Relearning Anti-Submarine Warfare

Kevin Brent:

And we better relearn it PDQ too.

Originally posted on global aviation report:

An air-to-air right side view of an S-3A Viking aircraft assigned to Air Anti-submarine Squadron 32 (VS-32) on the aircraft carrier USS AMERICA (CV 66).

An air-to-air right side view of an S-3A Viking aircraft assigned to Air Anti-submarine Squadron 32 (VS-32) on the aircraft carrier USS AMERICA (CV 66).

Welcome back to history, mariners of the world! Your post-Cold War holiday from history is drawing to a close—if it hasn’t expired already. Last week’s episode between the Swedish Navy and an apparent Russian submarine in the Stockholm archipelago was only the most recent reminder of certain verities about combat at sea.

For the full story in The Diplomat click here.

Editor’s note: This talk about bringing the S-3 back for C.O.D? Forget about it! The S-3 Vikings – many tucked away in The Boneyard with multiple flight-hours remaining on their airframes – need to be brought back onto the carrier to provide LR ASW coverage. Perhaps in conjunction with new autonomously-patrolling submersible drones, or as directed to distant CZs by ships pulling the latest sound-sensing towed arrays. Maybe covertly with help from SSNs…

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NATO Tracks Large-Scale Russian Air Activity in Europe


Portuguese F-16' Falcons

Portuguese F-16′ Falcons

Posted in Eastern Europe, Europe, European Union, Germany, Military, NATO, Russia, Turkey | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

China’s island building project protects vital oil supplies


Island expansion between March & August 2014.

Gaven Reef Island expansion between March & August 2014.

Russia is the more likely naval power to be foremost of Beijing’s worries. The Russian Navy is a well established presence in the region already. Years of post-Soviet neglect of Russian naval forces is now in reverse with newer warships and submarines being deployed to the Pacific. Moscow has also endeavored to establish naval and air basing agreements with Vietnam & Singapore; and has been courting Indonesia perhaps with the similar goals in mind.

Posted in annexation, Asia, China, geopolitics, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Japan, Military, occupation, Philippines, Russia, Second World War, Singapore, United States, Vietnam, World Events | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Russia aims for Arctic Air Superiority

Tu-160 Blackjack, Mig-31 Foxhounds & Il-78 Midas aerial tanker.

Il-78 Midas tanker, Mig-31 Foxhound fighters & Tu-160 Blackjack bomber.

During the Cold War, the Arctic airspace between Siberia and North America was the transit zone over which both ICBM’s and strategic bombers would have flown to reach targets in either the Soviet Union or the United States & Canada.

Each side knew and understood the other planned to do so and though arms treaties and the policy of Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD) generally nullified implementation of strategic missile defense by either side in the Cold War, no such limitations were placed on traditional strategic air defense.

The U.S. and Canada maintained such defense with both a chain of radar stations and AWACS planes, coordinating squadrons of fighter jets in a defensive role. U.S. Air Force strategic B-52 & B-1 nuclear bombers were of course the offensive element.

The Soviet Union employed precisely the same strategy for both defense and offense in strategic air warfare. With the primary difference being that Soviet strategic air defense squadrons comprised a separate military air service; as opposed to a subordinate North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) within the U.S. Air Force structure.

This separate Soviet air force was known as ‘PVO Strany‘, a Soviet acronym for what in English would literally be ‘national air defense’. PVO Strany was not a budgetary sub-service of the Soviet Air Force; but, a separate military branch. It’s one and only mission was to maintain Soviet air superiority, of Soviet airspace.

All other military air operations were handled by the Soviet Air Force, with the exceptions of Soviet Naval Aviation and Strategic Rocket Forces, that latter of which was also its own military branch and remains so today.

However, a major operations doctrine shift took place in 1998 when PVO Strany was fully incorporated into the Russian Air Force. Not just an administrative or budgetary change, but a total alteration in the concept of operations.

Strategic air defense is still a Russian priority and it must always be due Russia’s leviathan size airspace. But, Russian air defense doctrine has now taken a step into an offensive role for Russian high-speed/high altitude fighter-interceptors.

PVO Strany’s Mig-31 Foxhound during the Cold War did not have inflight refueling capability, since their role was strictly defense of Soviet airspace. In recent years however, these aircraft have been upgraded with inflight refueling capability, tripling their range from 1,000 miles to over 3,000 miles. Mig-31 pilots are now trained in the full spectrum of both offensive and defensive air superiority warfare.

