make a spring, but two just might. Curiously right on the heels of Congressional approval of an unseemly $40 billion aid package to US arms merchants and NGOs Ukraine, the Defense Intelligence Agency and the New York Times both took a much less bullish tone on the prospects for Ukraine than had been the official and the media norm. If this post does not get overly long, I’ll also make some comments on what the new Defense Intelligence Agency Worldwide Threat Assessment, embedded at the end of this post, says and does not say about China.

As we’ve recounted for some time, after Russia’s initial miscalculation that a series of troop movements deep into Ukraine that encountered some stiff resistance would still bring Ukraine to the negotiating table (well actually it did, and even got significant concessions too until the US and UK made Ukraine walk them back), Russia reoriented its operations to focus on destroying Ukraine’s best forces in the east, first by neutering the Azov Battalion stronghold in Mariupol and second by grinding down a large concentration of troops in Donbass. They were in a not fully enclosed cauldron (but departure across open fields to the west was hazardous given Russian control of the sky).

Russia has been proceeding slowly and systematically, destroying resupply by taking out fuel depots, refineries, equipment repair factories, and arms depots and more recently, electrical train substations and bridges. Russia also isolate smaller groups and pounds them with artillery to get them to surrender or wipe them out. This approach is not just to lower Russian casualties and increase the odds of Ukraine surrender/capitulation. It also is meant to undercut the supposed Ukraine advantage of extensive and well fortified bunkers in Donbass. If you are short on ammo, food, and water, those bunkers start looking less like protection and more like a possible coffin.

Since this isn’t how the US does war, of course the Russians had to be losing, had to be resorting to this method out of weakness. But non-mainstream analysts with actual military experience, like Scott Ritter, Bernhard at Moon of Alabama, Andrei Martyanov, the eccentric but knowledgeable Jacob Dreizen, Daniel Davis, and Douglas Macgregor all have taken issue with the West’s dismissiveness, usually backed with specifics. And the counter was typically not to rebut them substantively, but to go ad hominem and charge them with being too Russia friendly. Even the admitted non-expert Alexander Mercouris yesterday said it was striking to see the sharp contrast between what both Russian and Ukrainian sources were saying about how the battle was going for Ukraine (not well), versus continued Western media cheerleading.

Both Gilbert Doctorow and Moon of Alabama took note of not one but two prominent downbeat articles on Ukraine in the New York Times yesterday. But we’ll turn the mike over to our Dave in Austin:

Anyone seriously interested in how the US defense establishment views the world should carefully read yesterdays’ 70 page, Defense Intelligence Agency Report to the Armed Services Committee of the US senate: https://www.armed-services.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/Berrier%20Statement%20to%20SASC.pdf. Some important nuggets of new information are buried in there and two major international actors are not even mentioned, an indication of how complex the situation really is. Can you spot the two omissions?

Of more immediate short-term interest, this mornings’ NYT on-line edition has suddenly changed its tune and is trying to downplay the economic crisis and turning much more cautions on the Ukraine war.

First, this strange economics headline for the lead story (top left):
“Inflation Pressures Remain Strong; Consumer Prices Rise Sharply (subheading) Inflation slowed last month, with an 8.3 percent annual increase in the Consumer Price Index, but a monthly price measure continued to climb briskly. It continues: “It was a slight deceleration from March’s pace of 8.5%”. Briskly?

On the Ukraine, the top-left headlines are suddenly leading the readers toward caution:

First headline: “German inflation sets a second consecutive record, driven by high food and energy prices driven by the Ukraine war”

Second headline: “E.U. Falters in Bid for Russian Oil Embargo, Showing Risks of Prolonged War” European Union ambassadors ended talks for the day, having failed to persuade Hungary, which could act as a possible spoiler to European unity. Follow updates.”

Third headline: “Congress has provided more than $50 billion to Ukraine in two months of war, with few questions asked.”

And the lead opinion piece also questions our long-term goals: “Opinion Tom Stevenson America and Its Allies Want to Bleed Russia. They Really Shouldn’t.”

Note that the usual NYT “You should be thinking about women, abortion and LGTBA+ rights” articles are conspicuously absent. You need to scroll-down to the 17th headline to get one of those subjects.

So it seems to me that either the NYT is having its “Walter Cronkite on Vietnam” moment on the Ukraine crisis or the Grey Lady is sensing that the war and the inflation could lead to a Democratic 2022 Congressional electoral disaster six months from now.

Let’s turn briefly to the Threat Assessment report. Some wags speculate that this might be the reason the New York Times is dialing down its war enthusiasm. I have to point out that some bits are still reality-challenged. This is from the opener of the section on Russia:

Russia’s military strength allows Moscow to challenge U.S. global standing and undermine our democracy as it seeks to shape a new world order that is more favorable to its interests and consistent with its authoritarian model.

Even if the “undermine our democracy” is a nod to Russiagate, what exactly do Russia’s troops have to do with 2016?

And Russia does not want a new world order, although Putin has pointed out that the world is becoming multipolar (and China most assuredly does not like the US insisting on playing top banana). Russia did want security guarantees with respect to Ukraine, and when that was blown off repeatedly by the US, as recently as last December, Putin escalated that to wanting a new European security order when he felt he was left with no options other than to invade. If anything, it’s the economic sanctions blowback and our refusal to back down that is undermining US hegemony.

If you read the document, it is also fixated on Russia’s nuclear program, and appears to seriously understate the importance and extent of Russia’s hypersonic missile capabilities. Experts are welcome to correct me if I have this wrong, but I believe that hypersonic missiles can do as much damage as tactical nukes, without the evil fallout (which would blow back on Russia anyhow). Unfortunately, even if this is true, the West may respond to hypersonic missile strikes outside a recognized Russian theater of battle as if they were a nuclear first strike and respond accordingly.

