Intimate Conversations with America’s Change-Makers

Burn the Boats is an award-winning podcast featuring intimate conversations with change-makers from every walk of life. Host Ken Harbaugh interviews politicians, authors, activists, and others about the most important issues of our time.

Listen on Apple Podcasts Listen on Spotify

Evergreen Podcasts Earns First-Ever Ambie Nomination for 'Burn The Boats'

Press Release
prnewswire.com

Ukraine Report #3: The Battle for the Skies with Ward Carroll

| S:1 E:65
Ukraine Report #3: The Battle for the Skies with Ward Carroll

Ward Carroll spent 20 years in the U.S. Navy as an F-14 Radar Intercept Officer, retired at the rank of commander, and went on to serve as the editor of Military.com. He now hosts a popular YouTube channel on military aviation.

To hear more from Ward, visit his YouTube channel, or follow him on Twitter @wardcarroll

Ken Harbaugh:

Burn the Boats is proud to support VoteVets, the nation’s largest and most impactful progressive veterans organization. To learn more, or to join their mission, go to VoteVets.org.

Ward Carroll:

We're standing ready. We're not just watching and doing nothing. We have cap stations, we have B-52s on airborne alert right against the border. We have entire contingency op that if the bubble goes up, the balloon goes up, we're already on day one. So it's just a matter of how this unfolds.

Ken Harbaugh:

I'm Ken Harbaugh and this is Burn the Boats, a podcast about big decisions. As the invasion of Ukraine unfolds, we want to provide timely insights from the experts. So we've launched a series of special unedited episodes, separate from our normal content. Today I'm joined by Ward Carroll who spent 20 years in the US Navy as an F-14 radar intercept officer. Retired at the rank of commander and went on to serve as the editor of military.com. He now hosts a popular YouTube channel on military aviation. I've brought him on the show to discuss the air war in Ukraine. Ward, or should I say mooch, it's great to have you on.

Ward Carroll:

Either works. I guess, whichever persona I'm using at any given time. Mooch was kind of dead. I feel like Obi-Wan Kenobi when Luke Skywalker stumbles on him. He's like, "Ben Kenobi?" And so the YouTube channel's actually given rise to the Mooch call sign again, which I'm very happy to wear. So, yeah. Either works, Ken.

Ken Harbaugh:

Are you at liberty to share the backstory on how you acquired the moniker-

Ward Carroll:

I am.

Ken Harbaugh:

Call sign Mooch.

Ward Carroll:

I describe this in my the truth about call signs episode that I did some months ago. So my first, because when you get to the squadron, you get kind of a meta call sign. Mostly it's name associations and some are axiomatic. Like if your last name's Bell, your call sign's going to be taco. If your last name's Campbell, your call sign's going to be soup. So I am tall and I was skinny at the time. And so our executive officer, a guy named Vodka [Gammel 00:01:52], who got his call sign because he had a pension for vodka, he's a big fan of the movie Animal House. And so he kept just saying over and over, "Stork is brain damaged." And so my call sign became Stork until we got to our first port call, which was Palma de Mallorca.

And this was in 1984 aboard the USS Independence. I was in [inaudible 00:02:18] 32. So we get to Palma and I don't have any money and I don't have anything. And so I was borrowing a lot of stuff and finally, a guy named Fuji Landsdale just said it, "You're a mooch," and that's all it took. And then my name literally for the next, what? 17 years was Mooch. And so it was kind of like my Jedi handle and very proud to have had that opportunity for as long as I did and I'm really happy that I've been able to translate that into a YouTube channel that's become pretty popular.

Ken Harbaugh:

So you started your flying career at the height of the geopolitical contest with the Soviet Union and you saw the collapse of the Soviet Union. And now we are witnessing a [revanchist 00:03:12] Russia invading Ukraine and trying to terrorize into submission the population of Ukraine. But tell us a little bit about your experience in the backseat of the F-14 with the main rival that you trained against being that MIG pilot. I would imagine the MIG 25 pilot when you were up against the Russian Air Force, the Russian Navy was your main adversary. They were formidable at the time, right?

