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Former Commander US Army Europe, Analyzes Russia-Ukraine War (Full Interview)

Retired General Ben Hodges, Former Commander of US Army Europe discusses the unfolding situation in Ukraine: Attacks on civilians, the role of Germany, stinger missiles and more

By Kris Osborn - President & Editor-In-Chief, Warrior Maven

Russia Attacks on Civilians

Kris Osborn

Hello, and welcome to warrior Maven, the Center for military modernization, obviously a very serious situation unfolding in the world getting more and more dire. We have some very important perspective today from a distinguished American, retired general Ben Hodges. He is the former commander of US Army Europe, so obviously knows a lot about these kinds of dynamics. 

So thank you for joining us, sir. 

The attacks on civilians, I recall writing about precision artillery and rockets, Excalibur GPS and GMLRS years ago, 2007-8 when they emerged in Iraq, and the idea of precision strikes is, of course, not only to give tactical commanders more options, but also to save lives. 

And it seems it doesn't seem possible that Russia wouldn't have some kind of comparable technology to some extent, yet it's accurate to say children are being murdered. And there does appear, according to the Pentagon and news reports, to be a deliberate effort to go after civilian areas. 

An elderly lady is assisted while crossing the Irpin river, under a bridge that was destroyed by a Russian airstrike, as civilians flee the town of Irpin, Ukraine, Saturday, March 5, 2022.

An elderly lady is assisted while crossing the Irpin river, under a bridge that was destroyed by a Russian airstrike, as civilians flee the town of Irpin, Ukraine, Saturday, March 5, 2022.

General Ben Hodges

Yeah, well, you're right, Kris. And then if your approach now is attrition and in terror to get civilians on the road you don't need precision munitions, if you're just lobbing rockets and artillery, into the into cities. 

But I'm very interested to know how many more of these missiles do they have? I mean, those are expensive. You know, we know our own our own side, we do not have enough ammunition for extended sustained land operations. I'm talking about precision munitions, big rockets. I think that the Russians are going to be running low here in the next few days. 

Urban Warfare

Kris Osborn

General Hodges given your expertise with infantry. There's a lot of discussion on the army side about things like adaptive squad architecture, this concept of the soldier as a system networking, integrating sensors being able to disperse yet connect with a mounted unit and a dismounted unit simultaneously. 

Do the Ukrainians they're obviously showing it tenacity and an incredibly remarkable will to fight. What's your sense of their infantry tactics when there is likely close quarter battle and a further Russian advance? How are they going to do? 

A Ukrainian soldier (left) receives on-the-spot feedback from a 7th Army Training Command observer coach trainer during Combined Resolve XVI at the Joint Multinational Readiness Center in Hohenfels, Germany, Dec. 10, 2021. The trainers provide evaluation and lessons learned for a wide variety of military occupational specialties during each maneuver training rotation. Combined Resolve XVI includes approximately 4,600 soldiers from Bulgaria, Georgia, Greece, Italy, Lithuania, Poland, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Ukraine, United Kingdom and the United States. The operations are being conducted by integrated battalions with multinational units operating under a unified command and control element, allowing the U.S., its allies and partners to experience invaluable training alongside each other. (Photo Credit: Courtesy photo by Ukrainian Army Col. Sergii Teliatytskii)

A Ukrainian soldier (left) receives on-the-spot feedback from a 7th Army Training Command observer coach trainer during Combined Resolve XVI at the Joint Multinational Readiness Center in Hohenfels, Germany, Dec. 10, 2021. The trainers provide evaluation and lessons learned for a wide variety of military occupational specialties during each maneuver training rotation. Combined Resolve XVI includes approximately 4,600 soldiers from Bulgaria, Georgia, Greece, Italy, Lithuania, Poland, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Ukraine, United Kingdom and the United States. The operations are being conducted by integrated battalions with multinational units operating under a unified command and control element, allowing the U.S., its allies and partners to experience invaluable training alongside each other. (Photo Credit: Courtesy photo by Ukrainian Army Col. Sergii Teliatytskii)

General Ben Hodges

They're doing very well. so far. All the reports I've read are Ukrainian infantry, are outperforming Russian infantry to include the Russian paratroopers that were brought in in the beginning to try and seize airfields. 

I don't think Ukrainians have more than radios at this point, so in terms of networking, it's a lot of distributed operations in there defending in different places. It's a lot of it is tenacity, and will, but they will look I've watched them over the last eight years, they have dramatically actually improved the world. 

They have modernized the establishment of the training center and gallery where you had us and Canadians working with Ukrainians. This is a much better land force than we saw in 2014. And now I'm not surprised that they're doing so well against the Russians. It's can can they can they continue to do this despite the Russian advantage, and artillery and rocket firepower?

