You use it you lose it: Russia vs. Reality Round #517

Anyone with military experience knows that shit breaks. There’s the way a particular weapon or piece of equipment is supposed to work, and then there’s the way it works in the field. In the army there was this joke that went like this: “Why is the chemlight (glow stick to civilians) the best piece of equipment in the army? Because you have to break it to make it work.”

It doesn’t matter if you’re in the military of the biggest spender in the world, the US, shit…breaks. Take a look at these mishaps with the super-advanced Javelin missile, for example.

Oh but that only happens to hi-tech, super-sensitive technology, you say? Think again. Here’s the good ol’ “Ma Deuce” .50 cal, showing us that even old, venerable weapons can still screw up in the field.

Right about now some pro-Russian tank wonk is probably laughing his ass off and about to tell us how all this super-expensive, high tech equipment is laughably fragile in the field compared to rugged, reliable Russian technology. Yeah, about that…

Oh I’m sure that terrorist didn’t take care of his Kalashnikov properly, even though we all know Kalashnikovs are invincible and don’t need any care, right? Well…

 Oh and what about those awesome S-300 and S-400 SAM systems that can shoot down a migrating seagull dozens of kilometers away?

Here we have a Tochka-U surface-to-surface missile mishap in the Donbas, though it’s not entirely clear which side was using it (irrelevant for our purposes in this case).

So to repeat- military shit breaks. The more you use it, the more you increase the chance of something going wrong. I was once involved in field exercise where we actually had to come in from the field early because a vital piece of equipment spontaneously caught fire. We’re talking about rugged signal equipment first developed in the 1970’s, not terribly sensitive stuff. On a more tragic note, three soldiers from our brigade were killed at the National Training Center when a mortar round went off in the tube. Mortars have been around since WWI, and yet things like this still happen.

When you put any kind of strain on a nation’s military, say by launching a major military campaign, you’re going to see more and more accidents and fuck-ups. Not only are you using the equipment more, and often under more stressful conditions, but you also have an increased opportunity for human error. People are overworked, sleep-deprived, nervous, scared, confused, etc. This can lead to improper usage and lapses in maintenance. It’s not just big campaigns like Iraq or Afghanistan that pushed US or NATO forces to the limit. Even the Kosovo campaign was marred by several accidents which were unrelated to combat action, including the loss of two AH-64 Apache helicopters that were only flying training missions.

Now keep in mind that this is the case for the biggest defense spender in the world, with an all-volunteer professional military force largely made up of highly motivated people with some of the best military training on the globe. What happens when a country whose military is largely conscript-based and rife with all manner of socio-political problems, from corruption to ethnic hatred, tries to pretend it’s on par with NATO forces and gets engaged in a secret war while running almost continuous snap drills and exercises in more than one theater at the same time?

This is what happens. That’s not all. I woke up this morning to find that another Tu-95 “Bear” strategic bomber crashed. Russia’s recent exercises and airspace violations definitely achieved their likely goal of provoking panic among certain European leaders and pundits such as Ed Lucas, but as I said when this all began, it is nothing but desperate posturing. After years of looting state budgets, Putin and his bureaucratic cronies seriously weakened their military, which for many had become a source of free construction labor. Then they thought they could throw a lot of money they didn’t really have at it, make slick new logos and digital camo uniforms, and suddenly all those endemic problems would just go away. Clearly they were wrong. Not only is Russia losing planes in exercises and soldiers in Ukraine training exercises, but they’re even losing soldiers who are peacefully occupying their own barracks, which apparently collapsed due to suspected safety violations during its construction. Once again, corruption rears its head and ruins Russian aspirations.

As I have also said before, at least some of the Russian maneuvers are a threat to safety, specifically flying around with transponders off. As Russia is already responsible for the destruction of one civilian airliner, it would be wise for them to tread lightly around civil aviation. But then again, we are dealing with people who are not wise, but in fact delusional. Russia’s puffed-up posturing is dangerous in the same way that a drunk man swinging his arms wildly can be dangerous. He may hit a couple people but he’s really not a threat once he’s pushed outside to collapse on the pavement in a puddle of his own vomit.