Numerous stories have appeared since 2006 in both defense publications and commercial news media documenting Russian militarization of the Arctic regions of Siberia and offshore Arctic islands. This militarization is across the board of air, land & sea warfare doctrines. It includes the reopening & expansion of abandoned Soviet air bases on offshore Siberian and Arctic islands.

IL-78 Mainstay & Mig 31 Foxhounds over Moscow in 2007.

Beriev A-50 Mainstay AWACS & Mig-31 Foxhounds.

Mig-31 Foxhound’s now conduct flights well beyond Russian airspace in groups of 4 to 6 aircraft along with Russian Il-78 Midas tanker aircraft and the Beriev A-50 Mainstay AWACS, which also have been fitted for inflight refueling.

Other technical changes to the Mig-31 signify that it has been re-purposed for an offensive role; upgraded long-range air-to-air radar and fitting out with AA-9 Amos long-range air-to-air missiles.

The AA-9, comparable to America’s AIM-54 Phoenix (now retired along with the F-14 Tomcat) was originally designed to take out enemy airborne battle management assets such as the U.S. E-3 Sentry AWACS, or enemy long-range bombers. The latest upgrades to the AA-9 now enable it to be used against smaller aircraft more accurately, such as other fighters and cruise missiles at long-range.

With now over 50 incidents of Russian bombers flying close enough to U.S. & Canadian Arctic and NATO airspace to warrant a fighter intercept, some of the intercepts have been met not just by a Russian bomber, but with an escort of one or more Mig-31 fighters. Such intercepts have also occurred off the Pacific coastal regions of Alaska and Canada, and have included a fighter escort.

These new developments may seem on the surface a curious waste of time, effort and money by the Kremlin if one merely looks at it through the prism of Cold War strategic thinking where nuclear ICBM’s were king.

However, this is not the Cold War. Any war initiated by the Kremlin of present day Russia would seek conquest, hegemony and geopolitical/economic power and influence. Adventurism and territorial expansionism have no rewards if only a nuclear wasteland is the war prize.

These Russian Air Force endeavors are geared toward gaining and retaining strategic air superiority over the Arctic, and North America. That objective is only achieved through the engagement and destruction of enemy aircraft and sweeping their presence from the skies sought to be controlled.

Russian bombers would initially be used to draw out NORAD fighters for battle, so that they can be engaged and shot down by the Mig-31; thinning out U.S. and Canadian home air defense.

This strategy was used successfully against the German Luftwaffe in the Second World War with large strategic bomber raids drawing aircraft, pilots and even ground forces to man anti-aircraft guns, away from the landward battle front.

This is precisely the same objective which would be sought by the Russian Air Force in an Arctic/Northern Hemisphere air campaign. Added operations out of future air bases in Cuba and Venezuela must also be anticipated as well.

However, in 21st Century air warfare with far fewer numbers of aircraft involved, the tactics would more closely resemble those implemented by U.S. Marine Corps Maj. Gregory “Pappy” Boyington during Second World War South Pacific Campaigns.

Maj. Boyington would use flights of bombers, or sometimes have his squadron mimic bomber flight formations and transmit radio traffic common to bomber formations as ‘bait’ to lure Japanese fighters planes into the air to engage and destroy them. This tactic became known as ‘the fighter sweep’ and something very similar would likely be employed by the Russians over the Arctic, North America, and Europe.

Such mimicking can be accomplished today with flight profiles, deceptive electronic warfare, ‘Boyington style’ fake radio traffic, or simply using a real Russian bomber flight as the bait. Recent flights of Russian bombers toward U.S., European and Canadian airspace are designed to feel out detection-to-intercept times. The same methods are being employed by the Russians against Japanese, South Korean and incidentally, Chinese air defense commands.

The one weakness the Russians do have, is the Mig-31 itself. It is a good, fast, high altitude air warfare platform. However, it is getting on in age and would likely be out performed if engaged in an aerial dogfight with the new F-22 Raptor.

However, if recent revelations of newer and upgraded weaponry & equipment among Russia’s ‘little green men’ in Crimea and Ukraine are any indication, Russian industry may yet have more surprises in store.

With or without a new fighter to replace the Mig-31, the change from a strictly defensive to an offensive seek and destroy operational doctrine upsets every Cold War strategic aerial combat concept NORAD & NATO may have been dusting off.

