We publish an excellent interview with Ruslan Pukhov, director of the Center for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies, founded in 1997. Pukhov is quite closely affiliated with the Russian Ministry of Defence and is a member of the board of experts within the government of the Russian Federation.
Pukhov in detail goes over the advantages and weak points of both the Ukrainian and the Russian armed forces and offers a sober view of the current situation with the Western weapon supplies to Ukraine. At 2,500 words, the interview is fairly long, but reads well and offers a unique perspective not typical to the usual Russian sources. The original interview in the Russian language is available here.
Ukraine: Gladiator fight
Journalist, expert of the PRISP Center Pyotr Skorobogaty spoke with the director of the Center for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies Ruslan Pukhov about the difficulties that the Russian armed forces are currently experiencing on the Ukrainian frontline, what consequences the supply of Western equipment to the Armed Forces of Ukraine will lead to, and whether Western military corporations will be able to increase the production of arsenals.
– Western weapons began to come into the possession of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. In your opinion, how successfully can the Russian army, armed mainly with Soviet equipment, resist them? What technical problems are currently experienced by our armed forces?
– If we talk about weapons of the new generation, then unfortunately the Armed Forces of Russia have practically no fifth-generation combat aircraft. The latest version of our Su-34 bombers belongs to the “4 plus” generation of aviation. In addition, we do not have enough high-precision weapons and modern aiming equipment. This further reduces the effectiveness of this type of bombers, which are either forced to use unguided bombs at a height accessible to enemy MANPADS, or are forced to completely abandon operations of supporting troops.
On the ground, the Russian army now uses mainly modernised third-generation tanks. Combat vehicles of the next Armata family still cannot enter service. Even our most modern tank available, the T-90, is a modification of the obsolete T-72. Simply put, the T-90 is a tuning of a Soviet tank. Therefore, to demand from them to successfully resist the latest Javelin, NLAW or Matador anti-tank systems is not entirely fair. In addition, a paradoxical situation has developed: the Soviet Union was the first country to invent an active protection complex (KAZ). But there is no KAZ on any of our combat tanks. This, of course, is a shame, because the experience of military operations in Ukraine has shown that a tank without a KAZ is now not at all capable of surviving on the battlefield.
At the same time, the Israelis equipped their tanks with active protection systems, the Americans began to install them on their tanks, but we did not. Therefore, I have a big question for our military and for Uralvagonzavod [Russian main tank factory].
– Do you mean active protection complexes?
– Yes. It’s like gladiator fights. One fights with a short sword and shield, and the second with a trident and a net. That is, they are armed differently. It’s the same now. In the Armed Forces of Ukraine, to a large extent, the army is primarily made of infantry and artillery, while our armed forces use armoured vehicles. Besides, they are not equipped with modern, truly effective protection.
– And what about the infantry?
– We are very much short of infantry. The frontline is large, and the people involved in the special operation are not enough. Relatively speaking, the Ukrainians are on the defensive, they have a lot of artillery and infantry. We have to break the frontline with an insufficient number of soldiers using vulnerable tanks and infantry fighting vehicles [BMP]. Currently in the Donbass, the Russian side is trying to solve this by using a large amount of artillery, but, as you can see, things are going very slowly.
Another point – the SMO [Special Military Operation] showed that at the moment the airborne troops are roughly speaking the poor ersatz-infantry. Their aluminum BMD [infantry fighting vehicles] are generally easily hit, and they have fewer other weapons than the motorised riflemen.
You also need to remember that the Ukrainians have been actively training their army for eight years. They drove almost all of their infantry through the Donbass and actively used their artillery. That is, we used our artillery to an extremely limited extent, mainly in Syria or during exercises, while they were in a combat situation. Therefore, their gunners are more experienced. In addition, they learned how to use their old Soviet guns in conjunction with commercial drones. As a result, they have better, as they say now, “situational awareness”, and they have better target designation. Simply put, in the case of an artillery duel, they often beat us. In general, the use of small drones has revolutionised the use of artillery. We actually missed this revolution and now we have to catch up “on the go.”
