Saturday, August 16, 2008

The Tail's Tale Tells

The rapid deployment of Russian mechanized forces into Georgia was clearly the results of long preparation and planning of which the deployment of railroad troops to rebuild the rail lines of communication into Ossetia was a necessary step to support Russian offensive operations. The Russian logistic tail depends heavily on rail as the Russian road network is less dense than in Western Europe or North America.

Conventional (peer to peer) military operations depend heavily on artillery and its ammunition. Planning figures for artillery in support of offensive operations range from five to fifteen tons of ammunition per gun per day, or one ammo truck for every gun. Depending on weighting the offensive by maneuver unit, there can be as much as one gun per rifle squad/tank to one gun per platoon that is actually at the forward edge of the battlefield.

Operations in Iraq and Afghanistan call for fewer guns and ammunition, although some say that more are needed. There has been criticism in the professional press that artillery assigned to Brigade Combat Teams instead of to a Division or Corps artillery as is the custom, has led to a degradation of the quality of fire support compared to conflicts of this kind in the past. A de-emphasis on artillery and its supply lines may also lead to similar downgrading of its significance when watching Bearish preparations.

I have found that military intelligence analysts worry about watching avenues of approach for the arrival of tanks and infantry moving towards friendly positions. Waiting for enemy maneuver forces to show up on templated overlays is waiting too long. By the time the enemy has been spotted deploying, it is very difficult to shift priority of fires and reserves to counter the threat.

At the tactical level, the guns move first. The movement of guns forward plus ranging shots into the forward area is a good sign that the Bears are restless. The activities along the South Ossetian borders fit this profile.

At higher levels, the tail moves first before the guns and the tail is carrying ammo, ammo, gas and spare parts. Included will be maintenance personnel, engineers, and military police to sustain the lines of communication. As an old photo interpreter aka “squint”, I would have looked for ammunition handling equipment, ammo trucks, bridge components and vehicles. Preparations for crossing gaps and rivers is essential for sustaining a rapid advance.

The “Hail Mary” in Desert Storm was preceded by a cloud of trucks and the placement of supply points forward of the line of departure. The VC and NVA in Vietnam built supply lines with food, fuel, and ammo dumps positions at ten kilometer intervals along their axis of advance from Cambodia into Vietnam. The movement of railroad engineers in Ossetia plus road construction of tank trails is classic examples of preparations to build an offensive capability.

It is not unreasonable for analysts to look for alternative explanations for these obvious Russian moves, since the Russians haven’t done this outside Afghanistan since the operations to keep Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and East Germany in the Soviet Bloc. To do so violates an old intelligence dictum to deal in capabilities instead of intentions. Dealing with intentions gets into guessing happenstance, idiosyncrasies, coincidence as well as one’s own biases.

In this case, it appears that the Georgians may have read the indications correctly and tried to move to better positions to confront the Russians forward of their attack positions. This is a very tricky operation, as it depends on forces equipped and trained in meeting engagements on unfriendly positions. The alternative would have been to defend in place, hope for a chance to maneuver against a superior force and call for help. Neither option was good.

It leaves the question of how much did we know of Russian capabilities, and what our assessment was. Properly done, it should have called for both diplomatic preemption, and military counter-preparations. In both cases, Turkey would be a major player.

The Turkish proposal for a Trans-Caucasus union is along these lines, and which may have encouraged the Russians to move first. This is a very old game in these parts, and one which for the sake of oil, needs to be addressed.

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