NATO Training Leaves Ukrainian Troops ‘Underprepared’ for War

Yves here. More and more Ukraine-supporting Western outlets are making admissions against interest as far as how the war is going. Consider the twofer in the headline: that Ukraine forces are by implication taking a drubbing from the Russians, and the once-implied-to-be-superior NATO training might be a big reason why.

This framing is a very big shift from repeated claims by US, NATO, and EU officials, as well as many commentators. Russia was running out of missiles. Russian troops had poor morale. Russian forces were badly led. The Russian military was hopelessly corrupt.

This sort of thing has finally started to die down as the much ballyhooed Ukraine counteroffensive has proven to be not just an embarrassing failure, but also a disaster. Independent Western experts like Douglas Macgregor (who recall has excellent contacts) suggest that Ukraine deaths in this campaign are approaching 40,000. To give a sense of significance, compare that to the 60,000 men specifically trained by NATO since March of last year to shore up Ukraine forces. And recall that there are additional, and significant, numbers of wounded men.

On top of that, we had the spectacle of Western equipment such as the vaunted Leopard 2 tanks meeting densely mined Russian “crumple zones” ahead of the Russian fortified lines and not coming out well from the encounter. Western experts also seemed surprised that Russia engaged in remote mining, delivering mines behind the advancing armored vehicles so that if they retreated, more would be lost.

It’s not clear who was behind the decision to try to conserve equipment, but Ukraine has changed tactics to a more manpower-intensive approach of trying to move men close to Russian positions in small groups, usually along tree lines which they hope offers cover, then getting out and moving in on foot.

As Alexander Mercouris in particular has chronicled, the US and NATO are engaged in a blame game with Ukraine. Ukraine is supposedly at fault for being forced to take on a military Mission Impossible, of attacking very well fortified Russian positions with no air support, and worse in a world of ISR where each side can see very well what the other is up to. So the Collective West line is that Ukraine is at fault for abandoning a “combined arms operation” approach like they were supposed to and reverting to something they hoped might work better.

So that is a long-winded way of explaining that this piece is part of the Ukraine effort to point a finger at its sponsors.

Those who have been following the war closely will notice all sorts of omissions and misleading spin. For instance, the piece says those trained by NATO since the war started get 35 days of basic training. As Brian Berletic and Mark Sleboda have pointed out, basic training for US service members is 90 days, and four months for Marines. Berletic made clear that was not remotely adequate for going into combat; he said something to the effect that all you know at that point is how to use a gun and that it takes many months more of working with a unit to reach a basic level of competence.

Scott Ritter has elaborated on that observation by describing how service members need to learn to operate within their unit, then those units need to learn to function effectively as part of a battalion, and then battalions need to learn to train as part of a brigade, and then brigades need to coordinate as part of an army. Ritter has stressed that Ukraine is now burning through its third army and its poor performance is no reflection on the courage of its men, but that you can’t expect forces built on the fly to be effective.

Ritter also stated that training Ukraine troops in so many different countries would lead to additional problems, since each NATO member has its own armed forces and not 100% consistent approaches to operations. That means differences in flavors of training would undermine cohesiveness in action

Berletic and Sleboda (I infer based on personal experience) said many months ago that NATO training is not so hot. Ritter and Macgregor have depicted NATO as in the business of fighting insurgents, as in noting even remotely approaching a peer power. The article confirms that criticism. For instance:

A key concern about the Western training is that the instructors have never fought a war of this kind, or against an enemy like Russia. For years, Western armies and their defence industries have focused on fighting insurgencies in the Middle East.

Even though this piece may seem fairly tame compared to what attentive war-watchers have seen elsewhere, the fact that it goes as far as it does is yet another proof that the West can no longer pretend that Project Ukraine is going well. But you see here nary an admission of how much our arrogance has cost in terms of Ukraine lives and loss of limb.

By Isobel Koshiw, a journalist based in London covering corruption. Originally published at openDemocracy

Ukrainian soldiers are being left underprepared for the realities of Russia’s war because of a disconnect between NATO and domestic military training, according to one frontline brigade.

So far, more than 60,000 Ukrainian soldiers have taken part in military training in the West.

Yet NATO can only currently offer Ukrainian soldiers basic training, shifting the burden of vital combat training back to Ukraine. Time constraints mean that stage two training doesn’t always happen, or happen in full, in Ukraine or the West.

“I don’t want to say anything against our partners, but they don’t quite understand our situation and how we are fighting,” said a senior intelligence sergeant in the newly formed 41st Mechanised Brigade who goes by the name ‘Dutchman’. “That’s why the main training and the integrated training happens here.”

Nick Reynolds, an expert at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), a UK defence think tank, said that the West’s current training for the Ukrainian military is less realistic, but safer and simpler. He admits that this approach shifts the risk from things going wrong at the training stage to things going wrong during live operations.

“We do have a lot of health and safety regulations… yet this means they are going on to the battlefield less prepared,” Reynolds told openDemocracy.

Most of the day-to-day tactics used against Russia’s forces, along with combined arms training – where battalions learn to operate together as a brigade – are taught in Ukraine.

“The Western training is good and the guys gain experience, particularly in shooting and [the use of] equipment… but the most useful training is still done in Ukraine,” said Dutchman, who joined as a volunteer fighter at the start of the conflict in 2014.

openDemocracy met Dutchman and other members of the 41st Brigade in Kupiansk, a town in north-eastern Ukraine, near one of the most active stretches of the frontline. Almost all the soldiers in the 41st have undergone training in the West.