So what is really happening here? Thorough narratives of the behavior of interbellum Poland spoke of how the country aspired to be a great power “between the seas.” The problem was that Poland began acting as though it already was a great power when in fact it was nothing close to the sort. This led to decisions and flirtations with its real mortal enemy, Nazi Germany, which eventually sealed the fate of the Second Polish Republic. This kind of too-big-for-one’s-britches behavior is quite apt to describe Putin’s Russia. In order to save his popularity, he’s forced to play his best card- Russia as a great power. This means military parades, defense spending Russia can’t afford, snap drills, exercises, and of course, that war they can’t openly admit to, thus hampering their war efforts in a conflict where the goals are probably no clearer to Russia’s leadership than they are to the general public. The problem is, however, that Putin is writing checks that his military and economy simply cannot cash.

The really tragic part of all this is that none of these things make Russia a great power, nor is such an outdated concept a worthy goal. Russia’s true power could have been found in its publicly owned resources for the past 15 years, assuming more of that wealth had been directed to diversifying the economy and improving living standards as opposed to being siphoned off by everyone from Putin on down to the lowliest bureaucrat. Russia was certainly poised to take the lead in science, but instead its leadership preferred to create and maintain a society where the prospects for scientists were markedly low compared to the West, and of course, they chose to promote religion and the church in contradiction to the Russian constitution. No big surprise that Russia’s brain drain continues, and as always, Putin blames the West for his own 15-year failure. Russia still has a significant edge in space exploration, but right now what’s really important is ruining independent Ukraine and letting wannabe White Guards and Cossacks engage in lethal live-action role playing in the Donbas, so that falls by the wayside too.

There’s a sort of paradox here. If Putin had made the right choices, Russia’s economic power and influence would have given it a far better military, perhaps the all-volunteer force they’ve been talking about for over a decade. But then there remains a question- if Russia became that economic power with higher standards of living and strong leads in science and technology, it’s unlikely that this higher quality military would seem so important. Russian military power is something that appeals to a large demographic in Russia which sees no other value in their country. Unable to offer anything that the world wants, they hate all those countries which they feel have it better than them, and they are pleased at the ability to intimidate and bully those countries. Such people, for all their claims of patriotism, know full well how poor their conditions really are, not necessarily in economic terms but in terms of rights and rule of law, and so they relish in the idea of ruining things for those who live better, unjustly of course.

As Putin is appealing directly to that sentiment, his unprepared military is suffering thanks to the delusions and fantasies of his base, which he is trying to please at expense of Russia’s future as a country. Can one really feel pity in this state of affairs? Essentially what we have here is a 90lb lightweight who wants to be a professional MMA fighter with barely any training and none of the discipline such a sport requires. Are we supposed to feel sorry for him when he gets utterly crushed? Putin had other options. He chose instead to embrace the worst elements of Russian society and turn against his most talented people. Now pleasing the former means getting into that cage and getting trounced by reality. Or in the case of Russia’s air force- gravity.

The moral of the story- military shit breaks. The more you use it, the more you lose it.


30 thoughts on “You use it you lose it: Russia vs. Reality Round #517

  1. gbd_crwx

    Well, even though there seem to be some examples of badly manufactured “Russian” equipment, I thought the general consensus was that Russian equipment often lacked in finesse but often countered in ruggedness. (And vice versa, American equipment being very good, but often requiring American class of logistics to work properly).

    Btw, speaking of conscription, is it as bad rumoured, with the older classes beating up the younger ones?

    1. Jim Kovpak Post author

      Often times this is true, but as a rule anything built by man can break. Usually stuff like Russian small arms is extremely reliable, but then you’ve got the human factor. US Army soldiers, for example, spend three weeks of basic training doing BRM(Basic Rifle Marskmanship). During that time, I would not be surprised to find that recruits fire at least 1,000 rounds(before the actual qualification day we had several trips to the range in the days leading up to it just to practice). By contrast non-combat arms people in the Russian army have told me they fired at tops, 5 rounds from the AK74M.

      Logistics is also an important factor, because anything on the front line requires a lot of support and service. Here too, Russia faces a major weakness.

      As for violence and physical/sexual abuse, it still goes on in the Russian army, though I’m told it has gone down a lot in some units since the term of conscription was reduced to one year instead of two. Usually there’s an ethnic component to it- where Caucasian sergeants and personnel pick on the softer Russians.

      1. gbd_crwx

        Only 5!? and I thought my time in the army was cash-strapped (Hmm, brings back a lot of old memories). Of course everything can break if not properly maintained and I thought some of the good Russian stuff was made with that in mind (i.e. when it gets hairy, maybe we wont get all the logistics we wish for and therefor our equipment should be able to handle that) I remember many of the officers admiring Russian equipment for this actually.

        Caucasian in the original sense?

        btw were all those misfirings all with live warheads?

