I see people making strange assumptions regarding official Russian statistics coming from the Ministry of Defense daily briefings. I don’t quite understand why those assumptions are made. And while I cannot prove they are wrong, I would like to present an alternative, more reliable (as I believe) framework, that will help to better understand those numbers.
First off all, I need to say that official statistics should always be read and understood literally. If there is no explicit statement for something, then don’t make any assumptions. For example, I heard Alexander Mercouris making assumptions in the past regarding the losses among the “Moskva” cruiser crew. Russia never officially stated that there were no losses. But they neither mentioned any losses until much farther down the road. They also gave no reasons to think there were any losses. This gave Alexander the impression that Russian reports implicitly suggested that all of the crew was saved.
If the language of diplomacy is intended to say things that may have additional meaning above what is being said, or maybe to the opposite, to mean less. But the military language ideally means only what is being said, no less and no more. Also, Military language is very rigid and has its own set of technical terms — “terminus technicus”, the terms of the art, which more often than not means something different that a non-military person would think it means. There are military dictionaries, big ones, that define and explain each term.
Another thing many seem to no understand, is the standard for military information. Military has its own standards regarding data. If military is making an official report, it isn’t just a guess or some kind of wishful thinking. Then military operates based upon numbers and quantities, it needs those numbers to be as precise as possible. So if military regards some data to be reliable, it means this data came from at least three independent sources, each of them were deemed to be reliable. Only such data can be considered reliable.
That is why I don’t agree with Jacob Dreizen’s assumption that Russian reports are just propaganda talk not to be taken seriously. Unlike politicians or diplomats, Russian military officials need to adhere to some standards than talking facts. So I do believe those numbers aren’t some fiction, but taken from the internal MoD reports. At least they should be based upon those numbers.
Of course, one still could say that published figures are not internal figures of MoD, but a propaganda. While this isn’t impossible, I saw not one instance were Russian MoD released intentionally untruthful information. The propaganda part comes in the details that aren’t released officially, the half truths, but not in the purposeful lies. Which is another reason to read Russian official military statements literally, not giving any additional meaning to the things that are seemed to be implied, using common sense. Unless something was stated implicitly, we have no good reason to think one way or another.
So I am working on assumption that all official information coming from MoD briefings is very reliable, as long as it understood correctly.
Another thing that need to be explained is the data published isn’t always actual data, but an estimate. For example, then Russian MoD is talking about a number of “destroyed”, i.e. killed, enemy personnel, it doesn’t mean they went there and counted each body, summarized all the numbers and published the result. No. Military science has mathematical tools to estimate the number of enemy killed or injured, military hardware destroyed or made inoperable, etc.
It’s statistics and probabilities, basically. That mathematical data can be further verified by using drones, or intercepting communications etc. But, most of the time it would be an estimate. Each estimate will have its lower and upper limits, inside of which the real result will most probably be. That is why in those reports we see “up to…” or “amore than…” keywords.
For example, a given artillery unit will have to use a certain amount of ammunition in order to inflict certain percent of killed or certain percent of wounded among soldiers, defending a specific position. So, knowing the number of rounds for a known number of artillery pieces and a type of enemy position being shelled, there is a corresponding statistical number, laying between some lower and upper limits of acceptable probability. For a few numbers of whose estimates, there could be a significant variation between statistic and reality. But in large numbers, the calculated result would come close to the real picture. Naturally, those mathematical tools have to be verified not only by historically gathered data but also during the current conflict (because each conflict is unique, and this can influence the variables and constants used and their results).
So, even if the published numbers aren’t factually the numbers of casualties, in reality they are reliable estimates. For better results, more conservative date, i.e. lower limits should be used. Thus we have “more than…” in the briefings.
Naturally, some targets are calculated separately, each one and one of them. For example, number of fighter jets intercepted aren’t calculated as statistical probability, because for each successful intercept there will usually be what is called by Russians “means of objective control”. If the radar station tracks a target being hit by a missile and then abruptly falling down to ground or disappearing from the display, it may be considered reliably destroyed. And the recordings of this event can often be recorded and reviewed later by other people to verify the intercept, after which it would be reported “upstairs”.
