You don’t deploy over 100,000 troops for months in winter on the borders of another country which you have already annexed elements of in 2014, unless you tend to use them. Troops deployed into areas preparing for potential combat operations can sustain themselves for a certain amount of time and then boredom and lack of access to fixed facilities, becomes an issue. The worst every type of deployment is an open ended one, the very type all the service personnel from Russia are experiencing as they sit within striking distance of the Ukrainian border.
So, what is likely to happen? That is anyone’s guess at this point, but there are certain factors that come to bear. Putin won’t want the full might of the international community to come to put pressure on his fragile economy, but he must be seen to do something for his domestic audience and for the massive deployment to seem ‘legitimate.’
He has sold the threat of NATO expansionism into Ukraine and Georgia to his domestic audience and whipped up a level of threat that NATO isn’t capable of, even if it were politically coherent.
The last few NATO deployments to the Balkans and Afghanistan have shown the very real difficulties NATO has in generating a sustainable, coherent military approach to operations with very real differences between EU members, the US and UK with the UK aligning itself more often with the US and France participating where it can see potential economic advantage.
However, Russia and Putin in particular, have a collective deep-down belief in NATO expansionism for the sole purpose of threatening Russia. Putin also hankers after the ‘good old days’ of the USSR and would love its re-birth (under his control of course).
Putin loves the ability to grandstand, he loves the feeling of power on the international stage, so will happily participate in any and all international ‘de-escalation,’ conferences and meetings. He has one advantage; he owns the information space like no other leader. He is a master of manipulation, disinformation and obfuscation so our participation will just serve not just to embolden him, but provide a stage for him to set the conditions to ‘prove’ to the Russian people and to others that he has tried everything, but it is the West that are being intransigent and not budging, it is others who are forcing Russia’s hands into having to protect itself.
This is the start, the foundation for action, the first Indicator and Warning ticked, and we must now watch for the language to become more accusative and aggressive. This will be the second indicator and warning of impending action. However, Putin knows that winning the war of words won’t be enough for the West to accept him marching into Ukraine or even part of Ukraine, so more has to happen.
He seems to like the NATO Kosovo scenario of going to protect an element of the local population, but to do that he needs to escalate the crisis to the international community before he can think of going, else he needs to de-escalate his preparations in the eyes of the Russian public. In his eyes it is justifiable to the international community as it is just doing what NATO did in Kosovo, so to achieve this he has things that need to happen.
Alongside increasing domestic and international rhetoric suggesting Western Interference and expansionist aims we will begin to see increasing rhetoric around ethnic Russians being targeted inside Ukraine. He will suggest an increase of Ukrainian state and foreign sponsored actions supressing the Russian speaking populations. This could involve terror type attacks, a public atrocity like a school bus or aircraft being hit in the Donbas region, it will likely involve a massive increase in anti-Russian rhetoric on social media, the only difference being, it will be Russia behind it.
At the same time Russia will likely expand their threats, more support to Assad in Syria, courting of other countries sympathetic to Russia, increased refugee activity on the EUs borders via Belarus and elsewhere. Russian conventional military activity, probing NATO airspace, threatening undersea cables, backing Iranian aggression in the Gulf, encouraging North Korea to ‘test’ more missiles with a sprinkling of cyber-attacks would all be used to distract western defence and split its focus.
The next step close to Putin deciding to attack Ukraine may possibly be terror type attacks by element of the state in Russia but blamed on Ukrainian separatists or sympathisers. This would be the trigger for action into Ukraine and in the run up to this we would likely see an increase in targeted messaging against Ukraine as well as more reports of ‘little green men’ popping up, Russia’s deniable contract mercenaries that played a leading part in the annexation of Crimea and of course blunt messaging accusing the west of interfering and aggression. At the same time, we could see the following:
Ukraine Cyber attack(s)
Global Cyber attack(s)
Russian Black Sea fleet deployed
Elements of the Russian Med Fleet deployed
Elements of the Russian Northern and Baltic Fleet Deployed
However, Putin is not daft and will calculate if he gets his messaging frenzy to a point where the world thinks that the whole of Ukraine will be invaded but he only carries out a limited land grab, then he could calculate that there would be an international sigh of relief and he could weather any additional sanctions or measures. His activities with NATO, the EU and the wider international community will be designed to gauge if he could get away with this.
