Lessons from the Ukraine War (1-3)


The war so far shows the importance of morale to a degree rarely seen before because it's the attackers who are extremely inferior in morale. The importance of morale is known to anyone with at least cursory interest in army affairs, of course.  There's still a lesson in it to those who don't, and this includes most of the political leadership of the typical Western country.

I remember an anecdote about Patton (not knowing if it's 100° accurate) according to which he drove to the front in an open, marked car so everyone would see him moving forward, but he flew back to HQ in a light aircraft. He was very much informed by reading much about military history, and thus aware of the disastrous morale effect of fleeing leaders: Darius, Cleopatra et al. We also saw this effect recently in Kabul. I'm only aware of one exception  Frederick the Great's first battle where he fled after his cavalry failed, but his general then ordered a general infantry advance and won the battle.

Zelenskyi did not flee, nor did many mayors.The leadership didn't fold and the nation surprised itself by fighting for freedom and independence with determination.

This is an important lesson to Western politicians, most of whom lack the character strength and courage to come up with such behaviour by themselves because our system of selecting people for high office clearly doesn't take such qualities into account. The current scandal about politicians' behaviour during the recent flood disaster in Germany very much pulled down the clothes and exposed the character flaws of our leadership.

Another lesson is the importance of training. Nice kit and nice tactics treaties are worth nothing if the troops don't get proper training in what they're supposed to do in war. The Russian training problems appear to be worsened by corruption, as for example diesel fuel issued for exercises can very easily be sold to civilians.

The Western armed forces have their own training issues, a brief list of examples

  • simplistic training areas of fields and woodland unlike any normal terrain (ditches, real buildings with furniture, vegetation in settlements, bridges, fences, isolated buildings on open fields, ponds, car garages, at most a token quantity of civilians)
  • hardly any hasty road marches in challenging scenarios
  • no really huge road marches
  • no training to quickly bivouac in village, and orderly evacuate the bivouac at night within minutes and without early notice
  • flying hours for pilots
  • short driving distances per year for tank crews
  • tanks avoiding soft soil terrain as found NW of Kyiv
  • insufficient incorporation of HE effects
  • insufficient incorporation of hostile thermal imager "eye in the sky"
  • too little training (and organisation) for handling prisoners of war

And most importantly, we should draw a lesson that can save us much wasted money:

We should not strive for military assets for which we will neither afford the required training nor can do a brief yet sufficient training after mobilisation. 

edit: Look at the comments if you're at a loss why professional armies neglect expensive training. The human mind is drawn to things. Bureaucracies such as an army want personnel, things and prestige. To actually reach and maintain high readiness with that personnel and those things requires a sense of necessity that armed bureaucracies typically have when they've been told that war will happen within ten years. That's how the Reichswehr/Wehrmacht got almost fit within less than seven years despite extreme growth.

Those top attack and overflight attack method of destroying main battle tanks have devastating effect on Russian tanks because their main gun munitions are often in the path of those shaped charges and explode inside. There's no reason to believe that Western tanks would be much less susceptible unless they reduce their main gun munition to the small supply in the turret bustle.

The only exception are tanks with hard kill active protection systems. Those were understood to have great potential by the mid-1990's even among interested laymen, but have so far been installed in small quantities only.





To install such a system adds even more costs and complexity (and external gadgetry cluttering the turret outside), but it may be completely necessary for all main battle tanks and also IFV/HAPC vehicles meant for swift offensive action. Armoured scouting vehicles might also need it.

And when you're at it you could just as well go for a set of multi-role AESA radars that also work against UAVs and allow the tank crew to sense and aim through multispectral smoke. That was already an obvious option more than 10 years ago.

An army that strives to be capable of Blitzkrieg-style encirclements and does not want its pincer movements to stall like the Russian ones in Ukraine needs to equip and train its armoured troops much better than is common in NATO. 

The true costs of maintaining such Blitzkrieg capability for decades may be unaffordable to all but the most lavishly-funded (or least inefficient) armies, while everyone else would be best-advised to follow a humble and less demanding path in which there would be no IFVs and tank companies are merely equipped and trained for elusive assault gun-style tactics.





  1. The part of training humans to operate complex systems in a hostile environment seems hard to afford for most nations and collides with demands to fund other aspects of society. Would it be possible to reduce the demand for trained humans via a stronger integration of electronic information processing systems?
    During WWII for example, the British trained their pilots in astronavigation, the Germans invested less into pilot training and used various radio wave systems. These weren't suspected, checking on them was a fringe theory. But they were eventually found out due to poor emission discipline.
    Missiles for example aren't remotely guided by an operator, but have a seeker and a processing unit using an algorithm. This makes it possible to be quickly versed in their operation.
    There might be similar options to reduce the necessary training amount to deliver an effect by transferring skills acquired thru training to electronic systems that can replicate training effects at scale.

    1. Some simple equipment like rifles can be designed with good ergonomics to cut down the training time required for muscle memory to set in. Some sophisticated hardware such as man-portable missiles allow for a quick training - that's why I mentioned brief training after mobilisation.

