Thursday, March 09, 2017

Defending the Baltic States is a Potential Kill Sack

We can't defend the Baltic NATO states from invasion. The best we should do is position tripwire NATO ground units to deter invasion and pull in all of NATO if Russia invades; and prepare for the counter-attack that first secures Russia's Kaliningrad exclave and then drives the Russians from the Baltic states.


David Shlapak, senior international research analyst at RAND Arroyo Center, said its war games show a collapse of NATO defenses in 36 to 60 hours of a Russian invasion of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania without new steps being taken to deter Moscow.

The war games projected a seven- to 10-day warning of possible attack.

“Deterrence would be enhanced” if the three armored brigades and four other brigades of lighter forces from a number of NATO countries coupled with necessary artillery and logistics support were equipped and positioned to respond.

We can't possibly deploy enough troops to actually defend the Baltic states and defeat a serious Russian invasion force.

Worse, the only way such a NATO force in the Baltic states that is insufficient to stop the Russians makes any sense at all is to be the vanguard of an invasion force that preempts a Russian invasion by driving on St. Petersburg.

Believe me, that is exactly how the Russians will interpret it even though NATO would have no intention of doing that. Which will encourage the Russians to plan an invasion that hits NATO hard.

Rather than trying to hold in a forward defense, the objective must be for NATO forces to survive and counterattack:

These NATO states are small and weak; Russia is close and much stronger than them; and NATO's capabilities are divided, far away, and mostly unable to deploy away from home countries.

So of course we lose control of the Baltics to a determined Russian offensive to take the Baltic states. At best we could hold a corner of Lithuania.

But the key consideration isn't whether we can hold these NATO allies. It is whether we will fight to win the war and liberate them. West Berlin during the Cold War could never have been held if the Soviets had invaded. Large chunks of Norway, West Germany, and Denmark would have fallen, too. And perhaps the Netherlands and Belgium, depending on the success of Soviet armies in the northern part of a thrust into West Germany.

So I'd focus on the "near" rather than the "in" the Baltic states part of the RAND recommendation.

Personally, I'd permanently station a couple heavy American brigades in Poland (and supporting units like fires, engineer, and helicopter), with a pseudo armored cavalry regiment formed by adding a tank battalion (and also helicopter battalion) to an upgunned (with 30mm guns) Stryker brigade trained to operate as a screen in the Suwalki Gap in combined arms task forces.

The heavied-up Stryker unit could be a transitional unit before restoring heavy armored cavalry regiments to the Army for European missions focused on delaying and attriting a heavy armor offensive.

Add in REFORPOL depots in Poland for both American and other NATO forces; the restoration of an American corps in Europe controlling at least 5 brigades (we have a Stryker, a parachute, and now a rotational heavy brigade committed); plus a Marine ability to operate in the Baltic Sea using existing prepositioned stocks in Norway.

If Baltic state militaries in Estonia and Latvia especially can work with NATO special forces as irregulars and guerillas to complicate the Russian occupation until liberation, that would be great.

Of course, build logistics capability to deliver and support forces in eastern NATO.

Seriously, building up enough forces in the Baltic states to stop a Russian invasion begs the Russians to stage a coup in and drive through at-risk Belarus (which should be a key diplomatic objective) to hit Poland, link up with Russia's garrison in Kaliningrad, and leave the NATO troops in the Baltic states to wither on the vine isolated from the main battle in Poland and Lithuania.

The RAND people admit this:

When asked how long the seven brigades could hold out against a Russian attack in the war games, he said 28 days, “sort of Bastogne-like,” referring to the World War II Battle of the Bulge that slowed a German advance until American reinforcements could arrive.

The article misses the point that the key part of admitting that the forces in and rushed to the Baltics would be isolated by the Russians. That's what the Battle for Bastogne was--a siege with the American force isolated by the attacking Germans.

At best, we could try to hold Riga with a smaller force (a reinforced US Marine brigade plus NATO trip-wire battalions falling back and Baltic state units that survive) in a Tobruk-like siege sustained and supported from the sea and ground forces on off-shore islands to help keep Russian units fixed and to support irregulars deeper inland.

Could we really react and counter-attack to rescue 7 critically needed forward-deployed brigades in 28 days? When the key NATO counter-attack force resides in Fort Hood?

Oh Hell no, we couldn't.

So don't put those forward-deployed NATO brigades in a Russian kill sack in the Baltic states. (And I swear I will slap you if you try to tell me that the Russians need a 3:1 ratio to beat us.*) Those brigades need to survive to hold the line further south until we have a counter-attack force.

We were warned prior to Russia's invasions of Ukraine that we had to prepare. We did not prepare. Do we really need more warnings from Russia?

Oh, and while we worry about our new NATO allies on Russia's border, don't forget that Norway has always been on the front line. They are working on their revised defense needs, too.

*If NATO deploys a third of the number plus one of brigade-equivalent units that Russia sends into the Baltic states, that does not mean NATO will win as a too literal interpretation of the "3:1 rule" holds.

As I explained prior to the American withdrawal from Iraq when I did a back-of-the-envelope calculation of force needs for defending Iraq from an Iranian invasion:

I know that a lot of writers would look at those numbers and chant the "3:1 rule" and say Iraq is safe, but that ratio applies to lower levels of analysis (and then considers the benefits of terrain and other factors on the "points" of the basic units). One side in a campaign with even a 1:1 equality overall could strip forces along the front to reduce local balances to 2:3 while massing combat power at the point of attack up to 6:1 or higher. Recall that the German blitzkrieg of France in 1940 had the Germans on the short end of tank numbers by a considerable margin and were pretty equal in troop strength. Yet the Germans concentrated the bulk of their tanks at the allied weak point and overwhelmed the spread-out Allied tank strength which could not mass to respond to the breakthrough. Campaign over.

I can't believe those people testifying raised this misinformation.