If he does, his limited objectives could be annexing a large part of Eastern Ukraine where the majority Russian Speakers live. He is likely to calculate this as being just under the threshold of a very robust Western intervention as the last thing Putin could afford is a conflict with the West and he knows this, but emotionally he wants all of Ukraine.
Equally, he could easily de-escalate but indicators of that will be domestically focused rhetoric regarding meeting Russia’s objectives and capitulation by the West in some way. We live in interesting times and the robustness of our political leaders will likely be tested to their fullest extent in the coming weeks.
Philip Ingram MBE is a former Colonel in British Military Intelligence who has studied Russian tactics from the Geopolitical to Tactical as part of his career. He remains available for comment.
As the crisis between Russia, Ukraine and the West continues to deepen and speculation over a potential conflict, and its scope, grows, what is clear is President Putin has given the West an unprecedented opportunity for intelligence gathering at so many different levels.
What has been noticeable on the many open-source aircraft monitoring platforms are the airborne intelligence gathering platforms that have been bracketing Ukraine, Russia and Belarus from Poland, the Baltics, inside Ukraine and from the Black Sea, hoovering up information from different sources and turning it into inteligence.
There hasn’t been an opportunity since the Cold War for the deployment of large formations of Russian Ground Troops, configured for a large-scale warfighting operation to be looked at and examined in so many different ways. So, what is likely to be going on and what will we know?
The first caveat is that I have to be more generic that I would like to but within the intelligence game there are only so many ways to gather information whether through the use of humans or through exploitation of the electromagnetic spectrum. The actual capability of many if not all of the collection platforms being targeted at the Russian build up remain highly classified and my analysis is therefore speculative but from a position of knowledge having overseen many operations to monitor large formation deployments of Russian style formations.
There is a real alphabet soup of intelligence techniques that will be targeted against Russia, and each will be hoovering up vast amounts of information, processing it into a specific brand of intelligence that will then be fused together to provide all source intelligence thereby building a much better and clearer picture as to what is going on.
I do have to caveat that when a sensor picks something up it means it has happened, i.e. it is history and intelligence is all about looking at what has happened in order to predict what will happen. Predicating the future is never an exact science and if fraught with potential misinterpretations; especially when the opposition know what you are doing and are therefore actively trying to deceive you.
So, what are the aircraft doing and what can they see from so far away from the Russian border? Essentially, they are carrying out 3 types of intelligence gathering, SIGINT, ELINT and MASINT.
Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) will be listening to all of the broadcast communications between military units, formations, headquarters and bases, looking at the frequencies used, the networks that are operational and what is being said in the messages. This will have the ability to conform the order of battle, i.e., what formations with what kit are deployed and, as the units and formations practice their communications, it will give the intelligence specialists a lot of material to decrypt, confirm previous knowledge and prepare wider indicators and warnings for certain activities.
Electronic Intelligence (ELINT) will be monitoring all of the Radar and other emitters operating in support of Russian activity. It will be looking at what they use to find and track targets and what weapon systems could be used supported by the radars. It will also be looking at the control mechanisms for weapon systems. The very act of flying aircraft, and in the case of the HMS Queen Elizabeth deployment, sailing a warship along the Ukrainian Coast, will stimulate a lot of electronic activity. The ELINT Sensors will hoover all of that activity up and use it to make sense of what systems are being used, but also use it to understand how to disrupt those systems if needed.
