Thank you grandfather. How Russia with its Soviet weapons loses to modern military technology

The attack of the state, controlled by 70-year-old Chekists, on Ukraine surprises many with its archaism: tanks, warships and planes go into battle, wiping cities off the face of the earth - bombed Ukrainian settlements repeat the fate of Grozny and Aleppo, there are hundreds of evidence of the use of indiscriminate weapons by Russian troops. It seemed that the time had come for " new " or hybrid wars, fourth or even fifth generation wars, network-centric , asymmetric or digital - the kind of conflicts where the large-scale use of iron things that make the "boom" fades into the background or ceases to be relevant at all. But for the Russian leadership, the future has not yet come, and they got tanks from the 60s out of the barns.

New weapons

From Russian aggression in Ukraine, it is clear that the division of wars into generations is extremely conditional - in one conflict, signs of wars from 2 to 5 generations can be combined. But if we accept this division, then the participants in the "new wars" ideally face several tasks. The first is not to engage in hostilities with kinetic weapons, and if this did not work out, then reduce the number or completely avoid civilian casualties (in practice, this is almost impossible, given the characteristics of existing weapons and the blurring of the border between the military and civilians) Among other tasks is to totally control the narrative both about the course of the war and about the reasons for its unleashing. Inflict maximum damage with minimum means - saving or not using ammunition and equipment, preserving the lives and health of the military, increasing the distance between the weapon and the target. Collect as much as possible and process as efficiently and quickly as possible all available data on the ongoing conflict. Finally, to have such a coherence of the military machine, which allows you to quickly adjust the strategy depending on the incoming data.

When it comes to the technologies that are used to fight modern wars and accomplish these tasks, many imagine experimental weapons, such as DIME bombs with a small explosion radius (literally burning pieces of the body with red-hot tungsten pollen - Israel was accused of using such bombs). Or biological and chemical weapons, including those used on their own soldiers to suppress fear, pain and increase the time without sleep or the level of aggression. One can also think of non-lethal weapons that temporarily blind and disorientate, or create pockets of unbearably high temperature on the skin with a stream of electromagnetic waves. Someone will present cutting-edge military devices, like the HoloLens AR helmets modified for the American army. Or fully autonomous combat vehicles - on land, in water or in the air.

In fact, the key weapon in modern warfare is data . And the most important warfare technologies are devices and algorithms that help to collect, process and synchronize this data over multiple networks: drones, satellites, mobile devices, machine learning algorithms and global and local communication networks.

The key weapon in modern warfare is data.

Drones - weapons of "asymmetric warfare"

Military drones from all this arsenal most excite the imagination of researchers and observers. Many good books have been written about drones in war, but one of the most significant is The Theory of the Drone by the philosopher Grégoire Chamayu. Describing the history and technology of unmanned aerial vehicles - both combat and reconnaissance - he shows how this type of device first allowed "to project power without projecting vulnerability." Drones are the most striking example of the weapons of the so-called "asymmetric war", when the possibility of causing damage to one side is incomparably higher than that of the enemy.

Drones are the most striking example of weapons of "asymmetric warfare".

The use of drones by the United States and Israel is clearly a neo-colonial militaristic policy. The cynical narrative that it is a “humane weapon” that allows for high-precision attacks and avoids civilian casualties is not supported by experience: thousands of civilians have been killed in various drone operations . This is inevitable when it comes to explosions with a radius of destruction from 15 to 50 meters. Under Bush and Obama, the US even had a so-called signature strike system. Drone strikes were carried out on unidentified individuals solely on the basis that they fit into a "behavioral pattern" that the US military believed was indicative of involvement in terrorist activities.

The number of innocents killed in such attacks is difficult to estimate because, as William Merrin writes in Digital War , the use of drones has turned military incursions into minor and unobtrusive events that are almost impossible to cover in the media if the military itself does not share details. And this is another major feature of modern dispersed wars - their lack of accountability to civil society.

One of the important features of modern dispersed wars is their lack of accountability to civil society.

Drones remove soldiers from the battlefield, turning them into remote operators, thereby making real human casualties seem to be more virtual. However, drone operators, like military contacts, suffer from PTSD and other consequences. In addition, writes Merrin, the maintenance and operation of these weapons involves many civilians, whose actions are also associated with real consequences in the areas of operation of drones.

