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.