Ward Carroll:

Absolutely. And that was our pacing threat by a long shot. I served, as you suggest, during the Reagan era. And so this was Secretary of the Navy, John Lehman who built a 600 chip Navy. He reintroduced sort of a bravado, the intangible that made us have a lot of swagger to go along with our capability. The movie Top Gun came out when I was in my first tour. So all of that. Made the Officers Club on Wednesday and Friday nights, particularly, kind of raucous. So these were good days to be in the F-14 Tomcat. Our raison d'etre was the long-range air battle against Soviet bears and Badger long-range bombers that would drop these AS-4s aimed at the aircraft carrier particularly. And so it was forged in that at mission and it was very clear to us what our job was and we were good at it.

The F-14 particularly could go very far away from the aircraft carrier and we had the Phoenix missile that could shoot upwards of 80, 100 miles and we could shoot, in theory, six of those at six different targets at the same. And so this threat was defined, was existential. We had a lot of intercepts against Russians. The trick was always keep the Tomcat between the Russian airplane and the aircraft carrier. So any photos they took as they flew by included a Tomcat just to remind them that we were there. It was mostly a Mediterranean Sea focused situation in my early career, which is the sixth fleet based out of Naples. So we did a lot of stuff with our NATO partners. A lot of what we called bilateral exercises. We did some things with the Egyptians, did some things in the Eastern men, but always top of mind was the Soviet threat, particularly, as you said at the outside, the Soviet Navy.

So we'd be trailed by [inaudible 00:05:56] and sovremenny's. In 1995 when their aircraft carrier Kuznetsov cruised into the med for the first time, we actually did a little glass glasnost or détente with those guys. We brought all of their senior officers over to the USS America, which was the oldest aircraft carrier in the, or one of the oldest, in the Navy at that time. We just finished fighting the great Bosnian War of 1995 in the Adriatic, which is germane to the situation we have now. But their aircraft carrier was actually broken down off the coast of Tunisia, their brand new aircraft carrier. And they had one airplane on the flight deck that didn't work. And so our helicopters went over there, picked up their Admiral and some of his staff and some of their pilots, brought them over to this old aircraft carrier, the America, which was a conventional aircraft carrier, not a nuclear powered aircraft carrier, that was going to retire after this deployment. Now lives at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of North Carolina, I'm sad to say, but our [crosstalk 00:07:00]

Ken Harbaugh:

Artificial reef, not a casualty.

Ward Carroll:

Right.

Ken Harbaugh:

Correct?

Ward Carroll:

Yes, yes. Good point. Yes. Artificial reef that you can dive on and quite an amazing thing. And they actually showed how resilient aircraft carriers are. It took a lot of missiles to sink her when they put her to the bottom. So we bring the Russians over because there's this is post follow the iron curtain kind of stuff. And their Navy is starting to atrophy is kind of my point. And we launched 50 airplanes in a single event off the oldest aircraft carrier that the US Navy has and their eyes were wide open. In fact, we flew one of the MIG test pilots in the backseat of one of our F-14s. He was on my wing. And he came back and he was giddy. I mean, giggling like a school boy.

And he had this quote, "To fly with the diamond backs," and that was our mascot, "Is the greatest day of my life." That's what he said. And so slam dunk. Right? Cold War, if it wasn't over before, completely over. And now we pivot into the 9/11 wars and the Persian Gulf. So after that deployment, we would just haul ass through the Mediterranean, through the Suez, around the Arabian Peninsula, and up into the Persian Gulf to do no fly zones or, subsequent to that, although I retired in 2002, but aircraft carriers in the Iraq and Afghanistan War years did not loiter in the med very long. That was just a transit to get to the Persian Gulf and do Iraqi freedom or enduring freedom.

But, to your original point, everything old is new again to my eyes in the fact that, and as this has been bandied about by the [inaudible 00:09:10] in recent days, last 15 days or so, Putin never believed that the Cold War ended. He was just keeping his powder dry, sort of figuratively and literally. And that's what we're seeing now. So it makes perfect sense to me this threat is very defined to me. Something in my heart has reawakened and I view this particular conflict is the conflict of our lives.

Ken Harbaugh:

I do too. And I want to talk about the no fly zone. I want to talk about a lot of it, but I want to dwell on that med cruise for just another moment because I got to believe that you're hosting of that Russian admiral and his contingent, that joy ride for the Russian Navy pilot wasn't just being a good host. That was diplomacy. You were chest thumping in some way and sending a message, right?