It usually takes between one and two years to form a brigade, but wartime conditions mean that 90% of the 41st Brigade were mobilised this year. Recruitment started in January and they were dropped into Kupiansk in early July. Before the invasion, basic training for Ukrainian troops was six months, but some of the men openDemocracy met had been mobilised as recently as March, highlighting Ukraine’s critical demand for troops.

“It would be better if either [the instructors] came here to see what we’re facing or we went there to train their instructors to train our troops,” Dutchman added – though he recognises that the former would break NATO’s red line of ‘no boots on the ground’ in Ukraine, while the latter would probably not be acceptable to NATO bureaucracies which require instructors to have risen through the ranks under NATO tutelage.

A Different Kind of Enemy

So far, some 63,000 Ukrainians (17 brigades in total) have been trained in the West, mostly in the UK and Germany.

All receive a 35-day ‘boot camp’ of basic soldier training. A source involved in the UK training process described it as a “crash course” and the most that could be provided in the time available. They pointed out that a big plus was the thousands of pounds’ worth of equipment, including body armour and medical supplies, the Ukrainian troops take home with them.

A key concern about the Western training is that the instructors have never fought a war of this kind, or against an enemy like Russia. For years, Western armies and their defence industries have focused on fighting insurgencies in the Middle East.

Members of the 41st Brigade said that their instructors often used examples of NATO operations in the Middle East, where the objective is to clear houses and identify potential insurgents among the local population, but “that’s not really relevant to us”.

“For the most part, [Western instructors] have fought wars in cities and towns – urban settings. We are on flat ground a lot of the time,” said Dutchman.

The tactics that Ukrainian officers and commanders badly want their troops to learn while being trained abroad are either only part of the syllabus or not featured at all.

“We need people to understand how to effectively clear trenches, enter them, how to throw grenades effectively, how not to trip on booby traps, to understand what grenades the [Russians] throw – essentially to understand the enemy,” explained Dutchman.

Yura*, one of the newly mobilised soldiers from the 41st, gave the example of minefields. Russian forces have laid extensive minefields – some of which span several kilometres – to hamper the progress of Ukrainian troops involved in the recently launched counter-offensive.

“The [Western] training was good and interesting. But there was very little about de-mining,” Yura said. They showed us a minefield about two metres wide. The training lasted about two hours. But you get here and look at what’s in front of you, it’s just not comparable.”

Another major difference, argued Dutchman, who has attended several Western training courses in the UK and Germany, is in planning. Referring to the fact that NATO forces usually outgun (and overpower) their enemies, he said that Western instructors plan “with a weaker enemy in mind”.

Ukrainian commanders also have to think on their feet much more, he said. “There’s never going to be a warning regarding an offensive… So when the attack happens, we have to make decisions,” he said. “[In the West] they make the plan and act according to the plan and when something doesn’t go according to plan, they retreat and make another plan.”

NATO Training Regulations

Another issue is NATO regulations on health and safety protection for troops in training.

“The way that we build the pathway [the training stages for troops] is you accredit units as safe at a lower level, and you build up with each layer, getting the safety tick-off… A single death on a training ground in a NATO country is unacceptable,” said RUSI’s Reynolds.

But Ukraine does not have the time to put its troops through these various levels, which means they can’t access additional, more advanced training modules (on particular equipment or the responsibilities of different ranks, for example) that would be useful to them.

The condensed training currently offered to Ukrainian troops makes it difficult to reach a stage where NATO would be comfortable layering on additional training, according to Reynolds.

“I’m not saying one [training approach] is better than the other,” he continued.

“From a legal, regulatory, safety and permissions perspective, we can’t do [the type of training Ukrainians want], unless we make some fairly serious policy changes.”

But Reynolds said he believes there is some scope for changing the training, and that the limits of what the West can offer have not been reached: “Western militaries providing aid need to come around to the realisation of what is required to make collective training work outside Ukraine.”

For now, Ukraine’s 41st Brigade is acclimatising to what’s called the “second” line of defence outside Kupiansk – although they’re within comfortable range of Russian artillery and tank fire, they are not as targeted as the “first” or “zero” line. At some point, they will be moved forward to face some of the 50,000 or so Russian troops around the town, who are attempting to draw Ukrainian forces from other areas in the south and east.

Ultimately, said Dutchman, no soldier is properly trained until they are on the battlefield and can think through their reactions.

“However much you prepare someone, they won’t understand that they are in a war until they have been shelled… Most of the men here are unshelled,” he said.

*Names have been changed to protect identities

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  1. Matthew G. Saroff

    The crux of the matter is that current NATO doctrine does not just require air superiority, it requires air supremacy which means aircraft operating with nearly complete impunity over the theater of war.

    This is why this is not working in the Ukraine, and why it did not work in Georgia.

    1. digi_owl

      Pretty much. Since Vietnam, USA seems to have switched focus towards smaller, professional, units backed by on call flying “artillery”. Thus it is paramount to pick enemies that either do not have much of an air force, or that are easy to knock out of the sky. After the USSR collapsed, this doctrine was adopted by the rest of NATO as it no longer saw a need for a large force of conscripts for deterrence.

