Friday, April 06, 2018

The Dyle Plan Reborn?

I've argued that it is foolish to try to stop Russia from taking the NATO Baltic states and that a better bet is to plan for a counter-offensive--following the conquest of Kaliningrad* to secure the flank, secure unimpeded access for Poland-bound reinforcements, and as a bargaining chip--to liberate the Russian-occupied territory.

Basically I think that NATO can't really put enough ground combat power in the Baltic states to stop Russia; and if NATO could it would both be seen as a threat to St. Petersburg, prompting even more Russian power threatening NATO there, and be an opportunity to simply attack through Belarus to link up with Russia's Kaliningrad and cut off the best NATO combat units in a Baltic pocket to be reduced at will.

The only way is to counter-attack, destroy the Russian army holding the Baltic states, and thus allow the war to be ended without a Russian threat to destroy NATO units in the Baltic states. Hopefully the status quo ante is restored and no nukes fly.

But this interesting article on Russia and railroads notes something I should have known that is important for the issue of defending the Baltic states:

Currently, the Baltic states operate Russian-gauge railroad tracks, while other European NATO members utilize a standard European gauge (a single line from Poland to the Lithuanian city of Kaunas is the sole exception). ...

Baltic rail infrastructure significantly lags behind other European nation-states. A north-south axis across the three countries is currently nonexistent. Plans to correct this are already in motion in the form of Rail Baltica, the largest EU infrastructure investment project in the Baltic states. Ultimately connecting the capitals of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania via European-gauge track (along with an additional connection to Helsinki via Tallinn), Rail Baltica would allow for a standardized and uninterrupted rail link to the rest of NATO, with freight service up to 120 kilometers per hour. Though broad commitments by the EU and Baltic states have been made, the project is not expected to be completed until 2025.

I knew Russia had a narrower gauge and I knew the Baltic states were once part of the USSR. But I guess I assumed that the Baltic states surely switched to the European gauge by now. That is not the case.

A NATO project should be to completely switch the Baltic states to European gauge. This will slow down the Russian advance and complicate Russian logistics (until they can rip up and replace the tracks to their gauge) and if the NATO counter-attack kicks off soon enough before Russia switches the tracks, have rail lines to support logistics heading north.

The article notes that improved rail lines allow NATO to avoid permanently stationing troops in the Baltic states that appear an offensive threat to Russia. So that's a plus for the ability to move troops into the Baltics only when needed.

But the article doesn't consider that putting troops into the Baltic states during a crisis appears as a threat during a crisis. Which fill freak out the already paranoid Russians.

Nor does it cope with the problem of rushing NATO troops into a kill sack in a repeat of the French Dyle Plan in 1940 that led to the destruction/neutralization of the best French troops and the British Expeditionary Force as the German offensive flowed through the Ardennes to isolate them along the coast.

Building Western gauge rail lines in the Baltic states seems like a pretty basic if unglamorous project that would help defend NATO from Russia. I'm glad a project is underway. Is it enough and proceeding quickly enough?

*This description of the Russian combat units in Kaliningrad is interesting:

All three Ground Forces manoeuvre brigades and the fire support units are probably fully combat-capable by Russian MoD standards.

"By Russian standards!" Which may mean that by American standards they are not combat-ready.

The short paper's conclusion that the Russian forces in Kaliningrad lack an offensive capability and would have all they can do to hold the territory makes me feel better. The Russians at least would start a war with troops already in a kill sack if we don't return the favor.