      2. Jim Kovpak Post author

        I can’t speak on the warheads issue. Some of those videos clearly are because you see them running away quick.

        As for the Caucasians, these are usually people from Dagestan or Ingushetia. Chechens were until recently except from conscription, but this is not the case now.

      3. gbd_crwx

        But basically the spirit of this piece is that much of the new military hardware is potemkin villages, because of putin but it ddidn’t had to be that?

      4. Jim Kovpak Post author

        Partially yes. What he puts in action in the Crimea and some of these more visible exercises are the best he has. Of course he also needs them for his war in the Donbas. As Galeotti says, this is problematic because it means he’s squandering his best troops, and there are not many of them.

      5. gbd_crwx

        ..and what happens after one year of military service? Are they free or put in the reserves?

      6. Jim Kovpak Post author

        I’m pretty sure you’re done after that. The problem is that in a modern military, it takes a long time to figure out just what you do.

  2. Jim Kovpak Post author

    UPDATE: A reader posted another video of something that could go wrong with the Javelin anti-tank missile. The Ukrainian Armed Forces needs to be made aware of this danger.

    1. gbd_crwx

      AHA! I knew it, you American imperialistic pig dogs weapons are nothing but paper tigers! Either that or the javelin has got a new hydrogen bomb warhead. 🙂

  3. Upandaway

    The problem with Russian high-tech is that it too often were a me-too effort that chased american pies in the sky. The Buran is a very good example of this.

    Modern military jet engines in particular are very hard to make. The temperatures are extreme, and without clever engineering + advanced materials + high tech tools *and* a first class workforce there is no way to make good ones. Only a few countries in the world master entire chain that’s needed. The Soviet Union got around having flaws in the chain by making a *lot* of engines, replacing them after only a few tens or hundreds of hours in the air vs several 1000 for Western ones. They also didn’t train all that much, or very realistically since doing so would be very, very expensive. Also, the Soviet Union also had some really clever people working for it, with huge resources to keep them motivated.

    Russian high-tech manufacturing in comparison is now pretty much dead. Old, previously very reliable rocket designs are failing at the launch-pad. Putin can’t accept this, so he orders huge, scary drills which rapidly wears out his military. No-one below him dares say no or deliver the bad news… So he gets them in the form of crashes and explosions instead.

    1. Jim Kovpak Post author

      In defense of the Buran and rocket engines, the former was actually quite advanced and its Energiya rocket supposedly had some serious advantages over the solid rocket boosters of the Space Shuttle(which led to the Challenger disaster). Orbiting the Earth twice and landing entirely on remote is nothing to sneeze at, but of course the writing was on the wall for the Soviet Union at that point.

      I do remember watching a documentary about what I believe was the RK-32 or 33 rocket engine, which did things US aerospace engineers thought were impossible. Of course the N1 rocket they were used on was a failure, but luckily after the collapse an American firm found that they hadn’t all been destroyed(as ordered) and they put them to good use.

      But with the rest of that, yes, I totally agree. One thing about the USSR is that engineers and scientists were often well funded and these were among the best professions in the country. Of course ever since the collapse, the situation became reversed. Nobody wants to dick around in Skolkovo when they could easily go off to NASA, ESA, or Silicon Valley and get real jobs.

      1. Upandaway

        By me-too, I mean that they had absolutely no idea what to actually use it for, apart as an ego-boost for a bunch of panicky soviet politicos.. Another example would be the soviet rip-off of the concorde. They made it fly, which is impressive, but in the end it was a crappy copy of a flawed concept done purely for prestige (*exactly* like the Buran/Space Shuttle!).

        The next generation of jet-and-rocket engines (the SABRE concept) will make the division btw the West and the Rest even more glaring. The tolerance for corrupt BS is 0.0000001 in this type of engineering.

      2. Jim Kovpak Post author

        Oh I nearly forgot. Some time after the last Proton-M disaster, there was news that something like 90 billion rubles was missing from Roskosmos. It’s a fucking compulsion with these people. They simply cannot stop stealing.

      3. Shalcker

        They used Buran program to create some concepts that actually made sense (while Shuttle/Buran itself did not)

        …except at this point any ingenuity and understanding by constructors wasn’t needed and it was scrapped, and instead they created Buran as requested.

  4. Callum Carmichael

    I think I’m learning that with any story related to Russian official negligence ruining things or getting people killed, you have to ask yourself a simple question:

    What if Putin and his elites just don’t care?