Next comes MASINT – Measurement and Signature Intelligence, and this is where the operational and tactical magic happens when monitoring large ground-based formations. vehicles are effectively lumps of metal and they emit different heat and radar signatures to natural surroundings and even buildings. MASINT can be used to monitor what is where, what has moved and give indication on what could be happening. It takes a long time to prepare Armoured formations for operations and they must prepare for specific formations as they advance, all of this data can be picked up utilising a number of techniques when applied to MASINT sensors. This message the Russians will know well, as they have their own capabilities, nothing is hidden, no matter how many camouflage nets there are over it, the only real secret is how much can be seen and how far away?
As platforms are flying, they will be stimulating activity on the ground in response, stimulating reports being sent up chains of command, sent to military and political masters and these reports relate to activity we know about, because we will have caused it. These reports will be targeted by more strategic collection capabilities to identify how they are processed and sent and therefore identify potential vulnerabilities in the systems used to process them and the mechanisms of their transmission. This information is vital in allowing newer responses through cyber to be brought to bear if necessary.
It is the good old tactic espoused by General Rupert Smith during the first Gulf War, when he said, “If the pond is still, don’t be afraid to thrown in a pebble and watch how the waves promulgate.” This is exactly the same tactic used in June 2020 when HMS Defender sailed along the Crimean Coast and for the whole of the HMQ Queen Elizabeth task force deployment, watching those who were watching it, was invaluable.
Of course, the airborne assets will be complementing what the space-based assets are monitoring and being used to complete the picture from 2 other critical intelligence disciplines. The first being HUMINT, at a strategic level the national agencies of many countries will be trying to find out what is going on inside the Russian Political, military, and operational headquarters and working to get a handle on the wider intent of President Putin and the real capability of the military forces deployed.
It is almost certain Ukraine will have HUMINT assets targeting the Russian formations deployed close to its borders looking at the orders of battle and the levels of preparations. However, one of the most valuable resources is the huge amount of Open-Source material that is circulating on various social media platforms. There are hundreds of pictures and videos of Russian equipment being moved towards the borders, pictures of training and troops putting personal pictures onto social media. This Open Source Intelligence (OSINT) is invaluable and colours in or targets much of the information and intelligence gathered from more classified sensors.
So, what is likely to happen? That is anyone’s guess at this point, but there are certain factors that come to bear. Putin won’t want the full might of the international community to come to put pressure on his fragile economy, but he must be seen to do something for his domestic audience and for the massive deployment to seem ‘legitimate.’ He seems to like the NATO Kosovo scenario of going to protect an element of the local population, but to do that he needs to escalate the crisis to the international community before he can think of going, else he needs to de-escalate his preparations in the eyes of the Russian public.
The sorts of potential indicators and warnings of a potential move could include:
Increasing domestic rhetoric suggesting Western Interference
Increased international rhetoric accusing the west of interference
Increasing Rhetoric around ethnic Russians being targeted
Rhetoric around Ukrainian incursion into Russia
Increased Belarus activity on Polish border with refugees
Ukraine Cyber attack
Global Cyber attack
Russian Black Sea fleet deployed
Elements of the Russian Med Fleet deployed
Elements of the Russian Northern Fleet Deployed
‘Manufactured’ terrorist activity both against Ethnic Russians but also inside Russia itself – bombs in Moscow / Airliner Shot Down?
However, if he does, he will have limited objectives the worst-case scenario could be annexing a large part of Eastern Ukraine where the majority Russian Speakers live. He is likely to calculate this as being just under the threshold of a very robust Western intervention as the last thing Putin could afford is a conflict with the West and he knows this, but emotionally he wants all of Ukraine. He could easily de-escalate but indicators of that will be domestically focused rhetoric regarding meeting Russias objectives and capitulation by the West in some way. We live in interesting times and the robustness of our political leaders will likely be tested to their fullest extent.
A potential Op Plan schematic for a limited Russian Invasion is:
As the situation develops, further blogs will drill into the detail of what we are seeing but the author can be contacted at any time and details are available on the Contact Us Page. Philip Ingram MBE is a former Colonel in British Military Intelligence.
