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Military Options for Ukraine


28 March 2014

The Red Barbarian is massing on the Ukrainian border.  A hundred thousand Russian troops are said to be preparing to invade Ukraine.  Russians can easily prevail against the tiny Ukrainian military if Ukrainians stand their ground.  But a larger guerrilla war can be another story.  We easily beat back the Iraqi Army and masses of Taliban, only to face long, bloody guerrilla wars.

One hundred thousand troops were not enough for us in Iraq or Afghanistan, which each have populations of about 30 million.  Ukraine has about 45 million, and so if the estimates are right, Russia is showing up with about one soldier per 450 people.  How many are willing to fight is unknown.

The current popular belief is that there are no realistic military options to counter Russia.  The following words are not intended as an endorsement of action, or as an endorsement of the wisdom of taking military action.  This is only to mention that there are many available NATO military responses that do not include direct confrontation.  This is about proxy war.  One designed to severely punish Russia for stealing a country, and to damage Russia’s military to help prevent other near term actions.

This is an example of a single type of action that is possible today which was not possible even ten years ago.

In Iraq and Afghanistan, I witnessed our use of GPS guided rockets, artillery and even mortars.  Combined with amazing real-time intelligence, the lethality of these new systems is like something from a Terminator movie.

Sliding down to the smallest scale, today we have 120mm GPS guided mortar rounds with a range of over four miles, with a first shot kill ability.  I saw these in Afghanistan.

If a mortar team can get within four miles of a target, it can wreak havoc day or night, even shooting over hills.

This is the important point: a team can do this without ever seeing the target, or even knowing what the target is.  The team only needs to be within range and have the coordinates, which coordinates they can get from many methods, such as a satellite.  They can get the coordinates and range from a map or from Google Earth.  The team can also receive a text sent by the USA, UK, Poland or someone else.  We can get the coordinates by using satellites or spies, as example.  Ukrainians supply the muscle.  We or they supply the coordinates.  The Russians supply the targets.

This capability should not be shrugged off.  We took thousands of incoming mortar rounds on bases in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Nearly all of them missed, but we also took thousands of casualties.  Yet if the Taliban had GPS guided mortar rounds, they would only need to know the coordinates of one C-17 aircraft to shoot one round and destroy 200 million dollars worth of airplane.  They would only need to know the location of our headquarters to put one round into the commander’s office.  If the Taliban had this, we would have easily suffered many thousands more killed, and could not have parked so much of our Air Force in the open.  Everything important would have needed to be in bunkers.

Ukrainian mortar teams can be trained anywhere from Romania to Poland to Fort Bragg on the easy use of these GPS systems, and teams can be outfitted with secure communications systems.  They can be infiltrated back into Ukraine with their gear.  Infiltration is a big word.  They can just drive in.  Ukraine is their country.

Ammunition resupply can happen overland, via helicopter, airplane, parachute, or drone.  The mortar teams’ missions would be simple.  They must only get their small systems within range of targets and then shoot.

For always-on radars, they would be easy to hit.  A parked train would be simple.  Night after night, countless mortar teams could each drop a few rounds which nearly always hit sleeping Russian troops.  The troops would know every night that there would be fewer comrades by morning.  Even a handful of mortar teams could kill or injure hundreds of Russian soldiers per week.

This capability would cause the Russians to spend enormous resources trying to kill the mortar crews, and certainly they would get some, and we would continue to train more.  Scaling this up,  GPS guided artillery rounds could be supplied with far greater standoff.  Of course the Russians would use counterbattery radar which would get the first shot.

Combining these and many other new capabilities with our real-time intelligence capabilities can make Russian aggression painful, expensive, and not worth it.  Other countries such as Moldova and Estonia may be next.

This is a simplistic scenario that could be greatly expanded to catch the Red Barbarian in a bear trap.

To repeat, this is not an endorsement that we should do these things, but I saw in Afghanistan that we now have the capacity to wage hybrid guerrilla-conventional combat with an effectiveness that the world has never before seen.

Of course the Russians might respond by supplying our enemies in other parts of the world with man portable surface to air missiles.

Michael Yon

Michael Yon is America's most experienced combat correspondent. He has traveled or worked in 82 countries, including various wars and conflicts.

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