By now you’re certainly aware of the recent intelligence leaks of secret and top-secret U.S. military assessments of the ongoing Russian military operation in Ukraine.
If we blow through the puffery, the bottom line is that military experts in Washington all but predict that Russia is set to prevail, and Ukraine is set to lose.
And what does it mean to you? Well, the world is about to change, and I mean big-time. In a minute I’ll explain why. First, let’s get to the documents.
Per the Pentagon’s own documents, Ukraine’s conflict with Russia is a lost cause.
By whatever means the docs escaped, in essence these leaks constitute a grim pre-mortem. Or call them an advanced autopsy on a dying political-military organism with no chance of survival.
For Ukraine, things are on track to end badly, if not catastrophically. By extension the same goes for NATO, much of the rest of Europe and certainly for the U.S. and its national interests.
Prepare for another U.S. debacle like previous geostrategic disasters in Vietnam (1975) and Afghanistan (2021). Except this time around, the looming Ukraine calamity will dwarf the outcomes of Saigon and Kabul. Because no country can lose a war this big, and fail this badly, without significant blowback; political, military and economic.
At this point I must say something: I’m a retired U.S. Navy officer, obliged by law and regulation to state that everything here is personal opinion. I do not speak on behalf of the Navy, Department of Defense or U.S. government.
Plus, I’ll add that at this stage of life I’m a humble geologist who moonlights as a newsletter writer. I have no access — zero, zippo, nada, nothing — to classified government material. Thus, everything that follows is based on my review of what’s out in the public domain.
Stated another way, “I only know what I read in the newspapers.”
And according to those newspapers, someone — supposedly a 21-year old Massachusetts Air National Guard member who was arrested today — photographed 50-plus pages (maybe more) of classified U.S. intelligence reports on the Russia-Ukraine conflict, dated from the end of February and early March this year, and uploaded it all on the internet.
Yes, that’s illegal; but then again, this cat is way out of the bag.
The data dump occurred over six weeks ago. The pilfered materials languished on an obscure website for a while, and then finally went viral on the Telegram channel. Mainstream media picked it up, to include The New York Times, which has a long, deep history as a conduit for stolen, illegally obtained classified material.
Well, if the New York Times can run front page articles about it, I can opine here as well. First amendment, and all that.
According to more than a few insiders — again, it’s in the newspapers — the documents are too well done to be fakes. That is, the leaked materials use all the right formats, terms and symbols, down to typeface size and font.
And this level of technical precision is something that only people on the inside truly understand after years of experience.
Meanwhile, the U.S. government has responded like a scalded cat. For example, with lightning speed the Defense Department and Department of Justice announced a massive investigation, and I don’t doubt for a second that they’re serious as a heart attack. They’ve already arrested the alleged leaker.
A stash of super-duper, high-level stuff got out. And it’s not so much the specific information within the stolen goods. That’s important and I’ll discuss it below. But it’s also the institutional embarrassment of U.S. government people reading about their inner sanctum, wartime deliberations in those New York Times articles.
These are the new Pentagon Papers. So, yeah… people are furious.
I’m not surprised they identified the leaker. The fact is, counterintelligence people are as cynical as hell, smart as whips and tough as nails. They suspect everybody of being a traitor and that’s who you want.
I saw this at work long ago in a couple of espionage cases, back when I served on the staff of the Chief of Naval Operations (long story, not now).
Okay, so much for that; let’s get substantive. Read on to get into the meat of these leaked docs. Let’s just say it doesn’t paint a rosy picture for Ukraine.
The Writing Is on the Wall
One big surprise in the classified docs is that there are so few true surprises. There’s no smoking gun in the leaks, no “Big Reveal” such as the date, attack plan, and table of organization and equipment of the much-anticipated Ukraine spring counteroffensive that will drive the Russians into the Sea of Azov. But that’s not what these papers are about in any event.
Basically, the leaked docs are daily briefing papers prepared for U.S. staff who work in what’s called J-3 (Operations), J-4 (Logistics) and J-5 (Strategy, Plans & Policy). The information dates from late February and early March, so it’s already two months old, and overtaken by events.
Dated or not, though, the docs present distilled, daily intel rundowns from the theater of combat; things like position maps, troop numbers, casualties, lists of weapons, and estimates of supplies with emphasis on ammunition. In terms of intelligence work, there’s little doubt that Russian analysts are comparing the U.S. numbers with what the Russians knew back then, just to see where and how things match up or diverge.
The import of the docs, though, is that they verify what many people already suspected, if not the Russians who surely already know the basic numbers. And one specific item that is not shocking at all is that Ukraine is fast running out of ammunition, namely running out of anti-aircraft missiles along with artillery rounds. Hold that thought.
Allow me to distill two years of study at the Naval War College into two short sentences:
1) Armies fight battles, but energy, industry and logistics win wars.
2) Modern war is industrial war, certainly when the conflict involves large nations.
As we’ve seen over the past 14 months, the Ukraine conflict is a vicious struggle that devours people, equipment and supplies at prodigious rates. We’re talking about nearly a billion bullets fired; multi-millions of artillery shells downrange; tens of thousands of vehicles destroyed; hundreds of aircraft shot down; and human casualties well into the high six-figures killed and wounded. It’s a landscape of carnage over there.