But what is noteworthy is the lack of any positive statement about Ukraine or its capabilities. The best the document could do was depict Russia as initially wanting to capture Kiev, a thesis debunked by Scott Ritter and others, and now making do with lesser combat aims. Note the conclusion:

Russia’s brutal aggression in Ukraine is reviving fears of a more imperial and militaristic Russia, prompting requests from NATO allies for assurances that U.S. security guarantees will be honored. U.S. partners in the former Soviet Union will also look to the United States for signs that they are not being abandoned while adjusting their policies to coexist with a stronger and more emboldened Russia. Russian military modernization efforts will progress even as initial timelines for some programs may have to adjust to likely new economic realities, and Moscow will continue to blend traditional displays of military might with other coercive political, economic, cyber, and information confrontation measures to achieve its geopolitical interests, delineate its redlines, and compel the United States to take its concerns more seriously. Moreover, U.S. efforts to undermine Russia’s goals in Ukraine, combined with its perception that the United States is a nation in decline, could prompt Russia to engage in more aggressive actions not only in Ukraine itself, but also more broadly in its perceived confrontation with the West.

On China, unfortunately I can’t find the clip, but in a long-ish Scott Ritter interview in the last month, he had an important aside about China. He said that the sinking of the Moskva was a big reminder of how large naval ships were vulnerable to attacks from the shore. He then pointed out that China had fortified its real and fake islands on the nine-dash line to the degree that the Seventh Fleet was no longer all that safe operating the area, and he got mighty exercised as to how we had let that happen. Ritter continued by saying that give that fact, plus that Taiwan has a crappy military, that a successful invasion by China was not as big a stretch as Western armchair generals liked to think. He thought that China had no interest in taking over Taiwan unless it made a further move towards independence. The big obstacle to occupation is damaging infrastructure which China values. China would rather hollow out Taiwan over time by creating better career opportunities on the mainland. Despite having lower GDP per capita, some jobs in China already pay more than comparable ones in Taiwan, and that tendency should increase over time.

Sadly, as Lambert noted, we’re already engaging in yet more dangerous China eyepoking:

We can only hope that the US stops trying to escalate on two fronts. But neocons are constitutionally incapable of going into reverse.

00 Defense Intelligence Agency Threat Assessment
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52 comments

  1. Samuel Conner

    re: tactical nuclear vs hypersonic conventional,

    I think that there is approximate equivalence in terms of ‘ability to destroy underground facilities’ (IIRC there was an example of this in western Ukraine in recent weeks). In terms of surface blast damage, that is more related to warhead yield; I think that hypersonic conventional cannot deliver enough mass of explosives to come close to the surface effect of a tactical nuclear device.

    Reply
    1. Yves Smith Post author

      My understanding is that the power of the hypersonic missiles is not due solely to payload but also raw kinetic force. See this:

      Russia’s first ever use in battle of its hypersonic missile called ‘Kinzal’ (Dagger in Russian) on March 19 was intended to incapacitate a Soviet era bunker located several meters underground which was being used as a weapons and fuel storage facility by the Ukrainian Army.

      Located in the village of Delyatyn, Ivano-Frankivsk region, Western Ukraine, it was one of four Central Nuclear Weapons Storage Bases built in the middle of the last century, Russian publication, Tocor.ru reported.

      Known under the names “Ivano-Frankivsk-16” or “Object 711,” it is situated in the Carpathian mountains at a depth of several tens of meters underground. Presumably it is hardened enough to take the impact of a direct bomb or missile attack….

      The anti-nuclear protection of the underground structure does not allow destroying the object with conventional ammunition. Nevertheless, the power of the “Dagger” (including its kinetic energy due to its enormous speed), with an accurate hit, can damage its entrance, ventilation ports, doors, partitions and other less protected portions rendering it inoperable.

      It is not known if the ammunition kept inside the bunker was blown up. A video of the Kinzal hit released by the Russian MoD shows the point of impact and a little smoke. There is no large explosion or several blasts as would happen when stored ammunition is ignited.

      https://www.defenseworld.net/2022/03/21/russian-hypersonic-missile-incapacitated-underground-bunker-designed-to-store-nuclear-weapons.html

      So….

      The Kinzal hit a bunker designed to withstand nuclear attack. Although Defense World can’t independently verify, it seems to think it’s credible that the Kinzal damaged the bunker severely enough to render it useless…which is as good as a nuke would have presumably done, except radiation would have also kept humans away for quite a while.

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      1. Revenant

        There was some discussion of this attack on Moon of Alabama etc. which claimed that site has multiple bunkers and the attack was not on the hardened one.

        I cannot judge.

        The physics means energy will be proportional to the square of the speed. At 7200 km/h strike speed or 2000 m/s, that is 2 MJ of energy for a 1kg solid projectile being dissipated by heat, sound, light and separation of the target.

        A 1kg warhead (assuming 1% of mass is converted by nuclear reaction to energy) would contain c. 9×10^10 MJ. Even allowing for focused directional impact versus radial blast effect from altitude, there are magnitudes of difference in the energy involved.

        I suppose if the hypersonic projectile is explosive or very heavy, it might be a closer match.

        But the best bomb is one you can use and there is a lot more strategic escalation in Mr Kinzhal than in Little Boy and Fat Man.

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      2. Gordon

        I read somewhere that the ‘warhead’ in a hypersonic missile could be as simple as a small tungsten sphere. Tungsten is very dense (almost exactly the same as gold) and very hard so a small sphere delivered at high enough speed would punch through almost anything – carriers and hardened bunkers being likely targets and, as a bonus, no fuse is needed.