In some cases even the exact type of the target or how much damage was done to it cannot be reliably determined. For example, attack helicopter engaging armored vehicles from many kilometers away, will typically have a recording of the missile impacting the target. But the quality of recording may not be good enough, or the effect on the target may not be obvious enough. So even if the number of targets engaged can be determined precisely, the overall effect on those targets sometimes cannot be. For example, if 10 armored vehicles have been hit by anti-tank missiles, then some of them may have been destroyed, some may have been made inoperable, and some may have been damaged but still remain operable. So, based on the records alone, the useful figures of number destroyed or temporarily made inoperable cannot be determined. In this cases statistical probability or other means of verification need to be employed.
The bottom line is, assuming Russian MoD uses good mathematics, conservative estimates, and large pool of data, its reported numbers of enemy losses should be quite reliable.
But, if one wants to draw conclusions based on Russian reports, he needs to be very careful to read those numbers and terms literally and according to Russian military conventions. For example, if something isn’t reported, it doesn’t actually mean that it hasn’t happened. If Russians say: “at least 210”, it could mean 210 or 220 or 310 or whatever number there is between 210 and, theoretically speaking, infinity…
So let’s take one such report and try and make sense of it
Russian MoD official briefing (18/06/2022)
💥 Высокоточными ракетами воздушного базирования поражено 12 огневых позиций артиллерийских и минометных подразделений ВСУ, в том числе четыре взвода реактивных систем залпового огня «Град» в районах Авдеевки, Керамик, Желанное и четыре взвода 155-мм гаубиц М777 в районах Ласточкино, Очеретино, Водяное, Желанное Донецкой Народной Республики.
By means of high-precision air-based missiles, 12 fire positions of the artillery and mortar units of the Ukrainian Armed Forces there engaged, including 4 volley-launched rocket systems [a.k.a. multiple rocket launcher systems (MLRS)] “Grad” platoons in vicinity of Adeevka, Keramik, Zhelannoe and 4 platoons of 155-mm M777 howitzers in vicinity of Lastochkino, Ochertino, Vodyanoe, Zhelannoe of the Donetsk People’s Republic.
“Means of high-precision air-based missiles” would be “air-launched (guided) missiles” in regular English. This could mean anything from long-range cruise missile launched from a strategic bomber or a small anti-tank missile launched from combat drone. But here it would probably mean an air-to-ground TV or laser guided missile like Kh-29, Kh-38 etc., launched from high altitude and at long range from fighter, attack or tactical bomber aircraft. It could also be an anti-tank missile launched from an attack helicopter. Because those are not a high value or fixed targets, I would not assume long range cruise missile. Because of the saturation of anti-aircraft missiles, I would assume distances and altitudes exceeding the range of shoulder-launched or short range SAM systems (e.g. “Osa-AKM”). Which would mean medium to high altitude and dozen(s) of kilometers away. In contrast, non-guided ammunition used by attack helicopters and airplanes is usually fired from a very low altitude and a few kilometers away, to minimize the exposure to Ukrainian air-defense.
The term “engaged” means the targets were fired upon, but the result of this engagement is not reported.
MLRS, artillery or mortar platoons consist of a few launchers of pieces each. There is no hard number implied, but it must be more than one, and less than battery (which may typically include 4, 6, 8 or more launchers or howitzers, or a few dozens of lower caliber mortars).
💥 Оперативно-тактической и армейской авиацией за сутки поражено 62 района сосредоточения живой силы и военной техники ВСУ. В результате ударов авиации уничтожено более 160 националистов, зенитный ракетный комплекс «Бук-М1» в районе населенного пункта Камышеваха Луганской Народной Республики, пять боевых машин реактивной системы залпового огня «Град», шесть танков и других боевых бронированных машин, восемь орудий полевой артиллерии, шесть специальных автомобилей и три склада боеприпасов в районах Цаповки Харьковской области и Лисичанска Луганской Народной Республики.
