Full-spectrum warfare and Russia’s path to defeat

I can’t sleep. I’m glued to the minute-by-minute news cycle that is the war in Ukraine. How did we get here? My combat brain tells me that how we got here doesn’t matter. We are in a fight. My combat brain is performing an OODA loop (observe–orient–decide–act) on every video clip I see. I watch a clip of a mother crying while in the background medical staff fail to save her 6-year-old daughter.

My mind explodes and starts to calculate the quickest way to Poland and the clothing I’ll need to survive a European spring. Then my parent brain reminds me it’s time to pick up my own 6-year-old from school and make sure she gets her chemo drugs that are fighting off her leukaemia.

F—k! I’m not going anywhere.

I’m an Australian Army veteran of 13 years. Eight of those were in special forces, where I had three tours of Afghanistan. A friend suggested I write this piece on how I would fight the Ukrainian war as a way of channelling my frustrations into something positive.

It is the consensus of the West that Russia cannot win this war and I agree. However, President Vladimir Putin can keep the West from sending troops through his veiled threats of nuclear conflict. So, it will be a war by proxy. Hello, second cold war. Sorry, Ukraine.

At this moment the Ukrainian defence force is the most motivated and tenacious fighting force on the planet. With the world’s most inspiring leader, Volodymyr Zelenskyy. The Russian forces appear to have a large portion of young, unmotivated conscripts who have been pushed across the border in the middle of the night with little direction or leadership.

The Ukrainian defence force has done the amazing by winning many of its engagements and bottlenecking the huge force of Russians north of Kyiv. However, I don’t think this will last. Weight of numbers and overwhelming firepower have a quality all of their own. Any Russian victories will help Russian morale and in turn their fighting confidence. They will gain momentum and start rolling through Ukrainian conventional forces. As is being seen in the south of the country.

Ukraine needs to keep up maximum pressure on Russian forces to destroy their fighting spirit and maximise Russian casualties. I think the best way of doing this is to engage in full-spectrum warfare. In broad strokes, continually hitting the Russian soldier with multiple types of warfare. Conventional, insurgent, psychological and propaganda.

The Ukrainian army continues to engage the invaders in conventional warfare, securing western and central Ukraine. This is so they can maintain clear lines of supply and communication deep into the heart of Ukraine. This will allow the Ukrainian insurgency in occupied territory to be more easily resupplied by Western allies. And it will keep the majority of Russian forces focused on fighting the conventional battle, not spreading out to suppress the population and insurgency.

Conducting the insurgency will most likely fall to the Territorial Defence Forces, Ukraine’s civilian volunteers. They have no uniforms and have been given very little in the way of arms and training. Most of the veterans with military experience have been absorbed by the Ukrainian army. The West has just finished fighting a 20-year war against terrorism and insurgencies in Afghanistan and Iraq. All that experience can be reverse-engineered and fed into the Ukrainian TDF via training camps in western Ukraine. This will make the TDF more effective at fighting the invaders and reduce their own casualties.

One of Ukraine’s biggest advantages is its people’s close ties to Russia. A large portion of the population speaks the same language as the invaders. I would start a graffiti/signage campaign among the Ukrainians who can’t fight. This will speak directly to the Russian soldiers and if there’s enough of it they won’t be able to block it out. We have all seen those signs advertising billboard space with ‘Unsee this’ written in big letters. A lot of the Russian soldiers are very young and will be susceptible to such psychological influences.

I would use a stick-and-carrot approach. Make them feel guilty for the death and destruction they have caused their peaceful neighbours and their children. Tell them their death will come soon if they keep attacking. What would their friends and family think of them? Then offer them an out: Surrender and you will be well treated. The Ukrainians are already doing this for Russian prisoners of war. Getting them to ring their mothers and telling them they can come and pick their naughty sons up, like it was from the principal’s office. Gold!

The West may be supplying a lot of weapons for conventional forces, but they need to start to get the required supplies and training to the TDF before the Russians can get a firmer hold over the country and cut off the insurgency before it gets momentum. This could mean the difference between a three-year and a 10-year war.

The Russian soldier is Putin’s weak point. Squeeze him until he surrenders or send him home wounded or in a body bag, to deliver the message the Russian people aren’t getting from their state-run media: Get out of Ukraine! And then maybe we can all sleep better.

Author’s note: I am not the only Australian veteran who feels this way. I have spoken to many friends, and the war in Ukraine is understandably having negative consequences for the mental health of the Australian veteran community. I urge anyone struggling with the images coming out of Ukraine to talk to their family or someone they trust. Take a break from the news. Before saddling up and riding off to the rescue.