        By my quick calculation a 4.6 cm diameter sphere would wight nearly a kilogram and a 20 cm sphere would weigh over 80 kilos.

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    1. Carolinian

      Meteor strikes both ancient and more recent have been described as the equivalent of an atomic bomb.

      As for Ukraine, it seems both the speed and extremity of the West reaction shocked Russia where people proceed on a more reasoned and deliberate basis. Look how long it took Putin to do what the USG has been accusing him of since 2014. Whereas our president, who seems to say whatever pops into his head, doesn’t seem to reason very hard about anything. Perhaps it’s not too much to say that the Western global establishment in general has a reality problem. As Yves has said the 18th century bubble world of Versailles is analogous to modern day Washington.

      Reply
  2. redleg

    Re. hypersonic missiles, or any missile
    Only the people who launch the missile know what kind of warhead it’s carrying.
    Any missile launched toward the US or Russia has to be considered nuclear armed by the target nation, and the only way to find out if it is or not is for it to detonate.
    Now my experience is tactical (brigade level and smaller) so the strategic folks should have a specific answer, but my understanding is that both US and Russia launch counterstrike attacks when enemy missiles are inbound, prior to hitting targets. That would make any and every missile a nuclear trigger event.

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    1. Alyosha

      This is the problem with the hypersonic glide missiles that use an ICBM to for launch. The kinzhal and zircon function like normal cruise missiles. And if the published stats are true come over the horizon almost too fast to be picked up by anti-missile defenses and way too fast for interdiction. I believe I read that over the horizon to impact for a Kinzhal is 2.5 seconds.

      Theoretically then, it would be known to be a non-nuclear warhead by the time defenses were even really engaged. Launched from a bomber, theoretically Russia could put a missile through the front door of the White House from like 1,500 km away (at launch) and there would be no or essentially no warning. The Zircon has a much longer range and is designed for sea launch, including submarine.

      The ICBM issue is problematic for the US as the only current development that I know of works on that concept. Same would go for the Sarmat, but that’s only intended for nuclear war.

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    2. David

      Technically this is a distinction between what’s called Launch-under-Attack, and Launch-on-Warning. The latter seems to have been introduced under Carter in 1979 (there’s a good and reasonably up-to-date history here) and is still in force, although whether it’s as hair-trigger as it was during the Cold War we don’t know.

      But there are a couple of important qualifications. First, LoW was assumed to be in force when there was already a major political crisis between the US and the Soviet Union that could turn into a shooting war, if indeed it hadn’t already done so. At that point, political authority would already have been given in advance for missile launches, and a lot of other things would also have been done: dispersion of aircraft, such civil defence measures as were possible, putting forces on heightened alert, moving government to safer environments and so on. In other words, and Hollywood aside, nobody ever seriously anticipated a nuclear “bolt from the blue,” but rather an attack which was a natural continuation of an existing crisis. Far too much would have to be done to prepare for such an attack for the warning indicators to be missed.

      Secondly, LoW always assumed a massive nuclear attack, partly against ICBM fields themselves, not a single weapon. Indeed, it’s hard to see what the point of a single weapon would be: enough to provoke the end of the world, but too limited to do any terminal damage.

      All of this assumes, however, that warning is possible. This isn’t just a question of detection: also, and more importantly, it’s a question of communicating the information to the people you want to react. Whether that’s even possible with some of these toys is an interesting question.

      Reply
  3. The Rev Kev

    I suppose the truth of the matter is that everybody expects the lightning advances and the grand sweeping movements and find the slow slog in the Ukraine hard to follow. Certainly that would be true of the New York Times which operates as more as a stenography service for Washington DC. I think that what really matters is the cost of those slow advances. Take a look at the attack on Snake Island recently for example. The place is a rock and Russia retained control when it was all over. But in trying to take it, the Ukrainians lost 30 drones, 10 helicopters, three Su-24 bombers, one Su-27 fighter, three Centaur-class assault ships and upwards of 50 special forces and nationalist battalion troops. Rumour has it that there was a British and American officer in that first wave so the suicidal follow-up attacks was to try to retrieve them. Point is that the loss in highly-trained men and all that equipment will take years to replace – and the Ukraine does not have years. So maybe somebody had a quite word with the NYT editorial board and told them how this is all going to go before too long.

    In other news, ‘The Russian ruble has eclipsed 31 major currencies in growth since the start of 2022, becoming the globe’s best-performing currency, Bloomberg reported on Wednesday’

    https://www.rt.com/business/555354-ruble-named-worlds-best-performing-currency/

    You can only ignore reality for so long before it comes up and slaps you in the face.

    Reply
  4. John Merryman.

    You can’t go in reverse when you’re playing checkers, until you reach the other side of the board.

    Reply
  5. scarnoc

    It is quite frightening to me that this is a threat assessment that is used to explain things to congress-lizards and their staffers. The assessment underplays Russian conventional and strategic military capabilities. Current capabilities (particularly strategic nuclear ones) are downplayed or explained as possible future developments instead of current realities.There is a false pretense that sanctions are slowing or harming Russian military-industrial output. There is no detailed description of Russia’s very public and oft-repeated war aims, or of their medium and long term diplomatic aims, none of which have been withdrawn or changed by Moscow. The Russians still intend to push NATO back to its 90s borders, for example. If anything, those medium/long term goals have expanded.

    The special relationship between Beijing and Moscow is described as a series of formal agreements instead of an informal but very close ‘friendship’ that both sides have repeatedly called ‘better than an alliance’. A relatively uninformed reader would conclude that there is space between Mr. Xi and Mr. Putin that USA can exploit. Lizards and their staffers, being creatures who live primarily on TV news, are by definition uninformed, and they will draw all the wrong lessons from these parts of the report.

