For more than a decade we have been told that the Russian Army was modernizing itself to the point where it was an actual “Peer Military” to the United States, here are some of the headlines in the Western press about the new and improved Russian army.
On April 20th, 2014, the Washington Times ran this headline, “Tactical advantage: Russian military shows off impressive new gear”
On January 27th, 2022, the New York Times ran this headline, “Russia’s Military, Once Creaky, Is Modern And Lethal”
On February 4th, 2022, the UK Telegraph ran this headline, “How Vladimir Putin turned Russia’s dilapidated military into a modern, lethal machine”
On February 27th, 2022, the Conversation ran this, “How the Russian military remade itself into a modern, efficient and deadly fighting machine”
You get the picture. The new headlines now express the bafflement of “experts” on how badly the Russian army is doing when all they have to do is look at the information coming out of Ukraine to know the truth, the Russian army is a mess and seemingly incapable of pulling off a combined arms offensive, which is what their army is structured to do. Looking over the evidence carefully we see signs that the Russian army is decades behind the U.S. in terms of capabilities on the battlefield and that in an actual conflict with the U.S., it would suffer crippling casualties in men and materials. What follows below is what we see in the pictures coming out of the war in Ukraine and how they combine to reveal a picture of an army that looks powerful on paper but in reality is operationally incompetent, poorly equipped and badly led.
Below are some examples of what we have seen.
The Failed Helicopter Assault On Hostomel Airport
The Russians launched a helicopter airborne assault on an airport in broad daylight. On February 24th, about twenty Mi-8 helicopters carrying Russian paratroopers with an unknown number of KA-52 Alligator gunships attempted to seize the Hostomel airport with the objective of securing a landing zone for a parachute drop of additional troops and supplies from another 20 or so IL-76 transports. Two SU-25 Grach close air support aircraft were also in company.
They did not come in the dark of night or even at dawn but approached the airfield in daylight around 8 AM local time. The result was a bloody fiasco. At least two of the KA-52 gunships were downed by Ukrainian Mig-29s and 5 or 6 of the Mi-8 transport helicopters were also shot down carrying as many as 24 paratroopers each. These losses represented as much as 25% of the assault forces being killed in the first minutes of the battle.
The remaining troops landed to find that the Ukrainians had cratered the runway as they evacuated the night before leaving it useless to land heavy transports with more troops and vehicles, and ammunition. They were then attacked by Ukraine’s National Guard comprised of infantry and armored vehicles as well as Ukrainian Mig-29s. This loss of control over the airspace resulted in the Russians canceling the drop of several thousand more troops by perhaps 20 IL-76 transports because the Russian assault force did not have any fighter cover overhead.
The now cut-off and understrength remainder of the Russian paratroopers were driven out of the airport with heavy casualties and scattered into the surrounding woods.
Where did they fail and what did we learn from it? Well first, going in during daylight was operationally unsound. Helicopters are relatively slow and loud. At night you can offset their slow speed and loud noise to make it harder for an enemy to determine what direction they are coming in from and make them less visible to gunners on the ground. Coming in at daylight gives your enemy plenty of time to get their guns trained and to know the approximate strength of the attack coming at them.
They also failed to dominate the airspace over the airport to handle the appearance of any Ukrainian jets that might show up.
They also failed to conduct a discrete pre-dawn reconnaissance of the airport that would have shown the airfield was unusable and that sizable Ukrainian forces were nearby with armored vehicles able to react to any landing.
Read Next: Why Russia’s War in Ukraine Today Is So Different From a Year Ago
In contrast, The U.S. once seized two airports almost at the same time, by helicopter assault and parachute landings done in the dark before dawn with AC-130 gunships overhead to provide close air support. There was no need for fighter cover overhead because the enemy did not have an air force to speak of, but there were navy jets close by just in case something unexpected occurred. This was in 1983 during the Grenada Invasion, almost 40 years ago. Both assaults done by army Rangers, paratroopers, and Marines were successful with minimal casualties. When it was found that one of the airports had its runways obstructed preventing planes from landing, the troops donned parachutes and jumped onto the airfield instead. This change of plan was done mid-flight on the way to the objective.
Past operations like Grenada are studied not only by our own military but also by foreign militaries like Russia to learn from both successes and mistakes. Obviously, making these assaults at night is the way to go, if you can.
If you can.
We think the lesson here is that Russia doesn’t have night vision equipment for their pilots to do these kinds of operations at night, so they had to go during the day. The Russians may have told themselves that the landings would be unopposed, but that really isn’t a good reason to depart from the sound military doctrine that you are equipped for and have trained on. The Russians did what they could with what they had on hand at the time and it’s nearly half a century behind the U.S. in terms of sophistication and equipment.
