Ukraine Update: The infuriating reason the U.S. is suddenly slow-rolling Ukrainian military aid
UPDATE: Sunday, Dec 11, 2022 · 10:37:51 PM +00:00
If you are regular readers of our Ukraine coverage, you should know better than to hyperventilate over Bakhmut. While there’s been talk about some Russian gains around the town, Def Mon puts it all in perspective in this thread:
So we’re talking maybe a hundred square kilometers total around Bakhmut in the last three months? In that same time period, Ukraine liberated 25,000 square kilometers in Kharkiv and Kherson oblasts.
Remember, also, that Bakhmut has zero strategic value. The only value the town has for Russia is propaganda and maybe marketing for the Wagner mercenaries leading that assault. After months of humiliating losses, Russia needs a victory, any victory, and so Bakhmut it is. But even if Russia took it, it would offer zero value in winning the war.
Look, I’m a level-headed reasonable guy. While people screamed about Belarus joining the war, multiple times this year, I laughed off the hysteria. A simple look at a map and the state of the Belorussian army was enough to dismiss the idea. When people screamed that Russia was imminently staging an amphibious landing at Odesa, I rolled my eyes. Wasn’t going to happen. When people freaked out at Russia’s nuclear threats, or an imminent destruction of the Nova Kakhovka dam, I explained why neither would happen.
As people demand that Ukraine get EVERYTHING they ask for, I’ve repeatedly written about how it’s not that easy, and will never be that easy. I’ve explained logistics and sustainment dozens of times, and how Ukraine can’t even manage its own maintenance of the mechanically simple M777 howitzer, so how could it ever be expected to maintain F16s or M1 Abrams tanks or other highly computerized gear? And I’ve been critical of Russia’s war strategy, but have never shied away from doing the same when it seems Ukraine is messing up (like the costly defense of Severodonetsk).
So why this setup? Because I want to remind everyone that I have always evaluated every bit of news with sober and realistic analysis. It’s not every day I read something that sets me off, and yet today is one of those days.
If it seems as though U.S. military aid shipments to Ukraine are slowing down, it’s because they are. And the reasons are, quite frankly, utter horseshit. But before we get to that, let’s recap what our country has sent, because it’s impressive, yes, but also relevant to the discussion. Here’s a partial list (full list here):
- 38 HIMARS rocket artillery systems and ammunition
- 142 155mm Howitzers and up to 1,004,000 155mm artillery rounds
- 4,200 precision-guided 155mm artillery rounds
- 36 105mm Howitzers and 180,000 105mm artillery rounds
- 20 120mm mortar systems and 135,000 120mm mortar rounds
- 45 T-72B tanks
- Over 1,000 High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicles (Humvees);
- Over 100 light tactical vehicles;44 trucks and 88 trailers to transport heavy equipment
- 200 M113 Armored Personnel Carriers
- 250 M1117 Armored Security Vehicles
- 440 MaxxPro Mine Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicles
- Nearly 300 Tactical Vehicles to tow weapons and recover equipment
- 1,600 Stinger anti-aircraft systems
- Eight National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile Systems (NASAMS) and munition
- 20 Mi-17 helicopters (originally purchased from Russia for Afghan army)
- Over 8,500 Javelin anti-armor systems;
- Over 46,000 other anti-armor systems and munitions;
- Over 700 Switchblade Tactical Unmanned Aerial Systems;
The total value of all that military equipment is $11.7 billion, with a new announcement this week pushing that to almost $12 billion. Remember that this isn’t a direct outlay—much of this equipment is being phased out and in the process of being replaced, so, for example, those humvees would’ve ended up in storage, or gifted to other military partners and allies. The M113 is two generations old, hailing from the 1970s. But there’s no doubt that the consumables are becoming a problem.
By consumable, I’m talking about ammunition—bullets, rockets, artillery shells, and missiles. By U.S. law, the Pentagon has to keep enough ammunition in stock to supply two and a half wars, commonly understood as Russia, China (or North Korea), and a random “half” war somewhere else, all at the same time. Apparently, no one ever paid attention to that law before, but now suddenly it’s being used as an excuse to slow roll assistance to Ukraine.
Thus, the Pentagon is suddenly claiming that it is running low of ammunition for Ukraine, fighting Russia, because it may need that material to … fight a war against Russia. And what’s worse, the ammunition supply it claims is necessary is based on a pre-war analysis, before Ukraine demolished at least 8,400 piece of Russian military equipment.
