War in Ukraine is showing US Army soldiers what they'll need to worry about in future fights, generals say

  • US Army generals are taking notes on the war in Ukraine and what's critical for future fighting.

  • Key takeaways include the impacts of drones, jamming, reconnaissance, and what's needed in close and far fights.

  • The implications of new capabilities are profound "for all forces," USARPAC's commander said.

The war in Ukraine, the largest land war in Europe since World War II, has been eye-opening for the US military, showing it what kind of threats could be in store in its next major conflict.

Two years into the war, the fighting remains just as bleak, bloody, and costly as ever. Exploding drones are threatening just about anything that moves, tanks and armored vehicles are putting fear into infantry, and thunderous artillery barrages are continuing to exact a heavy toll.

But amid the horrors are lessons, two US Army generals recently told Business Insider during an interview at Fort Wainwright in Fairbanks, Alaska.

The threats Army soldiers need to be able to identify, fight, and suppress have greater ranges and can come from farther away than in the past, US Army Pacific commander Gen. Charles Flynn said, the drones ever present in Ukraine being one example.

Drones continue to be a dominant element of the war in Ukraine as both Ukraine and Russia ramp up production and development. Operators, sometimes hidden far from the front lines, can send out unmanned aerial vehicles to collect information, target troops in trenches, or threaten tanks and armored vehicles.

Both sides can use them to strike deep in enemy territory, too, targeting air bases and civilian centers. Nothing is safe.

If a one-way attack drone is shot down, or if it is rendered inoperable by jamming or other electronic warfare means, the drone operator can just send out another one. The cost-benefit situation often favors the operators, some of whom are able to pilot cheap hobby-style drones carrying a bomb into targets like tanks worth millions.

Drone boats, too, have offered certain asymmetric advantages. Ukraine, a nation without much of a navy, has terrorized the Russian Black Sea Fleet's ships with these exploding unmanned surface vessels.

Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Donte Mathews flies an unmanned aircraft system during a mortar range event at Camp Lejeune, N.C., Jan. 17, 2023.
Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Donte Mathews flies an unmanned aircraft system during a mortar range event at Camp Lejeune, N.C., Jan. 17, 2023.Marine Corps Cpl. Michael Virtue

A key takeaway from the sheer volume of drones in use in Ukraine is that nothing and nobody is truly hidden from the enemy.

At no time, Maj. Gen. Brian S. Eifler, the commander of the 11th Airborne Division, are troops "not under observation by some sort of method," whether that is visual or electronic signaling and detection, and that makes things more challenging.

"The ability to 'camouflage,'" he said, "is very difficult."

Drones are constantly buzzing above the battlefield in Ukraine, swarming troop positions, elements on the move, and combat equipment. Some of these systems are collecting massive amounts of imagery and data in real time while others are simply observing unsuspecting troops, waiting for the moment to strike.

Before drone warfare became as widespread and prevalent as it is in Ukraine today, troops had smaller ranges to worry about. The close fight, what soldiers need to be trained to see, sense, and strike, is further out than before, especially because of drones "that can sense," Flynn said, noting "they can collect, they can strike, they can return."

"You've got land or sea-based launch capabilities, and in some cases, recoverable capabilities, that can kill out to 30 to 35 kilometers," he said.

And the range at which troops need to be able to suppress munitions and long-range capabilities has changed as well.

"This is actually the changing character of what's happening in Ukraine," Flynn said. "And the impactions of that are profound, and they're not just profound for land forces. They're profound for all forces."

Air Force Tech Sgt. Matthew Coutts launches a Raven B Digital Data Link drone during a demonstration in Southwest Asia, Jan. 24, 2018.
Air Force Tech Sgt. Matthew Coutts launches a Raven B Digital Data Link drone during a demonstration in Southwest Asia, Jan. 24, 2018.Staff Sgt. Joshua Kleinholz

The use of electronic warfare and sophisticated air defenses in Ukraine, too, has the Army rethinking what future wars could look like. In past conflicts, especially in Iraq and Afghanistan, aerial combat operations were significantly less contested than they may be in the future, particularly in a war with a near-peer adversary.

Now, Eifler said, forces have to be ready to defeat jamming and other potential threats to "create a corridor so those aircraft can get in and penetrate through there, do their mission, and come back."

The reality is that troops won't "have the air supremacy that we've enjoyed for the last 20 years," the general said, and that affects operations on the ground.

Only very recently, after almost two years of war in Ukraine, was Russia able to finally achieve a certain degree of temporary, localized air supremacy to facilitate the kind of close-air-support missions troops on the ground needed to capture Avdiivka.

The Army is readying for the future fight though, especially in new training exercises like those organized by the Joint Pacific Multinational Readiness Center, which just conducted an Arctic rotation in Alaska. The actual, physical training is preparing troops, Eifler said, as they conduct missions, such as attack helicopter runs, with those complexities and limited time windows in mind.

The Army has also been training its troops to both operate and counter drones. Last fall, Army leaders said drones would become a part of basic training.

"It's going to become a basic soldier requirement to identify, report, and in some cases react to the threat," said Sgt. Maj. Demetrius Johnson, senior enlisted advisor for the joint counter-small unmanned aerial systems office. "It's MOS agnostic, it's not specific to an air defender to be able to employ these handheld systems."

At the JPMRC rotation in Alaska, where Business Insider observed training activities, US Army leaders discussed cold weather conditions and their impact on drones, noting that very few drones can operate in subzero Arctic temperatures. Nonetheless, troops are increasingly learning and working with unmanned systems.

It's a shift in focus for many troops who haven't experienced these kinds of battlefield conditions. And it impacts training, too, as younger service members need to be prepared for a quickly evolving and ever-changing fight that's very different from what the Army's been doing over the past couple of decades.

Read the original article on Business Insider