ZSU’s strike on Makiivka: It’s happened before, and will happen again

Originally on FB, January 2, 2022

By now everyone knows that while Putin and Surovikin were launching their terrorist strikes on Ukrainian cities for 3 days in a row, ZSU attacked numerous Russian depots, HQs, and troop concentrations. While most of the strikes were in Zaporizhzhia, the one people are talking about is the attack in Makiivka (Donetsk Oblast).

According to official Russian figures, 63 soldiers were killed. The Ukrainians claim several hundred, and the latter is supported by Strelkov (who says “many hundreds”). These were mostly recently mobilized men from Samara. This sort of thing has happened before, and — for all the wailing in Russian channels and finger-pointing at incompetent commanders — it will happen again. It’s true that the Makiivka devastation seems to have been compounded by the Russian (inexplicably) stockpiling ammo right outside the building, and it was this detonation that accounts for much of the damage. But there are several other reasons why VSRF simply cannot avoid presenting ZSU with such tempting targets.

Defense against enemy strikes can be active (reducing the number of things that hit you) and passive (reducing the damage they do when they hit you). The Russians clearly have no answer to HIMARS, so they have to rely on passive defenses.s

Passive defenses can involve hardening of the targets (making them more difficult to destroy), dispersal (spreading the targets around so that the enemy cannot destroy many at once), evacuation (moving targets out of the strike zone), and concealment (hiding the targets so they enemy cannot find them).

Hardening is not an option here — aside from some underground bunkers, there is very little one can do to protect themselves against a HIMARS strike. So the Russians have to rely on somehow avoiding being hit, and therein lies the problem.

1) Dispersal is not an option: troops have to be kept together. Some of the criticism is about the commanders putting as many as 600 (the numbers are unclear) men under the same roof, suggesting that it would have been safer to spread them in various safer locations, like ten men per cellar or something.

Well, it’s true that putting 10 men in a cellar would have been safer. Except you would need 60 cellars just for this unit. Even if you find 60 cellars, they have to be sufficiently far apart so that the destruction of one building would not collapse too many of them. And then what are you going to do with so many people spread around that many cellars? How are you going to organize their feeding, their missions?

And what about morale? Remember, these are newly mobilized untrained troops — squatting in some damp cellar by themselves is unlikely to improve their morale. There is no strength in numbers, no camaraderie, no tall tales to shore up one’s belief in victory or the righteousness of one’s cause. There’s a reason soldiers tend to stick together (and stuck together). The standard field tents the Russians use shelter a hundred men.

In other words, even if they do try to spread the soldiers a bit for safety, there’s a limit to how little they can make the resulting groups.

2) Evacuation is not an option: troops have to be kept close enough to the frontline. It does no good if they are hundreds of miles in the rear. Eventually, you have to move your forces forward so that they can go into action when needed. With HIMARS, ZSU can now reach 50 miles (80km) and when we eventually send them ATMS, it would be 185 miles (300km). Even allowing for the fact that ZSU would not deploy HIMARS right at the front line, that’s a significant penetration since normally one would have to keep forces for frontline use within 50km or so.

In other words, the Russians cannot just pull the soldiers back from the frontline even now, and it will become impossible to get them far enough when ZSU gets the longer-range missiles.

3) Concealment is not an option: it is generally not very easy to hide large numbers of troops and equipment from reconnaissance, but it is especially difficult when the other side has advanced drone and satellite recon capabilities and you are moving through hostile territory where every pair of eyes could divulge your position with a simple phone call. Short of removing all locals from the area (which in itself would cause the other side to be curious about what’s going on there), the Russians (and, to some extent, the Ukrainians who have been catching their share of Russian informants) cannot guarantee secrecy. During the winter, camouflage in the filed isn’t easy because there’s no tree cover and everything is exposed, including tracks in the snow/mud. And who knows just what spying capabilities US satellites really have, so us feeding ZSU real-time data about what the Russians are up to is a huge disadvantage to VSRF.

In other words, the Russians cannot hide either.

This leads me to believe that incidents like this have happened, and will continue to happen as they have nothing to do with inept leadership, but everything to do with the technological backwardness of the Russian army, which requires massive amounts of men and ammo to function, while not having a system of communications and coordination that would enable the units to function efficiently.

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