Turkish drone "Bayraktar"

Drones are needed not only to drop explosive devices. Gliding drones and quadcopters are actively used for surveillance, reconnaissance and - which is especially evident in the current Russian-Ukrainian war - finding out and clarifying targets for ground artillery.

Russia is currently losing the unmanned war: the Ukrainians have established a powerful network of civilian and military drones that perform the purposes of reconnaissance, targeting weapons, and even dropping ammunition with makeshift clamps from modified combat copters. The Ukrainian military is using so-called kamikaze drones, vehicles costing only tens of thousands of euros to destroy tanks and other large equipment. Russia does not have the infrastructure to use civilian drones; it is losing dozens of its military drones. The Ukrainians are not able to jam massively, because they are afraid to bring the jammers of unmanned aerial vehicles to the front line, having already lost about ten such systems.

Military satellites and their role

The use of military satellites (as well as speculation about hypothetical battles in space) has been practiced for more than 30 years. In 1985, in the United States and in 1992 in Russia, even special "space troops" were founded.

Thanks to the improvement in resolution and strengthening of communication channels over the past 15 years , real-time observation from space has become possible. In military operations, satellite images are used for reconnaissance, surveillance, communications and navigation. They help to learn about the position and movement of troops (even at night or under clouds, in the case of SAR satellites ), coordinate the movement and actions of their own forces, intercept enemy radio communications or calculate their GPS / radio jamming attempts. In addition, satellite imagery has played a key role in the investigation of war crimes in several major military conflicts, including the Bucha killings .

Satellite imagery has played a key role in the investigation of war crimes in several major military conflicts.

In the Russian-Ukrainian war, satellite Internet occupies an important place. “An hour before the invasion” of Ukraine, “Russian-connected hackers” broke into the network of the American satellite company Viasat. Experts characterize this attack as reckless brute force - the hackers did not try to be careful and demolished all the protection systems that they could reach, disabling tens of thousands of satellite modems in different European countries and, including hitting the work of thousands of wind turbines in Germany. The fact is that the Ukrainian military used the Viasat Internet, communicating through it with the leadership from the front lines of the conflict. Ukrainian officials, without giving details, stated that this resulted in a "big gap in communication" at the start of the war. But the same hack helped speed up Ukraine's negotiations with Starlink, which offers Internet from a network of low-orbit satellites in test mode. In the shortest possible time, more than 11 thousand Starlink terminals were brought to Ukraine, which significantly changed the course of the war. They helped bring the internet back to parts of eastern Ukraine that Russian troops had left without a connection. Through them, the military communicate with the leadership and among themselves (this is how people blocked at Azovstal went online). Ukrainians are connecting drones to the Starlink network, coordinating artillery strikes on Russian positions. The very design of this network, relying on the operation of many satellites in conjunction, makes it much more difficult, if not impossible, to block its operation. The owner of the company wrote on twitter that the Russian side tried to jam the signal of their satellites, but with the help of a change in the code, this attack was leveled.

More than 11,000 Starlink terminals were brought to Ukraine, which significantly changed the course of the war.

Ukraine has no satellites. However, it has been repeatedly reported that Western states are supplying the country with a large amount of intelligence, including from satellites , including in close to real time. One of the American generals characterized this exchange of intelligence as the most "accurate, timely and effective" in his 35 years of service. Meanwhile, things are not going well with Russia with satellites: there are few of them, they are far away and they do not give out the visual of the highest resolution.

Smartphones - weapons of the new time

The mobilization of everything also affects what weapons are gaining or losing relevance. Even apart from Chinese experimental weapons that combine a rifle and a grenade launcher or fire from around a corner, experts note the trend of increasing effectiveness of inexpensive, small in size and easy to control weapons against large conventional artillery, aircraft and ships. Ukrainian resistance shows how a large platform-centric army can be effectively fought with small drones, stingers and javelins (hand-held missile systems).