    I’m sure in an ideal world Putin would like to have a proper military whose planes stay in the sky and whose recruits don’t rape each other in training, but why should he put any effort into fixing these problems? It’s not like he plans to take on the US or even the Baltics in all probability.

    We’ve established that this posturing is for domestic consumption. So all that really matters is the image that gets shown to Putin’s base. That image is easy to control in Russia. Just don’t report on the crashes, or blame them on Western sabotage. Any dissenting voices can be branded as traitors, and the more lethal the crashes, the fewer complaints.

    To be sure, they will need a bare minimum of security forces to guard against legitimate threats, and a few demonstration teams to pretend the RFAF is competent, but otherwise who cares if the military falls apart? Just do a Ghaddafi; foster a competent, loyal personal guard and let the rest of it decay. That way, you should be safe from coups.

    As the economy worsens, fewer people will be able to buy their way out of service, and more will be desperate enough to endure military service because they need the money (however little they are paid).

    Of course this kind of system can’t last forever, but since when has Putin been known for long-term strategy?

    I really hope I’m being overly pessimistic here.

    1. Jim Kovpak Post author

      In a sense he doesn’t care, but the cat is already out of the bag. What is more, just because people say they approve of Putin or support the government doesn’t mean they actually like it. Most people’s excuse is “who else?” This isn’t a loyal base.

      1. Asehpe

        One question I’ve always had for those who say ‘who else?’ about Putin is: but he’s going to die someday, so there has to be ‘someone else’. Who will succeed him, if “nobody” is competent enough? Who? Medvedev? Surkov? Bastrykin? Or Kadyrov? Someone will have to do it, right? The way people keep repeating “nobody else could do it”, it feels as if nobody had any frigging idea about who could possibly succeed Putin, even though this will have to happen someday. What’s your pick, by the way? Who would you expect to succeed Vladimir Vladimirovich?

      2. Callum Carmichael

        I remember Jim and I asked Mikhail when he was trolling this site a while back, and I asked some of my Russian ex-pat “friends” the same question last week.

        The only thing I ever get is evasion. I think Anton, the guy I was talking to, seemed genuinely thrown off guard by the prospect that Putin could die. They kept saying it “didn’t concern” me, and that things would be fine one way or another. When pressed for a better answer, the subject changed.

        I imagine they’d rather not think about it.

      3. Jim Kovpak Post author

        To be fair to Mikhail, he was actually trying to engage in debate, and thus I wouldn’t call him a troll. We must always be careful not to make it seem like any attempt to put forth the “Russian” perspective is automatically trolling.

        That being said, he seemed evasive like your expat friend because ultimately the “Russian perspective,” which is really the Kremlin perspective, is indefensible from a logical point of view.

        This Putin thing is an example because we’ve reached a point where every defense of Putin brings a new argument against him. For example, if there’s “nobody but Putin,” then we must ask why such a great leader ruled a country for 15 years, yet that same country was only able to produce one allegedly competent head of state during that time. In fact, we’d have to say that Russia produced exactly one qualified leader in its entire existence since 1991. Therefore we must conclude that Putin is a terrible leader.

        Like I say, every answer leads to the same conclusion- Putin is incompetent. It’s not his fault for the corruption because it’s bureaucrats? Okay, he’s incompetent. He IS corrupt? Okay that’s bad too. There’s genocide in the Donbas? Putin says he isn’t doing anything to stop it so he’s incompetent.

    1. Shalcker

      Eh, channel with people calling killed Oles Buzina “known Kremlin marionette”?
      (2:38 in their video about deportation of Russian journalist from July 3rd)

      Yeah, it’s Kremlin marionettes all around; anyone who calls out on how bad is Ukrainian situation is obviously Kremlin marionette, no exceptions…

      1. Asehpe

        No, but nobody who no calls situation what is now is also no Kremlin troll, because no exceptons, right?…

      2. Shalcker

        Anti-Kremlin trolls are still trolls. Most of what trolls produce is garbage, even if they snatch some gems here and there occasionally.

        Owner of this blog was also claimed to be Kremlin agent by vishivatniks…

  5. JackT

    Putin grew up in the Soviet 50’s and 60’s. That is all he knows. Military power and KGB. He incorrectly assumes that a big military is the basis for a great society when in reality it is the economy. That is why he is trying to establish somekind of weird Soviet Reunion and failing.

    1. Jim Kovpak Post author

      Yes, Putin is trying to reestablish the Soviet Union. That’s why his regime pushes religion and superstition on everyone while encouraging Great Russian chauvinism and rehabilitating the Russian empire as an ideal society- just like the Soviet Union.


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