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NATO and the coming storm

NATO’s most vulnerable

The Post Cold War Era ended when Russia’s ‘little green men’ began to deploy across Crimea, surrounding Ukrainian military bases and eventually forcing the Ukrainians to leave without a fight.

Only then did a long slumbering NATO begin to stir from sleep. As fighting erupted in eastern Ukraine, NATO then sat up in bed and began gathering it’s bearings. ‘Reveille’ however, was no longer in doubt when regular Russian Army forces entered the fight in eastern Ukraine.

What has become clear since then is that a grave series of mistakes have been made since the final Soviet collapse and subsequent break up the Soviet military machine.

The most glaring mistakes:

  • no effort to seriously modernize, revitalize and truly integrate the military forces of former Warsaw Pact nations that joined NATO
  • not instituting a series of theatre level air, land & sea exercises in eastern Europe with defense against a Russian resurgence in mind
  • maintaining the outdated policy of not permanently stationing NATO forces east of the old Iron Curtain line
  • not implementing a military ‘Marshall Plan’ to develop the military forces of the Baltic States upon joining NATO
  • the cancellation on the 70th anniversary of the 1939 invasion of Poland of the missile defense shield for Eastern Europe by Pres. Obama.

There will be seemingly dark days ahead for NATO. Barring some kind of miracle, Ukraine simply has no hope in the end of standing toe to toe with the Russian Army. NATO is not a party to that fight, nor should it try to be.

The eventual fall of Ukraine is unquestionably a horrid thought.

But, NATO member nation political and military leadership have to fetch the sobriety that eventuality puts forth and ‘run with it’ as an American football player would run for the touchdown. All is by no means lost and there is still time for preparation, some of which is already under way.

NATO in 2014 is faced with a very wide eastern front stretching from Arctic Norway, to Turkey. If Finland should join NATO, the Scandinavian theatre of that front will very much widen.

Land warfare with Russia along the European theatre of this front would encompass highly mobile and air-mobile combat operations. Russia would employ wide, sweeping maneuvers of their forces spearheaded with air-mobile and armor formations in attempts to outflank, surround and destroy NATO forces.

NATO would need to employ ‘flexible defense’ giving ground in some sectors before counter attacking to cut off a Russian advance inside NATO lines and destroy it.

Steps have already begun to be taken by NATO with such warfare in mind. Britain is altering its concept of operations to draw on forward staged British armor in Germany, rather than moving it in from the British Isles when a crisis erupts.

Britain is also selling 123 armored fighting vehicles (AFV) to Latvia, which currently has a mere three ex-Polish T-55 tanks. Estonia and Lithuania have no tanks at all, and like Estonia only light infantry formations. These AFVs would have no hope against a Russian main battle tank, however they are tailor-made for the style of urban warfare currently being employed in Ukraine, which is likely to rear its head again among the Russian minority areas in the Baltic States.

Western European governments are also reviewing the role of main battle tanks (MBT)  and will likely reverse the twenty year trend of slowly bleeding off funding of tank production. Germany has sold 14 Leopard 2A4 MBT’s and 105 Leopard 2A5 MBT’s to Poland. These 119 tanks will form a higher end core to augment Poland’s T-72 tanks and Polish improved variants of the T-72, (PT-91 Twardy).

Another development in NATO operational doctrine is the forming of rapid deployment airborne forces which can be quickly put into action in NATO’s east. While they don’t currently approach anything near the large numbers that would likely be needed, it is at least the embryo of future commands and formations to be developed and as this NATO video shows, tactical operations doctrine development can be approached now through exercises such as Steadfast Javelin.

Supreme Allied Commander, Gen. Phillip Breedlove is also pushing for the development of a 24/7 headquarters in Poland which would be the command center for operations in Poland and the Baltic States. Gen. Breedlove has proven not to be under any illusions about Russian actions in Ukraine, or what it portends for the future of NATO security.

There have not yet been major new developments on the naval warfare planning front. Aside from one, which is that British Prime Minister David Cameron announced that the plan to have one of Britain’s two new large aircraft carriers operational and the other in reserve has been scrapped. Both carriers will be fully operational assets of the Royal Navy as each is commissioned into service. Which was the plan under the Blair Government that legislated their construction.

NATO leadership have an enormous amount of work to do in the near future, for as Gen. Breedlove said, “It is indeed a momentous time in Europe.” And, for the last 12 to 14 years, NATO planning was taken with the idea of ‘Russia as a partner’. That is no longer the case.

