Warfare Against the Rules
№3 2003 July/September

The heads of the Russian military, specifically Minister of
Defense Sergei Ivanov and Chief of General Staff Anatoly Kvashnin,
assert that the lessons of the recent Iraqi war are being
thoroughly analyzed. On previous occasions, they stated the same
things about the U.S. campaigns in Yugoslavia and Afghanistan, and
for one reason or another the analysis by the Russian military led
to one conclusion: the Americans were lucky to have confronted a
weak opponent. For example, NATO secured a victory over Yugoslavia
because of the latter’s lack of air defense weapons and Moscow’s
indecision; similarly, they defeated the Talibs in Afghanistan
because Pakistan had stopped rendering it support and blocked the
Afghan-Pakistani border.

Today, as before, the Russian military allege that the Americans
have won a “fixed war” over Iraq by bribing the generals of the
Iraqi Republican Guard. This summer there was held an enlarged
meeting of the Academic Council of the Academy of Military Science
and this particular idea was reiterated by most of the speakers.
The leading Russian military experts have also focused on
criticizing U.S. foreign policy and Washington’s attempts to build
a unipolar world. The military aspect of the problem per se was
obviously of secondary importance. “In terms of military art, the
Iraqi campaign does not allow us to draw any far-reaching
conclusions,” said General of the Army Makhmut Gareyev, President
of the Academy of Military Science, “for we have not witnessed any
serious war against a strong opponent.”

The reluctance of Russia’s top military personnel to conduct an
in-depth analysis of the on-going profound changes in modern
warfare (described as a “revolution in military affairs” by the
Pentagon) is rather easy to understand: any serious analysis of the
changes would shake Russia’s current program for military
development, its concept of military reform and most of the plans
concerning combat deployment of its armed forces.

The enemy that we choose

The U.S. campaign in Iraq is significant for Russia for two
interrelated reasons. Firstly, it is the second time, after the
Afghan campaign, that the American military has chalked up a
victory, which, according to Russian strategists, could not have
been won. The main point is that in both engagements they carried
out combat operations on the enemy’s territory and were opposed not
only by the standing army, but also by paramilitary formations that
were expected to wage a large-scale guerilla war. At the outset of
the Iraqi operation, just as at the start of the Afghan campaign,
Russian generals predicted that the Americans would become
entangled in a protracted and bloody war. Obviously, they based
their conclusions on their own experience – the war that the Soviet
generals lost in Afghanistan, and the one that the Russian generals
are presently failing to win in Chechnya. Both in Afghanistan and
in Iraq, the U.S. commanders deployed a ground force that was
smaller than the one the Russians had in Chechnya (slightly over
30,000 troops were engaged in the Afghan campaign and some 114,000
troops in Iraq). They did not storm either Kabul or Baghdad with
heavy howitzer artillery, yet they still emerged from battle

Secondly and most importantly, it would be no exaggeration to
say that the Iraqi campaign has fiercely tested the plans of
Russia’s General Staff for beating back a hypothetical, large-scale
act of aggression. For the first time in the past decade, the U.S.
forces were engaged in a war, which, according to the Russian
General Staff, would be typical of a strategy implemented by any
potential adversary.

The Russian military scholars failed to properly address the
strategic situation that emerged in the second half of the 1990s.
At this time it became apparent that the U.S. had secured the
advantage of overwhelming air superiority, and sought to maintain
its predominance through large-scale air operations, thus,
essentially eliminating the need for grand ground operations. At
some point, the Russian General Staff decided that in its scenarios
the “enemy forces” should play a give-away game against Russia’s
forces. The scenarios of all the latest Russian strategic
exercises, beginning with The West ‘99 exercise, derive from the
assumption that any opponent will necessarily engage itself in
ground operations, which will, it is believed, result in heavy

Another alternative response to a large-scale air campaign would
be initiated through a demonstrative air-to-ground nuclear cruise
missile attack against uninhabited or scarcely populated areas, on
enemy territory. It is assumed that such a demonstration would
force the enemy to halt his offensive and sit down at the
negotiating table. Yet, it is not clear how Russia’s strategic
bombers would be able to approach an attack line in the face of the
opponent’s overwhelming air superiority. Until recently, these
scenarios were rather hypothetical and had only indirect relevance
to the actual situation.

However, in case of the Iraqi war the U.S. president made it
clear that the U.S. would have to eventually abandon the strategy
of sustained air attacks, and launch ground operations once the
campaign had commenced. The point was that massive bombardments
were not conducive to a war strategy whose declared purpose was
“the liberation of the Iraqi people,” as opposed to their wanton
destruction. Furthermore, having failed to obtain an international
mandate from the global community for its military operation in
Iraq after months of bargaining, the U.S. did not have enough time
to gain an absolute superiority over the enemy before the scorching
summer season set in.

