Information operations · Information Warfare · Russia · Ukraine

How Russians Fight And How A Javelin Missile Changes Everything

I have had many discussions with Russians about arming Ukraine with lethal weapons. Most of these discussions have been with Russian trolls in various forums, usually within comment sections for news sites, LiveLeak, Facebook, and LinkedIn. I have repeatedly suggested that Ukraine will hopefully be armed with Javelin FGM-148 Anti-Tank Missiles.

Javelin striking distant target

Most of the time their response has been “Why? Ukraine already has tons of RPGs”.  Russian trolls don’t seem to understand the huge difference between RPGs and Javelins.

As for the Russian leadership, they’ve already started saying ‘we’re going to adjust our strategy accordingly’.  The Russians will probably just increase the numbers being thrown at the Ukrainians and accept the losses. If I was still an intel bubba, I’d predict an increase in their manning by 10 – 20%.  There is no need to shift their main effort or to adjust lanes. They will just push aside the burning hulks and drive on, that’s what they’ve done historically.

There is an excellent book: Kursk: The Battle of Prokhorovka by Christopher A. Lawrence. Prokhorovka, Belgorod Oblast, Russia, is just a stone’s throw from Kharkiv, Ukraine at 138 km. I sat beside the author at a conference a year ago and spent much of the conference reading his excellent book. 1,600 pages of detailed analysis, with tons of maps, pictures, and charts.  As a former Mechanized Infantry officer who worked extensively with tanks, I really appreciated the terrain analysis, he really made it jump out at me – the terrain is similar. My major takeaway was not what the author, Chris Lawrence intended, not at all. I got a very strong feeling, which ran counter to everything I ever read about the Soviets. I realized that the Soviets were not good strategists or tacticians, they just kept pouring people and tanks at a problem until the enemy basically ran out of bullets and shells. Then they simply overran their enemies.

I ran a LAW (Light Anti-Tank Weapon) range at Grafenwöhr/Grafenwoehr when stationed in then West Germany and I got a harsh reality check when I realized how close a tank had to be to knock it out with a LAW.  In researching this blog, I found that the newest version of the T-72 has a range of 5 kilometers means they can see an awfully long way, so the chance of a LAW, as well as an RPG being effectively used, is near zero.  A Javelin has a much better standoff range.

The max range for a Russian tank is T-90/T-80/T-72 for a HEAT round is 3000 m, for an HE round it is 4000 m, all three firing variants of the main gun 2A46 125 mm gun.  The Reflecks 9M119M1 missile is approximately 5 km (I doubt the single listing which says 11.2 km range), but it is just for the new T-14 tank.  Because of the rolling terrain, the normal engagement for any main tank weapon is about 2.5 kilometers. The T-90 fires the 9M119M Refleks and are laser beam riding, guided anti-tank missiles, with a range of 5 km. The 9M119 Svir laser beam riding guided anti-tank missile is fired by the T-72 and has a range of 4 km.

The Javelin basically has parity with these tanks and it is “Fire and Forget”.

I shared this with a friend, who shared this story with me.

My WW2 veteran Wehrmacht Hauptmann Panzer III/IV/V/VI commander told me many times about the Russians simply accepting ridiculous losses and pressing on – as you say until the other side ran out of ammo. For this the first waves were ethnic minority troops.

Consider the assault on the Donetsk city airport. The Russians did this repeatedly, losing ~500 bodies per day. This cost them thousands of SOF, both RF Army and MVD/FSB unit gutted. Same with Marines and other elite troops, as the ethnic minority troops other than loonie Chechens would not play.

Russia’s demographic no longer permits this approach.

Notice that last sentence.

Russia currently only has 144.3 million people, and many predictions claim that the population in Russia is expected to decline to 100 million people by the year 2100.

Russia cannot support a war of attrition. It cannot throw hundreds of thousands of bodies forward into battle until Ukraine runs out of bullets and shells.

I found this quote amusing but revealing.

Around the turn of XX century, the Russian Empire was among the most populous nations, and an absolute juggernaut in Europe. It fell apart, and population growth has been a long-term issue for the USSR. In fact, when Stalin conducted a census in 1937, he was deeply disappointed when the population turned ~160M, noticeably lower than 170M+ that he expected (and so heads rolled).

Back to the Javelin and how historic Russian tactics and strategies will not work.

Tactically, Ukraine does not have a lot of natural choke points, but Ukraine has had more than enough time to construct artificial obstacles to impede and guide Russian tanks into kill zones. Javelins would be used in overwatch positions at these choke points where there will be a target rich environment.  Reinforcements will be needed very quickly by the Russians and there are certain to be massive traffic jams to rush reinforcements forward, trying to pass other units. More reinforcements mean more Javelins used, meaning more reinforcements will be needed, ad nauseum.  Eventually, the battlefield will become so choked up with debris that any alternate routes will be revealed before they can be used, denying Russia tactical surprise. Good intelligence analysis will reveal all the lines of communication quickly.

Operationally, Russia historically reinforces successful efforts. Currently, with three main lines of attack currently identified as arrayed against Ukraine, this gives excellent advance notice for Javelin employment, area denial munitions to be employed, massive area denial obstacles to be constructed, and overwatch to be deployed. The Javelin is a game changer, whole avenues of approach will become too deadly to use.  This means air defense will be critical to providing overwatch for the ground based defenders.  Counter battery fire, both preemptive and reactive will also be critical. Since Russia is already firing into Ukraine from inside of Russia with artillery, Russian sovereign territory will receive counterfire. Prepared alternate, tertiary, and subsequent firing positions are absolutely critical.

Strategically, this commitment by the United States shows the United States supports Ukraine. This is now more than just words, more than sanctions, and for the first time since 1991, somebody is standing up to Russia. An attack by Russia, with no real provocation, with no justifiable reason, marks Russia as overly aggressive, an outlaw, and a pariah. Russia will be breaking international laws and the scrutiny will be glaring. The presence of Cargo 200 trucks streaming back into Russia will shock the population of Russia. Economically, Russia cannot support a full invasion of Ukraine, it’s feeble economy cannot support such an expensive campaign. An invasion will result in extreme sanctions by the world community against Russia, further devastating Russia’s economy. Russian diplomacy would be worthless for years, it’s word useless and not believable. Politically, this may provide the impetus for a popular uprising against Putin, the people would be made to suffer for Putin’s ego, perhaps leading to protests, riots, and a coup.

All in all, the Javelin gives Ukraine a formidable defense. This should give Russia a strategic pause.  If I were a Russian leader I would now seriously question if an invasion is worth the risk.