Tanks and Russian Hybrid Warfare

tanks-russian-hybrid-warfareU.S. Army Major Amos Fox, currently a student at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, has produced an insightful analysis of the role of tanks in Russian hybrid warfare tactics and operations. His recent article in Armor, the journal of the U.S. Army Maneuver Center of Excellence at Ft. Benning, Georgia, offers a sense of the challenges of high-intensity combat on the near-future hybrid warfare battlefield.

Fox assesses current Russia Army tactical and operational capabilities as quite capable.

Russia’s contemporary operations embody the characteristic of surprise. Russian operations in Georgia and Ukraine demonstrate a rapid, decentralized attack seeking to temporally dislocate the enemy, triggering the opposing forces’ defeat. These methods stand in stark contrast to the old Soviet doctrine of methodical, timetable-and echelon-driven employment of ground forces that sought to outmass the opposing army. Current Russian land-warfare tactics are something which most armies, including the U.S. Army, are largely unprepared to address.

Conversely, after achieving limited objectives, Russia quickly transitions to the defense using ground forces, drones and air-defense capabilities to build a tough, integrated position from which extrication would be difficult, to be sure. Russia’s defensive operations do not serve as a simple shield, but rather, as a shield capable of also delivering well-directed, concentrated punches on the opposition army. Russia’s paradoxical use of offensive operations to set up the defense might indicate an ascendency of the defense as the preferred method of war in forthcoming conflicts.

These capabilities will pose enormous challenges to U.S. and allied forces in any potential land combat scenario.

Russia’s focus on limited objectives, often in close proximity to its own border, indicates that U.S. Army combined-arms battalions and cavalry squadrons will likely find themselves on the wrong end of the “quality of firsts” (Figure 4). The U.S. Army’s physical distance from those likely battlefields sets the Army at a great disadvantage because it will have to hastily deploy forces to the region, meaning the Army will arrive late; the arrival will also be known (location, time and force composition). The Army will have great difficulty seizing the initiative due to its arrival and movement being known, which weakens the Army’s ability to fight and win decisively. This dynamic provides time, space and understanding for the enemy to further prepare for combat operations and strengthen its integrated defensive positions. Therefore, U.S. Army combined-arms battalions and cavalry squadrons must be prepared to fight through a rugged enemy defense while maintaining the capability for continued offensive operations.

Fox’s entire analysis is well worth reading and pondering. He also published another excellent analysis of Russian hybrid warfare with a General Staff College colleague, Captain (P) Andrew J. Rossow, in Small Wars Journal.

Too busy to read

A reposted email by retired General Mattis, who is being considered for Secretary of Defense. This is worth reading: general-james-mattis-email

Opening sentence:

“….The problem with being too busy to read is that you learn by experience (or by your men’s experience), i.e. the hard way. By reading, you learn through other’s experiences, generally a better way to do business, especially in our line of work where the consequences of incompetence are so final for young men.”


“Ultimately, a real understanding of history means that we face NOTHING new under the sun. For all the ‘4th Generation of War’ intellectuals running around today saying that the nature of war has fundamentally changed, the tactics are wholly new, etc, I must respectfully say….’Not really’…”


“‘Winging it’ and filling body bags as we sort out what works reminds us of the moral dictates and the cost of incompetence in our profession.”

What will be our plans for Afghanistan?

I gather it is still somewhat unknown what we will doing in Afghanistan after 20 January 2017. This concern, among many others, was flagged in my post of 9 November: Questions

It is also discussed in depth in this article: Afghanistan is All Ready to be Donald Trump’s First Foreign Policy Disaster

This article is worth reading. Major points:

  1. Afghanistan is failing.
  2. “More troops? more money? withdrawal?”

Anyhow, we do have a new category in the blog called “National Security Policy”…..as I am very curious as to what we are actually going to do.

National Security Team II

The other pick last week was K. T. McFarland for Deputy National Security advisor. She was an aide to Henry Kissinger 1970-76. Worked in DOD under Caspar Weinberger and was on the board of the Jamestown Foundation (which used to include Zbigniew Brzezinski). She has worked for Fox News most recently. Don’t know her views on particular issues, but it appears that she is well known inside the community and is a much more mainstream choice than General Flynn.

Wikipedia page: K.T. McFarland

Still waiting to see who is selected for Secretary of State and Secretary of Defense.

National Security Team

Hard to ignore all the drama being publically played out over who is going to be who in the new Trump administration. There were two new picks made this last week but they hardly tell us what is going to be the direction of our foreign and defense policy.

For ambassador to the United Nations they choose South Carolina governor Nikki Halley.

Wikipedia bio: Nikki Haley

Somewhat critical article: Ignorance is Bliss

Hard to argue with the article. Spending a couple of weeks seeing the inside of hotels in Europe hardly qualifies one to be a foreign policy expert.