Bold steps have to be taken by political and military leadership of NATO to deter against Russian adventurism. It would be a smart move to begin reestablishing a robust human intelligence (HUMINT) network focused on Russia.

It may also be time to revisit some Cold War policies and tactics of deterrence. Particularly those of the Reagan administration in the areas of peacetime military exercises designed to ‘rattle cages’ in the Kremlin and give notice that merely ‘holding the line’ is not our only option if attacked.

The Cold War had an unwritten set of rules which both sides understood and respected, if never publicly acknowledged. Putin’s Russia is not the USSR nor even Communist. It is the rebirth of a nationalistic imperialism not seen since 1945. The kind of thuggery that not only seeks to win, but also to conquer.

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The bogeyman behind ISIS is Bashar al-Assad

Three stories recently ran in the Washington Free Beacon (WFB) which raise eyebrows for those who have not followed actions in Syria, but instead listened to ‘cookie cut’ mainstream news media narratives.

A Sept. 17th article appeared in WFB about an American Democrat Congresswoman who is afraid that arming the Free Syrian Army would topple Assad; followed Sept. 18th by an article on how the Assad regime is attacking ‘moderate rebels’ only and leaving ISIS totally unmolested. Sept. 19th WFB quoted an Israeli official stating that Assad has kept a significant chemical WMD arsenal in violation of a Moscow brokered agreement to shed his forces of all chemical WMD.

While all three raise eyebrows, the most revealing of them is Assad’s attacking moderate Syrian rebels and leaving ISIS untouched. This touches on an inconvenient truth about ISIS which is that it would not exist at all if not for Pres. Bashar al-Assad’s direct hand in creating it.

Assad did not create ISIS haphazardly, it was not an idea that went awry or got beyond his control. Not at all. ISIS/ISIL/IS, whichever moniker suits you, was created specifically to offset the public image of the Free Syrian Army.

Assad’s purpose is plainly obvious and thus far has been totally successful; which has been to prevent any public support in Europe or America for intervention in Syria which would spell the end of Assad’s reign.

Bashar al-Assad has very masterfully employed in Syria, the insidious tactics of divide and conquer learned under the tutelage of his father Hafez al-Assad on the one hand; while quite smoothly playing up his own ‘GQ’ image among the American public including the use of his British-Syrian ‘fashion plate’ wife Asma al-Assad.

Pres. Bashar al-Assad and First Lady Asma al-AssadAssad has managed to achieve something his father never dreamed of, which is to be viewed in America as a westernized ‘regular guy and great dad’ who likes Shania Twain songs and speaks French, with a ‘hot wife’ who likes to ride all-terrain vehicles. An image amplified by a compliant American news media, including ‘fair and balanced’ Fox News.

That idea that Bashar al-Assad is anything but a butcher joined at the hip with the Mullahs of Iran is laughable. But, that laughter is drown out by the even more laughable stupidity of media and political elites who have fallen for the idea of Assad as a loveable little fuzzball, whose been forced to ‘fight the good fight against global terrorism’.

Totally ignored are the facts. Such as the fact that when U.S. forces invaded Iraq in 2003, Assad threw the border with Iraq wide open for Iraqi truck convoys draped in U.N. markings, escorted by Russian Spetsnaz and French Special Forces bringing as yet unknown cargo into Syria.

Or the fact that following the defeat of Iraq the Assad regime then kept the border open for Islamist fighters from all over the world to flood the ranks of al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) to begin a years long insurgency against American forces there.

Or the fact that like his father, Assad has maintained Syria as the arms and supply depot for Iranian backed Shiite Islamist group Hezbollah; whose only purpose is to be Teheran’s knife at the throat of Israel.

The Assad regime may have a newer face in the form of the son Bashar, however the old tricks of the father Hafez, remain. Just as Hafez al-Assad trained, armed and funded various terror groups and militias and pit them against one another to destabilize Lebanon, Bashar al-Assad has employed that same template in Syria in response to the rebellion against his regime.

When the initial Syrian protests began in 2011, Assad was unable to quell them without employing the military in a brutal crackdown. This had the effect of alienating the overwhelmingly Sunni makeup of the Syrian Army since Assad and his inner circle are the ruling minority Alawites of Syria suppressing predominantly Sunni protestors.