U.S. military and defense officials have repeatedly told lawmakers and aides in recent briefings that munition thresholds mandated by Pentagon war plans—such as for a possible U.S. and NATO fight with Russia that could include a military scenario in the sparsely populated Suwalki Gap near Moscow’s border with the Baltics—are preventing the United States from sending more munitions to Ukraine.
The reasoning was first used to defer questions about why the Biden administration has not transferred the U.S. Army Tactical Missile System (known as ATACMS), an American-made guided missile that would allow the Ukrainian military to hit Russian targets up to 200 miles from the front lines. But congressional aides tracking the debate told Foreign Policy that defense and military officials have said stockpiling requirements mandated by U.S. war plans are behind the American military aid’s slower pace to Ukraine in recent months.
“They’re applying it across the board to Stinger, Javelin, 155 [millimeter artillery], and GMLRS [munitions],” one congressional aide said, speaking on condition of anonymity to describe the internal debate. GMLRS stands for Guided Multiple Launch Rocket Systems. “It’s one of their driving rationales for going at the slow pace that they’re going at.”
There’s no doubt that whatever war plan the Pentagon had before February was inherently inaccurate—everyone assumed a competent Russian army that never materialized on the battlefield. The lack of an update of that plan, now that Russia has been so severely degraded by Ukraine that it is pulling 1950s-vintage tanks out of storage, is beyond ridiculous. Those munitions were stockpiled to fight Russia, and there are less of them now because they have been used to fight Russia, and successfully!
It’s even worse than that, in a way that that excellent article doesn’t even address:
There is concern that stockpiles of anti-air Stingers, anti-tank Javelins, and artillery (both rocket and tube) munitions are running low. That’s a real concern, and one that the U.S. is already moving to address by increasing industrial production lines. But here’s the thing—Ukraine isn’t fighting NATO’s war. In other words, doctrines are different.
US/NATO doctrine is heavily dependent on air power. A theoretical non-nuclear NATO-Russia war would begin with a weeks-long campaign to degrade Russia’s air defense systems and Air Force, clearing the skies to allow ground forces to be supported by ground-support warplanes and attack helicopters. How much of that capability has the United States sent Ukraine? Zero.
Furthermore, neither the U.S. nor NATO have handed over any of its modern armor or infantry fighting vehicles. That all remains in U.S. hands and Western hands, even though 2,000 M1 Abrams tanks are sitting in storage in the California desert. And of course, the U.S. hasn’t sent any of the thousands of long-range rockets and missiles in its arsenal; not the ATACMS rockets Ukraine could launch from its existing HIMARS and M270 MLRS launchers, and certainly not Tomahawk and other ballistic cruise missiles.
Worst case scenario, and NATO finds itself in a shooting war with Russia, it would still be able to wage its war, relatively unhampered by the gear it has sent Ukraine. Would artillery shells be in shorter supply? Sure! But even at the height of the Afghan and Iraqi wars, American artillery crews fired only hundreds of shells per day, compared to the 10,000+ shells that Russia reportedly fires every single day. And fewer Javelins? Of course, but there are also 2,000 fewer Russian tanks on the battlefield. They’re literally being used for what they’re designed to do.
Russian doctrine is artillery heavy, and Ukraine has inherited much of that approach—especially important given Ukraine’s lack of a serious air force (a dozen daily sorties is impressive, given the conditions, but those won’t have a marked impact on the trajectory of the war).
As the pace of U.S. military aid to Ukraine has slipped since the summer, concern on Capitol Hill is that the United States is holding back weapons for a Europe-wide conflict that Russia may not be prepared to fight, when Ukrainian troops are already degrading the Russian military on the battlefield.
“The OPLAN versus Russia is the same one it’s been for the last decade,” said a second congressional aide familiar with the debate, speaking on condition of anonymity to describe behind-the-scenes discussions. “We haven’t adjusted that based on the fact that the Ukrainians have essentially neutered the Russian army. So we have a plan in place to deal with the Russian army as we thought it was a year or two years ago.”
“It’s really rich that all these people are now concerned about stockpiles because we’ve almost never been at the total munitions requirement for any munition and nobody gave a shit for years,” the first congressional aide said. “If we revise the Russia requirements, we would feel completely comfortable. It’s hard for me to see how we can’t go way deeper if we’re seeing the effects like we’re getting today.”