I’m from Northern Ireland and grew up through the Troubles, I’m also a former senior officer in British Military Intelligence, who has never served in Northern Ireland formally in that role, I have served there in the mid 1980s in other roles. I think I know the place.
When I opened Dr Aaron Edwards book Agents of Influence, I was expecting lots of new stories and juicy insights exposing stories of agents in the republican movement that would leave me surprised and smiling, I started disappointed.
I was disappointed because my initial impression was that the book was a repetition of cases that had already been published elsewhere as I have read a lot of books about the Troubles and more are being published exposing the penetration of different terror groups by the Army, MI5, and the police on both sides of the border. Then it struck me, and I had one of those growing smiles inside that said to me, wow, this book is very very clever.
Whether you have served in an intelligence role in Northern Ireland or not, one thing is certain, as an intelligence officer you will have heard the stories. Stories shared furtively over a nod and a wink in the bar, or at a Regimental dinner, or whilst whiling away the hours wasted waiting for the RAF to deploy you on operations or bring you home, or in Land Rovers in operational theatres traveling long distances in complete discomfort, conversations between those who have been there in a HUMINT role, part of the unit referred to by letters only and oft confused with others, by those who want everyone to see them as a breed apart from other intelligence personnel, better, more warrior like, but they love to tell stories.
Over the years, little bits of the stories from different people add up to a better understanding of the picture, that is intelligence, and there were only a finite number of storied worth telling from Northern Ireland. The other thing about piecing the elements of the stories together, is you quickly recognise the embellished bullshit from the furtive reality. It is human nature, people like to talk and tell stories, even agent handlers.
Agents of Influence is one of the most cleverly put together telling of those stories, with the detail carefully weaved around other accounts already in the public domain, but much of it is new and the research behind it is exceptional. When that realisation hit me, this book took on a whole new meaning. Aaron Edwards has masterfully integrated stories about agents I only heard snippets of in the Bar and elsewhere, bringing them to life but without compromising them, as many are still in their communities either ‘stood down,’ effectively retired from crown service, or still active and reporting on activities, political, paramilitary and or criminal within their communities. The links between them remain strong.
His book gives a very clear understanding of the ways the different intelligence organisations worked and the often-differing priorities and the seeming lack of coordination in many cases, that I know is accurate. He describes the way those in the Republican movement who wanted a political settlement were encouraged, almost assisted and oft rewarded and how it was probable that elements of the Republican movement used the security forces, and relationships they had with them via agents of influence, to interdict those in the movement who wanted nothing but violence or refused to follow more moderate ambitions.
What is very clear from his detailed research, not just with those who ran the agents, the handlers, but many agents themselves, is the level of penetration there was across the republican movement both within their paramilitary units and their political structures. What he didn’t have to say but is clearly implied, is those individuals are still within their communities today.
There will always be a debate as to just how penetrated the republican movement was (and still is) with the Republican movement claiming much of what is in the public domain is an exaggeration. The reality is as Edwards suggests and I know, is what is in the public domain, including Edwards’s insights, is merely the tip of the iceberg. This is a fantastic read with excellent insights!
Failure in Afghanistan – why and what are the implications?
by Philip Ingram MBE
As a former senior military planner and intelligence officer, I would just like to bring to your attention a few thoughts around how and why the situation in Afghanistan failed in such a spectacular way and what the implications for the UK are going forward. I have significant global operational experience after 26 years’ service.
This immediate situation was caused by President Trumps order to leave set for 01 May 2021. President Biden could have reversed the order but instead just chose to delay it. Once the Taliban and people of Afghanistan knew they Coalition were leaving they knew what the future would hold. The Taliban will have been influencing the tribal leaders and families of all those in the Afghan Army and Police not to fight. The had been running an alternative social structure for years, whilst in waiting for an eventual withdrawal as they have the ultimate planning tool, they operate in multiple generation time frames whilst we operate in Parliamentary, Presidential, or more accurately tomorrow’s headline, timeframes.