Operational-tactical and army aviation, during the past day and night, 62 positions of personnel and military equipment of Ukrainian Armed Forces were engaged. As a result of those strikes there were destroyed: more than 160 nationalists, air-defense system “Buk-M1” in vicinity of Kamishevakha settlement of the Lugansk People’s Republic, 5 “Grad” MLRS systems, six tanks and other armored combat vehicles, 8 pieces of field artillery, 6 special-purpose vehicles and 3 stocks of ammunition in vicinity of Tsapovka of Kharkov and Lisichansk oblast (provinces) of Lugansk People’s Republic.
Operational-tactical aviation = fighter jets. Those may include MiG-29, Su-24, Su-27, Su-30, Su-34, Su-35, Su-57 and their variants. Army aviation refers to helicopters, including attack helicopters Mi-24/25, Mi-28, Ka-52 and their variants, as well (if I’m not mistaken) as Su-25 ground attack jets.
Those may use unguided munition (unguided bombs and rockets, guns and grenade launchers) as well as guided missiles (anti-tank or air-to-surface missiles). That being said, since we have a separate category for air-launched missiles, this must mean that here only unguided ammunition used is being reported.
So now we are being reported not only targets engaged but also targets destroyed as a result of these engagements.
“More than 160 nationalists (killed)”. As I explained above, “more than” means we have a lower limit of a calculated estimate, and not necessarily verified and accounted-for bodies. Since the MoD itself don’t know the exact figure, it gives us the conservative estimate it has. So, while theoretically it could be less than 160, probably it is more than 160.
“Air defense system ‘Buk-M1′”. Actually, it says “air defense complex”, but in English “complex” and “system” doesn’t mean the same as in Russian military lingo. As far as I’m aware, “air-defense complex” means “air-defense battery”, and “air-defense system” means “air-defense battalion”. But frequent civilian use of the “system” and “complex” mudded this term, so then Russian MoD is talking about “air-defense complex”, here they just mean “single missile launcher”. In English, as far as I’m aware, every military hardware piece can be called “system”, hence my translation.
“Special purpose vehicles” probably means “non-civilian/military unarmored vehicles”.
💥 Российскими средствами противовоздушной обороны сбиты: украинский самолет Су-25 в районе населенного пункта Камышеваха и вертолет Ми-24 воздушных сил Украины в районе Архангельского Донецкой Народной Республики.
◽️Также за сутки сбиты: восемь украинских беспилотных летательных аппаратов в районах населенных пунктов Боровеньки Луганской Народной Республики, Чернобаевка Херсонской области, Сухая Каменка, Малая Камышеваха, Забавное Харьковской области, Гуляйполе Запорожской области, в том числе ударный беспилотный летательный аппарат «Байрактар-ТБ2» в районе Херсона.
◽️Кроме того, перехвачены: четыре украинские баллистические ракеты «Точка-У» в районах Стаханова, Калиново, Алмазная Донецкой Народной Республики, а также 24 ракеты реактивной системы залпового огня «Ураган» над населенными пунктами Донецк, Ясиноватая, Верхнеторецкое, Луганское, Новоалександровка Донецкой Народной Республики, Золотое, Попасное Луганской Народной Республики, Изюм, Русские Тишки и Малые Проходы Харьковской области.
Russian air-defense has intercepted: Ukrainian Su-25 aircraft in the vicinity of Kamishevakha settlement and a Mi-24 helicopter of the Ukrainian Air Force in the vicinity of Archangelsk of Donetsk People’s Republic.
Also, during the past day, were intercepted: 8 Ukrainian drones in the vicinity of …, including Bayraktar-TB2 UCAV in the vicinity of Kherson.
Also, were intercepted: 4 Ukrainian ballistic missiles “Tochka-U” in the vicinity of …, and 24 rockets of the “Uragan” MLRS above the … settlements.