    The section on Iran does not mention the depth of friendship and cooperation between Iran and Russia, nor the depth of Iran’s growing relationship with PRC.

    There is little in this assessment that explains to the reader just how immense the Russian threat to American unipolarity is right now, today. Given how American congressional and executive leadership talks about Russia like it needs to be completely erased and destroyed, I don’t see any mechanism in front of us that will de-escalate this conflict. Russia will continue to act in accordance with it’s own power and sense of national destiny, stupid American elites will continue to discount and misunderstand that Russian power and overestimate their own power, until at some point we arrive at nuclear exchange. I really, dearly hope I am wrong. I’m putting curtains up in the bunker at this point.

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  6. David

    I suggested last week that we’re seeing a pivot to a new discourse of western (not necessarily Ukrainian) “victory” and Russian “failure”, (rather than defeat). I’m inclined to see the NYT articles as confirmation that this change in discourse is now under way, with the proviso that it’s not organised, and that those writing articles like this may not consciously be aware that they are changing their opinions. As I also said, I think you have to be exquisitely sensitive to small nuances of meaning to pick the changes up. So the use and placing of the word “risks” in the second headline, and the “few questions asked” in the third are both indicative of cold feet, conscious or not. After all, quite recently those who did ask questions about aid for the Ukraine were dismissed as stooges of Putin So it seems to me the ground is being prepared, perhaps semi-unconsciously, for a change of discourse. The Grauniad was reporting this morning that the G7 were worried about the effects of the war on Ukrainian experts of wheat to poorer countries. The Head of the WFP has said that “44 million people are marching towards starvation.”

    So the issue is now in the process of being reframed by the PMC media. But how do you turn an actual defeat into a political victory? By changing the rules. The argument will run something along these lines. Madman Putin was all set to overrun Ukraine and perhaps take out the Baltic States in an attempt to re-establish the Romanov Empire. But his first attempt to seize Kiev was roundly defeated, and so his objectives turned to destroying and terrorising the country and seizing the East for himself. But tough resistance by the heroic Ukrainians, and unprecedented and massively effective support from countries all over the world have given Putin a black eye, and his forces are now stuck in the East. Meanwhile, we, as serious and responsible states have to try to repair the damage that Putin has caused, and feed the hungry. Don’t forget, electors, that every child who dies of hunger anywhere in the world is a victim of Putin’s aggression and we swear that one day he will be made to pay. That sort of thing. The key to this kind of discourse is that you were never wrong, and always consistent, so whatever we here, and for that matter government specialists, know about the initial Russian plans, the reality will be retrospectively changed.

    On nuclear vs. conventional, it’s really a question of accuracy. Nuclear weapons are very powerful, but the blast effect falls off very rapidly with distance (it depends on where and how the warhead explodes). They would have been used in the Cold War against large targets, such as airfields, or high-value targets such as HQs, where you didn’t mind destroying the surrounding countryside as well. But of course you would only do that once escalation had reached a certain level, and then there would be no going back anyway. By contrast, the ability to make accurate conventional attacks from a long distance through means that cannot be intercepted, with missiles capable of completely destroying a target, is a major game-changer, and a way of achieving conventionally what nuclear weapons would have had to be used for before. And indeed, such weapons would probably have had to be air-delivered to ensure the necessary accuracy. We don’t know the real CEP of these weapons yet, but I do think they are going to change things quite a bit.

    Reply
    1. Alan Roxdale

      with the proviso that it’s not organised, and that those writing articles like this may not consciously be aware that they are changing their opinions.

      I strongly disagree. These are highly deliberate, embarrassingly obvious U-turns in editorial which were likely fought over before being taken. Clearly the NYT have a lot more control over their foreign affairs desk than their regular slack-equipped reporters, but nevertheless this shift was not one the NYT (and the other papers following) could swallow without chewing.

      To me, this points to a “boardroom coup” in Washington. The groups and interest who organized and pushed the war footing have been ‘running wild’ for two months. But I guess than consequences and internal politics have finally caught up with the mad rush to turn Ukraine into a super Syria, and competing interests have wrested back the reigns of power and are now telling their media heralds to tone it down.

      Reply
      1. David

        In my experience, it doesn’t work like that in practice, because the journalists themselves can’t face the idea that they’ve been wrong, and so, like a supertanker, turn slowly in a different direction whilst at no point giving the impression of abrupt movement or changing their minds. I’m sure there are the kind of arguments you describe in newsrooms, but it’s very unlikely that anyone actually acknowledges, to others or even themselves, that the editorial line is changing. That’s why you have to look for nuance. The important thing is that, when the West finally throws the towel in, the MSM is in a position to say not only that it’s the right thing to do, but also that it’s entirely consistent with everything they said since the start. Bad faith is an extraordinary thing. I’m fairly sure that someone has spoken to at least some of the publications and said it would be “helpful” if the temperature was lowered. But even then, the overlap between politics, the media and government these days is so complete that they all tend to have the same thoughts anyway.

        For a sense of how this works in practice at a much smaller level, consider Kosovo. I remember reading an article by someone who was the PermRep of one of the smaller NATO states at the time, praising NATO for having intervened to stop the “ethnic cleansing” of Albanians into Macedonia. Now he would have been perfectly well aware at the time that it was the other way round – ie driving Albanians out was a reaction to the bombing. And I’ve since read the same assertion by, and spoken to, journalists who were also in a position to know the reality. Some of them may have been lying, but most of them had just convinced themselves, through a series of baby steps over the years, that what they thought now was what they thought then. Indeed, governments and the media find it difficult to impossible to actually admit they were wrong, and that they have to start again. I wouldn’t imagine they’ll do so here.