In war there’s no denying the critical factor of human bravery, of course. Or the need for large numbers of well-trained, motivated, physically fit individuals who are prepared to advance past the line of control into the face of their opponent. As Napoleon supposedly said “God is on the side of the army with the most battalions.”
But in modern war the army that prevails is also the one with ample fuel, equipment, ammunition and a system of logistics and organization designed to blow the total heck out of the other side. Or as the late — and eminent — war correspondent Hanson Baldwin of The New York Times once noted, “God favors the nation with the most factories.”
Which brings us back to those leaked documents, which tell a story of Russian forces holding an absolute, overwhelming material advantage in every respect over the forces of Ukraine.
Without getting into technical weeds, consider anti-aircraft missiles. These are important to keep the other guy’s aircraft out of your airspace, lest bombers come in and blast your rear areas to smithereens.
So far in the conflict, Ukraine has mainly used its old, Soviet-era systems (called BUK, and S-300) to keep Russian airplanes more or less at bay. Not always, to be sure; but generally, the Russians have kept their bombers in Russian airspace. Okay, good for Ukraine.
But per those leaked docs, by early May Ukraine will be out of missiles. After that, Russian air power will move from its current position of local superiority here and there, to a new position of dominant air control if not supremacy. And this means that rear areas in Ukraine will be subject to Russian aerial bombardment at levels not seen before.
So, one key takeaway from the leaked U.S. docs is that Ukraine is about to lose control over its airspace. And countries that don’t control their own airspace do not win wars.
Or consider artillery shells. Obviously, these are critical to both sides in the ongoing Ukraine military operation, where artillery has (once again!) demonstrated why it is called “king of the battlefield,” if not “god of war.”
Ukraine long ago used up most of its old supply of Soviet-era artillery shells (eg. 152mm and others), and then used up other supplies provided by nations that had surplus Soviet-era rounds in the munition bunkers. In this regard, Ukraine is all but out of ammo for vast numbers of its guns.
But early in the conflict, the U.S., U.K. and other NATO nations began to supply Ukraine with other kinds of artillery and ammunition, such as 155mm guns and shells. And for a while, this worked for Ukraine despite daily combat losses. But now, per the leaked U.S. docs, Ukraine is running out of 155mm as well.
For example, in early March Ukraine was firing under 1,000 shells (155mm) per day, with a total reserve inventory under 10,000 shells; a pittance. In essence, Ukraine is scraping the bottom of the supply barrel. For all intents, Ukraine is nearly out of 155mm ordnance.
Meanwhile, per those leaked U.S. docs, in early March the Russian side fired over 20,000 artillery rounds per day and inflicted massive casualties on Ukrainian forces. News accounts claim that about 90% of Ukraine’s combat casualties are from Russian artillery, versus close quarter combat.
Again, as with anti-aircraft missiles, countries that can’t bombard the other side with lots of artillery do not win wars.
You see the point here, right? Modern war is industrial war. And we could list many other examples of industrial-scales of products necessary to wage war; here are just a few: Russia has ample fuel and related energy supplies; Ukraine does not.
Russia produces large amounts of ammunition from a vast chemical and factory system, now running at wartime levels; Ukraine does not, and relies on deliveries (in effect, donations) of ammo from fast-depleting NATO stockpiles.
Russia has hundreds of front-line combat aircraft and a fully evolved aerospace industrial base; while Ukraine has just a small handful of combat aircraft and can barely repair battle damage, let alone replace losses.
Russia has a large array of drones and cruise missiles, ranging up to its unstoppable hypersonic systems; Ukraine has next to no capability to defend. I could go on, but you get the idea. This Russia-Ukraine conflict is an energy and industrial war, and Russia has enough energy and war industry to continue to fight and prevail.
Meanwhile, neither the U.S. nor NATO countries possess sufficient military-industrial base to match what Russia can field on a routine basis. And after a year of emptying warehouses and funneling supplies piecemeal to Ukraine, NATO — especially the U.S. — has depleted critical reserve stocks. Plus, there’s no prospect of near-term replenishment for many items such as Javelin, Stinger, 155mm, HIMARS rounds and much more.
Now, somebody leaked out just enough classified materials to inform the public about the precarious state of affairs for Ukraine, with all the attendant dangers to the U.S. and NATO when the roof caves in.
Sure, many military experts already knew this, but the public didn’t because that was not part of the prevailing political narrative.
No less than The New York Times picked up the ball, so to speak, and ran with it. And perhaps the ensuing discussion may begin to shift public opinion in the U.S./NATO on how much longer to support a war in which the outcome is pretty much wired.
But time is wasting. Sooner or later, events on the ground in Ukraine — and perhaps neighboring nations — will unfold in their own way, based on firepower, combat and the kinetics of war, in much of which Russia has a distinct upper hand. Indeed, both sides have people in important places who have actually discussed going nuclear.
This timely leak offers a critical warning.
Is anybody listening? Because on the other side of this mess, one way or another we’re all going to live in a very different world.