So here we have air-defense category. 1 ground attack jet and 1 attack helicopter were downed. 8 UAV’s intercepted, including 1 Bayraktar-TB2. The 7 others are probably some smaller ones, maybe even of civilian varieties. 4 “Tochkas” and 24 rockets also intercepted.
Interestingly, Ukrainians still have “Tochka” missiles left after almost 4 months of the war. But it seems most if not all of them are being intercepted now. And since a tactical ballistic missile is a less difficult target to intercept given its larger size, radar cross section and higher altitude, we see Russians are almost immune to this kind of weapons. So the talks about Ukrainian demands/requests for ATACMS missiles for the HIMARS and MLRS supplied by the West are really pointless, in my opinion. Everything bigger than an artillery round or 122-mm “Grad” rocket can be intercepted. And bigger it is, the more chances it will be. Technically, “Grad” rockets can be intercepted as well, at least theoretically, but for financial or other reasons it isn’t being done, it seems.
Interception of “Uragan” and “Smerch” rockets (the latter it seems are run out of stock) is more tricky. Since they are being launched in salvoes (up to 12 rockets per “Smerch” launcher and up to 16 rockets per “Uragan” launcher”) and have shorter ranges and lower max. altitudes, their interception requires sufficient number of short or point defense systems of modern varieties, like “Tor” or “Pantsir”. Assuming 2 missiles per one target, a 12 rocket salvo interception would require at least 3 “Tor-M1” or 2 “Tor-M2” or 4 “Pantsir-S1” launchers in the vicinity of targeted area. Since MLRS launchers usually operate in platoons or batteries, the interception of all of the rockets is impractical. Still we see Russian are intercepting 300-mm and 240-mm rockets in some quantities. It is also possible Russians don’t fire 2 intercept missiles at those kinds of targets in order to save ammunition and because of those rockets relatively low damage potential (at least in comparison to aircraft, Bayraktar drones or 300-mm “Smerch” rockets). This is based on the assumption Ukrainians would fire full salvoes of “Uragan” rockets, which means multiplies of 16 (i.e. 16, 32, 48, 64 etc.). Reported numbers like 24 are neither here no there, so partial intercepts are assumed. Unlike “Tochka-U”, were 4 intercepted missiles probably mean 4 launched missiles in total.
💥Ракетными войсками и артиллерией за сутки поражены: 180 районов сосредоточения живой силы и военной техники, 16 пунктов управления, а также 32 огневые позиции артиллерийских и минометных подразделений ВСУ. В результате ударов уничтожено более 310 националистов, 10 танков и других боевых бронированных машин, три боевые машины реактивной системы залпового огня «Град», девять орудий полевой артиллерии и 14 специальных автомобилей.
Artillery and rocket troops engaged during the past day: 180 positions of personnel and military equipment, 16 command positions, as well as 32 fire positions of Ukrainian artillery and mortar units. As a result of those strikes, more than 310 nationalists were killed, 10 tanks and other armored combat vehicles, 3 “Grad” MLRS launchers, 9 field [i.e. towed] artillery pieces and 14 special purpose vehicles were destroyed.
📊 Всего с начала проведения специальной военной операции уничтожено: 206 самолетов, 132 вертолета, 1241 беспилотный летательный аппарат, 343 зенитных ракетных комплекса, 3613 танков и других боевых бронированных машин, 547 боевых машин реактивной системы залпового огня, 2032 орудия полевой артиллерии и миномета, а также 3687 единиц специальной военной автомобильной техники.
In total, since the start of the special military operation were destroyed: 206 fixed wing aircraft, 132 helicopters, 1,241 UAV, 343 air defense systems, 3,613 tanks and armored combat vehicles, 547 volley-fired rocket systems, 2,032 towed artillery and mortars, as well as 3,687 units of special purpose military vehicles.
So we have the artillery category and the total statistics since the start of the war. We also se again the “more than” lower estimate for personnel killed. Report uses the word “destroyed” for personnel as well as for the hardware, but it doesn’t seem right to translate it like that. That is why I translate it as “killed”.
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