How Russians Fight, and How Americans Fight

Translated by Ollie Richardson & Angelina Siard


The peculiarities of military operations in the Russian way traditionally differ from the war habitual for Americans. The difference in balance is also evident: the strong side of Russia is often the weakness of NATO – and vice versa. But now even American military analysts recognise that in some cases the Russian “model of war” threatens the US, which got used to leaning only on aviation, with local defeat.

Russian tactics

Firstly, Russians are clearly aware of the fact that in war people are being killed, and there is no practical sense in slowing down during offensive operations because of every damaged tank. Hesitation in the end leads to defeat and, as a result, to even bigger losses. Secondly, those units and those directions that achieve success are subject to support and strengthening, while the loser remains alone with themselves.

In practice it looks approximately like this. You have four battalions. Three of them stage an offensive, and one is in reserve. Thus, the left-flank battalion successfully breaks through the defence of the enemy, the central one achieves local success, and the right-flank grinds to a halt and sustains losses. Question: which flank will you send the reserve to for reinforcement? The officers of NATO didn’t give the correct answer: it is necessary to forget about the central and right-flank battalions, having sent the reserve to help the successfully penetrating left-flank. It is also desirable to focus all artillery on helping the left flank. Besides, the Russian doctrine was always built on “echelons”. And all newly arriving units, in addition to the already available reserve battalion, would also rush to the aid of the successful flank. In this way its breakthrough would constantly strengthen, which would increase both the speed and power of the offensive. The German general Friedrich Wilhelm von Mellenthin, in his memoirs, was too late to claim that, for example, Soviet bridgeheads should be destroyed in the embryo during the forced crossing of large rivers (Dnieper, Vistula), because afterwards massive reinforcements started arriving to help them. Soldiers were transported across by boats, rafts, and by swimming. The reinforcements successfully arrived independently from anything. Thus, a successful breakthrough was secured once and for all, and already one day later there was nothing left to do [for the Germans – ed]. Only to run away.

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Thirdly, the Russian side attaches huge significance to massive artillery support for the offensive. Hence the development of rocket systems. Surprisingly, in NATO armies there are still no worthy analogs of the Russian MLRS, comparable at least with “Grad”, and after all, Russian engineering thought in this direction has already reached “Tornado”, which when used causes the earth to continue to smoke for several days, and fragments of equipment scatter in the air across several football fields.

Another unexpected consequence of the awareness of the “peculiarities of the Russian national war” became the understanding that in the near future Russians don’t assume to fight in the conditions of aerial superiority. Today’s Syria in this sense is an exception, but we in principle are speaking about big wars, and not local operations more habitual for US and NATO troops. For them things are done differently.

Looking to the sky

The main error of the Atlantic doctrines was and still is arrogance. In the past year alone convulsive and excessively politicised attempts to revise flagrant psychological distortions started, but in general the problem hasn’t disappeared anywhere. Nearly the entire American tactical system of land forces and marines (despite the loud name and valorous history, the modern Marine Corps is the same infantry as all the others) is built so that at the slightest resistance of the enemy it is necessary to go prone, call aviation, and wait a little while until the road is cleared via napalm. They worked in the conditions of exclusive air superiority in all wars since the disembarkation in Normandy with the participation of American troops. And they simply don’t know anything else, they’ve never seen it and, probably, can’t imagine it even at the theoretical level.

Perhaps this can partly explain the total failure of all foreign armies that were trained using the American blueprint or under the leadership of American instructors. The American “five-star” conditions of waging infantry combat, when every F-16 squadron – and even better if it is a Ticonderoga-class cruiser – oversees every unit, aren’t applicable in the Iraqi, Georgian, Afghan, or, heaven forbid, Ukrainian armies. What do American and British instructors teach their smaller brothers in Vaziani and Yavorov? The competent use of modern means of communication and issuing first aid. I.e., to call aviation in time and to minimise losses. It is impossible to stage an offensive using such introductory skills, and none of the listed armies in principle have aviation that is capable of playing the role of an eternal nurse for land forces primitively trained for infantry combat.

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The Georgians in August 2008 tried to play dangerous games, having let loose on the first day all their aviation decorated with the Order of the Red Banner in support of infantry. How all of this ended – all of us know. Analysis of that war serves as a vivid illustration of everything said above. Two Russian columns slipped through Georgian units, developing an offensive on that area that appeared to be the weakest (the village of Tbet), without distracting themselves by other areas. As a result the Georgian army simply collapsed, having limited itself to one (in fact – incidental) ambush near Nikozi. Yes, in this story there were many tactical errors, but in eight years they were completely eliminated, especially since it was indeed nearly the first experience of active offensive operations with an extremely tough schedule of advancing forward. The Chechen campaigns don’t count. In the first one the mass heroism of personnel was shown in the conditions of the tactical incompetence of the senior command level, and the second one happened in absolutely other political conditions.

Another example is the war in Donbass, which led to Ukraine losing its military and air forces in record time – only Israeli commandos did it quicker, when they destroyed the aviation of Uganda at the Entebbe airport. At the same time, nobody bombed the Ukrainian rear airfields like these same Israelis did against the Arabs in the Six-day war. Jets were simply shot down. Even more so Ukrainian helicopters, which, for example, behaved as if they were being filmed in a Hollywood blockbuster – flying low, photogenically, accompanying columns, in parade ranks going along highways. A separate mention goes to the sending of huge military transport planes directly to hell – for example, in Lugansk airport in the summer of 2014, when an Il-76 carrying reinforcement paratroopers was downed by an ordinary manual-fired missile.

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The lack of air superiority in front of NATO and US countries once upon a time led to distortions in the military-industrial complex and in the research and development of Russia. If in the period of the Great Patriotic War it was possible, like in Stalingrad, according to General Chuykov, to “hug” the enemy, reducing the distance to hand-to-hand combat, just in order to avoid German air raids, then now the game is completely different. At first in the USSR, and then also in Russia anti-air defences started being developed, which have become at this very moment the best in the world, surpassing all US and NATO samples in general. These are natural imbalances of military doctrines. For example, in response to the Soviet Union’s unprecedented accumulation of tanks and other armoured machinery, the US accelerated its development of anti-tank weapons.

On top of all this, NATO and US troops are now unsure about their exclusive aerial superiority, because the military qualities and possibilities of new samples of Russian aviation still remain a mystery for them. The operation in Syria left more questions than answers, and frontal clashes between Air Forces that are equal in terms of quality and characteristics can lead to unpredictable results. Especially since in the European theatre of military operations Russia possesses both a quantitative and qualitative advantage in a direct zone of contact if to take into account all our air defence systems. But in the meantime NATO is only capable of an insignificant increase in its presence directly near the Russian borders, which is in many respects connected to fears and an unwillingness to provoke a reciprocal strengthening of the Russian contingent in the region.

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