by Austin Bay
March 5, 2014
Whether delivered as a rock, rifle round or laser burst, lethal fire by a military force is one of the two most fundamental combat actions. It is certainly the action best understood by artists. From cave painters to Hollywood directors, their material weapons make the "fire" threat posed by the spearman and the sniper explicit.
The second combat fundamental, maneuver, is a bit harder to depict as the combat threat it is. Boots or tank treads can visually indicate two means of maneuver (by foot, by vehicle) but neither has quite the visual impact of the soldier's rifle or the tank's main gun.
Maneuver, however, is fire's dynamic battle buddy. Throw the rock, and run; odds are Homo erectus understood the combination's logic. Shoot and scoot was the U.S. Army Armor School's clever formulation in 1974. The slow and agonizing struggle known as the Cold War was very real in 1974. One tank gunnery instructor joked that those of us headed for armor units in West Germany (remember West Germany?) might have to master the trick of shooting while scooting backward. When the Soviet tanks (remember the Soviets?) cross the intra-German border, just keep her in reverse all the way back to the Rhine, Lieutenant.
Military maneuver, whether tactical (my tank's predicted retreat), operational (what the Russians have pulled off in Crimea) or strategic (e.g., moving five divisions to Kuwait by sea and air), is about more than running and scooting. Maneuver has an objective: to secure a position of comparative advantage over an enemy.
The Russians have certainly done that in Crimea. They have seized several advantageous positions without bloodshed. Adolf Hitler did the same when his forces re-militarized the Rhineland on March 7, 1936. That maneuver violated the 1919 Treaty of Versailles. The French thought Versailles ended World War I. Hitler disagreed; he didn't think the war was over. "Re-militarization" created a new strategic fact on the ground: German forces in the Rhineland. It also created a new political fact: Hitler paid no significant international political price for breaking the treaty. In historical retrospect, "re-militarization" was a euphemism for invasion.
At the moment, the Pentagon prefers to call the aggressive employment of "fire and maneuver" against an adversary "kinetic military action" or sometimes simply "kinetics." Kinetics is a euphemism for war. Adversary is a euphemism for enemy. Several European Union political leaders and the Obama Administration have called Czar-Commissar Vladimir Putin's decision to send Russian troops into the Crimean Peninsula a "terrible mistake" or grave error. Both strike me as euphemisms for terrible invasion.
Ukraine's fledgling government deserves credit for clarity. It has no trouble referring to Russia's latest despot, Czar-Commissar Vladimir and his army as their enemy. The Ukrainians know they have suffered an invasion.
As this column is written, there have been no reports of lethal gun battles (fire) between Russian invaders and Ukrainian units. Because of successful Russian operational maneuver, leveraging surprise, fire (so far) has been limited to a display of the Russian invaders' capability to kill -- fire demonstrations.
For example, the Wall Street Journal reported that Russian soldiers "fired warning shots over the heads of unarmed Ukrainian soldiers" at the Balbek air base in Crimea. The Ukrainians were trying "to go to work" despite the fact that the Russians had captured the installation. The Russians agreed to let the Ukrainians enter the base as long as they remained unarmed.
Is this Twilight Zone warfare, a strange limbo between potential combat and "kinetic action"?
No, not really. Combat maneuver has occurred, folks. The Wall Street Journal report depicts a Russian operational victory won by maneuver. The Russians took the air base and did so without the political downside of videos of dead Ukrainians going viral on the Internet.
Balbek is a major Ukrainian Air Force base. Or it was. As a political and military fact on the ground, Balbek is now in Russian hands. For that matter, so is most of Crimea.