Assad’s actions spawned mass defections by Sunni Syrian Army soldiers and officers who then formed the Free Syrian Army to fight against regime loyalists on behalf of the anti-Assad movement.

This gutted the Syrian Army of its infantry leaving only Assad’s Alawite manned armored forces which then had to engage in urban warfare without infantry support; a suicidal endeavor for any tank unit.

Assad had already freed from his prisons in 2011, hardcore Islamists who had previously been viewed as a threat to the Alawite regime. Their release was conditioned on they’re forming of Islamist cells to terrorize the Syrian populace in the name of the anti-Assad opposition to paint the entire movement as ‘Islamist’, seeking to institute Sharia Law across Syria.

While this endeavor failed to convince most Syrians, it worked marvelously outside of Syria, becoming the narrative both of Western & Russian news media and that of isolationist politicians in America such as Ron and Rand Paul.

The Obama administration, obsessed with the defeat & dismemberment of Israel, also embraced this narrative to avoid any action against Assad on the one hand, while going back on promises to assist the anti-Assad movement on the other. Both to keep Assad in power and appease Assad’s ally Iran since both nations are vital to maintaining Hezbollah as a threat to leverage against Israel.

However, as the opposition movement became the Syrian Civil War, Assad’s forces found themselves outnumbered and surrounded across Syria. Aid and armaments then began to flow to the Free Syrian Army from a Sunni coalition led by Saudi Arabia out of fear that the fates of regimes in Egypt, Libya and Tunisia, resulting from the Arab Spring, could well befall theirs.

That aid and armament together with similar support from Turkey began to have an effect on the battlefield and by 2012 Assad’s forces began to lose the war. Efforts by Damascus, Moscow and Teheran via the Obama administration to dissuade Turkey and the Saudi led coalition of assisting the Free Syrian Army having failed, three moves were then initiated to avert defeat.

First, several thousand Hezbollah militia were shifted out of Lebanon to fight alongside the Syrian Army along with Iranian Revolutionary Guard (IRG) troops; Iran’s al-Quds special forces were then brought in to conduct clandestine operations; lastly AQI was recalled from Iraq shooting their way through Iraqi border posts on the way back to Syria.

Once there AQI was then married up with the previously formed Syrian Islamist cells to form the Islamic State In the Levant, (ISIL). A name chosen specifically to support the narrative of a threat to Israel that only the Assad regime’s survival and victory over the rebels could avert.

The ‘Israel’ angle was designed to present the specter to Ankara and Riyadh of courting a confrontation with Israel as well as pushing the narrative in America that Assad was the one Americans should want to see win for Israel’s sake; an aspect Assad enhanced with the sales pitch that he was America’s ‘friend’ and would make a strong ally against terrorism, all to pressure Washington to do something to stop Turkey and Saudi Arabia from supporting the Fee Syrian Army.

The zenith of this ‘Israel’ angle was reached with the gassing of Syrian rebels and civilians during a battle in Damascus in August 2013 which was closing in on Pres. Assad’s Presidential compound in Damascus and forced Assad and his family to briefly flee to Teheran.

The confirmation to the world of long suspected stockpiles of Syrian WMD and in such large amounts together with reports coming out of Assad attempting to move surface to surface and surface to air missile batteries into the hands of Israel’s nemesis, Hezbollah also reaffirmed that Assad was as much a threat to Israel as his father had been.

A new threat angle was needed to pressure Washington. Next door in Iraq, the political instability bred by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s oppression of Iraqi Sunnis made the latter ripe for courting by Sunni oriented ISIL; thus the name of ISIL mysteriously morphed to ISIS, or Islamic State of Iraq & Syria.

That redirection a year ago, has now culminated in all of Sunni Iraq having been conquered by ISIS made virtually effortless by both the appalling performance of an Iraqi Army trained as a police force, rather than a military outfit and of course, Pres. Barack Obama’s total abandonment of Iraq.

ISIS of course, halted its advance once it reached the Shiite region of Iraq and has concentrated on recruiting replacements when they aren’t busy committing mass murder and mayhem. The only effective fight being given to ISIS on the ground in Iraq is by the Kurdish Peshmerga.

Meanwhile, Iranian armor and infantry have ‘intervened’ under the guise of taking on ISIS with a wink and nod from the White House and established an overland supply link to Assad through territory ostensibly held by ISIS to funnel more men and material than before to the war effort against the Free Syrian Army; while also cutting off the Mosul based aid and arms supply efforts of Saudi Arabia to the Free Syrian Army.