That was the primary reason why the U.S. attacked Iraq using a
fairly small force. The 400,000-troop Iraqi army was faced by
slightly more than 100,000 U.S. troops. The U.S. 3rd Mechanized
Division bypassed large Iraqi formations and maintained a dash to
Baghdad. The Iraqi generals could have taken advantage of this
situation and strike at the rear units of U.S. troops, while the
latter’s overstretched lines of communication offered lucrative
targets for subversion. This is precisely what the Russian military
had recommended the Yugoslavs to do during their defensive
campaign. “There was actually no war in Yugoslavia. In a war,
damage is inflicted on the enemy by all available means,” a
high-ranking Russian general told journalists. He further
questioned, “Why were there no subversive groups? As was well
known, the NATO bases in Macedonia remained almost

At a conference held by the Russian Ministry of Defense in the
summer of 1999, General of the Army Makhmut Gareyev also accused
the Yugoslavs of being passive: “It is worth remembering how the
Soviet naval aviation, although suffering huge losses, kept
launching air strikes on Berlin in 1941. Always and everywhere, it
is necessary to impose contact land battles against the enemy.” The
same criticism was voiced rhetorically toward the Iraqis by General
Gareyev: “Did the Iraqis blow up bridges and other installations or
lay minefields along the routes of the enemy advance? Did they
erect barricades, pole obstacles, dig antitank ditches and make
ambushes in their cities, desperately defending each house the way
we did in Stalingrad?” It looks as if the answer to the question
why the Iraqi defense system collapsed like a house of cards is not
as simple as the alleged betrayal of the Iraqi generals.

“The fog of war” has cleared away

Saddam’s army has disappointed all of those who had relied on
its stubborn resistance, and dreamt of “ordinary Iraqi peasants
shooting down the U.S. combat helicopters by the dozens.” Like the
Talibs, the Iraqis have displayed passivity and defeatism, which is
difficult to explain. Even though the Americans enjoyed complete
superiority, the Iraqi military had the opportunity to carry out
so-called asymmetric actions, such as subversions and attacks
against the overstretched lines of communication. When several GIs
from a U.S. maintenance company got caught in an ambush and were
taken prisoner, President Bush called it the gravest day in the
three weeks of operations. It proved to be the most successful
operation of the Iraqi army. Who knows how things would have
evolved had such incidences occurred with much greater frequency.
But they never did.

However, the central point should not be the passivity of the
Iraqi resistance, but that a battle was waged between two
fundamentally different armies: one doomed to defeat and the other
destined to win, because one of them was still anchored to the
industrial century, whereas the other was high-powered with
information technologies; the difference proved to be no less than
the difference between the Spanish conquistadors and the Incan

With each new war, the U.S. armed forces have made wider use of
the latest achievements in information technologies. For many
centuries, the military strategy relied on a singular maxim: in
order to hold down your enemy’s forces and deprive him of
maneuverability, the attacker should control as much of the
combat-stricken territory as possible. According to Jane’s Defence
Weekly, an authoritative British magazine, today an army’s task is
not to seize a territory, but obtain as much information about the
battlefield as possible.

On this point, the Americans have really displayed their
success. First in Afghanistan and then in Iraq, the Pentagon
constructed a huge multilayered Integrated Information and Control
System, which was comprised of reconnaissance and communications
satellites, U-2 reconnaissance aircraft, E-8 Joint STARS target
acquisition system aircraft, E-3 AWACS early warning system
aircraft, and RC-130 tactical reconnaissance aircraft. Furthermore,
the Americans made use of ten different types of unmanned air
vehicles, ranging from the high-altitude Global Hawk to the
collapsible Dragon Eye. Using these advanced technologies, the
forward headquarters of the Central Command stationed in Doha
(Qatar) exercised a real-time surveillance of the entire Iraqi
territory. Even during the most severe sand storms the Iraqis
failed to elude the overhead reconnaissance; their attempts to
concentrate their reserves and initiate strikes at the rear of the
U.S. forces were regularly foiled (there were several such
attempts, namely from the surrounded city of Basra, near
En-Nasiriyah on March 21-22 and west of Kerbela on March 27).

The U.S. “revolution in military affairs” has, in fact, cleared
away “the fog of war,” as Carl von Clausewitz, a distinguished
military theorist of the past, has described the insufficient
knowledge about the opponent’s plans and maneuvers. The greatest
achievement of the Integrated Information System is that it is
constructed not only in the vertical plane, but in the horizontal
as well. As a result, vital reconnaissance information concerning
the location of the opponent is transmitted not only to the
military command center, but also directly to the land-based units
and combat aircraft; therefore, it takes not more than 12 minutes
to hit a target after the information has been acquired. According
to the U.S. Air Force Command, over 500 air attacks hit the targets
following retargeting with the use of information received when the
aircraft were already in the air.

