A RAND study 5-6 years ago is getting fresh attention as the Biden administration’s focus on Asia and the Pacific blurs consciousness about the European threat,
Russia’s continuing aggression against Ukraine and build up along the Polish border has disrupted nearly a generation of relative peace and stability between Moscow and its Western neighbors and raised concerns about its larger intentions. From the perspective of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the threat to the three Baltic republics of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania — former Soviet republics, now member states that border Russian territory — may be the most problematic of these according to the RAND Study. In a series of war games conducted between the summer 2014 and spring 2015, RAND examined the shape and probable outcome of a near-term Russian invasion of the Baltic states. “The games’ findings are unambiguous: As presently postured, NATO cannot successfully defend the territory of its most exposed members.”
The study suggests that it will not require huge effort to avoid such a failure. Further gaming indicates that a force of about seven US brigades, including three heavy armored brigades — adequately supported by airpower, land-based fires, and other enablers on the ground and ready to fight at the onset of hostilities — could suffice to prevent the rapid overrun of the Baltic states.
Since this finding actual efforts as pre-positioning equipment for brigades to fall in on, creation of a standing Army Corps Headquarters in Europe and the Trump administration’s restationing of forces out of Germany and into other parts of Europe have helped. Also, we have reported on the 9 month rotation to Eastern Europe that the Dagger Brigade conducted.
What is new is the return to an old war fighting doctrine to engage a Russian full-scale attack—Air-land battle. Air-land battle was a concept developed by General Don Starry during the mid 70s as a way to deal with the expected attack by Soviet hordes in Central Europe, The Fulda gap was the focus of US forces in Europe.
During a tour in the Pentagon and then on the southern flank for the Fulda gap I came to understand Air-land battle fairly well. In the Pentagon the focus was on the Mutual Balanced Force Reductions (MBFR) and the rapid reinforcement of Europe. In the Fulda gap the focus was on “buying enough time” for reinforcements to deploy. This required the destruction of the first wave of Soviet attacks and get reset to deal with the delayed and reduced second wave of attacking forces. The second wave of follow-on forces were to be delayed and reduced by air and missile attacks against critical transportation and supply nodes in the rear of the attacking forces. As this doctrine matured it included attacks by ground forces against the Soviet rear echelons by highly mobile armored forces making a penetration and attacking deep into the Soviet rear as a way to upset their time tables and destroy key supporting forces.
If readers remember I wrote about the evolving doctrine of ‘multi-domain” operations (MDO) as the emerging doctrine for the US military. In essence it is a more sophisticated expansion of Air-land Battle as it does not focus exclusively on the deep battler against follow-on echelons.
The question must be asked whether air-land battle is appropriate for deterring and fighting a war in Eastern Europe? The biggest concern or fear is that such a conflict with deep strikes against Russian territory could escalate quickly to a nuclear exchange and a tactical nuclear conflict, (Though it would not be a “tactical” nuclear conflict to those in the middle of the battlefield.)
The Russians for the last several years have been modernizing their tactical nuclear forces. NATO is just beginning to talk about such efforts. Are we about to repeat the 1980s. but on a battlefield that has moved east-ward? We will watch this in coming weeks and months to try and answer this question.
As a follow-on article to this one we will look at the current doctrine of the limited use of nuclear weapons in the fight against the Russians,
A reader asked me about the divisiveness being sowed by the current military leadership’s kowtowing to the “political correctness” demands of the liberals who are currently trying to transform our country. He asked if I had ever seen anything so bad in our military?
I reflected upon the Army of the 1970s and its re-emergence as the force that won so decisively the first Gulf War. This question brought back two distinct memories:
- The strategy of Creighton Abrams as Chief of Staff of the Army in consonance with General William Depuy as the Commander of TRADOC, and
- My personal experiences in the 1st Infantry Division at Fort Riley from 1975 to 79 and then in the 11th Cavalry from 1982-84.