But one of the most sinister dimensions of this war is how ordinary smartphones become weapons. Judith Butler, in Frames of War , raises the question of the tools used to wage war, and asks if the camera becomes such a weapon along with a gun and a bomb? Someone will laugh at this, because you can’t shoot a person with a camera. However, Butler clearly shows how the production of images, as well as visual and discursive fields (a set of visual and textual information in the mass media) at the site of the conflict or even beyond it becomes part of the chain of killings - defining goals, setting categories of people worthy of death, strengthening with propaganda militaristic spirit and the concept of war as just or even moral, which the Russian regime is unsuccessfully trying to do today. The Russian-Ukrainian war gives examples when a raised smartphone is reacted like a weapon - they shoot at you.

The Russian-Ukrainian war gives examples when a raised smartphone is treated like a weapon - they shoot at you.

Radical War co-author Matthew Ford wrote three articles on how smartphones in this war help repel an attack and become a real weapon. The main idea is that civilian and military phones, being essentially multifunctional sensors, are included in the so-called targeting cycle, the guidance cycle. From the very beginning of the war, citizens of Ukraine - first through feedback bots, and then through channels more integrated with the military - began to report the location of Russian troops and equipment, sending both coordinates and photo / video recordings. The Financial Times wrote that these reports play a "really big role". Ford clarifies that the exact effects of including smartphones in the targeting cycle still need to be studied, but in fact the Ukrainian army has outsourced a significant part of the cycle of killing the enemy and destroying its equipment to the civilian population. And this is true not only in the case of the use of smartphones, but also civilian drones and, for example , the guerrilla manufacture of incendiary grenades and the dissemination of instructions for their production. In this defensive war, this is almost unquestionable, but it still looks intimidating and only confirms how inconsequential the border between military and civilians is today.

Artificial intelligence and autonomous weapons

Datafication of conflicts leads to the fact that not only civilians are involved in the collection and processing of information, but also "artificial intelligence" - software using deep machine learning algorithms. In the Russian-Ukrainian war, there is already at least one impressive example of the use of AI. The American company Primer, which offers AI products to military and commercial firms, decided to help Ukraine and at the same time test its data analysis algorithms, mainly aimed at isolating key points from a large amount of information. They connected their software to the audio streams of the unsecured communications of the Russian military and were able to analyze these streams almost in real time: isolate the names of locations, the names of personnel, the designation of equipment, as well as a description of ongoing situations, and gave access to this analysis to the Ukrainian military. The latter had already analyzed the intercepted communications of the Russian troops, but this was done manually. The use of AI reduces the time spent on such streams, increases the efficiency of analysis, and provides faster updates on the state of affairs at the conflict site, which helps to adjust the strategy.

Datafication of conflicts leads to the fact that "artificial intelligence" is involved in the collection and processing of information.

Many military structures in different countries are already using deep learning algorithms for military purposes, mainly for intelligence processing, but also in the targeting cycle. In China, AI algorithms are used to solve engineering problems in the development of hypersonic weapons. In this regard, the issue that has been gaining relevance over the past 5 years is the use and regulation of autonomous weapons.

Trishant Nanayakkara, professor of robotics at Imperial College London, defines the autonomy of weapons and robots as having the computational ability to assess a situation and take an action (such as hitting a target) without external human intervention. It must be understood that weapons that have been used in wars for a long time fall under this definition: for example, homing missiles using thermal or electromagnetic radars, or projectiles that determine their own position by counting the number of revolutions they made in the air, or anti-tank mines that work only under certain conditions (reacting to the applied weight or even distinguishing enemy tanks from their own).

But in the discussion about autonomous weapons, the main concerns relate to full-fledged “killer robots” - basically we are talking about AI-equipped drones that can independently analyze the situation and, if the underlying pattern matches, pursue and destroy the target. There have already been examples of such attacks. The massive use of such weapons is associated with a bunch of risks. Talk about the fact that AI weapons are “more humane”, since they process information more accurately and will avoid civilian casualties, does not stand up to the test of practice. AI algorithms consistently produce a bunch of errors, biases, and biases based on the training data or how they were trained. Such algorithms still hardly work with context: a drone can notice an enemy tank, but not notice that it is standing on the territory of a kindergarten. In the case when it comes to people's lives, outsourcing the decision on fire attacks to AI is the same crime as starting a war at all. In addition, the autonomy of weapons enhances the process of dissolution of power, which Shamayu and other researchers write about. In the case of already inconspicuous drone operations, it will be completely unclear who is responsible for autonomous strikes, so the practical introduction of autonomous weapons rightly causes protests .