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        1. Keith Newman

          David: very insightful comments.
          I remember when NATO was attacking Yugoslavia in 1999 hearing all the mainstream stuff about how NATO bombing was to protect the people in Kosovo. Then a Canadian reporter on the ground reported what you said, that the people there were fleeing NATO bombs. I was shocked and realised that everything we were being told was lie.
          In a addition, with respect to adopting a new narrative that contradicts an earlier one, the Skripal case in the UK a half dozen years ago demonstrated that the authorities can make up a story that is manifestly absurd (time travel, deadly poison that causes only slight discomfort, etc.) and count on it being believed by a sufficient number of people that the nonsense becomes the new perceived reality. Totally changing the discourse on the Ukraine won’t be problem at all.

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    2. IsabelPS

      Very hopeful theory. I don’t think the Russians are winning, either, so anything that provides both sides with an excuse for not escalating or even descalating is a good thing.

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      1. tegnost

        I’m sorry but it seems to me David’s entire comment is on the western MSM and their messaging shifts as their earlier calls are not being born out.

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    3. Ignacio

      I was thinking it would be extremely difficult for the leadership to change discourse but you have put it nicely and of course, whatever happens it will be blamed on evil Putin. At some point, Russia might realise that they’d do better if they get control of most agricultural exports to the middle east and use it as a diplomatic instrument against the rhetoric of the West. Particularly they might take Odessa under their control and a larger part of the agricultural plains west to Dnieper.

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    4. redleg

      Your assessment of nukes omits EMP. How much of ubiquitous modern technology is hardened or resistant to EMP?
      The US power grid sure isn’t. Last time I checked, admittedly in 2005, exactly zero companies in the US made large transformers. One 100 kt-yield nuke detonated at an altitude where there would be zero blast effects on the ground would cripple the US electrical grid for months or longer. I have a hard- copy report of EMP attack that details these effects that dates from 2001 or so. I’ll bet it was online at some point and might still be.

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      1. David

        Oh, absolutely. The most cost-effective way to use a single nuke would be an airburst with a sizeable ground footprint. It’s not only commercial equipment that’s un-hardened these days, so is a lot of western military stuff. The only problem is, pretty much all the studies of EMP are based (for obvious reasons) on mathematical models, and are highly dependent on assumptions. Nuclear physicists are very reluctant, in my experience, to make any firm predictions at all, so it’s possible that you’d either have an explosion which was not as effective as you hoped, or conversely one that did a lot of damage to your side. There’s only one way to find out …
        But more importantly, perhaps, a single EMP weapon, or indeed a salvo, would be crossing a politically critical threshold, and from an escalation perspective there’s not much difference between an EMP attack and a counter-value or counterforce attack.

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    5. Michaelmas

      David: On nuclear vs. conventional, it’s really a question of accuracy. Nuclear weapons are very powerful … They would have been used in the Cold War against large targets …where you didn’t mind destroying the surrounding countryside as well.

      Fun fact: ICBMs only became practical in 1953 after Ivy Mike, the first Ulam-Teller three-stage thermonuclear device, or H-bomb, was detonated.

      Hitherto, the bombers of Curtis LeMay’s Strategic Air Command were the nuclear delivery system (as in DR STRANGELOVE, which was actually anachronistic by the time Kubrick made it in the 1960s). Once thermonuclear weapons’ higher megatonnage was possible, however, inaccuracy of the very primitive missile guidance systems they could initially build to throw rockets intercontinentally didn’t matter. If the missile hit twenty miles outside Moscow instead of Moscow, it was all good: everything above ground in the area would still be incinerated.

      ICBM guidance system technology evolved rapidly, though. In 1960, 100 percent of all microprocessors produced by Silicon Valley were purchased by the Pentagon, principally for ICBM guidance and early-warning radar systems like NORAD and its successors. Even as late as 1967, 75 percent of all Silicon Valley’s microprocessors were still going to the DOD.

      So Silicon Valley and the computer industry were totally built on the back of Pentagon spending initially. It was the Japanese who would principally open up the appliance and business market for computers.

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      1. Michaelmas

        David: a single EMP weapon, or indeed a salvo, would be crossing a politically critical threshold, and from an escalation perspective there’s not much difference between an EMP attack and a counter-value or counterforce attack.

        If WWIII comes, it will begin in orbit. One side — possibly China — will begin knocking down the other side’s satellite networks — and the US military depends absolutely on the network connectivity and oversight its satellites provide.

        So if one side sets off an EMP device — and proposals exist for such devices that aren’t nukes, though how valid they are I’ve no idea — matters will escalate, as you suggest.

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  7. Alan Roxdale

    The NYT et al slinking back into ‘leveler-head’ mode after 2+ months of absolute war hysteria is the height of duplicity. The propagandists are washing their hands of the consequences of their own deliberate actions.
    I’m not even willing to speculate on the causes. Pressures, internal coups, or just plain gaslighting. I recommend people stop reading these rags.