    2. A A Ron

      Yes, that is correct, but there is more. No one in NATO has seen the contemporary battlefield before, a transparent battlefield combined with massive artillery barrages, loitering munitions, air defense, electronic warfare, and massive minefields. If a typical large American BDE TOC with scores of computers, radios, generators, etc. were set up against a competent enemy it would be instantly discovered by EW/ISR and targeted with precision missiles. IMO this makes our current organizations and training completely obsolete.

      1. redleg

        Any concentration of forces for an assault are incredibly vulnerable to loitering all-weather surveillance and resulting massed fire. Since the principle of mass had been the rule for most of modern combat, the forced dispersion caused by the current surveillance technology is a complete game changer. As a commander, you attempt to mass your forces for an assault (or redeployment) and you get whacked by artillery and rockets. The rule of thumb is a 3:1 advantage when attacking, but if you lose 1/3 of that force just getting to the staging area, it becomes 4 or 5:1 to account for the losses, which creates an even larger target, etc. It becomes a feedback loop. A creative commander might be able to overcome this by dispersing the assault force, and using manoever to achieve mass, but that requires both training and rehearsals that are probably a luxury for both sides in Ukraine. Russia can, and probably is, training for this kind of manoever somewhere in Siberia, invulnerably far from the front. Ukraine doesn’t have that option.

        Although they’re nice to have in combat, you don’t need (expensive) precision guided munitions to render a target combat ineffective if 1) you know the precise location of both the target and the launcher, or 2) the target is large, such as a massed infantry battalion or a supply depot.

          1. Polar Socialist

            Nah, not when you have resources to a) mislead the enemy to concentrate his forces in the wrong place b) suppress his firepower with your superior local firepower c) march the attacking forces from further away and go directly to action and d) have follow-up troops, well, following up so that no matter what, your attack doesn’t stop in the mine fields.

            If he’s running away, he can’t really shoot back, even if he knows where you are. And his situational awareness degrades every minute, once he starts running. Even if it’s to prepared positions, there will be minor chaos, broken links, delayed intelligence, lost formations etc.

          2. redleg

            If so, then NATO is certainly ready to fight it*!

            *But not if the opponent has air assets, a working air defence system, and artillery.

      2. digi_owl

        Thing is, they have seen it. But only from the side of the aggressors.

        This going at least as far back as when the Vietnamese jungle was sprayed with Agent Orange to better track Vietcong movement from the air.

        And USA has long had the drone and sat capability and coverage that at least one Taliban member admitted to taking all mobile calls, and even sleeping, outside to keep the family out of hellfire range.

        But this is the first time NATO trained forces are up against a peer enemy that can pull all the same tricks and moves. And thus NATO is revealed to be without countermeasures.

        I think the closest one came during the 20 years of WoT was when Iraqis were tapping the drone video feed using modified consumer sat dishes. Because Pentagon, in its typical hubris, was transmitting them unencrypted. Thus insurgent units could be warned when there was a drone overhead and scatter.

  2. DJG, Reality Czar

    Thanks for the headnote from Yves Smith, in which YS describes how NATO and Anglo-America are bad on tactics and on not “sticking to the knitting” of things like basic training. They’ve trained 60,000 soldiers, supposedly, according a spreadsheet. (Hmmm. I’m reminded of those displays leaked by Jake Teixeira, wherever he is…)

    I’d add, too, that too much of the article hangs on “Dutchman,” who uses locutions like “they need to understand,” which marks him as an American. It’s possible that writer Koshiw was translating or working with a translator, but I have some doubts. So the whole article is skewed by the usual Yankee word salad.

    ‘Tis a mystery wrapped in a training manual. Meanwhile, the slaughter of young men on the battlefields goes on.

    1. Feral Finster

      FWIW, “Koshiw” is a Ukrainian surname, although “Isobel” is not a Ukrainian given name.

  3. juno mas

    The acceptance of slaughter on the battlefront by the (US) West describes a deeply dystopian leadership. There needs to be a war crimes tribunal for them all!

    1. Felix_47

      Good point Juno. That became obvious when right before the Russian invasion Blinken was giving a speech about how the US was trying to negotiate peace with Russia. He was asked by a reporter if there was any discussion of NATO expansion…..and Blinken’s answer was “that is not on the table.” My thought was “these fools are sentencing thousands to death…who gave them the right to do that?” I have seen quite a few young men pay the ultimate sacrifice in both Iraq and Afghanistan. It is heartbreaking.

    2. Ignacio

      Problem with leadership is they are always in a hurry. Need results now because creditors are nervous and elections come soon. This explains the blackmailing by NATO: Counterattack now!!! Training was hurried up for these reasons. Did NATO militaries advice the leadership on better and longer training? If they did they found deaf ears. This is the real problem, if the leadership is unable to set up plans which make sense in at least medium term and It is always in a hurry you cannot confront a peer army armed with patience among other things.

  4. A A Ron

    Two thoughts:

    First, training is important, if it is relevant training. And it appears the NATO trainers haven’t a clue how to reduce modern deliberate defenses in depth, with massive minefields, in the era of ISR-strike, loitering munitions, and precision fires.

    Second point: in many instances, training can not overcome materiel deficiencies any more than a boxer can train to punch a tank. If the NATO trainers had clue what it takes to defeat a competent modern deliberate defense, they would have known Ukraine didn’t have the necessary tools.

