The View From Olympus: Learning Russians

There is an old saying that Russia is never as strong as it appears to be, and Russia is never as weak as it appears to be. According to the lead story in the October 15  New York Times, “Russian Military Uses Syria as Proving Ground, and West Takes Notice,” the pendulum is swinging from focusing on Russia’s weakness to seeing her again as strong and threatening. Much of the latter is threat inflation, an old Pentagon practice during the Cold War. (After lecturing on military reform many years ago at the Air Force’s Squadron Officers’ School, an Air Force intel captain came up to me and asked, “Does military reform mean we can stop inflating the threat?”)

But it does seem the Russians have learned. The Times story notes that Russian jets in Syria are now conducting as many airstrikes in a day as the U.S. and its allies have been carrying out in a month. Sortie rate is an important measure of an air force’s effectiveness, and ours has long been abysmal, except for the A-10. The newer our equipment, the worse the picture, because each new aircraft we buy requires more maintenance hours per flight hour than the one it replaced.

But the real importance of President Putin’s military reform program lies not in equipment but in ideas. As American military reformers used to say, quoting Col. John Boyd, “For winning wars, people are most important, ideas come second, and hardware is only third.” The Times noted that Russian reforms have included tactics and strategy, not just equipment. And they included the all-important “people” category:

Mr. Putin . . . began a military modernization program that focused not only on high-profile procurement of new weapons . . . but also on a less-noticed overhaul of training and organization that included reduction in the bloated officer corps and the development of a professional corps of noncommissioned officers.

As any visitor to an American headquarters quickly sees, Russia was not alone in having a bloated officer corps. But ours keeps growing.

We here witness an old military phenomenon: the loser learns while the victor goes to sleep on his pile of trophies. Russia was one of the twentieth century’s big losers, along with Austria and Germany. The defeat in World War I, the Red Revolution, Stalin, Communism’s murder of 60 million Russians, the immense destruction inflicted by World War II, and, with the fall of Communism, Russia’s retreat to roughly the borders she had when Peter the Great came to the throne, add up to a catastrophe Americans cannot grasp.

But Russia is now recovering under President Putin, and her defeats and failures have taught her some things. Among those learning are the Russian military. Several decades ago, the Soviet Army historian John Erickson said to me, “Do you want to understand the Russian army today? Ask yourself what it was like under Nicholas I.” I think that is no longer true.

The laggard now is the U.S. military, happily vegetating in the Second  Generation of modern war, content to lose wars so long as the money keeps flowing, led largely by generals and admirals who are interchangeable in their skills and attitudes with Soviet industrial managers. The quality of the product is not important; what matters is acquiring and justifying resources.

That self-satisfied (at senior levels) and sleepy military is in turn employed by a foreign policy elite that lives in Disneyland, a place where the whole world is to be reduced to a nursery run by themselves and their European counterparts. All the children will play nice because they tell them to.

Among the consequences of this departure from reality is a failure to ally with both Russia and China in defense of the state system against Fourth Generation war. In Syria, while a reality-based Kremlin acts in support of the remnants of the Syrian state, we bleat about Russian air attacks on our “democratic allies” who do not exist.

As I said, this is an old, old story. It always has the same ending: yesterday’s winner is tomorrow’s loser. Regrettably, that’s us. favicon

8 thoughts on “The View From Olympus: Learning Russians”

  1. While it’s certain that Russia is, in halting and stumbling fashion sometimes, trying to learn…some of the reason for the sortie rate is that President Sock Monkey doesn’t really want to fight ISIS. Yes, there’s a drone strike or a single bomb dropped there, but it’s pretty obvious that the deranged ape in the White House is on their side and our effort there is mostly for show while he smuggles weapons to his Sunni brethren in ISIS.

  2. After the shoot-down by Turkey in Syria it is fairly obvious that the “West” is actively supporting IS as an opposition to Assad.

