Editor’s Note: The following piece was submitted by SOFREP reader and Former United States Marine Julian McBride. A million thanks to Julian for his contribution.
A Western Military Tradition
The Non-Commissioned Officer Corps has been a Western military standard in maintaining unit cohesion and professionalism. Training enlisted members to have effective small-unit leadership has had great effects in conventional warfare and in peacetime settings.
One of the core aspects of small unit leadership in the US military has been the NCOs, who have learned critical decision-making abilities to save lives and continue to run the operational tempo in battalions smoothly. In Russia, the complete opposite has taken place.
With NCOs being non-existent in the Russian Armed Forces, their organization has incorporated undisciplined junior officers who are forced to recognize heavy top-down orders from senior officers with ties to the oligarchy system of government Putin’s federation has implemented.
During their ongoing invasion of Ukraine, Russian officers have made head-scratching decisions that can be correlated to the forced directives of their Ministry of Defense (MOD). World War One and Two tactics of frontal assaults have been seen on the battlefield, particularly in battles such as Soledar, Bakhmut, Avdiivka, and others.
The unnecessary amount of casualties Russian Forces have taken in the past year has severely hampered their offensive capabilities. Even with the capture of strategically important cities such as Mariupol and Severodonetsk, the victories have been pyrrhic due to the need to rush timelines to capture territory at the behest of MOD.
Moscow rarely conducts large-scale offensives, as seen in the first months of the war, and now relies heavily on localized offensives, often conducted by the Wagner Group, as RF (Russian Federation) forces have become extremely weakened. With localized offensives seen in cities such as Bakhmut, Soledar, and Kremmina, NCOs could’ve played a major role in organizational conduct. Lacking them has led to officers making inane decisions and mistakes often repeated continuously.
Russian Officers have orders to push their men to certain death and often do not challenge their orders. With non-commissioned officers, their small unit leadership and their critical thinking abilities allow them to suggest different methods of approach with their platoon leaders—led by a company grade officer such as a First and Second Lieutenant.
For example, when an officer gives a directive and an order is given to secure a strategic point, the NCOs will strategize and analyze how to achieve the objectives. Sergeant Major Jeremy Crisp would emphasize on this, that soldiers are allowed flexible critical decision-making if there was an obstacle not previously seen in the mission planning by officers. These include hills, roadblocks, and mines where NCOs can analyze and change their course of action but still stay on the mission path to reach an objective.
The U.S Marine Corps is the perfect example of small unit leadership and having Non-Commissioned Officers as the backbone of military success, as many recipients of valor medals come from those ranks.
The Battle of Vuhledar showed the lack of organizational leadership and how lower-ranking officers are not able to think critically or analyze how to conduct offensives, even when they are led into certain doom.
The elite 155th Naval Infantry Brigade was nearly wiped out in the offensive, suffering 5000 casualties in less than a week by continuously ordering soldiers to assault known minefields with hundreds of pieces of armor lost. No Russian officer was punished for the failed offensive. Instead, General Muradov, who commanded the lower officers during the disaster, was promoted by Defense Minister Shoigu shortly thereafter.
Numerous videos have appeared of RF, often ill-equipped and lacking proper PPE on the battlefield. This is also the flaw of not having NCOs, whose responsibilities would include full checks of gear for the conscripts before missions.
When Vladimir Putin reconstituted the Russian military after its poor performance in the First Chechen War, he replaced his command with loyalists, many of which are multimillionaires who made a living off embezzling state funds and having questionable connections to the Russian oligarchy system.
Where Russia showed its military might and scared the world with decisive operations and conflicts in Chechnya, Georgia, and Syria, their lack of organized command has been shown against a professional conventional force such as Ukraine.
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Moscow’s modern-day military prowess has been hampered by an unorganized general command shrouded in bureaucracy, various factions emerging amongst battlefield losses, and shadow conflicts with PMCs (Private Military Contractors). Lower officers have little to no say and ultimately are the ones who end up as casualties in the war thus far.
As the spring approaches with Western armor and long-range artillery making their way onto the battlefield, Russian Forces and their lack of discipline among junior officers will be tested as the ZSU (armed forces of Ukraine) looks to organize future offensives. If Russia continues to falter on strategic objectives in the war thus far, the lack of NCOs and small unit leadership will continue to be apparent.
Julian McBride is a forensic anthropologist and independent journalist born in New York. He reports and documents the plight of people around the world who are affected by conflicts, rogue geopolitics, and war, and also tells the stories of war victims whose voices are never heard. Julian is the founder and director of the Reflections of War Initiative (ROW), an anthropological NGO which aims to tell the stories of the victims of war through art therapy. As a former Marine, he uses this technique not only to help heal PTSD but also to share people’s stories through art, which conveys “the message of the brutality of war better than most news organizations.”
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