Ward Carroll:

Yeah. Yeah. So Admiral Bill Cross, who was our, what we used to call a battle group commander. Now they call them straight group commanders was a Tomcat guy, type A all the way. And he was like uniquely American let's say because remember, like I said, the kuznetsov was broken. They couldn't make water. They're anchored off the coast of Tunisia with one [Navilized 00:10:34] SU-27 on the flight deck that didn't work. And now you come over to this old American carrier and we launched 50 airplanes in a single [sortie 00:10:44]. That was, as I said, an eye opener for them. And this is why when I hear, "Hey. Chinese are going to build a conventional aircraft carrier," I'm like, "Bring it." You almost want to do that because they'll get bogged down in just launching and landing airplanes and how hard that is. Not to mention projecting power from the flight deck.

This is something that America is really good at. This is the 100th anniversary of the aircraft carrier in the American Navy, the USS Langley back in 1922. So be proud Americans of carrier aviation and what we're doing and what we're going to do with this new class, the Ford, and going forward. And so this was a demonstration of the Russians that we kind of own the seas and here's why, and I don't know where those Russian officers are now. I imagine they're either passed on or a very senior or maybe they retired. I mean, this was what? 1995 until now. But I got to imagine to your point that the message was received. And so I think that sort of is what underwrites my feelings about relative capabilities between these two militaries as we, again, the chattering class has their data and their points of view. And I know this is what we want to discuss with our no fly zone and other options on the table part of our conversation.

Ken Harbaugh:

For all of the attention that that chattering class has paid over the last few years to Putin's massive investment in his military arsenal, what is your gut assessment on how well it's been spent given how the last few weeks have gone, especially when it comes to the Russian Air Force?

Ward Carroll:

So this is a uniquely Russian sort of acquisition strategy, which is machines, technology, it's always derivative of Western learnings for the most part. That's why their airplanes look like ours every step of the way. And I mean, you can see, starting with the SU-27 and the MIG 29, these were just like F-15s junior. You're like, "Come up with an original idea." So however, and this is what we're seeing in the field, is the Russian mindset does not attend to the wellbeing of the troops. And that stands in stark contrast to how the US military operates, especially with an all volunteer force, which has been since the draft ended post Vietnam. So this is what we're seeing with respect to morale, logistics, other basic execution. Their troops haven't been fed for days. Their officers have not been paid for months.

And this really is the limiting factor of the offensive power of Putin's military. So their is what they look like in terms of orders of battle on paper and what we're seeing in terms of their capability is miles apart. And so as we wonder, "What's Putin's next move? Will he take Poland? Will he go after Romania?" My question is, "Can he take Kyiv? And how bogged down is he already and will he continue to be with this misadventure that he's launched into in Ukraine?" So I think that we really, the Western world, particularly NATO, needs to view this as an aha moment in terms of the threat that the Russian military poses to NATO. I'm not saying they don't pose a threat. They do. They have numbers. They have an air force, they have weapons, and then it's always the nuclear option part, which is a deterrent in terms of that's what John Kirby's saying from the podium in the press room. Like, "If we give MIG 29 to-

Ken Harbaugh:

Pentagon spokesman, John Kirby.

Ward Carroll:

Yes. Admiral John Kirby who I've known since he was Lieutenant. He was the PAO for the Blue Angels when I first dealt with him. And good guy. Been inside the beltway for a long time. Master of the risk communications to the point that sometimes it makes my head explode. And so every word parsed out, everything under reacting when some of us are just hot blooded, maybe that's good, but he has said, "We don't want to do anything that will be viewed by Putin as upping the ante." And so personally I'm not so sure that that's where we are, but this is what we're going to see as this unfolds.

So I think the bottom line, Ken, is NATO should not fear Putin's threats or the capability of the Russian military at this point. And that includes the Navy. So the other thing you don't see is in the Adriatic you have the USS Harry S. Truman and that strike group, which has a lot of offensive power. Cruise missiles. Also we have submarines all over the place and places that people don't realize they are. So you should feel good about this America and Europe. And we're standing ready. We're not just watching and doing nothing. We have cap stations, we have B-52s on airborne alert right against the border. We have entire contingency op that if the bubble goes up, the balloon goes up, we're already on day one. So it's just a matter of how this unfolds.