The US only had 2500 troops on the ground. If there had been will amongst the rest of the international community and especially the EU who are happy to hang on the coat tails of US and UK underpinned defence but when crunch comes not step up to the mark it is a sad reflection of the EUs sense of responsibility on the World stage. Germany, France, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands, Poland and others could easily have filled the US boots and equipment on the ground and airpower vacuum. I am sure if that had happened the US could have been persuaded to maintain enablers such as intelligence and some logistics.
However, the rot started in 2003 when the very real progress that had been made with the original deployment to remove the safe space for Al Qaeda was halted to put Iraq as a priority. The fault for that lies squarely with the then Prime Minister Tony Blair and his spin team misleading the country to an unnecessary conflict that opened a second unnecessary front. The deaths today and tomorrow in Afghanistan can clearly be put at the feet of the Blair/Bush pact!
The final failure is of real concern for the standing of defence in this country. Whilst service man and women at the tactical level on the ground were making huge strides, improving the lives of the Afghan people and paying the price in lives, limbs and sanity for it their commanders at that critical Operational/Strategic juncture were misleading themselves and political decision makers.
They would only spin positive news and report it up, ignoring the reality. Chatting with Simon Akam the author of The Changing of the Guard, he told me only yesterday “I keep recalling being driven around Bastion by an amiable media minder saying, “We have these key lines we’re meant to be pushing, and they just don’t correspond to reality,” and that was 7 years ago.” To do otherwise would risk promotion, glory and medals!
We have to face the facts that senior British Military Commanders, many now with Peerages, Knighthood’s or DSOs misled their political masters in country and back at home that all was going well when the reality that no matter how many Afghan security forces and police we trained they were poorly paid if at all, corruption was rife, leadership in many cases poor and we were training them to rely on Coalition Airpower, Artillery, Communications, Casualty Evacuation and embedded mentoring. All of which disappeared the moment we asked them to fight alone.
It is time those commanders, who are the same ones that have been responsible for what was discovered in the Wigston review, Atherton Review, AJAX, NIMROD, Defence Estates and so much more, are properly held to account and not left with huge taxpayers’ funded pensions and national awards. Simply, they have failed in their roles.
The legacy? Islamist chat groups are already laughing, saying we just need to wait and will always win. We will never be trusted when we say, work for us we will look after you. Terror organisations are emboldened, more attacks on the streets of the UK will happen. China and Russia are laughing, the threat to Ukraine and Taiwan I would argue has just stepped up a notch or two. It will cost us more to prepare for these eventualities than it would to have stayed!
It is time to commend the service personnel and diplomats carrying out the NEO operation, all Afghan people who worked for us and helped us, our service personnel at the lower levels who worked so hard and sacrificed so much. It is time to pray for those we can’t help, we can’t begin to know the horrors they will (not might), suffer. It is time to take a broom to Defence and sweep out the dead wood before the next disaster and time to hold the dead wood serving or retired to account.
Philip Ingram MBE is available for comment – please check Contact us
The Changing of the Guard by Simon Akam, a review by way of opinion.
Updated 8 April 2021
By Philip Ingram MBE
It is rare when you pick up a book and one of the first names, Richard Palmer, a young officer with the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards, jumps off the page at you. I was there, in Iraq, running Intelligence Operations, when the report of his convoy being struck by an IED came in. Part of my team investigated the incident; I will never forget the post incident report or the autopsy report.
Simon Akam’s book starts in Canada and again brings out names and incidents I was well aware of. I flew to BATUS to be briefed on David Allfrey’s ISTAR Squadron, I had heard of the infamous lunch back in Germany with Her Majesty The Queen, which allegedly caused bad blood between Allfrey and Graham Binns, his Brigade commander, another character I had come across frequently.
The book covers the British Army post 9/11 and a malaise that led to a complete mission failure in Iraq; I had witnessed first-hand the long-handled screwdriver of ordered tactical inaction from PJHQ and Whitehall. Whilst I didn’t have first had experience of Afghanistan, I had sent enough of my soldiers there and had to keep a detailed understanding of what was going on to have a clear inside knowledge of what was happening. Akam has got the tone of what was going on just right.