The SMO once again confirmed the thesis that you can launch hundreds, thousands of unguided projectiles, which are cheap, but all this power is levelled by two guided missiles that accurately hit the target. Two missiles, with all their high cost, will solve more problems than thousands of unguided ones. Old conventional missiles do not cause significant damage to the enemy, especially if he is buried deeply in the ground or hiding in concrete bunkers. This is another confirmation of the triumph of high-precision weapons.
– The assault on Avdiivka, Maryinka – are these just examples of the fact that it is possible to pour shells on well-fortified areas for a month, and not achieve a breakthrough?
– Yes, yes. Actually, the methods of the First World War (to put it bluntly) do not work, especially if you do not have superiority over the enemy in the infantry. A combination of modern reconnaissance equipment (including unmanned ones) combined with a large number of high-precision weapons could solve the problem of the enemy’s positional front – but this is exactly what we lack. Well, in addition to this, we simply do not have enough troops to effectively advance in one more direction.
– Western states are now supplying Ukraine with weapons, in particular artillery and MLRS. These deliveries, accordingly, raised the questions of the range of these guns. Why is distance so important?
– The thing is that the Soviet weapons, which are now used by both Russia and Ukraine, be it howitzers or multiple rocket launchers, with a few exceptions, strike no further than 20-25 km. Moreover, we have a lot of 122-mm howitzers, which generally fire for only 13 km. Modern Western artillery is more long-range – first of all, we are talking about 155-mm howitzers with a barrel length of 39 caliber, and especially 52 caliber – the latter have a range of up to 40-41 km. The problem of the USSR and Russia lagging behind in the range of artillery fire has been obvious since the eighties, sadly. Although, so far the Western equipment enters the disposal of the Armed Forces of Ukraine in homeopathic doses, but supplies are growing. Accordingly, during an artillery duel the Ukrainian systems will be able to destroy our batteries, and the Russian return fire simply will not reach the target.
Finally, this issue is becoming particularly acute in connection with the commenced deliveries of HIMARS and MLRS missile systems to the Armed Forces of Ukraine, which fire high-precision GPS-guided GMLRS missiles with a range of up to 85 km.
– What about aviation?
– There are two problems here – firstly, as already mentioned, we do not have enough precision-guided munitions and accurate means of detection and target designation in aviation, and secondly, Ukrainian air defence remains unsuppressed, operating Soviet systems (S-300, BUK and etc.). In addition, the Ukrainians received a large number of MANPADS. As a result, aviation cannot freely operate effectively either in high and medium altitudes, or in low altitudes, which significantly limits its effectiveness, including in suppressing the same Ukrainian artillery and affecting the enemy troops. To put it bluntly, we do not have air superiority. The start of deliveries to Ukraine of modern Western medium-range air defence systems may exacerbate this problem.
On the supply of Western weapons
– Why is the delivery of Western weapons so slow? Is it due to the difficulties of training, or is the delivery intentionally dosed?
– At the general political level in the West, there is still no political determination to supply Ukraine with truly massive quantities of heavy weapons, since this will require both partial “uncovering” of own armed forces, and the need to send large numbers of instructors to Ukraine for training, but in reality, also to send their own military operators for at least partial operation of these weapons. The West is not yet ready to go to such a level of involvement and escalation, except for some inveterate Russophobes, like the Poles.
Therefore, supplies to Ukraine are now largely limited due to technical and organisational issues that are possible without such a degree of involvement. That is, it is necessary to reactivate the equipment, to carry out routine maintenance. Then you need to train people on the Ukrainian side. Even if the military personnel are trained, they will not fire in the same way as experienced fighters from Western armies. That is, you need experience.
But the Ukrainians learn very quickly, they turned out to be quite talented warriors. Training takes several weeks, and practically the supply of weapons is on the rise, including in terms of quality (such as HIMARS). By the end of summer, I think the situation on the fronts can become dramatic. In addition, we do not have mobilisation; in fact, we are fighting with a peacetime army. And they already have the fourth wave of mobilisation, so there is no shortage of people. Yes, the regular army has been largely eliminated in the Armed Forces of Ukraine, but there is the first reserve that was run through the ATO [Anti-Terrorist Operation, which proceeded the Joint Forces Operation, an official term for the Ukrainian operation in the Donbass]. There are second and third echelons. Therefore at some point, a positional deadlock may occur, as in the Korean War from 1951, and our army will simply stall and will not be able to move further. It’s not like we will strike them with nuclear weapons.
