Asymmetrical Musings 3

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Welcome to another meeting of the party who thinks fastest laughs last club. In this post and this post, we’ve begun touching on some of the lessons learned about asymmetrical and irregular warfare coming out of the Russia-Ukraine war. Today, I want to take a look at the somewhat touchy area of sabotage and/or small unit operations.

I say somewhat touchy because when it comes to sabotage, neither side particularly wants to say too much. For the occupier/oppressor, claiming or admitting sabotage has some very serious downsides. For one thing, it lets everyone know the area is not under control, and that those opposing the invasion/occupation are effectively fighting against such. For the invaded/occupied, you run the risk of giving away techniques, people, and more if you admit to it, worse yet if you brag about it. Which is why you see a lot of implication that something was sabotage (or a small unit strike) by one side and the other side saying yep sure was something with the implication they may (or may not) have been behind it.

Look at Vladimir’s bridge for an example. Sabotage? Small unit attack? About everything has been hinted at in terms of how it was done, with the Russians torn between claiming sabotage (truck full of explosives that they missed on inspection) or small unit attack (water-based drone or guided munition from nearby small unit). The Ukrainians are being very cagey about it, pretty much saying we did it even while neither confirming or denying they did it. It’s a dance of psy-ops and politics for the leadership on each side. For those in any occupied area, it’s pretty much pure psy-ops and operations.

For the occupied, it’s finding ways large and small to hurt the occupier. Big and showy is great for morale, but never forget that nibbling away at the edges can work wonders too. Food, as discussed the other day, is but one means of hitting at the occupier.

Water systems are a good one. While contaminating the water supply is an option, the harder thing to prevent is damage to the delivery systems (and boy can you get creative with just a few things from the home supply or hardware store. Hot water is needed for multiple things, from dishes and washing clothes to bathing. Industrial boilers and heaters are simple on one level, and incredibly complex on others. Pity when critical components fail or go missing, especially when it is hard to get spares. Just even switching hot for cold has a psychological effect, especially if combined with a host of other ‘nuisance’ things going on.

Electrical? Even better. It’s amazing how many complexes and facilities depend on two or three large transformers for primary power. Transformers that are in the open, depend on oil and other fluid inside to function, and have some control electronics nearby. Industrial acid thrown or sprayed on them might not be detected immediately, and while it takes time, that can be a good thing. Snipers potting them so that oil leaks or other damage is done is another. Heck, a satchel charge or three tossed into the transformer compound will do the trick too. Thing is, no matter how direct or creative you get, those types of transformers are expensive to replace and may take time to replace as there may not be a ready supply of replacements.

Another thought is that modern electronics (and even basic electrical appliances) don’t react well if the electricity coming in isn’t precisely the right voltage, amperage, etc. Be a shame if the controls got hacked and things got just a bit off.

HVAC systems are another option, and it is surprising how many are online or have online access. While you can take them out, consider also a period where things work too well then not well enough. Temperature, pressure, have fun. Take out the systems in their headquarters, military or civilian. Particularly if they have an underground bunker of some type, as it is going to get hot fast without ventilation and AC.

In addition, of course, are the normal targets for sabotage: rail, roads, power lines, airports, depots, etc. Pick and choose your battles for maximum damage with conserving your people as much as practical. It’s not just people getting caught and killed, it’s that even with cell structure things can happen where more than one cell or string gets rolled up and technical means exposed.

AvGas and Jet Fuel are easy to compromise, and that contamination may not show up until craft are operational. I had the fun joy joy one day of being part of an emergency grounding at Ft. Rucker because of contaminated fuel. The cows were rather bemused by our rapid appearance among them, and we sat and watched each other while waiting to get word on if it was safe for us to start back up and head in to the barn.

Which reminds me that it’s time to share a bit with you about Bryan Gibson. Bryan was a veteran, a talented artist, and had a story idea that he was playing with that involved sabotage that would be extremely effective and not easily detectible at first. Simply put, change the tolerances in the control chips (same chips run an awful lot of stuff) on any number of systems by a decimal point. Self-driving vehicles either are suddenly wildly avoiding non-existent hazards, or slamming into buildings and other vehicles. Think of all the things with electronic controls, and imagine what happens if the tolerance is off by one decimal point. BTW, people didn’t like Bryan being OPFOR either, especially after he successfully “blew up” a base operations center/command post during an exercise. God Bless my friend, you are missed.

Die Hard had a point. If somehow an airport’s systems were hacked and the decimal got moved on some of the electronic guidance systems, life would get interesting. “Landing” a hundred feet off the ground is just as bad as a landing approach for one hundred feet under the ground. Even ten feet will be interesting to bad. Much more likely to have survivors, but the aircraft and runways involved are a different matter.

Now, for those complaining that a lot of what I’m describing won’t drive out or destroy the enemy that is invading/occupying the location. By itself, no, it won’t. But, when you attack the important things, would you rather they be guarded by alert and healthy troops, or by troops who are miserable as in cold wet, tired, hungry, etc.? The nuisance operations allow a lot of opportunity to damage morale and combat effectiveness while minimizing exposure of your people and assets. It also increases the chances of success for the larger operations while again reducing some of the odds against your people.

Besides, it can make your occupier do your work for you. For example, the Russians, and the Soviet Union before them, had a lot of “bad luck” with ammunition depots. Just look at the Severomorsk Disaster, where said bad luck went on for several days. Igor (Ivan’s not bright younger brother) is prone to sneaking smokes in places he shouldn’t on a fairly regular basis it seems. Again, cold, tired, hungry, etc. troops tend not to make great judgements. Use it and exploit it.

Now, how much of this are we seeing in the Ukraine right now? Good question. The problem is that the ‘nuisance’ ops are not going to make the news. You find them in the Telegram channels and other communications back home. Are they going on? I suspect that to some extent they are. When it comes to the larger things that are happening, it’s hard to tell if it was Igor sneaking a smoke or a nice partisan/irregular or special forces operation. Which is as it should be in many respects. If you are the invaded/occupied, it’s better not to make the news and let as much as possible be put down to “bad luck.”

Previously In This Series

Asymmetrical Musings 1

Asymmetrical Musings 2

4 thoughts on “Asymmetrical Musings 3”

  1. It would also be a terrible shame if someone were to hack into a few companies like Siemens and load a Stuxnet clone onto the high-precision machine tools Russia is using to make their most important munitions with.

    1. Wouldn’t it though! Also, wouldn’t it be a shame if the American and European businessmen selling parts to go in those same munitions and systems started having accidents.

  2. What about toilets? Back up a few of those in a billets and things get stinky very quickly.

    Lice can be a nice addition to bedding. Even if the troop doesn’t fall ill, the scratching is not fun.

    Lace some food with laxatives. Blame food poisoning or over ripe produce. Doesn’t have the blowback of poisoning troops. Paint salmonella on egg shells. Troops don’t practice hygiene all that well and a soldier doing the latrine hustle is not a fighting soldier.

    Grease up a railroad track on a slight incline. The wheels go round and round but the train goes nowhere.

    Mould plastic wood into a fax piece of wood or coal.

    In WWII, the resistance tossed small amounts of poisoned grain into shipments causing the Germans to destroy carloads.

  3. It’s a callback to EMP things, but main power transformers in the US are
    – very expensive
    – custom
    – and take literally years to build.

    There are no spares.

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