Home » Ukraine’s Attacks on Russian Commanders Have the US Army Worried About Its Own ‘fat and Ponderous’ Command Posts
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Ukraine’s Attacks on Russian Commanders Have the US Army Worried About Its Own ‘fat and Ponderous’ Command Posts

Ukraine’s success in destroying Russian command posts has raised a troubling question for the US military: If Ukraine can do this to Russian headquarters, can other militaries, especially China’s, do it to American HQs?

Command posts are battlefield nodes for commanders, intelligence and communications specialists, and other troops who oversee military operations. They are usually packed with electronic equipment and are hubs for vehicle traffic, giving them a distinct electronic and physical footprint.

In recent wars, facing diminished threats from the air and long-range weapons, US Army command posts have gotten larger, with more people and more emissions, and can easily be spotted and struck by the sensors and precision weapons now crowding the battlefield.

“Our command posts have mutated away from the lean, mean, killing machines we need and are instead fat and ponderous,” three American officers said in an essay in Military Review, the Army’s professional journal.

The Ukraine war illustrates that the most vulnerable part of an army is its brain. Disrupt its command and control, and even the strongest unit becomes almost helpless.

That’s exactly what Ukraine did in summer 2022 when it used new US-supplied HIMARS GPS-guided rockets to target Russian command posts near the front lines. The resulting disruption helped Ukraine take large swathes of territory.

In battles around Chornobaivka, near the southern Ukrainian city of Kherson, Ukrainian strikes hit Russian command posts, known as CPs, at least 22 times and killed the commander of the 49th Combined Arms Army.

“This sapped Russian momentum and prevented consolidation of gains, which ultimately led to their expulsion,” said the essay’s authors, who included Lt. Gen. Milford Beagle Jr., the commander of the US Army’s Combined Arms Center at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas.

This may be a major reason for the stunningly poor performance of Russian troops in Ukraine.

“Pinning Russian woes solely on ineptitude, while true to some extent, downplays the effect Ukrainians are having in systematically dismantling their enemy’s command-and-control system through multidomain targeting,” the authors wrote.

Coping with these attacks undercuts Russian-command efficiency. Russian HQs were pulled back some 75 miles from the front lines, which “imposed significant tactical challenges on Russian forces,” a recent report by Britain’s Royal United Services Institute think tank said.

Russian army command post Ukraine
A destroyed Russian army command post on March 13, 2022. 

The problem is that US Army CPs are just as vulnerable: “Contemporary tented command posts — with their radio frequency emitting antennas, dozens of generators and vehicles, and extensive support requirements — are easily targetable to even the untrained eye,” the Military Review article said.

This is the result of command and control becoming more sophisticated, as command posts must send and receive a constant stream of information. The price is that they are burdened with more tasks and equipment. In addition, years of counterinsurgency and small wars against opponents who lacked the means to target command centers have led to complacency.

“Western command posts have significant challenges with survivability,” especially for higher-level HQs, the authors wrote, adding: “Even where efforts have been made to improve the mobility of command posts, our inability to hide the multispectral signatures of these massive structures coupled with persistent battlefield surveillance and precision weapons negates any benefit achieved.”

Unsurprisingly, China has focused on disrupting US command-and-control capabilities. Should war come over Taiwan, China could employ a variety of means, including jamming, cyberwarfare, and attacks on communications satellites.

This isn’t the first time the issue has come up. After World War II, former German panzer generals commented that NATO command posts had become too large, while German commanders had been able to conduct mobile warfare with much-smaller CPs.

Today’s armies can hardly go back to the pre-Napoleonic days of tiny staffs and generals who personally led their troops into battle. Sensor-to-shooter chains and hypersonic missiles will enable ever-quicker strikes against enemy command centers.

But there are ways to at least partially mitigate risk. One is to move command posts further from the lines and fortify them against bombardment or special-forces raids. Russia has also turned to a more-old-fashioned solution: getting off the radio.

“This has often been achieved by commandeering the Ukrainian telecommunications network on the occupied territories, which is dense and robust,” the Royal United Services Institute report said. “The Russian military then connects its CPs to the closest point in the civilian network via extended ground-laid telecommunications cables.”

Army soldiers command post
US Army soldiers during a command-post exercise at Fort Carson in Colorado. 

Command posts connect with supporting units, such as air defense, via micro radio links through relay vehicles.

The Military Review article suggested the creation of “data-centric command posts” that would take advantage of technology such as the cloud. Command and control would be offered as a service as needed, creating such a small footprint in which CPs could be carried in a few armored vehicles.

“If we envision our command posts as less of a place or a thing and more as a service, it may be possible to vastly increase our agility,” the authors wrote. “What happens if a corps, division, or brigade commander arrives, takes control of any command post, and receives the capability of the appropriate echelon with a push of a button?”

Another solution may be virtual reality.

“In a virtual world, commanders could replicate, expand, traverse, and interact as needed with their entire physical command post and never have to leave the room or vehicle they are in,” the authors added.

Source : Business Insider