Sunday, February 25, 2007

The Dutch-Venezuelan Balance

I noted that I thought the Dutch could make Hugo pay a price for storming the Dutch islands off of Venezuela if the Dutch prepare a bit.

Strategypage looks at the balance. (What good timing! Thanks SP)

Basically, the Dutch have fine troops, good fighter planes, a good navy, and a long military tradition. But they are far away from the potential battlefield. The Dutch would need help to hold their islands or take them back if lost. One big problem would be the lack of air cover if the Venezuelans take all three islands. Other Dutch airfields in the area are far away at the edge of F-16 range. The other big problem would be the lack of logistics to sustain a joint force far from home.

I didn't figure that the Dutch could hold the islands with a little bit of preparaton, hence my suggestion that NATO's NRF could be used in response. But I did figure that Dutch military skills would make the Venezuelans pay for their land grab.

The bottom line per Strategypage?

The present Dutch deployment (a battalion of troops and a flight of F-16s over three islands) is small, and a bluff. If Venezuela calls the bluff, the Dutch are in trouble. Even if the Dutch forces were reinforced to include a battalion on each island, and a full squadron of F-16s, they are outnumbered by a potential invasion force. Venezuela has four battalions in their marine corps, plus an airborne regiment and a paratroop regiment. The local F-16s would be outnumbered by the Venezuelan Air Force, which has 15 Mirage 5s, 18 F-16As, and 18 F-5As, with 24 Su-30s on order. Reports of a Venezuelan purchase of MiG-29s appear to have fallen through. The Venezuelan Navy, with six Lupo-class frigates and two Type 209 submarines (plus nine Kilo-class submarines on order), could also create problems for any Dutch effort to recapture the islands.

Let me comment. If I was the Dutch and had two more battalions and the balance of a fighter squadron to add to the force defending the islands, I'd concentrate the defenders on the island best able to serve as a base to receive reinforcements to counter-attack rather than scatter them to futilely try to defend all three.

Holding one island would also make it more likely that NATO would vote to help the Dutch. If the Venezuelans quickly seize all three islands, the immediate crisis is over and Europeans might be inclined to shrug their collective shoulders and negotiate the formalization of the transfer. Holding one island and fighting on embarasses the Europeans over potentially abandoning an ally. And if the Dutch can hit Venezualan air and naval bases with air strikes or Tomahawk cruise missiles, the Dutch could impede Hugo's ability to wage a lengthy war.

I dare say logistics support from NATO (including us, of course) would help the Dutch deploy a force sufficient to isolate the lost islands and gain air and naval superiority in the waters around their lost islands. Like I said, holding one island would be pretty important in contesting the area. The Dutch might not even need to counter-invade.

And if NATO commits the land component of the NRF, the Venezuelans wouldn't be able to hold. This would be best because we surely wouldn't want the conflict to halt oil exports for long.

A lot depends on whether the Venezuelans could launch an amphibious invasion in the first place. I imagine they could. Especially against lightly held islands, jury-rigged forces can work out just fine.

But against an island defending by a full brigade with some attack helicopters and F-16s in support? This kind of force would guarantee that the fight would not be over fast. Could the Venezuelans support a drawn-out fight? Cuba won't help Venezuala and Iran won't help, either.

This question might depend on how much Venezuela's military has deterioriated under the bizarre guidance of Hugo Chavez and whether the entire military would obey orders to fight.

And if the Dutch were wise, they'd invite American Marines and the forces of NATO allies for frequent exercises down there to remind Hugo that the Dutch won't be pushovers. In the end, Hugo Chavez wants an easy victory and not a war. Make sure Hugo will face a war and there will be no war.

Of course, this assumes the Dutch even care to hold these islands if there is a price to pay.

Hopefully this just remains the subject for an obscure commercial wargame or something.