Russia Abandons Precision Strikes in Favor of Targeting Civilians

Russia Abandons Precision Strikes in Favor of Targeting Civilians

Moscow, having apparently abandoned the advantages of this technology, now appears to be targeting civilians as part of its effort to take Ukraine.

Deliberate Russian attacks on civilians, including the bombing of villages and cruise missile strikes against apartment buildings, represent a noticeable shift in Russia’s tactics. This change may be due to Russia’s apparent inability to successfully conduct coordinated, high-speed ground attacks.

This shift is driving a fast-growing civilian death toll that includes many children. Russia appears to be arriving at what Army officials describe as an ineffective combined arms maneuver, with Russia’s land assaults being stalled and compromised by logistical challenges and successful Ukrainian ambush tactics.

Russia clearly has the technological ability to fire carefully targeted precision weapons that are capable of achieving specific tactical objectives while reducing collateral damage. However, Russia appears to have specifically decided to disregard the advantages of precision targeting in favor of direct attacks on the Ukrainian population. As of March 1, the United Nations reported that at least thirteen Ukrainian children have been killed, a number that likely grew exponentially in recent days.

“If your approach now is attrition and terror to get civilians on the road, you don't need precision munitions if you are just lobbing rockets and artillery into cities,” Gen. Ben Hodges (Ret.), former Commanding General of U.S. Army Europe, told the National Interest in an interview.

Describing the visible targeting of civilian populations in terms of a deliberate tactical shift, Hodges explained that there may be limits to how long the Russians can sustain these kinds of attacks.

“What I wonder is how many more of these missiles do they have. Those are expensive. We know on our own side we do not have enough ammo for extended sustained land operations. I am talking about big precision rockets.  I think they are going to be running low pretty soon,” Hodges said.

Is there a possibility that motivated Ukrainian forces, who appear to be employing ambushes and anti-armor attacks effectively, could keep the Russian forces at bay long enough to ultimately prevent them from taking Kyiv? That certainly appears to be the hope of many members of the international community who are condemning the Russian attacks.

Precision-guided land weapons, such as GPS-guided Excalibur artillery rounds, have been operational since 2007 and were first used by U.S. Army forces in Iraq.  Excalibur rounds, for example, can precisely destroy enemy targets from as far away as thirty kilometers, a development that has enabled ground commanders to destroy enemies while greatly reducing civilian casualties and collateral damage. Precision land fire, which was preceded by GPS-guided air-dropped bombs like the Joint Direct Attack Munition, offers the military key targeting advantages such as the ability to pinpoint specific high-value targets at stand-off ranges. Outside of this strategic advantage, Army weapons developers also chose precision weaponry as part of a specific effort to limit civilian casualties. Precision saves lives.

In addition, the U.S. Army now has a large arsenal of precision-guided land weapons. Notably, Army can now employ the Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System, which uses GPS and an inertial measurement system to precisely eliminate targets up to seventy kilometers away.

Russia is certain to possess its own arsenal of precision-guided land-attack munitions. However, Moscow, having apparently abandoned the advantages of this technology, now appears to be targeting civilians as part of its effort to take Ukraine.

Kris Osborn is the Defense Editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Master's Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.

Image: Reuters.