I mention tactical inaction. There were a number of operations run outside the classic MoD chain of command in various theatres. Many of these were very successful but there is no way Akam would have known about them or be briefed on them; they saved lives and and that was important.
David Richards, Richard Sheriff, Chris Brown are all generals I have at various times, worked for and with. Akams’ general observation that failure is rewarded by promotion and telling the truth rewarded by side-lining, is so true. As he highlights, there is no accountability at senior levels and extrapolating this is why Defence is in such a mess today. The equipment programme, historical recruiting (yes, I know it’s got better), welfare, single living accommodation, the complaints system, women and so much more can only be described as failing or having failed in the past; where are the sackings that would happen in any accountable organisation?
This very well written and researched book is perceptive, accurate and very important. Describing incidents accurately, calling out failures in planning, command and more worrying, openness, i.e. a clear policy, official or learned behaviour, of covering things up. His description of what was presented at some of the inquests are clear examples. It is a pity I can’t elaborate more without distressing some of the families or contravening the Official Secrets Act. I know what I know.
This book is a must read and I would urge the MoD to take it as lessons identified document, as that is what it is and change as a matter of urgency. Defence needs a CDS who will drive to learn the lessons Akan has highlighted and not as continues to happen time and time again, behave like an ostrich.
Before 9/11 much of what the British Army did, worked. In Bosnia the British Bailed the Americans out as they deployed into implement the Dayton Agreement but failed in their river crossing to get troops on the ground. The British Army worked well in Kosovo, FYROM, Croatia, in Northern Ireland and in Germany during the Cold War.
Mind you the Cold War Army perfected the art of covering reality up. As an aside, my small, armoured unit, supporting an armoured brigade, would have taken the whole of the Divisions refuelling assets just to get it to its deployment location as we weren’t allocated transporters but were integral to what was called the Covering Force battle, but that is another story.
One question that needs to be asked is, ‘what was the turning point that changed the British Army from one that was successful on operations, planned by the likes of Jeremy McKenzie and Mike Walker to one of failure?’
Personally, I noticed a significant change around the period the infamous Iraq Dossier was drafted, altered and released. I was in Defence Intelligence at the time. They say the tone is set from the top and it is around then that the super tanker that is the MoD reset its course to the tone from Number 10 that started the rot. Akam has explained the consequences in a masterful way.
An outstanding book – I can’t recommend it more highly.
Addendum – Added 8th April 2021
You know a great book when you keep thinking through many of the issues it highlights. I would suggest that many of the major companies that have failed during and pre the COVID 19 pandemic have experienced the same self-misinforming impotent leadership that Akam rightly and accurately teases out. This book isn’t just a set of lessons for the Army and wider military to learn it is for all to learn, there is so much business can and should take away from what Akam has identified.
I am very much minded of the Alfred Lord Tennyson poem, “The Charge of the Light Brigade,” verse 2 ”
“Forward, the Light Brigade!”
Was there a man dismayed?
Not though the soldier knew
Someone had blundered.
Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do and die.
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.”
In business the 600 would ride into unemployment or removal from post by the board. In the military, in the Army it leads to death. I would argue our officer Corps sole role is to “reason why,” why didn’t any of our 4*’s or 3*s resign when the rot started as that would have been a legitimate political gesture, instead they did “not to make reply, Theirs not to reason why, Theirs but to do and die.” To the 634, “the six hundred” who died in Afghanistan and Iraq and to the countless who have suffered life changing injuries seen and unseen, who is accountable? The sad thing is excuse book, volume’s 1-100 have been deployed to say “not me guv”. I’m sorry, but the military prides itself on being a hierarchical Chain of Command enabled organisation so the buck has to stop at the top. Would it not have been better for 600 starred officers to resign and 634 deaths? Just think that through.