Ken Harbaugh:

But it's more than simply that passive monitoring and the alert crews awaiting the bubble going up. We are providing active assistance-

Ward Carroll:

Yes.

Ken Harbaugh:

When you look at the tracks of the NATO E3s. Surely they're providing intel to the Ukrainians when you look at the shipments going in. I sometimes get tired of the narrative that the west is doing nothing. Although I share your frustration with the pronouncements coming out of the Pentagon, the hesitation and the risk aversion. The truth is a lot is being done.

Ward Carroll:

Yes. Exactly.

Ken Harbaugh:

One of the headlines of that narrative has been the apparent hold that the Pentagon has placed on the transfer of those Polish MIG 29s to the Ukrainian Air Force. Is the value of that transfer overblown? Has it taken on a life of its own in the media? What's your assessment, tactically, of the use of that squadron probably of MIG 29s that is stuck in Poland?

Ward Carroll:

Well, the only way I can answer that is to unconditionally accept the opinion of the Ukrainian government. And they say they need them. And they say, "If they had them, that that would turn the tide of the air war." So I don't have any intel in terms of how many fully mission capable airplanes do they have on any given ramp? What is their sortie count been since the early days and the ghost of Kyiv and all of this other stuff that it looked like they were taking it to them. That struck me very acutely. I saw that meme and it had all of the airplanes that the ghost shot down on that day, ACE in a day. And I actually did an episode about it. Sort of an homage, the legend of the ghost of Kyiv that had two million views and 48 hours.

And I was criticized, "Hey. You don't know this is true." I'm like, "I don't care. I'm biased. You don't know it's not true, but I'm biased towards this fight, this idea." And this is why I love what the president, how he's stepped up. This guy who is dismissed as a lightweight comic and now is an example for every nation's leader. And if he's killed, he's a martyr for all eternity. And so he can't lose at this point. So I get reports from the ministry there that's broken twice a day. And those things, obviously it's the Ukrainian point of view. I wouldn't say it's propaganda, but they want to be sort of forward leaning, upbeat. They want to mute the bad and accentuate the good.

So these things and the other things I've heard the former president say yesterday was, "We need those airplanes." So I just accept that, absent any other way to say, "No you don't." The thing that came up was, "Why don't we send them A-10s? Why don't we send them F-16s?" It's like, "Okay. To train a pilot core in an airplane they're not familiar with takes a long time. More time than we have, but to give them airplanes they're already familiar with takes no time." So I guess that's a long answer, Ken, for, I think this would help. It's got to help. Plus the show of support is another sort of maybe chink in his armor, meaning Putin, that'll convince him to take an off ramp here. Again, chattering class said a lot about, "There are no off ramps and the only way out is nuclear weapons."

But I just think that we are past the point where this is a good idea. We're giving him Patriot missiles, which is a fantastic idea. We're giving them javelins. We're giving them RPGs. We're giving them any tank weapons, stingers. I think we should go all Mujahideen like we did when the Soviets were in Afghanistan on them here. And that's a start. Right? I think he listed, "We need any aircraft weapons, we need anti-tank weapons, we need ammo." So let's give them as much of that as they need. And then the rest is presence, as you suggest. ELINT, although they're doing most of their coms uncovered. So I'm not sure they need a whole lot from the ELINT assets, the E3s, but whatever they get, that kind of intel fusion is great.

And then see what happens in terms of the world opinion based on the atrocities that we see coming out. What happened at Mariupol yesterday with that maternity hospital, that's one 5,000 pound bomb in the middle of that facility that did great devastation. I think luckily nobody was killed, but those images of pregnant women coming out, holding their bellies and there's no way that if this ramps up and now you see people getting shot in the streets and toddlers in their parents' arms as they get gunned down, we're not going to let that go unattended to. There will be a reaction where we will up the ante until eventually it could get to be first world on first world.

Ken Harbaugh:

I think it's hard to overstate the importance of that moral and symbolic support as well. Even if a squadron of MIG 29s doesn't change the fundamentals of the air war or the fact that Zelenskyy is asking for them, the fact that he is fighting this fight for everyone. I appreciated hearing you say you were biased because if ever there was a time to pick a side, it's a fight like this.

