Putin’s bathtub force


The image above is a summary provided by the US Navy’s Office of Naval Intelligence in their new report, the first made publicly available since 1991.

Here’s their account of the Black Sea Fleet:

4 submarines
1 cruiser
1 destroyer
2 frigates

That’s it. That’s what Putin seized Crimea for. 8 warships.

Here’s how the US Navy defines a single Carrier Strike Group:

* a carrier — The carrier provides a wide range of options to the U.S. government from simply showing the flag to attacks on airborne, afloat and ashore targets. Because carriers operate in international waters, its aircraft do not need to secure landing rights on foreign soil. These ships also engage in sustained operations in support of other forces.
* a guided missile cruiser — multi-mission surface combatant. Equipped with Tomahawks for long-range strike capability.
* two guided missile destroyers — multi-mission surface combatants, used primarily for anti-air warfare (AAW)
* an attack submarine — in a direct support role seeking out and destroying hostile surface ships and submarines
* a combined ammunition, oiler, and supply ship — provides logistic support enabling the Navy’s forward presence; on station, ready to respond

So, the Black Sea Fleet is roughly equivalent to one US Carrier Strike Group. Minus the carrier, of course.

And, um, oh yes, the US has… ten of them.

Now think about what that says of Putin’s thinking regarding the readiness and utility of his other forces.

The Worm Turns

The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists has a fascinating post up, “Why Russia calls a limited nuclear strike “de-escalation””.

See, the US (and NATO more broadly) developed the category of “tactical” nuclear weapons in the 1980s to counter perceived USSR conventional superiority. (Notably the Pershing II missile, from 1981-89.) The Soviets were having none of that — their stated policy was that any use of nuclear weapons would be considered a full-on strategic strike, and would be retaliated against accordingly.

In our time, though, the Russians are saying they might resort to tactical nuclear strikes, because of US conventional superiority, as demonstrated in Kosovo, Iraq, Afghanistan, etc.

“De-escalation,” indeed.

(h/t, Elisabeth Eaves, on Twitter.)

The Emperor Sans Chemise

From my comments to this post at The American Interest:

“President Obama views Putin as a leader who “was operating from a position of weakness.” This is right, but only if you take the long view: This type of regime is destined to fall eventually, but for the time being Putin has an 82 percent approval rating; he hardly looks or feels weak.”

No, Russia, and Poutine (I use the French spelling, because it more closely matches the Russian pronunciation) are incredibly, tactically weak.

Why did Poutine take Crimea? Because he wanted to protect the Black Sea “Fleet,” and thought it was a valuable enough asset to cause a fuss over. Have you looked at the Black Sea “Fleet”? It’s about the size of a single US Navy carrier group – minus the carrier, of course. Mark Galeotti has said he thinks it could lose a fight against the Italians. The fact that Poutine invaded another country to be certain to hold on to such an asset that is both so valuable to him he doesn’t feel he can afford to lose it, yet so weak it has no real tactical value, says volumes. It says his other assets are even worse.

The Russians fought Chechnya — and it took years to get to a standoff. The Russians fought a virtually disarmed Georgia — and it still took a week. And that’s before we talk about Afghanistan, which provides a fine illustration in the difference between withdrawing (what the US is doing), and retreating (which the USSR was forced to do, leaving tons of matériel behind).

Poutine is an Emperor without any clothes. And the photographs to match.

Strategy and tactics

(No, not the magazine…)

One of the most egregious among his many blunders of fact during the debate was when Mr. McCain “corrected” Mr. Obama on a particular set of terms… while being blissfully unaware he was getting it wrong.

From the transcript:


OBAMA: (The soldiers in The Surge) have done a brilliant job, and General Petraeus has done a brilliant job. But understand, that was a tactic designed to contain the damage of the previous four years of mismanagement of this war.

And so John likes — John, you like to pretend like the war started in 2007. You talk about the surge. The war started in 2003, and at the time when the war started, you said it was going to be quick and easy. You said we knew where the weapons of mass destruction were. You were wrong.

You said that we were going to be greeted as liberators. You were wrong. You said that there was no history of violence between Shiite and Sunni. And you were wrong. And so my question is…

LEHRER: Senator Obama…

OBAMA: … of judgment, of whether or not — of whether or not — if the question is who is best-equipped as the next president to make good decisions about how we use our military, how we make sure that we are prepared and ready for the next conflict, then I think we can take a look at our judgment.

LEHRER: I have got a lot on the plate here…

MCCAIN: I’m afraid Senator Obama doesn’t understand the difference between a tactic and a strategy.


McCain hasn’t been in the active military since 1981. And he was 894th out of 899 in his Annapolis class of 1958. So perhaps it’s understandable why he went astray.

But, here’s what the Army currently says in field manual FM-3, Operations:



2-4. The strategic level is that level at which a nation, often as one of a group of nations, determines national and multinational security objectives and guidance and develops and uses national resources to accomplish them. Strategy is the art and science of developing and employing armed forces and other instruments of national power in a synchronized fashion to secure national or multinational objectives. The National Command Authorities (NCA) translate policy into national strategic military objectives. These national strategic objectives facilitate theater strategic planning. Military strategy, derived from policy, is the basis for all operations (see JP 3-0). (emphasis in original)


So, strategy is the big picture stuff. “We will be victorious in Iraq to foster democracy in the Middle East,” is a strategy. “We will address the threat of the Soviet Union by containing them in a cordon of surrounding allied countries,” is a strategy.

Strategy answers the question, “What do you want?”



2-5. The operational level of war is the level at which campaigns and major operations are conducted and sustained to accomplish strategic objectives within theaters or areas of operations (AOs). It links the tactical employment of forces to strategic objectives. The focus at this level is on operational art—the use of military forces to achieve strategic goals through the design, organization, integration, and conduct of theater strategies, campaigns, major operations, and battles. A campaign is a related series of military operations aimed at accomplishing a strategic or operational objective within a given time and space. A major operation is a series of tactical actions (battles, engagements, strikes) conducted by various combat forces of a single or several services, coordinated in time and place, to accomplish operational, and sometimes strategic objectives in an operational area. These actions are conducted simultaneously or sequentially under a common plan and are controlled by a single commander. Operational art determines when, where, and for what purpose major forces are employed to influence the enemy disposition before combat. It governs the deployment of those forces, their commitment to or withdrawal from battle, and the arrangement of battles and major operations to achieve operational and strategic objectives. Figure 2-1 illustrates the link between the levels of war and the plans and actions of military forces. (emphasis in original)


Tactics, then, answers the question, “How are you going to get what you want?”

From this definition, it’s clear The Surge is a major operation. It’s a series of tactical operations, with the strategic goal of keeping violence in Iraq at a manageable level while the political infrastructure is built by the Iraqis.

Tactically it’s been a great success. Petraeus and his troops have executed very well.

But strategically it’s been a failure. Because instead of taking advantage of the relative calm The Surge has provided them, the Iraqi political leadership has stalled in so many different ways to make Congress’ performance this week the very model of effectiveness. (Thus the ghost of Garrison Keillor: “It could always be worse…”)

But more than that… I’m not alone in noticing this. Jim Fallows quotes “a retired (1999) Army colonel” to the same point. Even more damningly, in some ways, was this post by Jim on McCain’s personal ignorance of strategy vs. tactics:

“There has been no greater contrast between the Obama and McCain campaigns than the tactical-vs-strategic difference, with McCain demonstrating the primacy of short-term tactics and Obama sticking to a more coherent long-term strategy. And McCain’s dismissive comment suggests that he still does not realize this.”

And remember, folks… The military stuff is what McCain thinks he’s good at.