The USS Indianapolis was commissioned in 2019 at the Port of Indiana but is headed for the mothballs.
The USS Indianapolis was commissioned in 2019 at the Port of Indiana but is headed for the mothballs.

CARMEL – There once was a time when the thought of thousands of Russian tanks and light armored vehicles pouring through the Fulda Gap into Germany sent shivers down the spines of NATO military planners. Before the United States could airlift or send a sufficient quantity of M1A1 Abrams tanks to meet the attacking Russians, ole Marshall Boris Bettenoff could be found sipping Chablis in a café on the Champs Elysees.  

This was a potent and existential threat to western Europe and NATO, not to mention the thousands of American boys we keep in Germany to serve as a rapid response force. What we have learned since the Russkies invaded Ukraine in late February is that a fresh-faced, newly trained volunteer holding a shoulder-fired Javelin anti-tank weapon can easily take out the toughest of the Russian tanks. With the massive increase in Javelins it is now “bye bye Boris!” I must assume that American defense contractors Raytheon and Lockheed Martin had a good inkling that they had a home run with the Javelin, but you just never know until you test them out on the bad guys.

The United States, its NATO allies, Russia, China and their allies and inquisitive minds in Iran and North Korea have all learned a great deal in the past few months by watching the day-to-day events in the proxy war between Ukraine and Russia.  

In fact, Ukraine may be the largest military test tube in history. Proxy wars have always served as the experimental grounds for strategy, tactics and the use of new and untried weapons. Use of proxy wars began as far back as the Byzantine Empire but their use in a modern context began most notably in Spain during the Spanish Civil War.  From 1936 to 1939 Spain tore itself apart in a fratricidal conflict between Communists and Leftists, the Republicans and the fascist Nationalists who were backed by Italy and Nazi Germany.

The Soviet Union poured weapons and advisors into Spain and the Italians and Germans did the same. Nazi Germany even sent entire air wings to Spain to practice bombing and dive-bombing sorties against helpless civilian populations. Pablo Picasso’s “Guernica” was made possible due to the immense effort and inhumanity of the German Luftwaffe. Germany would later go on to use these same tactics against Poland, France and Great Britain.  

Great Britain, though not a belligerent in Spain, watched the devastating bombardments conducted by the Luftwaffe and wisely boosted both the numbers and efficiency of its own fighter plane wings and worked to develop radar to provide themselves with advance warning of enemy bombers.  

Unfortunately, France apparently learned nothing from observing the Civil War in Spain. Their army hunkered down in fixed fortifications behind the Maginot Line and slept secure in their answer to the enemy’s strategy in World War I. That is a common theme in most conflicts. One belligerent is fighting the last war and one belligerent is fighting the next war. This failure always proves costly to those who fail to look to the future.

Since the Spanish Civil War, there have been proxy wars in Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan twice and several conflicts in Africa with Cuba doing the Soviet Union’s dirty work.  In each of these conflicts, lessons were learned and future plans refined. The United States boosted its work on fighter aircraft both during and after Korea to counter some early weaknesses against Russian made fighters. The F4 Phantom was a direct result.  

In addition, the United States realized that they needed enhanced ground support air power after several tough slugfests with North Vietnamese forces. Both the A-10 Warthog and the Cobra attack helicopter emerged from the drawing boards after Vietnam. From Afghanistan the United States learned that a virtually stone age people could go toe to toe with the Russians if armed with Stinger missiles and anti-tank weapons. The shooting down of Russian jets and helicopters and the destruction of Russian tanks drove Russia from Afghanistan. The United States failed to learn much from watching the Soviets wallow in Afghanistan and paid the price during our own aborted foray into the country after 9/11.

Russia made five critical errors leading up to their invasion of Ukraine and they have led to unimagined military disaster. First, the Russians never expected the people of Ukraine to exhibit such bravery in the face of overwhelming odds. Second, Russia never expected NATO to supply such huge amounts of its best weapons systems to Ukraine. Third, Russia woefully overestimated the capabilities of its jets, helicopters, artillery and tanks to meet any challenge from the outgunned Ukrainians.  

Four, Russia completely failed to account for the logistical needs of conquering Ukraine. Five, command and control systems used by the Russian army barely rise to World War II abilities. In short, this has been an expensive, embarrassing and bloody learning experience for an apparently clueless Russian military. We know many of the things Russia has learned from their unsuccessful invasion of Ukraine.  

The salient question is what has the United States and her allies learned from the Ukrainian test tube. Hopefully, we have learned that we must know our enemies. Intelligence must look at the human element of your opponents with equal intensity as it looks at the weapons and tactics of our opponents.  

We should now know that in conflicts where we will be functioning solely on the defensive, portable anti-aircraft and anti-tank missiles such as the Stinger missile and Javelin missile should be present in massive numbers. We do not need 2,000 tanks in Europe that cost as much as $9 million each. We need 10,000 shoulder-fired Javelins that cost $178,000 for the launcher and $78,000 per reload. With the Javelin system, a Russian tank in the open is a dead Russian tank. The Stinger ground-to-air missile is a real battlefield bargain. For $38,000, 18-year-old Private Elvis Owens can easily destroy a $4 million Russian T95 tank. That is a pretty good trade off!

There will also be some bigger discussions in the halls of the Pentagon and Congress when it comes to big ticket military items. I would imagine that high priced new fighter jets and ground attack aircraft may be a much tougher sell in the world of the amazing drone.  

I watched a YouTube video where a single Turkish-made drone, flown by the Ukrainians, took out a flying helicopter, four tanks and six helicopters on the ground during one flight. Drones have amazing capabilities, are cost efficient and require someone who is good at video games to use them, instead of costly pilots. I also see the days of the American aircraft carrier as numbered. We will keep them in service while they last, but I believe the United States Navy will be looking for ways to launch unmanned drones from frigates and submarines, rather from the enormous, personnel-laden and costly American super carriers.

I am sure that the United States and its allies have thousands of intelligence officers dedicated to analyzing the various aspects of Ukrainian conflict. There will be many lessons to learn whether we act on the lessons or not. Future military victories will depend on what we learn from the Russians’ tragic invasion of Ukraine. I hope we take this schoolwork seriously.

One additional interested party is closely keeping an eye on Ukraine. Taiwan is feverishly working on their own portable anti-aircraft, anti-tank and shore-to-ship missile systems. Hopefully, the Chinese will have not to mess with the little kid on the block. As the Russians have learned, the little kid may have a nasty punch. 

Dunn is the former Howard County Republican chairman.