The drone can spot an enemy tank, but not notice that it is standing on the territory of the kindergarten.

Lethality of cyber weapons

Even more inconspicuous, difficult to prove and raising questions about the boundaries of the legal has become cyber weapons. Some researchers do not agree at all that cyberweapon is an essential term, allegedly because its direct effect on physical objects and people is extremely limited and, moreover, cannot be lethal. Most likely, this is not the case: it is easy to understand that cyber attacks (which can be combined with information attacks) activate certain mechanisms of social engineering, or open / block sections of communication networks in such a way that the space of opportunities around a large number of people can change, which in some cases can lead to death.

Over the past 15 years, we have seen several cyberattacks that have affected critical infrastructures. For example, the famous Stuxnet virus that stopped the centrifuges enriching uranium at a nuclear power plant in Iran, the recent mutual cyber attacks between Iran and the United States, the Russian attack on Estonia in 2007 that paralyzed the digital government for a significant time, or the Russian attack on the Ukrainian energy network in 2016 - then for the first time in history, about 230 thousand people were left without electricity for several hours ( it was reported that the United States and Russia also mutually infected each other's power grids with virus software). Imagine that a cyberattack leaves without power the medical infrastructure or emergency communication networks through which assistance is provided in emergency situations - and the question of the potential lethality of cyberweapons will disappear by itself.

Sanctions, blockades and migration

The transformation of the Internet into a battlefield is one example of the very militarization of inter-state relationships that Mark Leonard writes about. But there are others. By resisting the use of military equipment, Western states weaponize their borders, markets, industries, energy resources or laws.

By resisting the use of military equipment, Western states weaponize their borders, markets, industries, energy resources or laws.

Sanctions of the “Western world” against Russia are one of the main tools to counter the aggressive policy of the Putin regime. Based on the very name “economic sanctions”, one might think that they hit the economy strictly without endangering people's lives. However, the history of the application of this method of pressure shows that this judgment is unfair. For example, US sanctions on Iraq and Venezuela are directly responsible for tens of thousands of deaths from all sorts of consequences associated with economic blockades in everything from medicine to food.

It's hard to gauge the lethality of anti-Russian sanctions right now, but stories keep popping up about how critical infrastructure, from power grids to ambulances, is failing or can no longer be maintained because of sanctions, or that medicines are running out. Russia, too, has long been militarizing the few interdependencies it has with foreign powers, mostly around energy resources. Migration crises show how entire populations become tools in conflicts. For example, Turkey, threatening to send millions of refugees and migrants to Europe, has negotiated billions of euros in subsidies. It also takes advantage of the water resources, blocking rivers and leaving hundreds of thousands of people without water, as part of the military countermeasures. James Gau and Georg Gassauer describe how biometric technologies are used within such crises to further control refugees, which is also a manifestation of low-level conflict.

Russia, too, has long militarized the few interdependencies it has with foreign countries, mostly around energy resources.

Mark Leonard, in his book The Age of Unpeace, speaking about how hyperconnectivity between states and markets provokes conflicts, notes that it is not entirely correct to assume that conflict is inherent in the nature of networks. Rather, it is the result of a "toxic behavior complex" - masculine habits of resolving issues by force, characteristic of heads of state and the military. He writes that the best way not to slide into eternal conflict is to disarm this connection, possible through new international agreements regarding areas of interaction where conflicts can arise. But this is possible only after we understand that it is militarized mainly by men. To ignore the gender dynamics in warfare is to continue to understand nothing at all about why wars are still possible.

There are no Russian analogues

9 days before the start of the war, a strange article appeared in Politico, the general meaning of which was that while the Ukrainians were digging trenches and laying wire communications, Russia had been pumping up an ultra-tech army all these years, ready to support thoughtful and coordinated attacks on the ground with digital strikes. There are even replicas of Ukrainian soldiers who say that now “Russia is more than ever ready to marry technology with a possible invasion”, and this is supposedly a serious signal to the West - is it even ready to face such a force of the 21st century. This is far from the only material that pointed out the high technological effectiveness of the Russian military forces. It has been reported that Russia is assembling an army of autonomous weapons using Chinese AI technology, that the Russians are developing strategies for information dominance on the battlefield. The CNA report found as many as 150 military systems in Russia at various stages of development, working in conjunction with AI algorithms , and the Pentagon " declared about the incredibly powerful Russian army." Even in the speeches and interviews of the Chief of the General Staff of the Russian Federation Valery Gerasimov (as well as the doctrine allegedly written by him in 2013) , one can find the idea that "non-military means of achieving political and strategic goals in many cases are superior in effectiveness to military ones."