High-precision weapons, which, according to British military
experts, accounted for approximately 70 percent of all the
munitions used during the Iraqi war, were part of the information
and attack system; their implementation made it possible to
immediately launch attacks against detected targets. The
information system allowed U.S. generals to conduct video on-line
conferences with commanders at all levels and to make decisions
practically within seconds. The Doha-based headquarters received
real-time information concerning the operations of all friendly
troops, irrespective of their size, for which purpose they were
fitted with special equipment.

Precise knowledge of the battlefield situation, together with
the capability for instantly responding to sudden developments,
produces a profound psychological effect on the adversary. Enemy
commanders start to imagine that their opponent is almighty and
all-knowing and can foresee or even direct their actions, while the
rank-and-file develop something like schizophrenia; they acquire
the terrifying feeling that the enemy airplanes are hunting them
personally. Combat experience demonstrates that such operations
lasting three or four weeks are enough to make even such
battle-hardened fighters as the Talibs abandon their positions and

Another major innovative aspect of the U.S. strategy is a
markedly increased level of troop mobility. In the past, the
capability of the U.S. to quickly respond to a crisis in Europe or
Asia was made possible due to a network of major bases where large
contingents of forces were stationed. They were designed to not
only contain the first strike, but also provide conditions for the
disembarkation and deployment of the U.S. forces overseas. There
were no such bases around Afghanistan, while during the Iraqi
operation Turkey, as is well known, did not permit the Americans to
deploy their forces from its territory.

The Pentagon has demonstrated that what it requires today is
only temporary and fairly small bases in order to store the
required heavy weapons. Such depots, for example, were established
in Kuwait in advance, and the only thing left to do was airlift the
military personnel of the 3rd Mechanized Division. In fact, the
173rd Airborne Brigade, as well as the Marine Expeditionary
Brigade, did without a preliminary deployment and launched a hasty
attack in the north of Iraq. According to the new U.S. norms, a
brigade should be deployable to any point of the globe four days
after it has received the order; a single division is given five
days, while a five-division task force is assigned one month. By
the designated time, carrier-based naval task forces, Marine
Expeditionary Forces and Air Force units should be deployed in the
vicinity of the conflict.

Such a high level of mobility provides for an unprecedented
speed of operation and initiative on the battlefield; the adversary
simply has no time to respond to the fast changes in the situation.
General Tommie Franks, who was in charge of general planning of the
Iraqi operation, told his officers to stop reminding him of U.S.
exposed flanks. He said the U.S. troops were advancing so fast that
the Iraqis would not be able to find out where their flanks

Finally, as in all recent U.S. military campaigns, the Special
Operations Forces played an important role in Iraq. The strength of
the Green Berets, Naval Special Warfare Forces and Delta teams
operating in Iraq numbered more than 10,000. During the first days
of the war they seized control of the oil fields, thereby denying
Hussein the chance to destroy them. This would have resulted in an
ecological disaster like that in Kuwait in 1991. Thereafter, they
guided U.S. and British planes to critical targets.

The Americans also succeeded in providing the enemy with
strategic misinformation. After announcing “the crisis of their
advance in the desert” on April 4, they did not suspend their
offensive but bypassed the Iraqi defensive line near Kerbela.
During the Iraqi operation, more than 40 million leaflets were
dropped from airplanes. Psychological war specialists even
succeeded in sending messages to the mobile phones of some Iraqi
generals, calling on them to surrender; the smartest generals
hurried to accept the offer they could not refuse. However, it is
evident that reconciling the U.S. victory in Iraq with bribing
Saddam’s generals to surrender would be the most primitive

Pointless mobilization

Russian generals simply cannot allow themselves to offer an
explanation for the changes in modern warfare; otherwise, they
would be forced to admit that Russia is not prepared to face the
challenge of the “revolution in military affairs” evolving

Inside the Russian military, the phenomenon is not being
perceived in its entirety; at the most only a few aspects of it are
being given worthy consideration. Hence, there are only very
fragmentary reactions to the situation. Currently, most attention
is being paid to the ever-increasing role of space communications
and reconnaissance systems. As a result, the development of the
Space Forces has been declared a top priority of the country’s
military reform, with abundant funds being allocated to the
construction of a space satellite force. In 2004, the number of
defense communications and reconnaissance satellites is expected to
exceed 70. Colonel General Alexei Moskovsky, in charge of the
military-technical policy of the Russian Ministry of Defense,
claims that the space communication and reconnaissance equipment
will come into service with the military companies, platoons and
squads as early as next year. Yet one has to wonder who will
operate these technologies – the enlisted personnel, of whom only
less than half have high-school educations? Or will it be the
pilots, whose flying time totals no more than 10-12 hours per

