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Thoughts on the Ukraine-Russia Conflict

Strategy, tactics, weapons — and a fighting spirit!

Yes, I’m wandering a bit away from a disaster theme, but you could say what has happened to the Ukrainian people, their infrastructure and their livelihoods has been a huge disaster.

First is the morale of the Ukrainian people. From a distance it seems unwavering even as they huddle in basements, have freezing weather and the electricity and water are sporadic due to Russian bombing attacks. Pretty amazing! I’m not so sure that we as a nation could pull together like them because of our desire for pleasure and individualism.

Right now there is a big fight for the city of Soledar. It appears to not be strategic in nature and only a tactical battle to see who can retain control or gain control. As an infantryman I can assure you that combat in a city, large or small, is deadly for both sides. Personally, I’d like to be the Ukrainians who are defending.

Some may be asking, if the city does not have any strategic value, why not just “give it to the Russians?” In war, there can be land or targets that have no value, other than the fact that the enemy is there or that you want it. Two old movies that have a theme like that are Pork Chop Hill from the Korean War and Hamburger Hill from the Vietnam War that seem to resemble the fight for Soledar. We fight because it is there and the enemy is there. That is the strategy.

Another possible reason for Ukraine is that it is a bloodbath for the Russians. They defend because they can bleed the other side and the casualties on the other side are worse than on their side. We know that combat strength for the Russians is lacking in terms of personnel. Thus the call-up of 300,000 men. Then these men are being thrown into battle with little or no training, using old weapons, and are not being properly supplied with food, munitions or the ability to treat injuries.

One other commentary is the escalation in the type of weapons being given to to Ukraine. The Germans, French and Americans have all committed recently to provide a variety of wheeled or track armored personnel carriers. These are meant to carry infantrymen and keep up with tanks in an assault/attack. To the casual observer they may look like tanks, but they are not. They don’t have the type of armor or heavy, main guns associated with tanks. In the case of the Bradley Fighting Vehicle that the USA has committed, the main armament is a 25mm chain gun. It will be deadly against a variety of targets, but not tanks. The primary anti-tank weapon is the TOW anti-tank missile. It is wire guided and still very effective.

What amazes me is that Ukraine is taking all types of these weapons. Let me raise the issue that comes with any vehicle weapon system — spare parts, which means “supply chain” and then the expertise to diagnose the mechanical issue and then be able to repair/fix the issue. Not a simple thing, no matter how expert your mechanic might be — in general.

Lastly, there is the Patriot anti-aircraft missile battery that will be sent to Ukraine by the USA. The one battery can maybe cover 100 miles of territory, so it has its own limitations in range. If they are smart, which Ukraine appears to be, they won’t use its missiles around slow-moving Ukrainian drones that have been employed by the scores. This battery, when it becomes operational, needs to be strategically placed and employed to defend against only Russian fighters and bombers. Once again, this is the most sophisticated anti-aircraft system in our national inventory. You can’t just hand it over and say, “use this!” Thus we have Ukrainian military personnel being sent to the United States for training — for the first time.

Thanks for allowing the diversion from “traditional” disaster information.
Eric Holdeman is a contributing writer for Emergency Management magazine and is the former director of the King County, Wash., Office of Emergency Management.