After Russia's unexpected success in annexing Crimea, after the world's first successful attack on Ukraine's power grid, after two bombings at armories in the Czech Republic from where ammunition was supposed to be shipped to Ukraine, and after the poisoning of a Bulgarian gunsmith through whom it was supplied, after meddling in elections United States, the Putin regime has a reputation for being masters of hybrid conflict (actually the result of several successful operations carried out in an unprecedentedly favorable atmosphere). Since 2021, Russia has been gradually increasing the volume of cyber attacks on Ukraine, continuing to bomb it with various non-kinetic means just before the war: hacking, psychological terror, economic pressure, “soft power”. Everyone believed in the technologically advanced Russian army so much that even American intelligence on February 24 was sure that Kiev would be taken in a maximum of 72 hours.

Russia gradually increased the volume of cyber attacks on Ukraine: hacks, psychological terror, economic pressure

And then everything went as it went. Russia has lost thousands of pieces of equipment, including the flagship cruiser and expensive planes and helicopters. Aviation practically does not play a significant role in the promotion, because it was not possible to suppress the dispersed Ukrainian air defense. But we didn’t manage to do this, because the legendary Russian drones for some reason can’t cope with finding out the exact coordinates of the opponent’s equipment and don’t transmit it to artillery, as they should. Russia itself is losing drones at a frantic pace, only Orlanov-10 by May was shot down or drowned out by about fifty . Not a single use of weapons with AI functionality by Russia was noticed. About ten radio resistance complexes (which jam enemy drones or jam GPS receivers) were abandoned , bombed or captured. The fighters of the National Guard “for unknown reasons” find themselves on the front line before the armed forces, wander the fields for days and suffer heavy losses. Where air support is needed on the ground, it is not being received. Counter-artillery does not work , because the equipment is in traffic jams. The Russian military is massively using unsecured communication channels and cannot leave the enemy without mobile communications by bombing towers, because they themselves rely on them, which facilitates the tasks of Ukrainian intelligence. This is also why Russian generals are dying in large numbers. Russia is trying to use kamikaze drones, but they miss , as do "precision" missiles . Against the background of all this, the state news agency reports that soon Russian drones will be able to identify and destroy NATO equipment using neural network visual segmentation (AI).

Soldiers of the Russian Guard "for unknown reasons" find themselves on the front line before the armed forces, roam the fields for days and suffer heavy losses

Particularly touching in this context is an interview in MK with a tank captain (after the interview with the dead), in which he frankly describes the technical advantages of the Ukrainian army, “supplied by the Americans”: they have access to the Internet and electronic cards, and “they have everything a shot hits the target, "because the artillery is guided by automated targeting using drones (which is described in detail in Novaya Gazeta ). Probably, all this is one of the reasons why the Russian army began to fight after the failed blitzkrieg, right according to the training manual from Afghanistan, Chechnya and Syria : carpet bombing, massive use of unguided rockets, urbicide, banned cluster bombs, deliberate killing of civilians in order to prevent resistance, a panic recruitment of mercenaries without experience and even with a criminal past, the import of volunteers from Syria, torture and terror - like fake newspapers for Ukrainian prisoners, mobile towers broadcasting Russian TV, or sending messages to Ukrainian soldiers calling on them to “kill their commander and go home” , numerous cases of sexual violence and completely unjustified cruelty of Russian soldiers looting apartments and shops, having eaten expired rations. Russia would be happy to apply, according to Shamai, a “colonial policy of drones” against Ukraine, but so far the most obvious colonial component of this war is the disproportionate use of military personnel from poor national regions.

The most obvious colonial component of this war is the disproportionate use of military from poor national regions.