Posted in al-Qaida, Europe, European Union, insurgency, Invasion, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Kurdistan, Lebanon, Middle East, Military, NATO, occupation, Politics, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkey, United States, War, World Events | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Russo-Ukrainian War

Much has been happening in the eastern Ukraine Oblasts of Donetsk and Luhansk, as well as in Kherson Oblast which borders Crimea. Quite a lot in fact which most news media are largely ignoring, especially American news media who only acknowledge ‘troubles’ with the ceasefire. Supreme Allied Commander Europe Gen. Phillip Breedlove however, is under no illusions about what is happening; calling it a ‘ceasefire in name only‘.

What is happening in Ukraine is not an insurgency, civil war or a separatist movement, nor is it gang warfare or ethnic strife common to Lebanon or between Israel and Hamas. Such notions are smoke & mirrors fostered by Moscow for the consumption of European and American politicians looking for any reason not to acknowledge what is really happening; a Russian invasion and war against Ukraine.

The Kremlin has employed a slow method of escalation for the simple reason that the Kremlin and Pres. Putin need Ukraine and its armaments industry as much in one piece as possible. This however is not the only reason for seeking the total Russian conquest of Ukraine and it is no less than total conquest being sought.

The Russians have been rotating troops in and out of the battle zones in Ukraine, while still denying they have any troops there. However, they have troops there as well as tanks, missiles, multiple launch rocket systems and heavy artillery. It’s simply stretches any semblance of credulity that local separatists could have captured as much heavy equipment as has been seen used against Ukrainian security forces.

Luhansk Oblast is where the least activity has taken place since Russia’s intervention in east Ukraine. Luhansk airport was captured and held leading up to the ceasefire, so no major advances have taken place there. Instead the Russians consolidated their positions there and reduced a salient of Ukrainian forces jutting into their lines to even out their front.

Donetsk Oblast is a different story with two key sectors of fighting. Donetsk is the focus of heavier Russian activity for a very good reason. It’s the springboard for Russian attacks to both reach Crimea and establish an overland link from Russia, and to reach the Dnieper River and cut off Ukrainian forces between the Dnieper and the Black Sea coast of Ukraine.

To that end, leading up to the ceasefire Russian forces pressed hard to achieve the objective of capturing Donetsk airport, which they did not accomplish before the ceasefire went into effect. Ukraine concentrated enormous effort to hold the airport. The importance of it to the Russians is most likely to stage helicopter gunships and light attack aircraft there for any forthcoming offensive to capture all of ‘Novorossiya‘. (New Russia); which refers to all of southern Ukraine.

Russian infantry have made several attacks in an attempt to capture the airport, however have still failed to achieve that objective. The reason this isn’t going so easy for them, is that they are trying to capture the airport without doing any damage to the airstrips and runways. Which leads to the obvious conclusion that Russia has plans for that airport.

Artillery and rocket attacks have been made on Donetsk airport, but they have been limited and very specifically targeted with short-range fire as one photo journalist frighteningly experienced.

The coastal city of Mariupol is also key, as it is along the shorted path from the Russian border to Crimea. Russian forces halted just east of Mariupol as the ceasefire went into effect and have not attempted to advance since. However, the Russians have been launching artillery and Grad rocket barrages on a daily basis. Most of these attacks have been concentrated east of the city to prevent Ukrainian forces from effectively digging in and fortifying defensive positions. Occasionally round land in the city.

As these ceasefire breaking engagements have been taking place, there have numerous unconfirmed reports of Russian reinforcements arriving little by little. There have been numerous videos of convoys filmed in Ukraine, which are quite obviously Russian, with well quipped and well-groomed Russian soldiers who are obviously not ‘separatists’ of any kind, though they are intermingling with so-called ‘separatist’ fighters.

There is a paramilitary force of Russian speakers, along with Chechens and Russian Cossacks in Ukraine. Of that, there is no doubt and I personally have seen videos of these units, speaking both Russian and Chechen in Ukraine taken after battles with Ukrainian security and army troops. Most of those videos are rather graphic and shocking and I will not be posting them here.

However, these men are distinct from Russian regular troops. They are not personally groomed in a military fashion, they do not carry themselves as military men would, nor do they handle their weapons in a professional military manner. Most of them seem more of a disorganized rabble, while others look unkempt as the rabble do, however they are quiet and seem operate very methodically and professionally.