      The many details and the choreography between units that you need to get right to do Blitzkrieg-style mobile warfare competently on the other hand requires long, costly and continuous training. The same is true for air force strike packages that overcome IADS, while launching Iskander-like ballistic missiles at coordinates in salvoes is fairly simple.

      The Situation around Mykolaiv shows how extremely useful two top quality Blitzkrieg-capable mechanised brigades can be, but I suspect only 1-3 European NATO countries could possibly do all that it takes to create and maintain such a top notch capability. Many others are good at deluding themselves about it.

    2. Most people in the military will not be in the frontlines, but work in logistics, maintenance, repairs, administration and so on. These tasks are in an environment that offers itself for controlled conditions that enable greater automation. Such a push is dual use and of interest for industry to relocate part of manufacture to the West. Much replacement of people by information processing machines is going to happen there.

      We are still a bunch of years away from the looming major global conflict, which enables us to improve command and control tools for complex maneuvers. I think it will reduce training demands. There'll still be substantial trainings, but less than without. This in turn means that with the same investment more units could be trained for more demanding operations and the average capabilities will improve as well.

      Are you watching the cyberwar? The Ukrainian IT army has a bunch of English Telegram channels with volunteers and a steady stream of information, especially in the less disciplined channels. Judging by the number of people involved, cyber is a major theatre and it is claimed that FreedomCry software took down much of Russias digitized systems such as air defence radar and communication, forcing them to switch to analogue communication.

    3. 1 million dollars for a single aps.with this money u can buy two t72 tanks. But it basically become a necessity if u want to keep ur tanks to a more useful weight around 40 tons and no go super heavy to 100 tons.
      As all other weapons ,the tank will become a computer on wheels ,with super sensors and computing power. After all the mammals defeated the dinosaurs with their insane senzorial and muscular agility.
      The hypersonic anti-missles with super sensor and AI will reach a near 100% ,making the nukes obsoletes .what's the point to have nukes if u can't send them to the destination. I think that's Putin real geostrategic concern . Let's see if he's insane enough to make a corridor to Kaliningrad trough Lituania or Poland.
      I imagine a 40 tons HAPC with 2 back engines and a corridor between them .60mm frontal protection and 20..25mm lateral. No turret ,but with a rotating aps that can defend against top attacks. The driver will have a frontal 25mm gun shooting HE rounds that will bend the gun barrel of the enemy tank,or sending flash bombs to temporarily blind the sensors of the enemy tank,useful to buy time for running for cover or allowing the friend tank to make is shot. On the roof it will carry 152 mm rounds for the accompanied tank.
      Next to this HAPC i see a 40tons tank with frontal protection against 80mm rounds .the tank will have 20 rounds of 152mm. The crew in the back, between the 2 lateral engines.this will allow the crew to rapidly exit the tank, avoid most apds rounds and resupply the gun.

    4. Well, two decrepit T-72s. And I think half a million per T-72 is 1990's pricing. New T-90s cost several million €.

      You tank concept is unable to deal with 90+ mm APFSDS, even if the APS hits the long rod. The base armour is almost certainly too thin. And then there's the issue of 57 mm shooting APFSDS at 60 rpm.

      A high tech MBT needs more passive base armour. More like 100 mm RHAeq KE, at least for the crew compartment and frontal 90°.

      Nuclear warheads can be deployed through many means. Keep in mind Russia is already supposed to have an intercontinental nuclear torpedo.

    5. I'm thinking at deployability. Heavy is ok for a tank that doesn't move to much. And 152mm is to outrange any current tanks(at the expense of the rounds). anyway ,the design is more complicated,with internal compartiments that allows the enemy apfds to go through non-essentials and still be able to deliver the final shot.
      Regarding nukes,i don't know what can make them obsolete.until now ,the best counter is to build tunnels streching for hundreds of km if not thousands.

    6. You can get the APFSDS power of any tank gun with missiles like CKEM, and you shouldn't need many such shots. Moreover, missiles can be fired in ripples, to overcome hard kill APS.
      I do thus suppose that the tank gun has long since reached its zenith. We can go back to 105 mm or even quick firing 76 mm guns if we mount such KE missiles in protected containers.

      There's generally the question whether it still makes sense to develop a new tank that will cost € 15...20 million per copy once ready for production. Air and sea warfare is now about sensors and missiles. That's finally coming to land warfare as well, albeit a bit different than RMA types expected. Autonomous killer drones are already feasible (and in fact some munitions like Brimstone, Harpy behave as such). There won't be a contest between 100 killer drones and 1 gold-plated tank.
      ATGMs did not defeat the tank for good because countermeasures worked and ATGMs were rather specialised and 2D munitions. Killer drones will be 3D munitions and have a much wider range of prey.

    7. You mention that tank gun has reached its zenith and going back to smaller calibers.

      What are your thoughts about tank gun with pressure and ballistics like modern 105mm howitzer for direct and indirect fire role with conventional ammo. The anti armor role would be filled with gun launched KE missiles, the question stays whether KE missile technology can be miniaturized to 105mm caliber. Defense against drones would be filled by APS or small automatic cannon.

      The tank itself would be like Leopard 1 fused with SP70 with mexas armor package, so around 45 to 50 tonns in weight with both direct and indirect fire role depending on task.