    1. Louis Fyne

      —NATO trainers haven’t a clue how to reduce modern deliberate defenses in depth—

      Even the US Army, post-D-Day landings, in Normandy, France didn’t face the depth and mass of defense that the Ukrainians have to hurdle right now.

      And the US Army in 1944 France had near total air supremacy, yet the US/UK were bottled up in Normandy for weeks.

  5. Glen

    From what I have been reading, the use of inexpensive (relatively speaking) small surveillance drones has seriously changed the game in Ukraine:

    Chinese Drones Come With Political Baggage But Ukraine Buys Thousands Anyway

    So Ukraine bought thousands of DJI drones (actually the rumor I heard was Ukraine bought the whole production run, but that seems far fetched). I need not point out that DJI is a Chinese company, and that Ukraine’s request back to DJI to “turn off” any non-Ukrainian drone in Ukraine airspace was denied, but what was implied in the denial was that DJI has the ability to at least disable all it’s drones “it was possible it could shut down all of its tech in given geographies, but the action would affect Ukrainian unmanned aerial vehicles, too.”

    Wow, what a crazy battle space. Who wants to bet that the day America finally “goes over the line” with regard to Taiwan/China that a whole bunch of “Made in China” stuff just stops working?

    Just like off shoring manufacturing in America sooner or later leads to the off shoring of all expertise and knowledge, Ukraine is going to sooner or later end up knowing much more than NATO about how to fight the battle in Ukraine. I suspect it’s finding that out now.

  6. ilsm

    NATO is not doing well for Ukraine wrt logistics, tactics and strategy.

    The little I have heard, the Russians are engaging in ambush far ahead of fixed defense, they are using a variety of sensors, and human eyes, they engage with ATM, artillery, long range mortar, and occasionally helicopter fire with ATM.

    The arty delivered mines are not new nor unique, a Russian armor group suffered them last spring.

    The lesson of WWII, training starts when the soldier gets to the assault unit. Units going to DDay exercised for months in England….

    Ukraine deficiencies in arty, and air hide the troubling lack of logistics for the less than durable NATO weapons, as well as an iron mountain and lake of fuel.

    Their revision loses the military approach of concentration.

    Easy to ambush company sized infiltration…

    US press helped no one raising hopes without foundation.

    40 odd excess/near retirement F-16’s will effect very little.

    NATO, and the media should question its own perception of the events in the north littoral of Black Sea

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Yes I neglected to mention that Ukraine is also engaging in remote mining but from what I can tell, not at all on the scale of the Russians.

    2. hk

      F16s without pilots–if “Ukrainians” actually get them. I’ve always figured the whole F16 shtick was to send USAF in Europe to intervene with hardly any disguise, but I think that’s not going to happen unless the White House wants to see USAF crippled like it never has been in a hurry.

      1. NotTimothyGeithner

        My gut is a no fly zone was the original plan, but the guys at the Pentagon who would have to make it work pointed out the absurdity. The f16s are just a compromise to let the sort of people at places like State save face. Everyone who called for a no fly zone was simply lying or announcing their stupidity and sloth. The combat ranges of the planes, the number of planes, and the location of air bases make that impossible. The scale is nothing like the Persian Gulf War. The combat range of our planes is basically the distance from Lviv to the combat zone. In 1991, the planes were flying from bases 1/3 the distance. All those dead Ukrainians and wasted treasure are the result of obviously false promises.

        There would be no way to conduct a build up without the Russians bombing the airfields as the planes came up. Despite the 375% effective rate of Ukrainian air defense, NATO invested in superiority not air defense. To do the build up we would need, everything would have to be emptied. The 800 bases would be reduced to 10.

        The F16 schtick is to avoid explaining why the USAF didn’t go in. It’s not a Trojan horse. The Russians have satellites. They would see a build up.

    1. James

      Feral Finster – I disagree. I believe that the US is pursuing the same sort of “dual containment” strategy that the US pursued during the Iran-Iraq war. Culturally, linguistically, and ethnographically Ukraine is a natural ally of Russia. The US wants to kill as many Russian speaking Ukrainians as possible in my view.

  7. redleg

    Typical US Army basic training goes something like this:
    Equipment issue and baseline medical stuff- 1 week
    Introduction to the Army, marching, uniforms, ranks, general orders, etc. – 2 weeks
    First aid and safety, NBC – 1 week
    Basic rifle marksmanship (BRM)- 2 weeks
    Advanced weapons and hand-to-hand combat training – 1 week
    Communications and small unit tactics – 1 week
    Field exercise – 1 week
    Graduation week, incl. ceremony, cleanup, turn in of gear, etc. – 1 week.
    Nominally 8 weeks but more like 10.

    That’s only the first half. Next comes AIT (advanced individual training) for each MOS, military occupational specialty e.g. infantryman, tank driver, combat engineer, field artillery (my specialty 13E, and branch upon commissioning), etc., which is another 8-12 weeks, with the unspoken goal of getting all of this training completed within 179 days, as certain benefits kick in on day 180.

    The above schedule shows that 35 days is only enough to do maybe half of the standard basic training, and no AIT at all. Sending those soldiers into combat with that amount of training is criminal IMO, even assuming that the proto-soldiers are brave and highly motivated. They’ll be a hazard to themselves, their units, and other nearby units when deployed until they are properly trained. Training is critical when under stress, as you don’t have to think to take action.