Russia Military Strength

Kris Osborn

Three things come to mind. The convoy is bogged down stuck in the mud, perhaps due to Ukrainian ambushes or logistical problems or morale problems, which are significant as well. So the Pentagon says and other observers say, secondly, there's no air superiority. 

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The Russian Air Force is either not putting its full force forward or the air defenses of the Ukrainians and the will to fight is doing better than anticipated. And then lastly, the commanding control for the Ukrainians is reportedly still intact, despite very obvious cyber attack situation as well as Russia's known expertise with electronic warfare. So with all that, what's your initial take on is has the Russian military been slightly overestimated? 

General Ben Hodges

Well, for sure, Ukrainian armed forces are over performing. And Russian Armed Forces are underperforming. On the Ukrainian side, they are able to mitigate some of the challenges of Russian cyber and jamming. Because they are doing their defending in such a decentralized way. You've got not only president Zelensky himself, a charismatic leader, but also out in every town, all these units that are distributed. There's an awful lot of decentralized operations going on, whereas the Russians are very centralized system. 

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has had an unorthodox path to politics (Picture: Stefanie Loos-Pool/Getty Images)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has had an unorthodox path to politics (Picture: Stefanie Loos-Pool/Getty Images)

And frankly, it just appears to me that they are not terribly proficient and certainly not experienced at conducting large scale joint operations of the nature they're attempting right now. So that's, that's been apparent because of the failure to be properly synchronized. Luckily, you know, the the logistics, I think is turning out to be a real vulnerability for the, for the Russians, you would think they would have been much better prepared in terms of maintenance and fuel and ammunition. 

And I think they grossly overestimated how fast they'd be able to move. And now this big combo was talked about. It's road bound, because the ground is so soft, and Ukrainians are having an effect.

German Fighting Spirit

Kris Osborn

So what's your estimation of what an apparent German shift in foreign policy, there was an interesting essay from a guy at Johns Hopkins, one of the Chair of their German German Studies Department about how German Germany appears to be doing a massive or seismic shift in their stance given your expertise and leadership with Europe, the Chancellor reportedly talked about funneling money into defense almost immediately, and then secondly, sending Stinger anti aircraft missiles, which we all know have, have a history in effectiveness. 

Soldiers in the German Army attend a military parade ceremony 

Soldiers in the German Army attend a military parade ceremony 

General Ben Hodges

This is very welcome news from our ally, Germany, that they are going to start catching up on the defense investment that they need to do as well as more immediately enable the provision of air defense weapons and other weapons to Ukraine. But the Bundestag still has to vote and approve this planned increase of defense spending. 

And I think the Germans are still wrestling with this. I mean, that was a huge step by the German Chancellor. But I mean, they haven't got their heart in it yet. So this is going to be important over the next few weeks, that courageous leadership inside the German political elites, otherwise, Germany ends up losing its credibility that it's earned over the last 80 years as a champion of European values. If they don't, really in a in a meaningful way, step forward and accept responsibility and lead. 

Ukrainian Stingers vs. Russian Helicopters

Kris Osborn

A quick look at Globalfirepower.com will show you that the Russians have as many as 544 attack helicopters. You've talked about the significance of rotor wing attack as it pertains to combat. What's your sense of how effective the well known Stinger missiles might be, the heat seeking power against approaching helicopters to give the Ukrainians an opportunity to shut down derail or stop some kind of massive attack. 

General Ben Hodges

Of course, the Russians like us are continuing to develop protection systems for aircraft against all the different threats that are out there. I have to say they may have 520 something attack helicopters, I would be astounded if even half of them were actually operable. 

A video is making its rounds on social media that shows an alleged downed Russian helicopter in Ukraine. Here, helicopters fire during joint exercises of the armed forces of Russia and Belarus as part of an inspection of the Union State's Response Force.

A video is making its rounds on social media that shows an alleged downed Russian helicopter in Ukraine. Here, helicopters fire during joint exercises of the armed forces of Russia and Belarus as part of an inspection of the Union State's Response Force.

It requires a lot of work a lot of money a lot of time to properly maintain rotary wing aircraft, our US Army best in the world at doing that, and it is very hard. So I'd be astounded iff even half of what Russians have actually serviceable. Of course, we're getting a chance to watch them in action now in Ukraine. I've watched one get shot down the other day, I saw the video of that. I'm not terribly impressed with how they fly. They look really big. And so now we'll see. The battlefield is going to be the test.

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Kris Osborn is the Defense Editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Master's Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.

Kris Osborn, Warrior Maven President

Kris Osborn, Warrior Maven President, Center for Military Modernization