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More on the Terror Campaign

By Podilchanyn – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=126986880

Great WSJ article on Ukraine’s response to Russia’s anti-infrastructure campaign:

“The environment in Ukrainian cities will leave no chances for survival. There will be a lack of communications, infrastructure, heat, power and food,” Sergei Markov, a former Putin adviser who runs the Institute for Political Studies in Moscow, told a Moscow newspaper in November.

While propagandists gloated, repair crews set about quenching fires and salvaging equipment.

At a substation in central Ukraine, workers confronted the shattered remains of equipment hit by a Kh-101 cruise missile. Half of a switchyard that distributes electricity to 600,000 people was destroyed. Shards of twisted metal, concrete and ceramic covered the blackened earth.

The substation had spare parts. Leaving the debris lying, the team installed replacements. Power was restored to nearby cities that evening.

Two more cruise missiles struck the substation a week later. A 300-ton transformer, the heart of it, took a direct hit. The smell of smoke lingered for days.

The repair crew again found a solution. Electricity now is routed differently around the facility, departing from blueprints known to the Russians from Soviet times, said a technician. Ukraine also scoured for compatible Soviet-legacy gear across Eastern Europe and friendly parts of the former Soviet Ulnion, such as Azerbaijan, which earned Moscow’s diplomatic rebuke for donating a convoy of transformers.

A third volley of missiles hit the substation late on a November afternoon. By then, workers were getting used to the routine. As darkness fell, followed by rain and then snow, the substation’s repair crew donned headlamps and bad-weather overalls and replaced the shattered equipment.

It was the new normal, said the head of the repair crew, adding with a laugh that they had learned new skills.

This is a point I made a couple of weeks ago. The notion that by destroying infrastructure you could rip apart the sinews of a modern economy and crush the will of an opponent is one of the most hallowed ideals of Classical Airpower Theory. Modern industrial society is fragile, the story goes, and the destruction of some key component of the industrial economy will cause everything to collapse.

As it happens, though, the opposite tends to be more true. Even if you can hit the key infrastructure targets (in World War II we by and large could not, but the Russians mostly seem to be able to) most of those targets are not particularly difficult to repair because the population in question generally already has the expertise to fix the damage (it’s literally what they do for their day jobs) and the material to complete the repairs. There are some critical targets that are harder to repair but they’re also generally harder to inflict critical damage upon. Ukraine, as it happens, is chock full of people who have the requisite training to repair the damage inflicted by the Russian air campaign, just as Germany in 1944 was chock full of people capable of repairing damage to industrial targets. Afghanistan in 2001 is actually different because the human capital profile of the population is much different; blowing up a bit of electrical infrastructure is likely to cause long-standing disruption because not many folks know how to repair it and they will probably struggle to source the parts in any case. Even then, however, the Afghan population is primed to endure the disruptions much better than the population of a modern economy, so you’re still back to square one. Bottom line, blowing up infrastructure is probably more costly to the Russians than it is to the Ukrainians, although that depends on the sophistication of the munitions used in strike and air defense.

This bit is also interesting:

His team had held a simulation of the coming battle, to analyze whether Ukraine’s energy system could outlast Russia’s missile stockpile, said Rostyslav Shurma, an economic adviser to Mr. Zelensky. Officials thought the advantage lay with Ukraine—on paper.

One of the under-cited capabilities that the United States has lent to Ukraine during the conflict is its institutional wargaming and simulation capacity. Evidently this was a significant contribution to the success of the Kharkiv and Kherson counter-offensives, evaluating likely outcomes that nudged Ukraine towards a modest, staged offensive rather than a go for broke effort. It’s not clear here whether the Ukrainians are still taking advantage of that capacity or are building out their own; Russian wargaming culture is *much* different than American (which is not to say that it’s worse, as it often fulfills Russian needs) and it’s likely that the older thinking is still built into Ukrainian approaches. Nevertheless, very interesting stuff, especially for me given that I spent most of the recent ISA-Montreal doing workshops on the promise and limitations of wargaming.

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