    1. Retired Carpenter

      re: field artillery (my specialty 13E, and branch upon commissioning),
      We knew that from your handle.
      Retired Carpenter (plain leg infantry)

    2. Arkady Bogdanov

      Basic training for infantry (11_ series MOS) is actually 16 weeks (OSUT) in the US Army. I do not remember how it was broken down. It is the same length as Marine basic training, but without all the drill and ceremony. Everyone in my battalion then went on to Airborne training, and then split for more specialized training. It went on for almost a year before getting to a permanent unit. Of course, this was back in the early 90’s.

  8. Susan the other

    NATO is being defeated by its own legal framework. The Russians know this. It’s disconcerting to realize NATO miscalculated this so badly. Poetic Justice, however brutal. It would be entirely different if 350,000 corpses had been flown home to the NATO countries. The whole situation is so unacceptable it is hard to describe. The reason it can happen this way is because Ukraine has no effective sovereignty. Much like South Vietnam in the 60s. When a country turns its back on its own population it becomes Murder Incorporated. Sedition. That is the turning point and that needs to be prevented. A resolution forum with enforcement power. Would an entire electorate ever vote to go to war? I doubt it. We could do an effective intervention and resolution if we set our minds to it. But would it make a profit? Only if it declared the costs and losses of war. There’s profit in all that prevention. Possibly one definition for Utopia.

    1. James

      Zelensky ran for office on a platform of promising to definitely not go to war. The Ukrainian people were set up.

  9. JonnyJames

    Indeed. Ukraine is a pawn in the Grand Chessboard. Zbig B. made this clear in the now infamous book of the same name, published in 1998. Zbig was also a fan of Halford Mackinder. It appears US/UK long-term foreign policy continues, no matter which puppet emperor sits in the WH.

    1. James

      I read that darn book and did not learn a thing. I was expecting a “howto manual” for world domination, and all I got was relentless cheerleading for US domination. Any recommendations on a book that actually details the advice/theory that Zbig doled out behind closed doors would be much appreciated.

      1. JonnyJames

        Really? I guess we read different books. Are you sure it was The Grand Chessboard? He wrote other books as well.

  10. Piotr Berman

    What is proper training for fighting in minefields under fire? I have sketched a concept for self-help book “How to binge drink responsibly and other life advises”. Training for trench warfare should be performed by militaries with relevant experience, like Ethiopia, with rich experience in sending conscripts to die. No developed country would consider something like that for their own citizens.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Not training. I would assume air support, at least to the degree of local air superiority. So you reduce the fire on your advancing forces to a tolerable level.

  11. Colonel Smithers

    Thank you, Yves.

    I know one such instructor at Catterick Camp. He graduated from Sandhurst two years ago and was commissioned into the Coldstream Guards. After a year or so, he was sent to train cadets in Yorkshire, succeeding another toff officer, a captain, who resigned his commission for a job at Goldman Sachs. Another instructor, another captain, is the son of former Tory minister Dominic Grieve.

    Training for Ukrainians is limited to a few weeks, squeezed between rotations of cadets. It’s just going through the motions. There’s little of any value. School cadets get as much training, if not more. The training varies from NATO member state to NATO member state.

    None of the above has seen action and / or commanded a unit bigger than a platoon, a unit no bigger than 30 – 40 infantry. The only instructors to have fired shots in anger are the captains commissioned from the ranks. One can only teach what one knows. No serving western officer has commanded a unit bigger than an infantry battalion or armoured squadron in a war.

    One hopes Aurelien / David, in particular, chimes in.

  12. Alan Roxdale

    All receive a 35-day ‘boot camp’ of basic soldier training. A source involved in the UK training process described it as a “crash course” and the most that could be provided in the time available. They pointed out that a big plus was the thousands of pounds’ worth of equipment, including body armour and medical supplies, the Ukrainian troops take home with them.

    It’s a cannon fodder assembly line, done on the cheap. As to be expected from the neolibercons running the show.

    1. Polar Socialist

      I don’t think it’s cheap. The training centers are going to send a huge bill for the services provided.

    2. Gregorio

      35 days isn’t even enough to get a typically out of shape guy off the street, in sufficient physical shape to withstand the rigors of ground combat.

  13. Benny Profane

    Where are the Patriot systems? Since they were first deployed near Kiev (of course), and that one video went viral with the thing going off like a multi zillion dollar roman candle, I haven’t heard anything. I suspect that they are total failures. It’s now a serious crime to film any missle attacks from either side in Ukraine, and now we have Zelensky telling us about “Skyshield” the other day, no doubt after inhaling a few lines and working with his scriptwriters.
    NATO arms salespeople must be drinking heavily, now that the world is watching their expensive junk get destroyed by a gasoline station with a dictator.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      This has been pretty well covered on the close war watching sites. The Patriot missiles, like the F-16s, are overhyped and were treated as yet another wunderwaffen.

      1. The Patriot missiles are inferior to the Soviet air defense system Ukraine had, the S-300s. Oh, and Russia already has the more advanced S-400 and S-500. Russia is the leader in air defense (and signal jamming and has hypersonic missiles in production and has used them in Ukraine when we have bupkis there).

      2. We have laughably few. Saudi Arabia had been asking for more and we were scrounging to meet their demands before the war. The manufacturer promised to increase production of the system (remember you have a system which includes detection/targeting and then the launch platform) to 12 platforms a year (I could not readily find the #s on missile production but my probably flawed recollection is the plan is to double it in 2-3 years to 500 missiles a year). The Saudis particularly wanted more missiles but the platform constraint illustrates the nature of the problem.