Ward Carroll:

I think so. And I don't think we should stand on ceremony about NATO or EU at this point. I think that's a technicality. I think that's weak sauce. So, yeah. I think he's demonstrated to the occidental world, to Europe, to America, this is what courage looks like in a time of trial. I'm fighting for not just my freedom, but you're only one or two degrees removed from this threat to your freedom. And so if that doesn't resonate at long last, then we don't deserve what we have.

Ken Harbaugh:

Let's talk about that juxtaposition, the courage on one hand of the Ukrainian defenders on their home soil against a Russian invasion, which it appears is largely conscript. And I'm going to ask you about the importance of morale and good training and discipline on the battlefield and my prompt is going to be this apparent intel we're hearing that Russian pilots are afraid of their own anti-aircraft batteries. Part of the reason they are not succeeding is they're afraid of being shot down by their own units. What role does training and morale play in a battlefield scenario like that? I mean, we could not imagine that as American pilots.

Ward Carroll:

Well we could because we've had Hornets shut down by-

Ken Harbaugh:

Fair enough. We could imagine it, but not on the scale that we're seeing.

Ward Carroll:

No. So let me segment the question to training as one thing and then morale is another. So I think their tactical pilots fear of getting shot down a blue on blue is a function of training. That wouldn't be a political statement by their air to air or their SAM operators. It's just they're not smart enough to know that that's a Russian MIG, not a Ukrainian MIG. They're not doing any of the IFF stuff. They're just firing wildly, just indiscriminately. And that would scare the hell out of you. The return to force profiles don't matter. Separating [shaft 00:26:15] from wheat in a very battle of Britain type scenario is a tough problem inherently and then if you have untrained operators on top of that, that's scary stuff.

And this is what is being revealed. In the years since the end of the Cold War and the presence that they've had and how Putin came to power, then shared power for a little bit and then seized power, the military has been, I don't want to say ignored, but they're not on the step because as we've tried to figure out, "Okay. What's the pacing threat?" And for 20 years it was this asymmetric war and the Quadrennial Defense Review was about body armor and mind resistant ambush protected vehicles and fighting, not even a nation state, fighting this insurgency that didn't have an air force and then suddenly like, "Okay look. Now China and Pacific and so forth." So now it's the return to peer conflict and all of that.

So meanwhile the Russians, they're like, "What's our threat?" And so they don't know what to train to. Their domestic priorities have allowed the military to atrophy. And so they're suffering from the same thing that we thought we were suffering from, except it's even worse and now it's exposed itself. Right? So now we'll talk about morale. So what I'm hearing from both American intel sources and these dispatches that I'm getting from the Ukrainian government is their morale is terrible. As I said a few minutes ago, they're unfed, they're poorly trained, they're surrounded by conscripts and now they have the Syrian conscripts in their midst. So you have some elite forces like Spetsnaz, which is their Delta Force, so there SEAL team six, who've also had limited success. They were supposed to be taking all of these air fields and they were repelled on day one and day two.

And that's what hamstrung them right from the get go. And now you have these convoys that are stretched out and so forth and so on. So if you're not fed or paid that's kind of as basic as it gets for the conduct of a modern military. Not to mention the conduct of a Byzantine military. So what I'm hearing is they're really in a bad way already, day 15. And they were kind of in that way, when they stepped off the line of departure. I'm hearing that they were lied to about what was going on, that there was just an exercise and then suddenly you're strolling across the border and in some cases, the grunts didn't even know that they were in Ukraine.

And so if you have to lie to your troops to get them to go into harm's way, as soon as they become agents of free will because of the circumstance they're going to desert and they're going to throw their weapons down. And so this, I don't want to say will matter, but it can very much matter as we go forward here because this isn't going to get any better for Putin. It's going to get worse and he's already sort of an extremist with respect to these things.

Ken Harbaugh:

You mentioned the Spetsnaz, we had Navy Seal Dan Barkhuff on the show right before General Andrey Sukhovetsky was killed. So I didn't get to ask him about it, but that's a major general in the Spetsnaz. What is the impact of a loss like that, given that it's only one person, but how does losing a major General in an elite core like that impact overall morale, even national morale?

