Neither the forces dedicated nor the financial sanctions threatened by Washington and Brussels are sufficient to discourage Russia from sending its massing forces throughout the Ukrainian border. What’s wanted is a brand new type of deterrence: “going porcupine.” Ukraine should shortly develop a coat of quills that may make it unassailable or at the least un-occupiable. Happily, reasonably priced and scalable capabilities make this doable—if the U.S. will again the hassle to the tune of simply one-tenth or much less of the cash spent yearly on Iraq and Afghanistan.
One secret’s vastly increasing Ukraine’s current arsenal of some dozen giant drones, plus unknown portions of smaller programs. Drones’ usefulness in giant force-on-force warfare was demonstrated throughout final 12 months’s 44-Day Warfare, when Turkish-manufactured Azeri Bayraktar TB2 drones and numerous loitering munitions defanged Armenia’s Russian-made air protection programs, then destroyed lots of of armored automobiles, fortifications, and troop concentrations—each by direct strikes and by recognizing for artillery.
However Ukraine might, and will, additionally use its new drones to assist persuade Russia to not begin a combat within the first place. For instance, drones would possibly usually snap high-quality imagery of potential targets that might be broadcast on social media. They is perhaps used to regularly and unpredictably check air defenses. Whole fleets of drones—“swarm troopers”—might be brandished in “elephant stroll” flights undertaken from a number of of Ukraine’s dozens of drone-capable airfields. Elephant walks might intersperse precise armed TB2s and different cheaper and quite a few unarmed machines with an identical radar, visible, and aural signature to sow additional uncertainty. Non-lethal “roof knocking” assaults in opposition to navy targets may additionally be employed.
However “going porcupine” isn’t all about drones. To discourage a Russian mixed arms invasion, drones have to be built-in with anti-air, anti-tank, and, significantly, cyber property. Beginning instantly, Ukraine ought to “defend ahead” on the cyber entrance to pre-empt threats and form the data and bodily battlespaces. Kiev ought to maintain in danger Russia’s pipeline and power sector management programs, energy grid, GLONASS international positioning system, and communications infrastructure, amongst different issues—particularly if Russian-linked actors assault Ukraine’s home power system, as they did in 2015 and 2016.
Russia additionally has uneven cyber vulnerabilities within the political house. 100 or so key oligarchs management an estimated $630 billion in wealth, a lot of it stashed overseas in numerous types (even crypto-currencies). Different Russians probably function wealth-holding fronts for the nation’s political leaders, allegedly even together with Vladimir Putin himself. Ukrainian cyberwarriors—with NATO help—might probably find, freeze, seize, or in any other case interdict these asset swimming pools. There may be precedent for such actions. As an illustration, Sheldon Adelson’s on line casino operations have been disrupted by a cyberattack after he urged a nuclear strike in opposition to Iran.
Civil society presents one other uneven vulnerability. Ukrainian cyber-teams might construct counter-surveillance “halos” round opponents of the Putin authorities, shield their communications, intrude with telecommunications eavesdropping, and probably, sow confusion amongst Russian inner safety businesses. They may additionally take steps to make sure that any carnage wrought by “Putin’s warfare of selection” will usually seem on smartphone screens throughout Russia, together with messaging that Ukraine merely needs a standard relationship with Russia, not one imposed at gunpoint.
As soon as taking pictures begins, Ukraine would wish to imperil Moscow’s helicopter fleet, pressure strike plane to remain above 10,000 toes, and pressure a “principally floor warfare.” U.S. Stinger missiles and Polish GROM/Piorun programs can be significantly helpful on this effort, as a result of they’re comparatively simple to make use of, reasonably priced, and replenishable at scale. As an illustration, the Polish navy spent $220 million in 2016 for 420 Piorun launchers and 1,300 missiles. MANPADS might be geo-fenced to function solely inside Ukraine as a way to assuage proliferation/leakage issues.
On the bottom, Ukraine already has domestically-made RK-3 and Skif anti-tank missile programs, however these are both heavier or shorter-ranged than the American Javelin missile. Additionally, neither Ukrainian indigenous system is totally fireplace and overlook, which exposes operators to counterfire. The U.S. has carried out a bit to rectify these challenges, delivering a complete of 77 Javelin anti-tank missile launchers and 540 missiles to fireplace from them. However it ought to hurry to ship a number of instances that many.
A technique to take action shortly can be by means of a short lived lease the place after adequate de-escalation by Russia, the unused missile shares might be transferred again to U.S. custody. Such a contemporary “Lend Lease” course of would provide munitions resembling Javelins and Stingers at scale in response to Russian actions and place them below short-term, however full, Ukrainian operational management. As soon as Russia confirmed indicators of de-escalation, remaining weapons above a pre-established baseline stage can be handed again over to U.S. or NATO custody.
To maximise anti-armor capabilities’ deterrence influence, the U.S. might switch “quick assault”-style automobiles that may mount anti-tank guided missiles or carry Javelin groups and transfer a lot quicker than Russian armored items, thus enabling them to quickly shoot and reposition, complicating invading forces’ means to hit them with air or artillery fireplace. These automobiles price round $30,000 apiece (versus $6 million or extra for a UH-60 helicopter) and can even safely function beneath Russian surface-to-air missiles that will threaten helicopters.
The third secret’s offering focused monetary help to persuade Russia that Ukraine can maintain high-impact armed resistance—and that it may be scaled up if vital. Focused investments by the U.S. might amplify Ukraine’s means to maintain drone operations within the face of formidable Russian air defenses. Armenia lacked the flexibility to conduct efficient counter-UAV operations in opposition to Azerbaijan with its 4 Su-30SM fighters as a result of it didn’t procure missiles together with the jets—a mistake Russia received’t make.
Work is already underway to assemble a TB2 manufacturing facility close to Kiev. In late 2019, Baykar introduced plans to spend 600 million liras ($106 million) to double TB2 manufacturing capability at its plant close to Istanbul to 92 items per 12 months, whereas additionally producing 24 Akinci and 36 different fight drones yearly. Extrapolating from these numbers means that U.S.-NATO monetary help to Ukrainian protection corporations on the order of $1 billion might credibly result in manufacturing of greater than 100 drones yearly in Ukraine and an identical quantity from services cited in Poland or one other prepared neighbor much less topic to direct Russian assault. The U.S. might additionally fund tools upgrades and uncooked materials procurement for different related elements of the Ukrainian protection sector to assist it maintain a multi-year battle.
This deterrence technique would talk clearly to Russia the near-certainty of hell if it invades. It additionally emphasizes restricted targets. Porcupine quills solely impale bears that assault.
The views expressed on this article are completely these of the authors. They don’t replicate official assessments or positions of the Baker Institute, Rice College, or the College of Houston.