      3. The Patriots are also a massively complicated system with a big logistics tail. No joke, takes 90 men to run them. That makes them not hard to see and be blown up:

      4. Ukraine has been making profligate use of the missiles. Google suppresses the relevant search results, but there was a case where Ukraine shot off a staggering number of Patriots in two minutes, and it was a meaningful proportion of annual missile production. Ukraine defenders argued, and they may not have been wrong, that the platform was about to be hit by a hypersonic missile, and the resulting explosion of the missiles would have been horrific. Better to shoot them off. But the more likely response was this was panicked operators trying to hit the Kinzhal, which was too close and moving too fast for that to happen save by sheer accident.

      1. Benny Profane

        And I have read that the Patriot sends out this huge radar signature that basically invites even the crudest of modern precision missiles to destroy it.

      2. Greg

        This is well into the weeds, but…

        The final analysis of that event was that Ukraine likely got spoofed by the swarm of advanced electronic warfare drones that iskander and therefore presumably kinzhal missiles deploy as they approach.

        Crudely, the big missile drops half a dozen or more small missiles that then scream electronically about how each of them is a big scary threat.
        These features combine with the high speed and vertical dive at the end of the attack which make the more advanced Russian missiles extremely difficult to intercept individually, let alone when used in swarms as as they are against patriots.

        Lower intercept probability necessitates firing more defense missiles to try and assure a hit, and many targets at once means more again, and before you know it you’ve dumped a quarter of a year’s production and maybe hit one real missile if you’re lucky.

        1. Michaelmas

          Greg: the big missile drops half a dozen or more small missiles that then scream electronically about how each of them is a big scary threat


          Some variants of the 9M723 missile are equipped with the 9B999, a possible penetration aid, which fits into six canisters at the base of the warhead. Preliminary evidence suggests that some of the decoys emit thermal signatures, while others are equipped with jammers to counter active seekers. The decoys may also present an enhanced radar signature to spoof ground-based radar. The inclusion of these decoys is somewhat surprising, given Russian claims that the Iskander is capable of manoeuvring at high terminal phase speeds of 2.1 km/s. One might consider the inclusion of decoys overkill, especially given the age of the S-300 variants employed by Ukraine. This might be preliminary evidence that the 9M723 is less manoeuvrable in its terminal phase than is claimed. Moreover, given that the missile is subject to aerodynamic drag if fired on a quasi-ballistic trajectory, it may be slower in terminal phase than a purely ballistic missile with a comparable range.

      3. Jack

        Scott Ritter in one of his interviews gave a detailed account of the Patriot and its problems. One of the biggest problems is that it does not work well at all in automatic mode. According to Ritter, Patriot operators when reaching their units are taught how to fire in manual mode, a process that apparently takes quite a long time to learn. If you operate the system in automatic, then you get the result that the Ukrainians did; a massive firing of multiple missiles at nothing.

    2. Louis Fyne

      The Ukrainians are/were using one year’s worth of Patriot missile production in one month.

      And when multiple >$3 million missiles are being used to shoot down swarms of <$20,000 drones, it's pretty clear who's on the winning side of this attrition.

    3. The Rev Kev

      Meanwhile ‘Germany and Ukraine have agreed on the supply of additional Patriot air defence missile systems to Kyiv, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in his evening address on Wednesday.’

      Pretty sure that the Russians are also looking forward to their deployment. And just yesterday I read that the US Army is going to grow their Patriot systems. Hope that includes the missiles too-

  14. hemeantwell

    For AUK front line troops this is such an absurdly hopeless situation that a sudden rapid erosion of morale seems possible. Has anyone seen reliable estimates of the number and rate of AUK unit surrenders and defections?

    1. Polar Socialist

      Not reliable, but there are again plenty of POW interviews in TG available. I’ve seen claims that in Kupyansk direction the Ukrainians surrender by platoon (and even seen some alleged footage). No numbers, though, not even estimates.

      There was also an image of allegedly Ukrainian brigade commander directive not to give the new recruits any cartridges upon their arrival to the front line, due to a rise in suicides. Again, as likely to be propaganda as not. Personally, I don’t think ammunition in the trenches is that controlled.

      1. Greg

        Interestingly, the 41st brigade mentioned in the interview was positioned at the second line in kupyansk direction. And the first line there just collapsed in the last day, so the interviewees might well be amongst those surrendering en masse rather than risk trying their poor NATO training in earnest.

  15. Aurelien

    You can only use combined arms tactics if you have the arms to combine, if you know how to use them to a high standard, if you have practised using them together, and if you have a commander, and he has a commander who is used to commanding combined armed forces at Brigade level and above. Is there the remotest sign of that? If I remember correctly, neither the UK or any other western nation has operated at Brigade level since Iraq 2.0.

    I do think that we here are somewhat spoiled in the amount of good information and comments we have to read. I’ve become convinced that many western leaders and even military commanders believed their own propaganda, that the Russians were untrained conscripts with low morale and defective weaponry, who would run at the first sight of Ukrainians with bayonets. I really can’t see any other explanation than deep-seated anti-Slav racialism.

    1. Louis Fyne

      —-even military commanders believed their own propaganda,—

      promotion to colonel and beyond in the US military has self-selecting survivorship bias—one either tows the party line or find a new life outside of uniform.