But where did all the technological results of the reform of the Russian army, which has been going on since 2008, gone? Why do Russian homing missiles use electronics from the 70s, and Russian drones are equipped with plastic bottles and tie cameras to them, and how did it happen that after three months of the war, Russia replenishes the system with tanks produced 60 years ago and civilian ships? Russian technology falling into the hands of Ukrainians provides a clue: most of Russia's military technology is critically dependent on foreign components, notably semiconductors and microchips, but also microchips, printed circuit boards, motors and antennas. The Ukrainian military specifically invited "Western experts" to study Russian equipment - including laser rangefinders and cruise missile guidance electronics - which turned out to be stuffed with components made by US and EU companies. Perhaps this is the reason for such a massive use of unguided munitions - Russia either saves homing bombs, or has exhausted their supply and cannot replenish it on its own, because the imposition of sanctions has blocked the possibility of importing Western components for military purposes by 90%, and to produce the same semiconductors in sufficient volume in Russia have not learned. Evidence is already emerging that the Russian military is using semiconductors from kitchen appliances in their equipment.

Most of Russia's military technologies are critically dependent on foreign components

The story of sanctions components is not new - at least since 2008, Russia has been trying with varying success to purchase microelectronics, guidance devices and radiation-resistant microcircuits (critical in time of war) through gasket companies, or by misleading suppliers with a promise to use electronics only in civilian purposes. Since 2018, Russia has banned U.S. export control enforcement officers from conducting on-the-spot checks to see if imported equipment is actually being used as promised. Inside secure Russian walkie-talkies intercepted by the Ukrainians, microchips were found with the manufacturer's logos erased, a long-used practice to hide the source of microelectronics.

But even if, somehow, Russia manages to re-establish a secret supply of the necessary equipment, in the conditions of modern warfare, the devices themselves mean little. Much more important is the common infrastructure in which they are included - the same Internet Of Military Things (similar to the Internet of Things - a network that combines home devices). This term, along with the American practices of unblinking eye , JADC2 or deep sensing , indicates a system of interconnection between different equipment and people in the place of conflict and beyond, within which there is a permanent exchange of information. In the US, a centralized TITAN system is being developed that organizes such a network. In Russia, there is a department whose tasks include organizing the same system - the National Defense Control Center of the Russian Federation. How this system works, we see. Given Dmitry Rogozin's recent remark against digital progress and connectivity that will "bring the West to its knees", it is quite possible that this is a deliberate Russian policy.

In the Russian-Ukrainian war, factors outside the control of Russia were initially laid down. First of all, the fact that this is a criminal and cannibalistic war, not only unjustified, but also unprovoked. And therefore, in the war of narratives, in the war for “minds and hearts” (which is the most important feature of modern conflicts), Russia lost from the very beginning.

In the Russian-Ukrainian war, factors outside the control of Russia were initially laid down

However, there are also factors that Putin's military machine could control, but for a number of reasons could not. This is, above all, connectivity and communication - a thoughtful way to organize the flow of data from the battlefield to command and back. Connectivity has become a critical success factor in modern warfare. But communication is not the forte of the elderly Chekists, especially those who live in a completely paranoid regime of secrecy and see moving forward as a series of forceful decisions. The geopolitical way of thinking about the world easily blurs your eyes, and it seems that if you are at the top, then entire gigantic complex systems, streams of living human bodies and technology will smoothly move in formation at your command, even if they are kept in the dark until the very end. As it turns out, this is not the case.

In addition to the fact that all this is a big and terrifying lesson that conflict-free horizontal communication between states is certainly better than communication breaks or militarization of dependencies, I would like to draw attention to one more thing. In many of the texts on military technology that I read to write this one, I was surprised by the default acceptance of war and its machines as inevitable. It is part of the war culture that still allows conflict to be resolved. Today, the production of weapons is entirely controlled by the state, the military and closed private companies. This is how almost any technological production is arranged now - around closed “expertise” and trade secrets. But as we know from the texts of Andrew Finberg and the critical theory of technology, which appeared partly thanks to him, as well as from feminist theories of technology, they are not neutral, and for artifacts and algorithms to work for freedom, not for murder, civil society must have access to processes. discussion, design and development at the very start, and not after their appearance. Autonomous weapons are not inevitable ; the use of napalm was banned in 1980 as a result of a large-scale anti-war movement, as was the use of cluster bombs in 2008 with the participation of civil society. An anti-war protest is, among other things, a protest against military technology.

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