I believe this latter group are Russian Special Forces (Spetsnaz) and possibly operatives of Russia’s FSB (successor organization to the old KGB). They most likely are operating with and in support of the ‘rabble’ the way U.S. Rangers did in places like Luzon in the Philippines in 1944, and Britain’s SAS did with Greek partisans throughout the German occupation of Greece.

In Kherson Oblast, nestled between the Ukrainian port city of Odessa and Russian occupied Crimea, Ukrainian Security Services have captured numerous operatives made up of both local Russo-Ukrainians and Russian nationals. That phenomena has continued since the ceasefire and indicates an ongoing Russian reconnaissance effort being maintained on Kherson to keep up to the minute track of Ukrainian defense measures and deployment of forces.

There is a method to the Russian actions which this map of possible attack axes will help explain. Ukraine Axes

For all intents and purposes, the first step has already been achieved. Russian forces have advanced into southeast Ukraine in preparation for a drive to Crimea to establish a land link. Russia has also built up a large number of troops in Crimea itself with 4,000 combat troops alone concentrated on the road leading into Kherson Oblast along the one isthmus connecting Crimea to Ukraine.

There is also a large Russian force staging adjacent to Odessa, Ukraine in the southern end of the Russian breakaway republic of Transniestria, which lies sandwiched between Ukraine and Moldova. It’s more likely this buildup is intended as a diversion to make Ukraine split it’s forces in the south to try to hold Odessa, which would weaken Ukrainian positions guarding against a Russian attack out of Crimea.

A full Russian invasion would likely involve simultaneous attacks against Mariupol in the east, Kherson from Crimea, Odessa from Transniestria (perhaps with an amphibious assault out of Sevastopol to assist) as well as a heavy attack and drive toward the Dnieper River out of Donetsk. The Donetsk and Mariupol attacks would involve heavy concentrations of armored forces, while forces in Crimea and Transniestria would constitute more mechanized and foot bound infantry than armor.

The key however, is the Mariupol front. Without a Russian advance breaking through Mariupol and advancing with all haste to link up with Crimea, the Russians run a risk of a supply problem for Crimea based forces. Those forces, must also affect a link up with Russian forces in Transniestria, if the latter are to play a role beyond mere defense.

The Ukrainian government and military leaders do seem to recognize that  Mariupol is key and have concentrated troops there as well as brought up artillery. There has been some artillery brought to help defend Odessa as well. But, the Ukrainians have also redeployed BM-30 Smerch (Tornado) heavy rocket artillery from west of the Dnieper River for the first time.

A smart Ukrainian commander would concentrate those BM-30 Smerch in a position to turn the Isthmus connecting Crimea to Kherson into a hellish cauldron and bottle up Russian forces there, and/or to block Russian armor advancing from Mariupol.

Were that defense to be successful, then any Russian advance on Odessa from Transniestria would be put in jeopardy as would any amphibious forces landed between Odessa and Kherson. Both groups of forces would then be open to being cutoff and destroyed. And, a Russian advance out of Donetsk to the Dnieper River, even if successful would be rendered moot.

However, this is where new problems arise for Ukraine in the form of the Russian Air Force and Navy. Both of which would be employed in an open invasion, whereas now neither is being employed yet.

Russian fighter jets would establish tactical air superiority in short order over the outnumbered Ukrainian Air Force allowing Russian tactical strike aircraft and attack helicopters free rein to hunt down and destroy Ukrainian artillery, rocket launchers, missiles, tanks and troop concentrations.

The Russian Navy would also have free rein to launch cruise missile strikes from out to sea or provide naval gunfire support close in shore without the worry of Ukrainian air attacks.

Ukraine however, may well be going for the option of bottling up Crimea. There was a story in the Kiev Post about a lack of Ukrainian troops in Dnepropetrovsk Oblast, which lays between the Russian front line in Donetsk and the Dnieper River, as well as lack of government authority in preparing local defenses and negotiating prisoner swaps with the Russians, leaving both matters for local authorities to handle on their own.

When the battle will begin and whether or not one or all of the displayed invasion axes will be used, is anyone’s guess. What is certain is that what is in fact a Russo-Ukrainian War has been on since Crimea was annexed to Russia in March of this year and it will not end until Russian troops stand on the border between Ukraine and Poland, Slovakia & Romania. Then it will be the turn of Moldova and the Baltic states of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia.

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