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Smart Bombs: Military, Defense and National Security

We Think We Know Why Russian Generals Keep Dying in Ukraine

Russian Artillery Firing. Image Credit: Creative Commons.
Russian Artillery Firing. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

US Intelligence Aided Ukraine In Targeting Russian Generals – Russia has suffered a significant amount of casualties that they were utterly unprepared for during the invasion of Ukraine that commenced on February 24. Russia’s “special military operation” was expected to roll into the capital of Kyiv in 2-3 days, with little to no resistance expected. 

But more troubling for the Russian military is the excessive number of Russian generals that have been killed during the fighting. It is believed that Russia has lost a dozen general officers in the 70 days of action. In contrast, the US lost one general officer killed in 20 years of fighting in Afghanistan. And that was the result of an insider attack. 

And now, the New York Times has released a report that US intelligence has helped the Ukrainians target and kill Russian general officers. That number has been a big shock to most military analysts. 

Some foreign media outlets were asking if US intelligence relaying the locations of Russian generals was “irresponsible,” but the National Security Council (NSC) pushed back. 

“The United States provides battlefield intelligence to help the Ukrainians defend their country,” NSC spokesperson Adrienne Watson said in an email to the AFP. “We do not provide intelligence with the intent to kill Russian generals.”

The classified operation to provide the Ukrainian military with actionable intelligence has reportedly centered on both anticipated Russian troop movements, especially with their renewed offensive in the Donbas, and the locations of Russia’s mobile headquarters, which frequently move their location. 

This intelligence, combined with the Ukrainian’s efforts to intercept and track Russian communications, which are unencrypted, has resulted in heavy casualties for the Russian headquarters elements and their generals. 

One of the shared intelligence boons occurred during the very first hours of the war. US intel informed the Ukrainians of the Russian intention to deploy airborne forces to seize a key airfield outside Kyiv. That intelligence allowed Ukraine to move more defenses to the airfield and resulted in the shootdown of Russian transport aircraft. There were reportedly hundreds of paratroopers killed in the crashes.

Although American intelligence has played a large role in finding and fixing targets for Ukrainian forces, there are other factors in play.

Lack of Junior Leadership Continues to Haunt Russia in Ukraine

As I wrote late last month, the Russian military, which had self-identified a lack of a professional NCO corps as a critical area to target in its “modernization,” has been largely ignored.

Western junior officers and Non-Commission Officers (NCOs which are the backbone of the US military) have the freedom to make critical decisions at the tactical level during combat operations. In contrast, their Russian counterparts are tied to a “top-down” level of leadership where senior officers keep junior officers in perpetual fear so that there is no independent thinking or decision-making.

The professional NCO is largely a myth in the Russian military. As a result, if an officer is killed or wounded in battle, the tactical decision-making falls to senior conscripts who have little training and are ill-suited for a leadership role. 

Therefore, Russian general officers are forced to move to the front to make decisions that officers much junior to them should be making. It drives them from a location behind the lines and able to see the entire battlefield. Thus they lose sight of the big picture. And puts them much closer to being in harm’s way.

Loyalty To Putin, Not Experience Leading Troops

Like many autocrats, Russian President Vladimir Putin fears any dissent or threats to his power, both real or imagined. So, senior leadership positions in the government and the military are chosen not for their ability but their loyalty to Putin. 

Putin chose Sergei Shoigu as the Russian Defense Minister, who had no military experience. His most extensive qualification is his unquestioned loyalty to Putin.

Lack of Secure Communications Has Resulted In Heavy Losses

The Russian “modernization program” has also failed to address one of the most basic modern military needs. That is having secure communications so that commanders can speak with subordinate leaders at the tactical level to ensure that the commander can influence the battlefield.

Ukraine Russia

Russian T-80 tank. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

Javelin Green Beret Ukraine

Javelin anti-tank missile being fired along with a mortar. Image credit: UK government.

Ukraine Russia

T-62 Tank in Russian military exercise.

Due to the rampant corruption that plagues Putin’s regime, Russian military commanders have only a fraction of the Azart encrypted radios that protect their communications. Many Russian commanders then had to resort to commercial hand-held radios (Walkie-talkies) and even unencrypted cell phones, making them easy prey to jamming and pinpointing for strikes by artillery. 

Because of their inability to fix their issues and get actionable intelligence from American and NATO countries, Ukraine has destroyed more than 30 Russian mobile headquarters. This throws their command and control of their battalion-sized tactical groups into disarray. 

Steve Balestrieri is a 1945 National Security Columnist. He has served as a US Army Special Forces NCO, and Warrant Officer before injuries forced his early separation. In addition to writing for and for another military news organization, he has covered the NFL for for more than 10 years. His work was regularly featured in the Millbury-Sutton Chronicle and Grafton News newspapers in Massachusetts.

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Steve Balestrieri is a 1945 National Security Columnist. He has served as a US Special Forces NCO and Warrant Officer before injuries forced his early separation. In addition to writing for 1945, he covers the NFL for and his work was regularly featured in the Millbury-Sutton Chronicle and Grafton News newspapers in Massachusetts.