Ward Carroll:

Huge. Now I don't know what the nation knows about that, but certainly in the ranks, that's a huge loss. And what that means is any of us can be killed. If that guy got killed then we're all targets. So that does erode morale. And I think in this case because you're already questioning whether this is a just cause or not because if a guy like that gets killed and you're like fighting for your freedom, then you double your resolve. But in this case, these are agents of, let's just say they're thinking beings, particularly in these special operations forces. I don't know if I'd attribute that to the conscripts and whatever. They're just doing what they have to do to get by day-to-day. But the elite forces are professionals. And so they're not laboring under any delusions of what this is all about and make Russia great again and who's the aggressor here. So I think the bottom line, Ken, is that's a huge blow to morale.

Ken Harbaugh:

Let's talk no fly zone enforcement. I believe that you and I might have overlapped. Did you fly Operation Southern Watch missions-

Ward Carroll:

I did.

Ken Harbaugh:

In Southern Iraq?

Ward Carroll:

Yeah.

Ken Harbaugh:

As did I.

Ward Carroll:

I did in '95, '96 and then '97 and '98.

Ken Harbaugh:

Talk about just how involved an actual no fly zone is. It's not what the media portrays. A couple of flights scaring off intruders coming in. It is around the clock operation. Birds up in the air the entire time. Major assets like airborne warning and control. Refuelers up in the air all the time. Can you give us the short version of just how expensive a legit no fly zone is?

Ward Carroll:

Well, the expense piece was the logic that the Bush 43 administration used to invade Iraq. They're like, "That no fly zone is really expensive everybody. So we're going to have to do regime change here because we can't afford to do the no flies anymore." So-

Ken Harbaugh:

Which we're not endorsing or advocating here. You're just making the point.

Ward Carroll:

I'm just making the point to the issue of expense. Right? In fact, I just did an episode with my good friend Hozer Miller who's a Hornet pilot about the blocking and tackling the elements of a no fly zone. So you start with local air superiority. Usually local air superiority comes post conflict. The other thing you need is sort of either a NATO mandate or a UN resolution that you're operating under, which makes any kinetic stuff not an act of war. If you're just complying with a UN mandate like we did, if I had shot down a MIG 25 that was going after a UN U2 during Operation Southern Watch, that wouldn't have been an act of war. That would just be I'm complying with this UN resolution. So there's some paperwork, let's just say, that you need going into this to give you the high ground.

And then you need a joint task force. You need a joint forces communications command center, a [JFC 00:33:54]. So that has to go somewhere. Vicenza, somewhere in Poland, maybe aboard the USS Harry S. Truman in the Adriatic, and now you write an air tasking order. So as you said, you've got to have tankers airborne. These are heavy tankers. KC-10s, KC-135s. Then you need airborne early warning, AEW&C, E2Ds off of the aircraft carrier. Then you need jamming, suppression of enemy air defenses. So in today's case, in our day that was a Prowler and now it's a growler, an EF-18, that has to be airborne at all times in case there's a popup service to air missile threat like we had in Southern Iraq or also in Bosnia when I was doing that operation.

Now having said all of that, the inherent problem with doing this over Ukraine is you are, particularly if you're in the Northern Eastern part of the country, you're in range of Russian SAM systems, these S400s. So what is the rules of engagement if they lights you up? So in Southern launch, if a SAM site lit you up, you could launch any radiation missiles at that site. So if a Russian S400 site lights up one of our airplanes and they will know because they have what we call raw gear in the airplane that says, "You're being lit up," or even tracked or locked, not to mention they just shot a weapon at you, you can see all these things in the cockpit, but let's say they just lock you up, which is provocative. Am I allowed to now have growlers launch advanced anti-radiation missiles at that site and now, does that become an act of war?

Not to mention, what if you have an air to air engagement between a Russian SU-27 and an F-35? And the F-35 inevitably shoots down that Russian airplane. Okay. Now what? Right. So what is the ROE? Is it escort them and wait for them to do something stupid? Don't fire until fired upon kind of stuff, right? Top Gun, ROE. These are the details, as we just say, "Omni. Omni. No fly zone." Yeah, we can do it, but you guys have to all be prepared for the other shoe dropping and that really could be. It's not alarmist to say World War III is in the mix if you do a no fly zone.