The Deputy Commander Of An Entire Russian Army Was Killed By A Sniper
Major General Andrei Sukhovetsky, Deputy Commander of the 41st Combined Arms Army and the former commander of the VDV’s 7th Air Assault Division, was killed by a Sniper while visiting the front lines. There are numerous videos and photos of Russian soldiers surrendering but very few include officers. This is amidst reports that Russian officers are in the rear with the gear and not personally leading their men into the fight. For the deputy commander of an entire army to be sent to the front suggests that things are going poorly and that he was sent to report back on what was actually going on and to put a boot to the butt of any officers not doing their jobs, like providing for security from sniper fire for visiting officers from HQ. They have also lost a Division Commander(General) and a Regimental Commander(Colonel) in the fighting as well.
Russian troops Seem To Be Armed With A Mix Of Weapons
Back in 2019 Russia announced that their troops would be equipped with new AK-12 and AK-15 rifles to replace the AKM which replaced the AK-74 which replaced the AK-47. In this picture, we think we see at least three different rifles, the AK-12, AKM and AK-74. This suggests that Russia still doesn’t have a standard battle rifle for its entire army and different units are equipped with a mix of weapons and a small logistical nightmare of different parts and even ammunition types.
Something else is missing too, something important for a modern army battle rifle.
Optical sights. These rifles all have iron sights even though two have top and bottom rail systems for optical sights, lasers, and foregrips. Even the older models have adaptors to fix optical sights on them and even these are lacking. Maybe you don’t want to give this rather expensive gear to your greenest troops in training, but you would certainly hand them out when you are going to war.
If you have them to hand out, which we think this picture and numerous others showing Russian troops with iron sites on the rifles means the Russian army uses them for show but they are not in wide use among the troops.
Why Would You Put A Water Truck In The Middle Of An Armored Column?
The above is a screen capture from a Twitter video showing the aftermath of a rocket artillery strike on a Russian armored column moving through a town last week. We knew it was rocket artillery when we saw armored fighting vehicles blown to bits by the attack, as Javelin missiles don’t break them into chunks and throw diesel engines 50 ft from the wreck, but we did notice something curious in the video.
A water truck.
We identify it as an ordinary Kamaz water truck for the troops but marked the curious presence of it in the middle of an armored convoy. It’s just not the sort of thing you would see in a mechanized infantry unit on the attack.
Unless that unit was sent into that town to get water?
Expired Ration For The Troops
In the first days of the invasion, we saw a video of a destroyed Russian fighting vehicle and Ukrainian soldiers had emptied it of its contents. Among the clothes, webbing, and other stuff they pulled from the vehicle was a full cardboard carton of the Russian Army version of the MRE. A screengrab we took of the video showed the ration was made in October 2013 and expired in October, 2015.
It was seven years past its expiration date. Not only was it not discarded, but it was also retained to be issued to the troops going into combat.
40 Year Old Rockets And Painted Green
We’ve also seen other pictures of things like cases for 240mm rockets that were manufactured 40 years ago.
The Russians spent months and months on the Ukraine border to prepare, yet their tanks are all painted dark green, as they prepared to invade a country that in winter appears in shades of tan and white. White and tan paint can’t cost that much and the labor is free. Slapping a coat of winter camo on their vehicles would have been noticed by us too and further signaled that the Russians were preparing to invade Ukraine, so why didn’t they?
Finally, over the years much has been made of new Russian super tanks like the T-90M Armata, but the only one we have seen was found in the woods abandoned by its crew, not destroyed in battle.
They broke it.
We Think The Absence Of The T-90M Armata Provides The Crucial Clue
The vast majority of the tanks engaged in combat so far(and seen destroyed have been T-72s and T-80s. It would be easy to say that the reason we haven’t seen any T-90Ms destroyed is that they are so good they can’t be killed, but these tanks arent’s appearing in any videos rolling triumphantly unscathed through Ukrainian towns either, or the Russians would have surely shown them to the world. This also strikes us as strange. From a doctrine standpoint, you would put your best equipped and trained units at the head of your attack formations, not at the rear, or not in there at all. We think we know the answer and it relates to all the other things you’ve just read. Back in 2015, the T-14 Armata made its first appearance in Moscow at the annual May Day parade commemorating the Communist Revolution(We know, it’s odd for a country that ditched communism to celebrate the day when it became communist). Russia announced that it would be building 2,300 Armatas in the future to replace their aging T-72 and T-80 models. With just one prototype made, the press was saying that the reign of the M1A Abrams tank was over. At just $4 million a copy, it seemed cheap enough that Russia would be able to build them too.
Except that they didn’t.
To the best of anyone’s knowledge, only 100 of these state-of-the-art Russian tanks have been built so far. Even though they cost a paltry $4 million a copy. By contrast, the U.S. has built 8,100 Abrams tanks since 1979 that cost about $6-8 million each on average.
When you look at a Russian army equipping its troops with antique weapons from the 1970s and feeding them rations 7 years past their expiration date and gloriously pronouncing on new tanks they can’t afford to even build, a clear picture emerges.
The army Russia has today in Ukraine is the army it had in the 1980s with a fresh coat of paint but well past its “Best Served By” date on the label, and it shows in their failure in conducting a combined arms operation in Ukraine which has been humiliating them on TV and social media all over the world.
Which begs the question, just what is the U.S. and NATO so afraid of when it comes to Russia?
Their nuclear weapons?
How old are they?
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