    Reply
    1. Susan the other

      The propaganda is very transparent. Absurdly so. The NYT changes it’s mind one day to the next. So what does that tell us? It says that there is another agenda – one which requires flexibility. The big picture of all this, imo, is still oil. 9-11 was the first round in a series of confrontations to gain control of Mid East oil. By Mid East I mean primarily the Caspian. The signal went dark on all things Caspian about 20 years ago, just after “The Prize” was written. It didn’t take long for us to conjure up a long term plan. Beginning with (Wesley Clark’s) overturning the governments of “7 countries” (never sure which ones they were: Syria, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon, and about 6 more). So we did all that badly, sending mind-boggling amounts of war materiel over there and leaving it. Too expensive to bring back. Right. We stirred the shit in Georgia and tested the Russians. We created a big fuss in Dagestan (or tried to, remember the Tsarnaev brothers, etc.). Yemen; all over north Africa. We installed nukes in Romania. In Afghanistan, at first we enlisted the Karzai brothers to go to war with Russia – there was a big NATO confab and we made Afghanistan some sort of honorary member, iirc. That turned into a fiasco when the Karzai brothers fizzled and are now replaced by our old pals, the Taliban. Big Russia-haters. We failed our color-revolution in Kazakstan thanks to Russian troops. And we certainly would have failed in Ukraine if it were up to the Ukrainians to prosecute this secret agenda. But we extended the fall of Ukraine to allow us enough time to flood their country with missiles and tanks and all the army surplus we had, including biowarfare. This little war with Russia gave us perfect cover to ship massive amounts of mass destruction to depots in Ukraine and eastern Europe. What better excuse could there be to ship this stuff? We egged on the Ukrainians who were more than happy to play the fool. And now, Ukraine is a pile of garbage – but we have a clear-eyed analysis of just how Russia will behave in any given war. Plus we know the corridor we want to take to the Caspian from both Ukraine and Syria. And speaking of baby formula and our open Mexican border: It looks to my suspicious eye that we opened the border wide to allow easy access to Ukrainian refugees. So, I’d just submit that the NYT is only doing its usual propaganda to rationalize all the bits of the story that don’t fit. The problem for the NYT these days is that nobody believes anything they print. But I could be wrong.

      Reply
  8. Louis Fyne

    — hypersonic missiles can do as much damage as tactical nukes, —

    Hypersonic (and supersonic) missiles allow Russia to cripple the major US air bases in UK and Germany in one weekend, or even Nato HQ in Belgium. In the 1970’s this could only be done via costly manned air attacks or tactical nukes with the bases west of the Rhine River of Russian reach.

    With those air bases out of commission, European NATO will realize how naked their armies are without US air support and US air logistics support.

    of course Europe could be reinforced by sea, but then there are only a limited number of docking facilities in Europe and those will all be targets the moment US cargo ships dock in Rotterdam.

    Reply
    1. Alyosha

      This is the escalation dominance those missiles provide. Along with every refinery in Europe. It’s pretty clear that Russia looked at how the US wages war, determined that it would never match it with aircraft carriers or aircraft, and then built a military designed to neutralize US advantages.

      Kinzhal was developed to target carriers. Russia has put enormous effort into air defenses and now appears to be multiple generations ahead of western development. I doubt they think they’ll get everything but they will make the US pay a huge price. It’s the. Difference between designing a military for long distance force projection and one for defense of the nation. Though the hypersonics definitely fill the role of long distance force projection as well.

      Reply
      1. Old Sovietologist

        Yes,

        A single Kinzhal could be launched from a MiG31 from inside Russian territory, and hit any ship in most of the Med and Baltic!

        Its a game changer in warfare right there. The Russians can strike very quickly and at any US base in Europe, or any USN ships in European waters!

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      2. Ludus57

        Whereas the target of Western weapon development is the bottom line of the arms manufacturers.
        In a time of escalating military crisis, how handy is that?

        Reply
      3. Michaelmas

        Alyosha: Kinzhal was developed to target carriers.

        The Russians have had carrier-killer missiles as far back as the early 1970s, with the Moskit-Sunburn.

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/P-270_Moskit.

        Same general approach as the Kinzhal in a way. The Moskit was/is so blisteringly fast that by the time the target detected it, there was only seconds to do anything about it and furthermore it would start throwing itself around in highly unpredictable evasion maneuvers on its final approach.

        The Kinzhal does notch the whole approach up a few levels, granted.

        Reply
    2. Acacia

      While technically this is feasible, I was under the impression that since NATO powers have no idea what’s inside those incoming missiles — could be conventional, could be nuclear — they will assume the worst and fire back with nukes before the Russian missiles even hit. From there, things get a whole lot worse.

      Isn’t that how it would play out?

      Reply
  9. rkka

    “ Experts are welcome to correct me if I have this wrong, but I believe that hypersonic missiles can do as much damage as tactical nukes, without the evil fallout (which would blow back on Russia anyhow).”

    Close, but not quite. They’re much less destructive than tactical nukes, but they achieve high target destruction probabilities by being highly precise.

    Back in the mid-80s, Marshal Nikolai V. Ogarkov, Chief of the Soviet General Staff, said:

    “Conventional weapons will become equivalent to nuclear weapons, due to their range, speed, & precision.”

    Consider the ‘60s vintage SS-4 medium range ballistic missile. Half of its shots would fall within a circle with a radius of 2000m, and half would fall outside of it. So, if there’s a target you want to destroy, you have to hang a Really Big Nuke on it to get the desired target destruction probability. Collateral damage, which no military planner anywhere actually wants, is horrific.

    Fast forward to the ‘80s. The SS-20 intermediate range ballistic missile had a circle of about 200m radius within which half the shots will fall inside and half will fall outside, so you can hang a much smaller nuke on it to get the desired target destruction probability. Collateral damage, which no military planner anywhere actually wants, is merely appalling.

    Ogarkov saw the day coming where you could drop a ballistic or cruise missile within 3-5 meters of a target, so the military planner can get the desired target destruction probability with a 1,000 lb blast-fragmentation warhead. Collateral damage is minimal, at least relative to even tiny nukes. Ogarkov himself considered nukes pretty much unusable, because in most cases, the collateral damage of nukes would exceed the military value of destroying the intended target. Hence his preference for relying on conventional weapons.

    Hypersonic weapons add two features to this. Their speed & maneuverability makes it really really hard to shoot them down before target impact. Their massive kinetic energy from their mass & speed (ke=0.5mv^2) also gives them great penetrating power on impact, so they’re good for deep or hardened targets.