Ken Harbaugh:

And just to put a fine point on this, we're not just talking about scaring SU-27s back over the border into Russia. What air superiority means is destroying any threat on the ground. It would mean, if your aim is to truly achieve air dominance, it would mean destroying those threats that can reach over the border. So the ones inside Russia. It would be a heck of a lot more involved than simply having a combat air patrol, having an orbit over Ukraine to scare Russian fighters back home. You got to kill people on the ground.

Ward Carroll:

Yes. If you want to do it and mitigate the risk to our forces, NATO forces. Libya is a bad analog because they didn't have an integrated defense. We did successfully execute a no fly zone over Libya at the fall of the Qadhdhāfī regime, but that's not the same of what we're talking about here. The Libyan threat did not rival what the Russian threat is. So I guess it comes down to what are the consequences? What are we willing to risk in preserving the status quo and preserving the country of Ukraine and answer president Zelenskyy's pleas, "Where are we? Where does the line live?" And again, are we going to stand on ceremony, not to be too [inaudible 00:38:18] about it, about NATO and who's in and who's out.

I guess we can, but now you're going to ... well, we've already changed the world order, but if we allow Putin to take Ukraine in toto, now he's got a land bridge, Black Sea's no longer a Western friendly place. I do not believe he would go beyond that and this is the make Russia great again thing to unite Russian peoples. Starts to sound very third [inaudible 00:38:57]. So I think we need to honestly take a look at what happens if we allow that to be the outcome here. And I don't think you can overstate the degree to which that changes the world order and what will happen in the wake of that. And I'm not suggesting we just wantonly go toe to toe with the Russians at this point. But as this unfolds, that option may be seized from us.

Ken Harbaugh:

Where then is your risk threshold set?

Ward Carroll:

Mine is I do not believe we should allow him to take Ukraine. So in such time that it appears that we've reached a tipping point where the Zelenskyy government is falling, not to mention, has fallen, then we say tilt and maybe we're already there, although it looks like they're doing a great job of keeping him out of the Capitol, keeping the Russians out of the Capitol, maybe even retaking part of the East. I'm hearing some that they've retaken ground, Ukrainian forces have retaken ground. A lot of our support hasn't arrived yet and so we'll see how that nets out in the days to come. But let's just say it looks like that Zelenskyy is about to lose the country. So my matrix would be at that point, we do institute a no fly zone, including all of the associated suppression of enemy air defenses, everything else we've just talked about in the execution of that no fly zone.

And we give a very clear sense what the ROE is to include we won't shoot until we're shot at and we have a lot of tactics that we can reasonably assume that ROE, another Western capability that we should be proud of. And then see what happens at that point. Does he flinch? Does he take the off ramp? Is it effective? Because I'm just looking at those convoys, I'm like, "If we had A-10s, and I saw some footage today that Lieutenant Colonel Vindman tweeted about them picking off the lead tank and the trail tank in a column and just creating massive chaos with both direct fire and indirect fire and all the armored dudes and other land army guys are like, "This is awesome." I mean, look at that professionalism.

This is the way it's done. So I'm like, "Bravo. Cool. But imagine you had five A-10s. It would be highway to hell junior." Right. And so, "We could take care of this in very short order," to quote Colonel Kurtz in Apocalypse Now. Right. At some point, how it's being parsed out in the press room of the Pentagon is it's kind of theoretical and in reality, we've already crossed that Rubicon. We're already there. And I don't know if we didn't think he'd do it and then suddenly people, "Well, hey. When do the Olympics end because that's probably the time," and in fact that's what happened. And now we're like, "Okay. Wow. Now what?" But I think, as we said, this is the conflict of our times.

And if we believe in democracy and freedom and republics and agency, this is where we can take a stand. I mean, we fought these asymmetric wars with this abstract notion and a little bit of nation building thrown in there for two decades. And at times we look kind of like punks and so now here's a real, like the thing that we built the military for, $725 billion a year worth, and so not to mention NATO. So what are we going to do? Right. Again, I'm not saber rattling here, but I am truly pissed off.

Ken Harbaugh:

I can tell, as am I. Before I let you go, can you share your thoughts, not on our capabilities and what we might be able to do should we get more involved, but on the unbelievable heroism of that Ukrainian frontline soldier who has that stinger on his shoulder or that javelin and what they are going through right now on the outskirts of Kyiv or trying to retake Kharkiv. Actually Kharkiv is still holding. I believe Mariupol has fallen. What must it be like for them?