There have been 29 acting or approved U.S. ambassadors to the United Nations. Some of these have been very established political names (like Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr., Adlai Stevenson, George H. W. Bush), some have been established foreign policy experts and even a few have been professional diplomats (what a concept!). This is certainly a pick that is none of the above. This has happened before (Andrew Young’s selection by Jimmy Carter comes to mind). It is an odd pick.

List of past U. N. Ambassadors is here: United_States_Ambassador_to_the_United_Nations

The U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations has often been a cabinet-level position under democratic presidents but is usually not a cabinet level position under republican presidents. I have not heard, but suspect that this will not be a cabinet-level position. My sense is that she will not be a major player in determining national security policy.

Iranian Losses in Syria

In case you weren’t paying close attention, the Assad government in Syria has been heavily propped up by Iran, Hezbollah and Russia. Iran has had troops there for a while. According to Iran’s Tasnim new agency, they have lost over a thousand of them during the war. That is a surprisingly high figure: Over-1-000-iranian-troops

Mosul is Cut-off

Mosul is now completely cut-off. Before now, there was still a desert corridor heading off to the west, although I assume the ISIL leaders had bailed out of Mosul long before now: Mosul Completely Surrounded

A few interesting points from the article:

  1. “CNN has repeatedly inquired about military casualty numbers with Iraq’s Joint Operations Command, but the Iraqi military has refused to release that information. It has said it will only give a death toll of its soldiers once the operation is over.”
  2. “In the Kurdistan region, hospitals in the city of Irbil say they receive an average of 80 to 90 people a day from Mosul and the surrounding areas….”

80-90 a day is a lot of civilian casualties, depending on how many days this has been the case.

Slow and Low

Slow progress in retaking Mosul and low casualties: mosul-battle

A couple of points that caught my attention:

  1. “Baghdad doesn’t release official casualty figures, but some medics estimate that it is at least in the low dozens.”
  2. “As of late October, US officials said ISIS had lost roughly 900 fighters.”
  3. From 17 October to 1 November, 2,400 precision bombs, artillery rounds, missiles, and rockets were launched into the Mosul area.

So, Iraqi casualties less than 60?…..I have some doubts about the claimed 900 ISIL fighters killed.

Now….tempted to count number of bombs, artillery rounds, etc. per ISIL fighter killed….but not sure this is a particularly meaningful metric.

Anyhow, Mosul is effectively isolated. The main roads have been cut. I gather there is a open area of desert to the west that is not occupied, but any significant movement in the open with our airplanes and drones overhead is probably not advisable. This is fundamentally a mop-up operation, and not surprisingly, it is going slow and with low casualties. We shall see if they take the city in 6 weeks or so.

I still wonder how many ISIL fighters they actually left behind in Mosul.

Concrete and COIN

A U.S. Soldier of 1-6 battalion, 2nd brigade, 1st Army Division, patrols near the wall in the Shiite enclave of Sadr city, Baghdad, Iraq, on Monday, June 9, 2008. The 12-foot concrete barrier is has been built along a main street dividing southern Sadr city from north and it is about 5 kilometers, (3.1 miles) long. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)

A U.S. Soldier of 1-6 battalion, 2nd brigade, 1st Army Division, patrols near the wall in the Shiite enclave of Sadr city, Baghdad, Iraq, on Monday, June 9, 2008. The 12-foot concrete barrier is has been built along a main street dividing southern Sadr city from north and it is about 5 kilometers, (3.1 miles) long. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)

U.S. Army Major John Spencer, an instructor at the Modern War Institute at West Point, has written an insightful piece about the utility of the ubiquitous concrete barrier in counterinsurgency warfare. Spencer’s ode is rooted in his personal experiences in Iraq in 2008.

When I deployed to Iraq as an infantry soldier in 2008 I never imagined I would become a pseudo-expert in concrete. But that is what happened—from small concrete barriers used for traffic control points to giant ones to protect against deadly threats like improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and indirect fire from rockets and mortars. Miniature concrete barriers were given out by senior leaders as gifts to represent entire tours. By the end my deployment, I could tell you how much each concrete barrier weighed. How much each barrier cost. What crane was needed to lift different types. How many could be emplaced in a single night. How many could be moved with a military vehicle before its hydraulics failed.

He goes on to explain how concrete barriers were used by U.S. forces for force protection in everything from combat outposts to forward operating bases; to interdict terrain from checkpoints to entire neighborhoods in Baghdad; and as fortified walls during the 2008 Battle for Sadr City. His piece is a testament to both the ingenuity of soldiers in the field and non-kinetic solutions to battlefield problems.

[NOTE: The post has been edited.]