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One of the fascinating parts of the Great War is how the sides adjusted to the changes in military technology. At first, they did not adjust at all. They continued to use tactics that they used before the invention of machine guns and high explosives. This was despite seeing the power of these new weapons in the various Balkan wars in the years preceding the Great War and the Italo-Turkish War in 1912.
That changed quickly once both sides figured out that the new weapons had made the old tactics suicidal, but they did not have a good answer. After the German advance stopped, both sides had the same idea, which was to outflank the other side to the north, which became the famous race to the sea. Once both sides reached the sea, what came next was years of trench and attritional warfare.
The curious thing about the stalemate is that it took both sides so long to figure out how to solve the trench problem. The first use of tanks was two years into the war, and they were a long way from being determinative. It took another year for the Allies to figure out how to use them properly. Neither side ever developed tactics for breaching entrenched positions without suffering heavy casualties.
The armored vehicle and the airplane solved the trench problem. Airpower could suppress opposing artillery, allowing armored vehicles to enter the defensive zone, which allowed infantry to follow behind the armor. Mobility suddenly made fixed defenses a liability. The German sweep into France in the Second World War was proof that mobility trumps even the best fixed defenses.
The war in the Ukraine has now brought us full circle. The Russians crossed into the Ukraine and ran into a series of heavily fortified defensive lines. Those lines included artillery and surface-to-air missiles. In front of those defensive lines, they found obstacles and mine fields organized like a maze. The Ukrainians also had a fairly good air force, including a good supply of Turkish Bayraktar TB2 attack drones.
There was no way for the Russians to use their superior tanks and armored vehicles to break through the Ukrainian lines. By the time they got to the minefields the Ukrainians were attacking them with artillery. The minefields and obstacles slowed the assault, giving the Ukrainians time to bring up reinforcements to meet the attack. The choice was heavy losses or retreat, and the Russians chose retreat.
The Russians made an assault against a town in the south called Vuhledar, also known as Ugledar. They thought they could roll up on the Ukrainian positions by first taking the surrounding dachas and turning them into a staging area to assault the town. Instead, they found themselves in a maze of minefields. Then the Ukrainians unleashed their artillery on those stranded units.
Of course, this works both ways. After the Russians settled into the war, they started building their defenses. They brought in their artillery and surface-to-air missiles to solve the problem of the Ukrainian air force. They quickly figured out how to knock out the Bayraktar drones using electronic warfare. Their one innovation was the use of modern mines to create vast and complex minefields.
This is why the NATO-planned offensive has been a disaster. They still think mobile warfare beats even the best defenses. They sent armored columns at the Russian lines, only to be attacked with drones that destroyed the mine clearing tanks and forced the rest of the armor into the minefields. These highly mobile units were quickly made into immobile targets the Russians could easily destroy.
It is clear that the West has no answer for this problem. They could give Ukraine F-16’s with contract pilots, but they are not much use against Russian air defenses. The West could bring in their own air defenses to neutralize the Russian air advantage, but that still leaves the trench problem. There is no answer to crossing minefields and attacking fortified defenses without air superiority.
The Russians have the same problem. Once this Ukrainian offensive burns itself out, they will have to figure out how to break the Ukrainian defenses. They will have air superiority and a huge edge in artillery. They also have a growing selection of drones they can use to knock out Ukrainian artillery, but they still have to cross those minefields while Ukrainian defenses fire on them.
It is not an unsolvable problem. Like the Great War, the winning side will be the one able to maintain the fight. Biden said the quiet part aloud the other day when he said NATO is running out of weapons. The Russians figured this out last year which is why they have been waging a war of attrition. They know if they wait long enough, the other side will collapse just like the Germans did in the Great War.
That still leaves us with the same problem. Assuming the West could ramp up its industrial production and match the Russians, it simply means that we are back to the old trench warfare problem. As drones get better and militaries get better at using them, this problem will only get worse. The Russians are now experimenting with drone technology in old tanks to use them as decoys.
This problem could also apply to naval warfare. The Russians were able to use a hypersonic air-launched ballistic missile to take out a Patriot battery. That same weapon can be used to take out a ship. Those cheap drones that take off from Russia and hit targets all over Ukraine can do the same thing to surface ships. It is not hard to see how new technology could turn the ocean into a version of the trench.
War has always been about innovation. A new weapon or tactic results in a new counter measure, which forces the development of new weapons and tactics. You have to wonder if there is a limit and maybe we have reached it. Short of nuclear weapons, the West cannot hope to beat the Russians on the battlefield and the Russians cannot hope to beat the West. We may have reached the singularity of war.
This applies to China as well. There is no doubt that Russia is helping China build out its missile and drone technology to defend against the American navy. If the US navy cannot get carriers within striking distance of the mainland without suffering catastrophic losses and the Chinese cannot blockade Taiwan for the same reason, then the long planned war with China over Taiwan become mutual suicide.
What is the answer to a hypersonic missile striking a carrier? They can put air defenses on the carrier, but they are not able to defend against these missiles at this time and the missiles will keep getting better. Like the tank, the aircraft carrier is losing its value due to changes in technology. If opposing navies are afraid to get in range of one another, then we have a standoff on the seas.
Of course, we always have nukes. Maybe the answer that the empire lands on is the use of nuclear weapons to solve the problem. The regime talks about them incessantly with regards to Ukraine. Maybe the plan for China will be sub-launched nukes to disable her coastal defenses. That is the history of war. Every new defense is met with a new offense crafted by a bloodthirsty lunatic.
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