  3. The Turkish government has obviously tried to abuse its position as a NATO member. A false move, a very reckless one.

    Regarding the Russian military, they have an additional advantage: no ideological interference, i.e., no diversity programs are expected.

  4. If the Russian army until recently was that of Peter the Great, seems to me that the US Army is in doctrine basically that of Ulysses S Grant – the ‘Second Generation’ emphasis on artillery is much more complementary than transformative to the basic notion of linear warfare, effective logistics, and hammer-blow tactics; what the Russians call the Zhukov Doctrine. The Grant/Zhukov doctrine is an effective way for an army superior in men and materiel to defeat a smaller and generally inferior conventional enemy even if that enemy has some superiority in tactical flexibility and fighting spirit (the Confederacy, the Wehrmacht); against an all-around inferior conventional enemy such as the 1991 Iraqi military, it is devastating. Of course it does not defeat guerilla light infantry, and against an effective Third Generation peer there is potential for complete disaster (France 1940; western USSR 1941).

    The US is unlikely to face such a peer on even terms, primarily for political reasons – Russia might now be tactically superior to the US, and capable of defeating a US force of similar size, but the US military is vastly larger in modern MBTs, air and sea; and more importantly the US continuing economic & political dominance means that Russia will avoid direct conflict if at all possible.

  5. How is Turkey trying to abuse its position in NATO? US paid for Turkey and Jordan to allow US/Nato operatives to train the Libyan demonstrators and the Syrian Rebels (Al Quaeda which morphed to ISIS). The result of Libya was that the French special ops (one of the ‘demonstrators’) assassinated M.G… and a cache of Stinger Missiles went missing. Amb Chris Stevens was whacked when Hillary could have prevented it . (Admiral Ace Lyons confirmed that the US has a ready force capable of protecting him, but they were never authorized to go in… they could have been there 7 hours before he was killed). The Stinger missiles that went missing are easily capable of taking down the Russian airliner over Egypt and a lot of airliners elsewhere. Who has them? US-trained operatives and their ‘rebel’ forces trained by them. The massacres in recent years in Syria were at the hands of the Nato trained rebels. The attacks of Assad on his people were history… did they occur in the past , yes they did. Just as under US protection, Saddam Hussein did the same thing. Later the very wicked that the US tolerated, they used to punish him because that puppet was not dancing so well. Prior to and after 9/11 Iraq was more than willing to allow inspectors in and all sorts of economic aid for the US since Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11, but the fomenters of 9/11 had much to do with their desires for Iraq and Afghanistan. Research: Taliban and the oil pipeline deal May 2001. Research: DoD requests to Congress for funding the ‘rebels’. Research” Defense contractor awards by country. There are elements in the US and One World Order administration who want to make war in the world… they make money and they want World War III so that they can make more money. People in their eyes are collateral damage. The country of the manufacturer of the aircraft piloted by the Turkish aviator probably had something to do with it.

  6. My understanding is that they are actively supporting the Al Qaeda-linked rebels, but only passively supporting Daesh, by not targeting Daesh forces in contact with SAA forces. OTOH Turkey actively supports Daesh through channeling supplies & fighters, and the US goes along with that.

  7. What you say is broadly true, but I would assert that Turkey is taking advantage of the NATO umbrella to pursue her considerable ambitions in the region. Erdogan seems to be calculating that even if this means overstepping the mark with Russia he can depend on full NATO backing. A very risky strategy.

  8. “,,,but the US military is vastly larger in modern MBTs, air and sea;
    and more importantly the US continuing economic & political
    dominance means that Russia will avoid direct conflict if at all

    Almost fell out of my chair reading this….I was LAUGHING SO HARD…sigh. The US economy is TANKING…except for folks
    at gun stores Black Friday was a bust, we face another round of disastrous Obamacare penalties this coming year and the
    unemployment rate is more like 29%. I will leave to others here to detail the laughingstock our political elites have made
    of the US on the world stage. In such an environment having a few extra Abrams or useless aircraft carriers means
    nothing. Without sound leadership and a healthy economy the american empire is finished…

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