    Reply
  10. Michael

    Tom Stevenson is a British freelance journalist based currently in Istanbul, not a NYT scribbler. His article tows the party line pretty well in much of the article.

    I could find no other piece published by the Times under his name. I believe this is a marker of change in the US mindset under the guise of “presenting all sides”.

    Regarding the House passed $40B aid package that the Senate will take up next week, a look inside shows:

    “”The new measure includes $6 billion to arm and train Ukrainian forces, $8.7 billion to restore American stores of weapons shipped to Ukraine and $3.9 billion for U.S. forces deployed to the area.

    There’s also $8.8 billion in economic support for Ukraine, $4 billion to help Ukraine and allies finance arms and equipment purchases and $900 million for housing, education and other help for Ukrainian refugees in the U.S.””

    This candy store for MICC (and can be used in Pacific Theatre also when we pivot back to China) and Big Oil. We recently sent 3 tankers of oil from our SPR to Europe. Big Ag looking hopeful too. Doubt if Ukr sees much of it.

    Reply
      1. Michael

        Hi Mm,
        I did look at the LRB site and noted TS said he was in Ukr early in the SMO and was writing about grain storage levels in Egypt re the RF-UKR battle.

        I was pointing out that MofA, Yves and David above weren’t distinguishing between an NYT pov and an imported pov. I read them all. Not disparaging TS.
        Pointing out that NYT was tacking in the wind.

        Same situation in the Senate. Rand Paul is holding things up wanting a special administrator type to monitor the expenditures.

        Who knows what new developments will occur in the SMO by early next week.
        No one in power likes delay.

        Reply
  11. marku52

    I think after weeks of breathlessly reporting that “Russia is out of missiles” Etc, Etc, The disaster, (and boy was it a disaster) at Snake Island changed some minds.

    Reply
  12. Dave in Austin

    I don’t spend much time on mil-porn, but it seems to me the US and Russia are about to face the problem France, Britain and Germany faced at Christmas 1914, 120 days into World War I.

    In 1914 all the combatants had fine light artillery, excellent bolt-action rifles and good quality machine guns. They had learned the basic lessons of the Boer and Russo-Japanese wars, so the armies were fairly well equipped for combat. But “consumables”- artillery shells, machine gun bullets and the like- cost much more to produce than weapons. Neither side had produced vast quantities in peacetime. No nation could undertake large-scale production of consumables when the limited budget was needed for weapons.

    Worse, change was rapid; whole new categories of weapons and consumables were suddenly needed. In trench warfare there was need for massive numbers of cheap mortars and grenades; the first didn’t arrive until six months into the war ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grenade). Everyone planned to be on the offensive. Nobody had barbed wire. Post-1914 war consumes staggering quantities of ammunition (bombs, bullets and shells) and vehicles (horses, wagons, trucks and tanks).

    US civil war armies were equipped with muskets and rifles already considered obsolete in Europe. US civilians were using revolvers and lever-action rifles “too expensive” for the army. People learned; by 1864 the Union was spending more money to buy Spencer repeating rifles than to buy traditional arms. Even Vietnam required ½ of the US copper consumption for shells (where they found it is a very interesting story).

    Both side in the Ukraine are now facing the consumables problem.

    Take the Javelin https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/FGM-148_Javelin. My rough calculation is since 1995 50,000 rockets and 12,000 launchers have been produced. By 2019 5,000 rockets had been used in combat and my guess is another 3-5,000 had been used in training. They have been sold to all our friends. In the past 90 days we have given 6-10,000 rockets to the Ukraine and reportedly they were using 500 rockets/day in the early weeks. Assuming only 200/day, that is 6,000/month or 24,000 more before the end of the summer. The 2020 contract said “produce 1,000/ year” and the contractor has now said “4,000/year within a year”. Maybe. Where will the parts come from, China? 4,000/year is unlikely before 2024 and at 6,000 used each month…

    Also the Americans and Russians have a few, expensive ballistic and cruise missiles and a huge supply of traditional iron bombs like our MK82. Bombs are inaccurate. But the US designed the nifty, $50,000 GBU38 kit for iron bombs- a variety of sensors in the nose, a bit of electronics in the tail and small, wing-equivalent fins to guide the beast as it glides as far as 20 mile to a target; basically a kamikazes without the Japanese pilot and far cheaper than a cruise missiles. My bet is the Russians are buying a few million 16 bit processors and using a lot of those suddenly unemployed programmers to make simple versions of the GBU38.

    I could give more examples. Both sides will soon face serious shortages. Expect Covid-style rationing.

    Reply
    1. CzechAgain

      Your points about how quickly the stocks will be depleted is, I think, one of the key parts we will see going forward. And I think posters here are far too ‘optimistic’ about the capacity of the Russian armed forces to maintain the high level pace of bombardment that we currently see. (Not that I think the disposition is favorable to the Ukrainians either)
      First, if the kinzhals and other hypersonics are so absolutely deadly, accurate and wonderful as the fanboys say, why isn’t Russia using more of them? A likely answer is, they probably don’t have that many and can’t produce them very quickly. Personally I suspect their magic destructive powers are overstated, although do have applications like bunker-busting. That would, also, fit a trend in Russian weapon production: big announcements, trials that are well hyped and … never quite get to production in large numbers.
      Second: Russia probably does have enough dead-simple artillery shells to keep the current pace up for a long time – but limitations on the logistics and personnel to apply them. Although to be fair that is more of a function of the task set to them – for defending within the currently held territories (near physical borders ie railheads and the littoral), a much easier task. Whether that artillery advantage will hold or be effective for significant forward action is a question.
      Between those two in complexity are the precision-guided munitions, which are or should be standardized enough to be manufactured in volume – but lots of reporting to suggest that the supply chains include key components (chips etc) that are not made locally. Russia seems to be husbanding somewhat carefully their use of these, and the simplest explanation of that is they don’t have unlimited quantities.
      And of course: there is surely some severe and hard thinking at the Russian mindef about how much of their critical materiel, personnel and armaments have to be held for possible conflict with better-armed adversaries.
      Because they know perfectly well that Ukraine is not an existential threat to the Russian state.

