Winning: People's War in Ukraine


June 20, 2024: One rarely mentioned aspect of the Ukraine War is the frequent involvement of civilians and civilian groups in supporting the war effort. This was a factor from the beginning when civilians used their cell phones to capture pictures, with locations, of Russian military activity. The Ukrainian government quickly created an organization to receive all these civilian reports and provide civil or military authorities with useful information on a timely basis.

Ukraine was also welcoming when it came to weapons or other military related items developed by individuals or groups of civilians. This was quite different from the situation in Russia, where the government expects civilians to take orders, not make suggestions.

In contrast Ukrainian civilians, most of whom were born or came of age after the Soviet Union collapsed and Ukraine became an independent country, turned to the west for inspiration on how to live, govern and run the economy. When the Russians invaded in 2022, many officers and soldiers were surprised that Ukrainians were no longer culturally related to Russia but had become more like western Europeans.

An example of this was seen in 2023 when Ukraine announced that that was going to spend over half a billion dollars on UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles), but what was not revealed was the extent of efforts to add more capabilities to commercial UAVs as well and the growing number being manufactured by Ukrainian companies. These developers and manufacturers are often small groups of civilian hobbyists that proved capable of creating new features for UAVs, both commercial and hobbyist-produced models. The Russian invasion spurred a lot of innovation, mainly among Ukrainian developers. Among the items available to commercial customers are a lot of miniature digital video cameras as well as lighter, miniaturized computer components that could be assembled and programmed by users to perform essential tasks, like using AI apps and data from onboard video cameras enemy forces, even if they are camouflaged or in underground bunkers. Constant combat use of these systems enables developers to address shortcomings and continually improves the hardware and software carried on these hunter killer UAVs. Earlier in the war two UAVs were needed for this but now all that tech and weapons can be carried and used by one UAV.

Wartime developers are able to improve their tech and hardware more rapidly because there was continuous feedback from users. Ukraine had an edge here because many of these developers were hobbyists who knew little about peacetime development, its bureaucracy and counter-productive over-supervision. Ukrainian developers were often creating these new UAV techs for friends or family members who were now in the military and eager for whatever help they could get. The Ukrainian military saw this entrepreneurial spirit as an advantage, not some form of insubordination or recklessness. Russians consider the entrepreneurial activities as unauthorized innovations. Despite that, some Russian innovations appeared, but the Russian innovations took longer to arrive and implement.

Most Russian commanders and civilian officials are less willing than their Ukrainian counterparts to encourage individual initiatives. Another problem was that the economic sanctions made it more difficult for Russians to obtain the commercial tech that Ukrainians used.

That free access to Western or Chinese components meant Ukraine could build very capable and lethal UAVs that were designed to carry out one or a small number of missions. That is why Ukraine and Russia are each losing thousands of UAVs a month. Cheap, useful and expendable is now the rule with most battlefield UAVs.

Russia is at a disadvantage when it comes to its UAV losses because Ukrainian civilians are quick to report to their military any useful information, they witness about Russian UAVs and military practices in general. Russia tried to shut down Ukrainian access to communications with the Ukrainian military. Initially this was handled by cellphone, but the Russians gradually replaced Ukrainian cell towers with Russian ones wherever they could. Ukrainian civilians found other ways to communicate with the Ukrainian military. One of these alternatives was the widespread use of SpaceX Starlink internet terminals that turned a Ukrainian cellphone, desktop computer or tablet into a communications device that could get past Russian jamming and efforts to eliminate the ability of civilians to communicate with the Ukrainian military or government. Civilians continued to take cellphone photos or videos of Russian activities and transmit this information back to the Ukrainian military. This provided lots of useful target information on Russian forces and facilities.

Many civilian photos and videos showed up on social media, which the Ukrainian military monitors for useful information. Throughout history civilians have often been useful informants for the military. With the appearance of cellphones, the internet and Starlink, civilian contributions have become more numerous, accurate and useful.




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