Ukraine Goes ‘Back To The Future’ with IEDs

After the United States and coalition partners invaded Iraq on March 20, 2003, it was not long before improvised explosive devices – sometimes called roadside bombs or simply IEDs – began to take a toll. Less sophisticated at first, and initially underestimated by senior United States military leaders because of the inability of IEDs in the first months of the invasion to significantly damage combat vehicles, IED incidents grew rapidly and became devastating in their sophistication and effectiveness.  In his 2017 article, Jason Shell concluded “60 percent of all American fatalities in Iraq and half of all American fatalities in Afghanistan, more than 3,500 in total, were caused by IEDs.”  Additionally, in its heyday, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) was producing IEDs on a truly industrial scale, and enjoying significant battlefield successes until a concerted effort was made to eliminate the group.  To understand where Ukraine is going on the IED front, we must first return to the past.  Borrowing a phrase from the famous movie of the same name, we must go “back to the future.”

Since the discovery of gunpowder around the 10th century AD by the Chinese as described in the Wujing Zongyao manuscripts, humanity has found ways to use explosives in various conflicts. The current war between Russia and Ukraine, the latest iteration of which began on February 24, 2022, is no exception. Now more than 50 days in length, the war has featured conventional force-on-force engagements, but the outmanned and outgunned Ukrainian military has demonstrated great creativity and use of asymmetric and unconventional tacticsin exacting a very bloody toll on invading Russian army units.

In a series of Tweets starting on February 28th and thru the present, I have been both predicting and describing an insurgency using weaponized commercial drones (also known as unmanned aerial systems – UAS) and improvised explosive devices – IEDs – of the same sort and variety as what long targeted the United States and coalition forces in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria and elsewhere.  Drones have already burst on the scene in a significant way, and so too have IEDs increasingly made an appearance, beginning in mid-March 2022 based upon my analysis of the social media posts which have gushed steadily from the region.

As Russian forces and their proxies attempt to make the best out of an invasion that has, by all accounts, gone spectacularly bad for them, Ukrainian special forces (known by the English acronym SSO, corresponding to the Ukrainian language words Сили Cпеціальних Oперацій – Special Operations Forces) have begun to effectively use various forms of IEDs to strike Russian forces, something I expect to accelerate as the war pivots to a different phase, as evidenced by apparent Russian attempts to concentrate combat power in the Donbas region and to create a land bridge linking Crimea to mainland Russia.