      1. Benny Profane

        This always happens in war. Lincoln replaced many generals, and the generals replaced many officers under them. War is put up or shut up time. The Russians have been shuffling command, too, especially after the “Wagner rebellion”, which supports the view that that was an internal false flag to help expose the disloyal, but, some have been shuffled just due to performance.
        NATO is exposing itself as a retired generals well paid country club, that is totally unprepared for this conflict. And yet, not much turmoil.m

    2. John

      I believe that only now is reality beginning to penetrate the wall of propaganda for the general public. The “leadership” is looking wildly around for anyone but them to be responsible for this world historical blunder. The sentence from of all things a science fiction novel sums it up. “They’ll keep going long after its hopeless, as their brass tries desperately to cover their bleeding asses with a victory.”

      It is a disgrace and a crime … and it need not have happened but for the Empire’s arrogance and hubris.

    3. vao

      It looks as if the military, political leadership, and MSM in the West have kept a picture of the Russian military that corresponds to the dismal show it made during the disastrous and humiliating first Chechnya war (1994-1996). This was indeed the nadir of the Russian military.

    4. Brooklin Bridge

      That the readers of this site get a more accurate idea of what’s going on than the military higher ups is an interesting and quite plausible point.

      Still, I suspect the information (intel), particularly for the upper crust of the US military, is there and available to have a pretty good idea at least of which way the wind is blowing in Ukraine, but that in our current environment it pays more, a lot more, not to know it. In a situation where the US is being run by lunatics who are also idiots – who are indeed in the dream world you mention – where just saying it is so makes it happen – and the possible downside of “I know nuuh-thing” is merely the lives of some faceless far away proxies, ignorance may appear to be intellegence, at least for careers.

      1. Aurelien

        The problem, I suspect, is that most of the intelligence assessments that matter here are qualitative, not quantitative, ie how well will Russian equipment perform, what is their level of training, unit cohesion etc. This is very difficult to know in advance, and the US intelligence analysts are going to be biased simply because they have probably never, in their careers, had to do these assessments against a peer competitor. Superiority in everything has been assumed for the last thirty-five years without debate, and it’s hard to break such a habit. In the end, it may turn out that the US knew everything about the Russians except what was actually important.

        1. Michaelmas

          Aurelien: I’ve become convinced that many western leaders and even military commanders believed their own propaganda, that the Russians were untrained conscripts with low morale and defective weaponry, who would run at the first sight of Ukrainians with bayonets
          … the US intelligence analysts are going to be biased simply because they have probably never, in their careers, had to do these assessments against a peer competitor.

          You’re right about the Western pols and civil government officials.

          But regarding the military, what raises the whole thing to WW1-level fatuousness* was that there were Pentagon analysts who knew and warned both about Russian capabilities, including the superior EW tech, and about the coming predominance of precision-strike missiles and networked, often unmanned platforms.

          Dr. Phillip Karber on the Russian Way of War (from 2018)

          Andrew Marshall, who (among other things) led the US to put the guidance systems they had on nuclear weapons on ordinary bombs and missiles for the first generation of smart weapons that were fielded for Gulf 1, also advised just before they forced him out that the advance and democratization of precision-strike missile tech and AI would make the Pentagon’s big platform systems obsolete.

          They were ignored.


          * WW1 levels of fatuousness because every bright European person knew what machines guns and industrial warfare could do after sixty years of Maxim gun-facilitated imperialism against indigenous people everywhere outside Europe. But the bright people went out to make their fortunes in the empire — the Cecil Rhodes were arguably the Silicon Valley types of the era — and weren’t running the militaries back home.

        2. Erelis

          Excellent points. I remember reading that Ukrainian POWs said about NATO training in Germany and France that a heavy component were propaganda sessions on how bad the Russians were and how incompetent the military. And that on first sight of the Ukrainian Ubermensch, the Russians would flee. Thing is, I read the same claim from various Western propagandists before the start of the counter offensive.

          All this reminded me of the Chinese Boxers during the Boxer Rebellion who believed that they had magical powers and were invulnerable to bullets. Besides inadequate training, NATO created suicidal drones.

    5. Ignacio

      They were probably inclined to think that Russians would run after the experience in the autumn offensive when Russians did their tactical run to avoid loosing too many troops. They hoped this would play again though the rearming and building of defence lines by the Russians strongly suggested the contrary. Anti-Slav racialism? Incompetence? Both?

  16. Rip Van Winkle

    OPERATIONATLATICRESOLVE – the Wisconsin National Guard deployed to Europe 3 months ago.

  17. jrkrideau

    I’ve become convinced that many western leaders and even military commanders believed their own propaganda, that the Russians were untrained conscripts with low morale and defective weaponry, who would run at the first sight of Ukrainians with bayonets.

    I originally thought that this idea was ridiculous. Western military and political leadership could not be that naive or ignorant but the more I read what “analysts” and “experts” are saying or writing the more it looks like Aurilian is correct.

    Patrick Armstrong a retired Canadian military and diplomatic analyst had a series of blog posts entitled something like No, Your Intelligence Is Actually Bad. Very Bad See for an example.

    NATO and particularly the USA believes its own fairy tales. Is their image of the Russian Federation based on “The Hunt for Red October” and “The Russians have landed”? It’s beginning to look like it.

