Key point: Russia knows it is weaker than NATO, so it must be smarter.
The U.S. Army’s Asymmetric Warfare Group was formed in 2006 to identify gaps in U.S. military doctrine, equipment and field tactics, and to study how potential adversaries are developing tactics to exploit them. In 2017 the group released the 61-page Russian New Generation Warfare Handbook, based on observation of Russian tactics in Ukraine and to a lesser extent Syria, as well as published doctrine and public statements.
The handbook paints an intimidating picture of a military ready to combine old strengths in artillery and anti-aircraft systems with new technologies and tactics, leveraging drones, electronic warfare, information warfare and massed sniper fire.
To be clear, the document doesn’t set out to paint the Russian military as an indomitable juggernaut.
In fact, its so-called “New-Generation” or “Fourth-Generation” warfare is founded on a recognition that old Soviet-era “Deep Battle” tactics emphasizing huge armored formations deploying to battle in echelon were no longer viable given Russia’s more limited resources compared to the Soviet Red Army, as well as its persistent qualitative inferiority.
Despite progress in professionalizing, the Russian military remains largely made up of conscripts who, after four months of basic training, only serve for another eight before a new group of fresh recruits is rotated in. The armed forces retain a centralized command-and-control structure, which accords enlisted personnel and NCOs little ability to act on their own initiative.
Of course, the AWG’s handbook is in attempt to understand an adversary’s warfare from the outside, rather than reflecting how the Russian military perceives its own tactics. Such an effort will inevitably be colored by analysts’ cultural biases and worldviews, as well as a degree of paranoia intrinsic to the military profession.
For a reverse example, Russia’s concept of “hybrid warfare,” or the so-called Gerasimov doctrine — a term used to describe a blend of conventional and irregular warfare as well as political and cyber warfare — was actually coined to describe what the Russian military perceived as Western military tactics.