To reduce the essence of the revolution in warfare to the use of
new technologies is certainly nonsense. Only a totally different
army, which the Russian generals are reluctant to build, can
efficiently use these. Recently, the Russian government passed a
federal program for the transition of some military forces to a
contract system. It would seem that the Defense Ministry, despite
the limited funds available to it, should take all of the necessary
measures to acquire at least a few more or less combat-ready
formations. Unfortunately, this is not the case. The military
department has succeeded in pushing through the bizarre idea of ‘a
mixed army’ with the bulk of its forces made up of draftees. The
General Staff insists that national security can be maintained only
by retaining millions of reservists and their mass mobilization in
case of emergency.

Starting from The West ‘99 exercise, Russia’s plans of strategic
maneuvers have necessarily provided for the mobilization of
reservists. Initially, only the personnel of the regiment level
were called up. In 2002, the mobilization of 7,500 troops (an
equivalent of a reinforced brigade or a peace-time division) and
their deployment over several thousand kilometers, was presented by
Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov as major achievement for Russia. But
in practical terms, there seems to have been little sense in that
move. Given the Ministry of Defense’s permanent shortage of funds
necessary for the combat training of its service personnel, there
is no sense in trying ‘to refresh the military skills’ over a
two-week period with those who have lost them a long time ago.

Russia’s top military experts argue that waiving full
conscription will lead to a considerable reduction in the number of
reservists, and the government will not be able to call up 6 to 8
million soldiers in case of a large-scale war. Yet, they ignore the
fact that the strategic reserves of weapons, clothing and
foodstuffs needed for a multimillion army were exhausted a long
time ago. The present state of affairs in the Russian defense
industry does not allow it to produce the required amount of
weapons and clothing.

To stake the security of the country on full mobilization means
retaining the Soviet-era model of military planning, which plays
into the hands of army commanders but is not in the best interests
of Russia. Constructing the Russian forces around the model of a
mass army means leaving intact the ugly structure of the officers’
corps. In such a model, there are actually more colonels in number
than lieutenants, because an army that has divisions of reservists
naturally needs scores of commanders. This model does not require a
real reform of the military, since mass army personnel only require
basic military skills. Moreover, this model allows for the
reduction in the training time of an officer to four years, thereby
depriving him of the opportunity to receive a higher education.
Also, “mobilization production facilities” have to be maintained,
which prevent industrial enterprises from operating effectively. If
the call-up model is left intact, the General Staff does not have
to substantially change its defense strategy. If so, there is no
need in reforming the armed forces at all, rather Russia’s economy,
its social and education policies should be adapted to the Soviet
model of the army.

It goes without saying that this option has nothing to do with
the vital needs of the state with regard to its national security.
Now that the war in Iraq is over (with Soviet military advisers
having stayed with the Iraqi army since the early 1960s), it
becomes perfectly clear that the mobilization model will fail to
work. Such armed forces were built around Napolean’s idea, true for
the epoch of industrial wars, when he commented “on the winning
side are large battalions.” Both in 1812 and in 1941, Russia won
its victories not only due to its nation-wide patriotism, but also
because the draft system allowed the army to be continuously
renewed with fresh forces. In such a mass army, a soldier or an
officer is destined to die in the very first battle, and there is
no need to spend funds for their comprehensive training – it
suffices to train them in the most elementary skills. Initiative is
alien to such servicemen and they are expected to execute orders
without reasoning.

However, when no orders are given, servicemen completely lose
control of the situation, which often happens during antiterrorist
operations, when they have to act in small teams. The Americans
fight with small teams purposefully, and aim at destroying the
enemy’s communications infrastructure during the very first minutes
of operation. Commanders who have been trained for a long time to
execute orders without reasoning are most likely to flee, rather
than prepare counterattacks, when they receive no orders. This is,
in my view, the real explanation as to why the Iraqis were so
passive, and why the Russian military prefers to explain the
success of the U.S. military in terms of “a fixed war.” The
strategic assumptions that our potential adversary, who is superior
in the air, can be expected to get bogged down in bloody land
battles, appears to be built on sand. In order to force the
Americans to engage themselves in such battles, a totally different
level of troop training is needed.

Jane’s Defence Weekly has reported one case of poor intelligence
information bringing the forward detachment of the U.S. 3rd
Division in a tank ambush, which had been carefully prepared by the
Iraqis. The Iraqi tank men fired only a single volley but missed:
so low was the level of their combat training. They did not have a
second chance…