    8. Is surprising they canceled hypervelocity missiles.maybe because they need space to reach they max speed,or they become unable to change direction at high speed

    9. HVMs likely have several hundred metres minimum effective range, but those could be covered by installing something like RPG-28 as well. Manoeuvrability is not an issue against a slower than 20 m/s tank. Even a predicted point of impact autopilot could be used.

      105 mm howitzers as tank armament would potentially give a lot of versatility that you could also have with a proper 105 mm rifled tank gun and semi-fixed combustible cartridges.

      That would maximise indirect fires, while a 60 rpm 76 mm gun would be a lot more relevant for VShoRAD (air defence out to 3 km against fast and 8 km against slow targets).

  2. If we tried a modernized HSTV-L, would a light and fast tank with very fast autocannon be useful on ambush? Or would we need to use a bigger gun and just try to aim at the frontal Armor?

    If infantry portable missiles work well against most armies tanks, is there a niche for tankettes/more light vehicle armed with them? Basically the Toyota rebels armies westernized.

    1. Almost anything is useful with the advantage of surprise, but the general picture is different.

      Tanks are approaching the problem that surface warships, combat aircraft and (albeit ignored) attack helicopters already have: It takes a comprehensive and expensive set of electronics to survive. Only once accepted to install that you can begin to think about what offensive purpose the thing shall have.


    2. Any large hardware seems to require electronics to survive. Is there a solution for these costs such as economy of scale?

    3. It's an optimisation problem.
      The American Way of War of throwing limitless material resources at a problem is extremely unusual in military history, if not unique.
      It's normal to be unable to afford what you'd like to have. That's why armies before and after the blackpowder age tended to be a high/low mix.
      The Wehrmacht was 15% fine troops (tanks, motorised or high fitness light infantry) and 85% line divisions that were little different from WWI divisions (addition of anti-tank guns and radios, slightly improved weapons).

      High quality vehicles that satisfy almost all wishes at least at the time of their introduction are not affordable in huge quantities.
      Look at Germany in the Cold War; it got the Leopard tanks, but then lacked the funds to replace the M47 tanks of the territorial army as well or build up any Leo1 reserves. Then it got the Leo2, but Leo1 had to remain in active duty despite poor protection and then already unsatisfactory firepower. We would have "needed" 4,000 Leopard 1 and 4,00o Leopard 2, but were only able to afford half that quantity and ended up with a two-tier (active and reserve) army. Most reservists would have been less trained, less fit and poorly equipped.

      Maybe it's about time to accept a 15/85 approach again.

    4. I do agree that the American approach is rare, but wouldn't call it unique. It reminds me of the ancient Romans who were well equipped for their time.
      If I have a high low mix, the fewer high pieces are going to be more expensive because of economies of scale, while the many low things get cheaper.
      If I equip everyone with items from the high list, I have the most economies of scale. Such an approach makes sense for small volunteer forces with considerable financial backing for few people such as the US has. Germany is poorer than the US, we will not be able to copy into a downsized version of the US forces. We can afford high capability in some fields such as the army by investing less into quantity in more expensive fields such as the air force.

    5. "Maybe it's about time to accept a 15/85 approach again."

      I have never had an issue with accepting that concept. France 1940 worked for the Germans because they had 4 or five foot divisions for each motorised one, foot divisions that fullfilled all the boring tasks the Russian lack in Ukraine in 2022.

      The 1959-1990 situation was for me in the German context the oulier, not the rule we should strive for.

  3. "There's no reason to believe that Western tanks would be much less susceptible unless they reduce their main gun munition to the small supply in the turret bustle."

    But that makes only a difference between total kill and severe mission kill. You have to install defenses that kill the missile or you cannot longer operate tanks in offence - in an economic way.

  4. >>>simplistic training areas of fields and woodland unlike any normal terrain......real buildings with furniture>>>

    Exactly what I've been saying for so many years. A long time ago i organized furniture and used it to set up rooms that were used for training in cqb. As a result, soldiers who had already completed their training had then considerable difficulty occupying the rooms, which they had previously (without furniture) managed to do just fine every time. They had no experience fighting in a real environment.

    One cannot stress this aspect enough and it applies from the very small, like the example I gave, to the very large.

    For example: imo we actually need major, serious maneuvers in the midst of the population again. that would also have the aspect that it makes the armed forces visible to the public, brings contacts between troops and people which at the same time then has an effect on the moral issue mentioned.

    >>>We should not strive for military assets for which we will neither afford the required training..... >>>

    Exactly! For example, what's the use of procuring more battle tanks if there aren't enough trained crews available for those who are there, nor enough ammunition, nor enough spare parts, and not only do the available crews train too little, but also the whole rat's tail that's attached to it from the necessary pioneers to the armored recovery vehicles to maintenance and the other units in the supply chain.

    Each combat system requires a lot of support units and they should practice and train a lot more too.

    In my opinion, we are not holistic enough. For example: Then maybe the tank crew is good, but the maintenance unit is untrained and bad, and the performance drops. The necessary degree of training should therefore be aimed for all necessary associated units with a holistic point of view.