  18. Joe100

    For context and comparison, total US KIA in Vietnam was about 58,000 – not substantially greater than the estimated Ukraine offensive forces KIA to date…

    1. SocalJimObjects

      I think you are mistaken, the 40K number of deaths reported on this article only refers to the latest counteroffensive, which I think is Ukraine’s third army to be destroyed. Total number of Ukrainians killed in action has to be at least 120K at this point, very likely more.

      Combined though, they pale in comparison to the number of Americans killed by 2 administrations. Number of Covid deaths in America : more than 1 million. No dragon teeth required.

        1. SocalJimObjects

 For the US it’s 1.1x million. Lambert has also been keeping track as part of Water Cooler.

          If you take a look at data from 2022 alone, there were two weeks in January where the US lost a total of 38K people to Covid. Other countries have hypersonic missiles, the US has something better, it’s called HyperNeglect.

      1. Yves Smith Post author

        Macgregor is saying over 300,000 KIA. I think Ritter even more. These numbers are so bad and keep only getting bigger that I have trouble keeping up.

        1. Arkady Bogdanov

          I believe Stratfor reported a little over 300k about 6 months ago, for what it’s worth, and Stratfor has pro-western biases, so I took that number as serious.

  19. Steve M

    The die has been cast in this war to transform a centuries-old way of life in a part of Europe that was a crossroads for many peoples.

    In the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s, I could read stories about families torn apart forever because one spouse was, say, Croatian and the other, Serbian. The best chance a lucky few could get was escape to a place where it didn’t matter and start anew, leaving the extended family behind. And even then, “normal” would never be as attractive again.

    I imagine this happening on a massive scale in Ukraine to people who had no say in any of the “issues” on all sides.

    I befriended a lot of Russians while working in Lithuania a long time ago when things appeared hopeful. Thinking about the wider repercussions to people who have nothing to do with this war.

    I pray this isn’t the start of much worse. There are hundreds of thousands in the Baltics.

    Given enough time, I can make myself weep thinking about all the suffering that ordinary civilian people are enduring in this war to this point.

    But I can break my heart just thinking about the suffering to come. It’s a horrific tragedy right before the mind’s eye.

  20. Irrational

    Thanks to Yves for posting the article and making the excellent-as-usual intro and the magnificient commentariat.
    It is good that an article such as this is written and published, however, our beloved MSM is still far from absorbing that truth and agitating for more arms, so most people are totally unaware that this war did not start last year and is not for the reasons stated. I fully agree with Redleg and the Colonel that the “training” NATO is providing is criminally inadequate. However, as long as the MSM is regurgitating UA official KIA numbers, this will not get traction. I do hold out a little hope that an argument along the lines of “if we are so serious about helping the Ukrainians, then why do we keep sending them all our obsolete gear in small numbers?” (now backed up by cartoon linked by the Rev) may get some people to question NATO’s actions just a tiny little bit.

    1. Michaelmas

      Or: “No battle plan survives first contact with the enemy,”

      Said by Field Marshall Helmuth von Moltke, Prussian strategist, the highbow version of Tyson.

      1. Gregory Etchason

        Command and control has dramatically improved battle plan survival since von Moltke.
        Ukraine and NATO seem sorely deficient regarding “command and control. Fighting a war without an Air Force is a fools errand.

        1. Polar Socialist

          I believe especially staff work that has sped up. What used to take a best part of the day for a legion of officers to do (write orders, calculate logistics, find out the known unknowns, report, correct, advice, sort out, rewrite orders etc) can now be done in minutes by a few ‘clerks’.

          Which means that commanders have much more leeway in changing their plans and not commit to a certain sequence of events for the next 48 hours no matter how the reality turns out.

  21. Jack

    I think the training time is a non-issue. Yes, it does matter, everything else being equal. But everything else isn’t equal. Remember that Ukraine started the war with a large army and air force pitted against a small Russian force. By all accounts, all the pundits state that Ukraine began the war with an excellent, well trained, fighting force. It was destroyed. IMO that’s the key and the thing NATO and the West just cannot admit to. That Russian military equipment is vastly superior to NATO’s. As Yves points out, the missile defense that NATO has is very inferior to the Russians. Our EW systems are inferior. Aircraft are inferior. Tanks are inferior. Artillery inferior. The only weapons systems that the west has that is superior to the Russians are submarines. And that too has many problems in terms of repair and maintenance. The west has too long built systems for profit, not purpose. All the training in the world for infantry is not going to matter when they can’t even get to the front line to use it.

    1. Anon

      It’s a non-issue in relation to outcome, but is relevant to intention. There will be a lot of 1/2 Ukrainian babies with an axe to grind.

  22. Gregory Etchason

    Command and control has dramatically improved battle plan survival since von Moltke.
    Ukraine and NATO seem sorely deficient regarding “command and control. Fighting a war without an Air Force is a fools errand.

  23. MFB

    Training is important because of morale. If Ukrainians feel that they’re getting inadequate training — and clearly they are — then how can they genuinely believe that they are fighting an existential threat with the best allies they have? If they’re getting inferior equipment — and they are — then they are likely to recognise that they are not viewed as worthy by their alleged allies.

    Think about the Italian armed forces in World War II. Some of the smaller forces, which enjoyed special favour from the Fascist regime, fought quite well. Most of them, however, were underprepared, underequipped — the forces sent to fight in the Greek mountains didn’t have blankets or proper boots, let alone proper weaponry — and they surrendered in droves.

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