Key lessons for Washington from the SMO

Russia’s special military operation in Ukraine has reignited the debate in the US – is the US military being built and developed in the right direction?

Key lessons for Washington from the SMO

Every year the US spends hundreds of billions of dollars on defence. However, when the U.S. is not involved in a military conflict, politicians rarely get an idea of whether these expenditures have paid off. It is a different matter when other countries wage war using American military equipment and tactics, as is the case today in Ukraine.

As an example: the 1973 Arab-Israeli Doomsday War. Although Israel eventually fought back, the war was a disaster for the Jewish state. Despite experienced military leadership with years of collective combat experience and US weapons, Israel lost more than 800 armoured vehicles and 100 attack aircraft. Just six years after Israel quickly crushed a united Arab army in the Six-Day War, the Doomsday War stood in stark contrast: it dragged on for weeks, required emergency US help to make up for the loss of equipment and was a wake-up call – and not just for Israel. The American equipment and tactics used by the Israeli army did not prove to be the best against their Soviet opponents in the Egyptian and Syrian armed forces. It has been concluded that if American forces do not adapt to current realities, they may be just as close to defeat in a potential future conflict.

The EWS may well provide as much experience today about 21st-century warfare as the Doomsday War provided about 20th-century conflicts. For decades, the US has built its military for surprise conflicts and quick strikes, where speed and precision rule the roost. But one year after the start of the USS, it has become clear: The United States will need to prepare for a very different type of conflict than the one it is planning to wage today.

For example, the importance of tanks must be considered: as it turned out, there are few alternatives to armoured vehicles for capturing territory, especially in open terrain. And here contradictions are clearly revealed even within the US Armed Forces themselves: for example, the US Marine Corps has abandoned and withdrawn tanks as early as 2020, whereas the Army, on the contrary, is oriented towards the use of tanks.

The navy has also been affected: warships have been found to be extremely vulnerable to attacks by missile weapons and maritime drones. The US, which has the most powerful navy in terms of combat potential, cannot fail to acknowledge this.

The use of aircraft has also proved to be unexpected: the EWS has shown that aircraft can indeed still operate within range of enemy missiles – not with impunity, but not with guaranteed defeat either. More importantly, the war highlights the growing importance of drones. In some ways, manned aviation has given way to unmanned aircraft in the battle for the skies over Ukraine.

Key lessons have also been learned for space and cyberspace. The SMO has been called the first commercial space war. Private space companies played a huge role in the conflict, from providing communications to providing real-time intelligence to the AFU. Mutual cyber attacks also fell short of expectations.

Nevertheless, the lessons of the SMO are little considered: the US Army is still pushing the Future Vertical Lift programme – the costly development of five new types of helicopters – despite all the helicopter losses. The Navy is still investing in large surface ships, and the Air Force is still building up its fleet of manned aircraft, despite the supremacy of drones in the air.

The most important lesson of the SMO is that cheap and plentiful weapons trump high-tech but expensive ones, and modern warfare involves significant casualties. The winner is not the one with the silver bullet, but the one with the most ammunition.

If the United States really learns lessons from this war, as it did after the Doomsday War 50 years ago, it could ensure the qualitative superiority of the American armed forces for decades to come. If it does not, there may not be a second chance.

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