Ward Carroll:

Okay. So imagine your wife and two toddlers have evacuated. Hopefully they'll make it to Poland. You don't know because you've lost coms with them. You've seen parts of your city blown to bits by indirect fire. And then you hear the rattle of tanks coming down the way. So you've already given yourself to the higher power, if you've ever been in a circumstance where you realize that. I felt it acutely when I was an embedded journalist in Afghanistan and I realized as we were walking through Taliban village at night, "It's not up to me anymore. So just shut up and keep walking." And there's sort of this thing that hits you at those points. So I think that's what they're all about and I just think about my neighborhood here in Annapolis. If I looked down the way and there was an adversary coming down the street, what would my reaction be?

So they're fighting for their lives. They're fighting for their country. Something that they were led to believe in, these precepts of freedom. They took us at our word and they started to make some very deliberate moves to being a civilized member of the League of Nations and a global trading partner and a place where you would like to visit and so forth and so on. Arts, sports, all the things that Americans desire and the things we would want other nations to be. And now suddenly it's being rested away from them at the hands of maniacal tyrant. So this isn't an abstract. They're there and they will fight to the death and they are talented. You're seeing it, like I just described. They know where to put direct and indirect fire to hamstring a column of Russian tanks. And as this goes on, they'll get more and more sophisticated.

They'll get better trained and we will have a hand in that, in all kinds of mysterious ways. We know how to do that. And this is why some three letter agencies exist. And there will be an insurgency. There will be a resistance. And when they have the will against those who do not, this gets back to our discussion about morale, history shows that they have the edge. So I salute them. What I'm seeing, and to include the ghost of Kyiv. Right? One Ukrainian MIG 29 driver alone and unafraid shooting on six Russian airplanes in a day is a very realistic scenario to me. And I've heard as much from sources at that MIG 29 squadron. So my entire conscious mind is with them and I don't want to sound trite, but I just have to believe they're going to prevail. And I think what they show the world should be met with support and where we can help without busting the globe in a million bits, we should.

Ken Harbaugh:

Ward Carroll, Mooch, thank you for coming on the show. It's been great having you.

Ward Carroll:

Thanks for the opportunity, Ken.

Ken Harbaugh:

Thanks again to Ward for joining me.

To hear more from Ward, visit his YouTube channel, or follow him on Twitter @wardcarroll

Thanks for listening to Burn the Boats. If you have any feedback, please email the team at [email protected]. We’re always looking to improve the show.

For updates and more, follow us on Twitter at @Team_Harbaugh.

And if you enjoyed this episode, don’t forget to rate and review.

Thanks to our partner, VoteVets. Their mission is to give a voice to veterans on matters of national security, veterans’ care, and issues that affect the lives of those who have served. VoteVets is backed by more than 700,000 veterans, family members, and their supporters. To learn more, go to VoteVets.org.

Burn the Boats is a production of Evergreen Podcasts. Our producer is Declan Rohrs, and Sean Rule-Hoffman is our Audio Engineer. Special thanks to Evergreen executive producers Joan Andrews, Michael DeAloia, and David Moss.

I’m Ken Harbaugh and this is Burn the Boats, a podcast about big decisions.




View Less

Recent Episodes

View All

LTC Alexander Vindman: Fighting Authoritarianism

Burn the Boats | S:1 E:86
In 2019, Alex provided testimony that led to Donald Trump’s first impeachment, and foreshadowed Russia’s devastating invasion of Ukraine....
Listen to LTC Alexander Vindman: Fighting Authoritarianism

Representative Pat Ryan: The Backlash after Dobbs

Burn the Boats | S:1 E:85
Pat Ryan discusses his successful special election campaign, and the nationwide surge in support Democrats have seen in response to the Dobbs deci...
Listen to Representative Pat Ryan: The Backlash after Dobbs

Jason Kander: Getting Help Saved My Life

Burn the Boats | S:1 E:83
Jason Kander discusses his new Memoir, Invisible Storm...
Listen to Jason Kander: Getting Help Saved My Life

Esosa Osa: Fighting Disinformation

Burn the Boats | S:1 E:81
The Deputy Director of Fair Fight Action, Esosa Osa, talks about internet disinformation....
Listen to Esosa Osa: Fighting Disinformation