Wednesday, March 9, 2022

If I Had a Rocket Launcher....

This Bruce Cockburn song seems quite relevant today.

One lesson Russia is learning from this war - and a lesson we should have learned from the last three or four wars we fought - is that all this high-tech weaponry is fine and all, but airplanes, helicopters, and even tanks can be taken down by one insurgent with a rocket launcher, shoulder-mounted SAM, or a rocket-propelled grenade.

And of course, this is nothing new.  In the waning days of World War II, the Germans armed civilians and even children with the Panzerfaust, which was an anti-tank weapon.  Get close enough to the tank, fire the thing, and if you are lucky, the tank stops in its tracks (quite literally) or catches fire.  It turns out a lot of low-tech weapons can destroy high-tech weapons fairly easily.

We learned in Iraq that our mighty Abrams tank was excellent in taking out the outdated Iraqi tanks in a tank-to-tank warfare in the desert.  However on the streets of Baghdad, well, it fell prey to IEDs and other ambush techniques.

Of course, it helps if outside forces are providing these rocket launchers and other easily transportable, easily hidden, relatively inexpensive and easy-to-use weaponry.  During the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, we supplied the Mujaheddin with various weapons - through third parties of course - to antagonize and eventually throw out the Soviets.  Stupidly, we failed to learn from this and spend two decades fighting two wars and occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan, killing countless people and squandering trillions of dollars in the process.

Apparently the Russians didn't learn from our examples (Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, among others) or from their own experience in Afghanistan.  You can't occupy a foreign country that easily - the locals will always snipe at you, quite literally.  And that is one reason we handed over control of West Germany to the Germans - even some former Nazis, and Japan to the Japanese.  We realized that an extended occupation would result in a war of attrition, with each assassination resulting in ever-greater reprisals. It just wasn't workable.  And yes, after World War II, there were former Nazis assassinating local mayors and officials deemed to be "cooperating" with the Allies.

If Russia tries to occupy the Ukraine, well, the same thing could happen - and a steady flow of weapons from the West - as is occurring today - would keep a simmering war going for decades.

We spend trillions on the latest fighter jet or the latest new armored personnel carrier or whatever.  But inexpensive handheld weapons or drones end up being far more effective and less risky than expensive mega-weapons.  Many an armored personnel carrier or tank has turned into a fiery coffin for Russian soldiers - and more will do so in the future.  Expensive weapons cost money and can drain the coffers of the invading country - and they are hard to replace on a moment's notice.

The reason why we "retired" the "Stealth Fighter" was that it got shot down.  Yes, some folks in Bosnia figured out how to track un-trackable aircraft.  Funny thing, we like to run down the technology of any non-Western country, but people are amazingly astute at figuring out these things, particularly when survival is at stake. (I got in trouble mentioning how this was actually done, as some consider it "top secret" although there are Patents on it. Let's just say there is a reason invaders attack television towers - and not because they want to take reruns of I Love Lucy off the air).

Sure, you can shoot down a drone.  But drones can be made cheaply enough that you could literally swarm over an enemy and overwhelm them.  Sadly, it seems the trend in drones these days is not toward more and cheaper, but toward bigger, heavier, and more complex and expensive.  This means, in turn, that people are less likely to engage with them, for fear of losing an expensive asset.

By the time this entry is posted (tomorrow) the war could be over, one way or another.  Or it could drag on for months on end.  The reason for the war isn't hard to figure out.   Just as Hitler nibbled away at Europe, taking the Sudetenland, Czechoslovakia, and Austria, Putin has tried to nibble away at Eastern Europe - taking Georgia, Chechnya, and the Crimea.  when Hitler (and the Russians) invaded Poland, people finally said, "enough!" and the world was drawn into war.  I think a similar thing is happening here.  Putin thought he could nibble some more on Ukraine, and if he limited himself to two breakaway territories, he might have succeeded.  But he played his hand badly, and now he has galvanized the West against Russia for some time to come - unless Putin fades away, one way or another.

In the meantime, we'll see more rocket launchers at work.  Let's hope, anyway.