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Friday, 28 February 2014

When a modern wargames becomes real - Ukraine Crisis 2014

For interest I was gaming a potential crisis in the Ukraine. The scenario was an East West confrontation over dividing the country.

At that point I did not know that Ukraine, while not a member of NATO, had a memorandum of understanding with NATO. The question of whether this is legally binding to commit NATO to military action if Ukraine is attacked is one for international lawyers. However, there would be huge moral pressure on NATO to support an ally under attack.

So I was a little surprised to find the real world crisis is starting to resemble one of my wargames. Obviously, in my game, Russia could not stand up for long against a determined effort by NATO based in Poland. When faced with defeat, Russia started to deploy its heaviest weapons and my game stopped at the point of the crisis becoming Armageddon.

It is a somewhat surreal experience to see one of ones wargames played out in the real world. I just hope the politicians are operating at their finest to avoid this crises escalating down a one way path to a confrontation neither NATO nor Russia wants to face.


  1. Ukraine has one of the region's largest armies. However, as poor economic performance has prevented the military from extensively modernising. It is a largely conscript army, but with a few good army units and the navy's brigade of marines. They largely use Cold War equipment, with some upgrades. The army consists of 11-12 brigades. They also have 180 fighter aircraft, 30 strike aircraft and 30 bombers. They also have 143 attack helicopters. Assuming the Ukraine army fought and did not collapse it would take a Russian force of 150,000 to over run Ukraine in a reasonable amount of time. However, the Russian casualties would be in the thousands, the Ukraine would be wrecked and the campaign would consume 10-15 thousand tons of Russian military supplies per day. So Russia could take any part of Ukraine it wishes, but there would be large price on the battlefield (and that is not discussing the wider economic ramifications of a war). Hope that helps to set the military context of the confrontation.

  2. In these situations there are some standard analytical techniques I use. First, what has happened in the immediate past. Have there been large scale defections of Ukraine military units in Crimea? Not according to the evidence I have seen. The Ukraine units could have surrendered with honour, faced by a heavily armed unit of Russian special forces, but they have resisted without firing a shot.

    The second technique is analogy. Airforces tend to remain loyal e.g. in Syria and Libya. Therefore if the Russians invaded the Ukraine airforce will fight. Air strikes will happen, their fighters will engage Russian aircraft and helicopters, their attack helicopters will engage advancing Russian armour. Historical example shows it is very hard to defect during a war with a combat aircraft. If one flies to Poland, you may be shot down, if you fly east the Russians will try and shoot you down. In war you cannot just radio ahead to let them know you are defecting. It is easier to defect in a helicopter. You just need to fly somewhere quiet and land. Then you have to hope that the local population who find you support your decision to defect. However, an airforce cannot last long unless the ground troops fight.

    During the 1st Gulf War, the Iraq army saw mass surrenders when they had the opportunity. They did not want to die to defend a country they had just invaded (Kuwait). During the 2nd Gulf War, despite a more effective air campaign, they largely fought. They were defending their homeland from occupation. This was the crucial difference in their collective decision to fight.The implications of this is the Ukraine Army will fight as it is defending its homeland from occupation.

    During a war, it is very dangerous to surrender in small groups. In World War II only 50% of soldiers who surrendered survived the surrender/ captivity process. There would be a fear that the invading Russians would not take prisoners who were not ethnic Russians. Wars between different ethnic groups are always more brutal. It is likely that there would not be mass surrenders in the early stages of a Russian invasion.

    Both sides know that they need to prepare the battlefield by persuading/ dissuading the Ukraine army from fighting. This is pyscops (physiological operations) in which both sides attempt to dominate the narrative. i..e The Ukraine government says a Russian invasion will be the end to Ukraine as they know it (true) and the Russian government will say that if they do not invade, there will be consequences for ethnic Russians (also true). (There are many other aspects to this, but this analysis is focused on the military side).

    Mass surrender historically also happen in the absence of hope. So part of the ongoing information war is the Ukraine Government arguing their armed forces could stop the Russian invasion, perhaps long enough for Poland to support them or for a mass uprising behind the advancing Russian lines to cause chaos with their supply lines. In the 2nd Gulf War, such an uprising during the American advance seriously interfered with the advance.

    It is reasonable to assume that if Ukraine units are going to stay neutral, they will indicate their intention to do so before any firing starts. In the days of social media and cyber spying, both sides will know which units will fight and which will not before any shot is fired.Currently, (to me at least), the vast majority of the Ukraine Army would fight if the Russians invaded. So does Putin