And the response from the Biden administration about why it can’t change the plans hasn’t satisfied critics on Capitol Hill. “The response back to why they haven’t [changed the plans] has been less than compelling, other than, ‘it’s hard,’” the second congressional aide added.
Infuriating. How “hard” can it be to reevaluate what NATO needs to defeat a Russian attack? Subtract 8,000 vehicles from Russia’s stockpile, note their dwindling stock of supplies (begging Iran and North Korea for help), take additional note of the woeful state of Russia’s troops, and then jot down “LOL they suck, we got this with air power.”
Not to mention, remember that any war with Russia would be defensive. Does anyone really think the jokers unable to take Bakhmut (prewar population: 73,000) would be able to mount a credible push into the Baltic countries? Into Poland? The notion is so patently absurd, it’s a wonder anyone seriously considers it.
Then we have to deal with shit like this:
“My fear is that’s the signal that’s going to be sent to other allies, that they can do that too,” said Jim Townsend, a former deputy assistant secretary of defense for NATO and Russia. “But other allies don’t have those kinds of margins. And if they say, ‘Hey, look, the U.S. is doing it. We should do it too,’ and then we’re really kind of potentially screwing ourselves because Russia has been known to always come back.”
The “fear” is that if the U.S. goes all-out to help Ukraine win, that other allies will want to do the same? That’s the “fear”? It’s true, Russia won’t surrender its imperialistic ambitions. But their military, under sanctions, will take years to rebuild, more than enough time for NATO to restock. Heck, Poland is in the midst of a massive military buildup. They alone could likely hold off any Russian aggression in the future, and Ukraine will emerge from the war a military power.
Let’s see how else this Townsend guy can demonstrate that he’s an asshole:
“There’s a concern about [Ukraine’s] burn rate,” Townsend said. “They can make it harder for us to give them what they need if they just burn through it thinking that it’s a gravy train of ammo—and it’s just not.”
Ah yes, those Ukrainians shooting ammunition willy-nilly, as opposed to pushing out Russia’s supposedly great war machine from tens of thousands of square kilometers. Dear god. The only thing holding off further advances is a lack of more gear and ammo! That someone would think that Ukraine has too much ammunition and is somehow wasting it boggles the mind!
It’s time to open the spigot, not further restrict it. And on that front, there’s been encouraging signs, with multiple Ukrainian defense officials and presidential advisors claiming that more modern Western gear, including tanks, are on their way.
These are the de facto NATO standard tanks, used by most of the allies (the U.S. and France the big exceptions). They are easier to maintain, are lighter, and use less fuel than our M1 Abrams tank, and have a strong in-region support network (which will be essential, as these, like all tanks, break down constantly).
Poland has 250, but is replacing them with South Korean K2s and American M1s (only the second NATO army to field them). Don’t be surprised if all of those Polish Leopards eventually end up in Ukraine. Spain tried to send some over the summer, and there are several thousand in total in the alliance.
Ukrainian rocket artillery hit a Russian barracks in temporarily occupied Melitopol last night, and the casualties are extensive.
Initially, some Russian propaganda sources claimed it was a “recreation center” and that “civilians” had been killed, no one bothering to explain why “civilians” would be hanging out at a rec center in the early hours of the morning. Other sources claimed just two were killed.
Then this video on the ground was released, showing carnage far from the fire, in military uniforms of course. As the barracks burns in the background, it seems as even people far from the barracks were caught in the blast radius.
Casualty numbers are all over the place, from several dozen up to 300 dead. Ukraine General Staff claimed 150 injured, with the number of dead TBD, but over 100. Melitopol’s mayor in exile claimed 200 dead. Presidential advisor Arestovych claimed over 100 killed, 200-300 wounded. They’re all clearly pulling numbers out of their asses, but everyone agrees (even Russians) that it’s a lot of people. Reports that one of Chechen warlord Ramzan Kadyrov’s nephews was killed in the attack are false.
Wagner Russian mercenaries think this is all preparation for a Ukrainian offensive in the region. Previous Ukrainian counteroffensives in Kherson and Kharkiv oblasts were presaged by months of relentless rocket attacks on command and control, ammunition, and troop facilities … just like we’re now seeing here. .
Kreminna is more and more encircled by Ukrainian forces by the day, and it won’t be long before its Russian occupiers will be forced to retreat.
Very nice of Russian attackers to line themselves up for easy pickings…
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