– However, there is a thesis that the supply of Western weapons is not so large that it would allow to form reserves. They are thrown into battle and immediately get knocked out. Accordingly, it is difficult for Ukrainians to create a strike group for a counterattack.
– I’m not ready to argue with that. This thesis seems to be uttered in television talk shows for complacency. Yes, we see a picture that the Ukrainian “Volkssturm” somewhere in Lviv is armed with Maxim or Degtyarev machine guns. But those units that fight on the front lines are well supplied. They have a Reserve Corps and if needed the Armed Forces of Ukraine can counterattack. I think they are better armed than the Volkssturm. In fact, the underestimation of the enemy played a cruel joke on us.
So far, the Armed Forces of Ukraine have not demonstrated the ability to launch effective offensives above the tactical level, such as recapturing a village. In essence, in an offensive they have the same tactical problems as the Russian side – the attacking forces are usually few in number, they come under fire from artillery (which usually cannot be suppressed) and quickly roll back or are unable to hold the newly occupied positions, armoured vehicles are struck massively. Let’s see if the Ukrainians turn out to be something more in this regard.
– There is another thesis – the number of barrels are not as important as formation of the projectile supplies. According to your estimates, how frequent is the supply of ammunition now, is it enough for conducting combat operations? Is there a shortage of shells?
– I find it difficult to answer this question. The fact that they are still shelling Donetsk and they do not have a shortage of fuel does not create the impression that the Armed Forces of Ukraine have serious problems with this. They are also living people, they are also dying , but I am not sure that the Ukrainians are experiencing a serious shell shortage, especially in light of the fact that they have begun to switch to Western systems with Western supplies of shells. Although I may be mistaken.
I know one thing: unlike the Ukrainians, we started the SMO with white gloves. That is, we wanted not a single local resident to suffer. We opened the fighting as some kind of knightly duel. And this, sorry for the expression, is a dirty fight in the alley, where there are no rules.
Test ground “Ukraine”
– What is the state of the Western military-industrial complex now? By and large, the Americans and Europeans have a chance to dump old weapons, clear out warehouses. And it looks a reboot is on-going. Rumour has it that Western military corporations need a lot of time to restart their production. And others say that Ukraine is a testing ground for Western weapons, so they will be better prepared for the next clashes.
– Yes, Western armies are getting rid of old equipment, and now they are ordering new ones. Of course, this is beneficial for the states: it’s loading, new jobs appear, new taxes, and so on. Any war is a testing ground. For us it was Syria, for the West it is Ukraine. There is nothing shameful here, it would be foolish not to use it.
Regarding the fact that they have some problems, I think this is standard Yaroslavna’s cry [old saying to express bad grief, a reference to The Tale of Igor’s Campaign] for most military industrialists. All around the world they love complaining that they have something missing. Let’s remember how nice they found it during the Cold War. All these productions can be quickly increased. If, say, the Germans run out of chips, they will ask the Americans for them. Americans will ask Germans. For example, did you know that the Abrams tank has a German gun? They bought a license from them and are doing very well. Often what we think of as American is actually pan-Western and is done in a collaborative way. At one time, the United States bought licenses for unmanned aerial vehicles from Israel.
If we talk about numbers, then we should not overestimate the complaints of the Western military. The total number of weapons and equipment in service within armies of the entire NATO bloc is very large, and is many times larger than ours, and besides, it is for the most part fresh.
– By and large, there is coordination happening between various contractors?
– Very often this happens not at the state level, but at the level of private companies. For example, when we wanted to buy Mistral-type amphibious assault ships from France, they had to Frenchise production. Because a number of American components or French parts made under an American license are involved in the manufacture of these ships for their own needs. The Americans refused to supply components for the sake of the Russian order, then they had to modify the ship.
Western military companies like Korean components because they are cheap. Having multiple production chains can potentially create trouble. But one should not think that these problems will create a barrier to meet their own and Ukrainian needs in technology. There may be interruptions in the supply of individual components, but these are just particulars.