      Reply
    2. The Rev Kev

      ‘My bet is the Russians are buying a few million 16 bit processors and using a lot of those suddenly unemployed programmers to make simple versions of the GBU38.’

      In Syria, the Russians took a different approach. I believe that at the time a US GBU38 kit that was strapped to a dumb bomb to make it a smart bomb cost $17,000 but of course was destroyed when used. So the Russians developed a computer for those aircraft that would take in dozens of factors in its calculations and then release that dumb bomb when at an optimal solution causing it to hit its target as good as a smart bomb. So they got to keep on using all those stocks of dumb bombs while using minimal resources. Don’t you love elegant engineering solutions?

      Reply
      1. Polar Socialist

        That would be the SVP-24 manufactured by Gefest & T company. A combined navigation and targeting computer that has parameters for every dumb bomb in Russian use. It also knows everything possible about the airplanes position and acceleration on different axis.

        I’ve understood it kinda works like Fokker’s synchronized gear for shooting trough propeller disk – pilot pulls the trigger but the system fires the gun when it’s safe. Or in the case of SVP-24, once it has the location of the target, the system guides pilot towards it and if the pilot gives release authorization, the system releases the bombs at the optimal moment according to all the parameters it’s monitoring.

        I don’t think it’s really as precise as a guided munition, but it will hit within 20 meters which is good enough for 250 kg aerial bomb and it allows the pilot to focus on flying and surviving. It also retains that accuracy regardless of the visibility conditions on the ground or in the air. During the wars in Caucasus (Chechnya) destruction of a target required on average 1.16 missions when SVP-24 was used. Good enough for Army Aviation.

        Reply
        1. The Rev Kev

          Thanks for that. It has been a coupla years since I read an article about that system and was very impressed by the simplicity of that idea. It struck me at the time as fulfilling one of the principles of war – Economy of Force.

          In passing, I understand that there are a coupla hundred army aviators lining up and wanting to talk to you. :)

          Reply
          1. Polar Socialist

            You’re welcome. I was impressed, too, when I first read about it. So I’ve been digging out more info about it, but the actual specs are hard to find, even if the thing has a wikipage and all.

            There’s a Telegram channel /fighter_bomber/, appearing to be a real Russian fighter bomber, but who knows. If he’s a pretender, he’s pretty good one, I think. Anyway, he made a comment about just using precision missiles or UAV if the target is static thus not risking a plane and a pilot – which kinda would make SVP-24 obsolete. On the other hand, if the target is mobile or it’s location not precisely known, he thinks that the best solution is to have a human pilot (or even better, a weapons officer as in Su-34) eyeballing the situation on site and making a decision to engage or not. SVP-24 has a a camera, a signal processor and a video screen, but I’m not sure if it can track a moving target. Certainly with a half-competent weapons officer it can.

            At the risk of getting too long and boring, I must add that according to this fighter bomber character, MANPADS are not a big issue in Ukraine for Russian air force – I guess they fly too high, thanks to SVP-24, for those to engage – but the remaining Buk-M1s and S-300s are. The Ukrainians are not using them, he says, to protect any target (so they could be avoided) but just for hunting Russian planes. So the Russians always take off with one anti-radiation missile to be able to counter and evade.

            Not verified source, as I said, but all sounds plausible.

            Reply
  13. David in Santa Cruz

    How on dog’s green earth can the DIA pen a “Worldwide Threat Assessment” and nowhere mention the 51st State of Israel?

    Even when talking about “Hizballah” and Syria the document focuses on the clearly defensive postures of these entities. Defensive from whom? Our strategic reserves keep getting depleted by re-supplying the IDF when they periodically massacre Palestinian civilians for lobbing firecrackers over the fence. Will there be a “special appropriation” for the bullet that ripped Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh’s face off just yesterday?

    How are Iran and North Korea “strategic competitors” of the U.S.? Competing for what?

    This document is clearly intended as nothing more than cover so that congress-critters can justify ridiculous appropriations for ever more Military-Industrial Complex pork. The Pentagon budget went up after ending military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. Zelinsky is being told not to negotiate so that more useless military hardware can be shipped over for the Russians to blow up before the “Ukrainians” can even figure-out how to light it off.

    Reply
    1. Michael

      Compare to RF threat assessment. I saw excerpts on MofA I think. Very conservative.
      They are not going to be surprised geographically.

      Reply
  14. Michael C.

    I often wonder if the US’s failure at a long-term and viable foreign policy hasn’t some correlation to its full on embrace in its role as a “gangster for capitalism.” Of course, finance capitalism (one of the foci of a recent Mark Hudson book, tough I’ve not yet read) seems to push ever to a smaller window of short term returns, and US foreign policy seems to mirror it.

    US actions since WWII finally seem to have gotten the ire of the nations around the world in a way not seen since they are outright defying US hubris and beginning to form alliances that will be hard to bully around. Argentina, Mexico, India, Hungary, Nicaragua, and China and Russia of course, and more, are all calling out the US for its actions not seen in the recent past, if not in the last 70 years.

    But the US leadership seems to operate in a world that no longer exists and where former power plays are increasingly ineffective. It seems to be a major turning point in history. How it plays out will be interesting as well as dangerous.

    Reply
    1. Susan the other

      Yes. And a gangster-for-capitalism without any oil is a lot like Al Capone without a tommy gun.

      Reply

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