The Abrams – Depuy strategy to remake the Army had two basic components. General Abrams was forcing change and “tough love” form the top down while General Depuy was changing how the Army trained at all echelons. Army training was results directed. Tasks that soldiers and units had to be able to perform under certain conditions were defined and the standards to be achieved/met were also defined. This task, condition and standard training left little room for compromise of standards of performance. And performance was what was being demanded by the Army leadership from the top down. The standards in most part were designed for the Army to fight and win against the Soviets in a war in Europe.
These resulting conditions were in some cases nearly impossible to meet. Tank gunnery standards—based on round on targetntime were almost impossible. We were able to show that the standards exceeded the technical capabilities of the equipment. The answer we got back was: “TRY HARDER”
At the unit level there was an Army dis-spirited by Vietnam and being fought over by rival drug gangs around Army posts—at least that was what we had at Fort Riley. But the leaders had gotten the message. As a battalion Executive Officer I coordinated and carried out the orders of a battalion commander who was willing to use a crow bar to open a trunk in the search for stolen tools, weapons or drugs. He found the missing tools and the lawyers decided that the division would pay the damages. What would happen to him today? I am afraid to ask. Training was demanding and at the beginning individuals and tank crews could not meet the standards. But energy was focused on results not petty bickering.
However, by 1982 when I joined the 11th Cavalry things were changing. In 1982 when I assumed command of 2/11th ACR I had the entire 1000-man squadron tested for drugs. There were 39 positives. They were dealt with swiftly. By 1984 when I left command the same test only found 6 positives. New standards of behavior also permeated performance of military tasks. It was the Army that grew during the 80s that was so decisive during Gulf War I.
The question then becomes whether a similar strategy can be deployed once the military of political correctness is ended. Again, leadership from top to bottom will require reaching down into the general officer ranks to find tough hard-fisted warriors who are willing to rebuild a military not a politically correct knitting society. These warriors must be promoted and given the resources and support to accomplish the rebuilding mission. In consonance resources must be made available for tough hard training that consumes energy so that there is not time or energy to worry about political correctness.
This will be the challenge for the next President. How many years will it take to undo what is currently occurring?
The following is a letter that was sent to the Army Times on 14 March 2021.
I have been a subscriber to the Army Times for over 50 years and this is the first time I have to say that I am ashamed of your publication! I am sure that you want to be politically correct and to appease the liberals who have temporarily taken over our government, but to relate a MAGA hat to extremism is a step too far. What you are saying is that the over 70 million American who voted for Trump are extremists. You should know better!
To become embroiled in the political witch hunt that is in vogue now in the hopes of eliminating lawful opposition should not be your position. You should be protecting our honorable military from the political hacks, but instead you are facilitating them. Again, I say shame on you!
Cover of February 2021 Army Times
By the first week of April, all members of the military must take part in a highly unusual order from Secretary of Defense Austin. Unit leaders have been ordered to conduct a day-long “stand down” to discuss the threat of extremism and gather feedback from troops on the extent that racism and other hateful ideologies or anti-government sentiment have taken root in their cohort.
Unfortunately, the search for “political correctness” has also entered the Service academies. They are embracing critical race theory (CRT), which divides people with unresolvable accusations of “systemic racism.” Last year a group of “woke” alumni issued a 40-page manifesto demanding that West Point make “anti-racism” the central feature of the curriculum. Action items included statements from all white leaders “acknowledging how their white privilege sustains systems of racism.” Is anti-racism going to win wars? Is it going to allow graduates to protect and defend the constitution?
Meanwhile, the Navy recently released its “Task Force One Navy” Final Report. The 141-page document is filled with ideologically leftist vocabulary including “intersectionality,” “disparate impact,” and 338 variations of the word “diverse.” A five-point “TF1N Pledge” makes sailors and Marines promise to fight “racism, sexism, ableism, and other structural and interpersonal biases.” It does not mention operational readiness or mission accomplishment. Isn’t that what we expect?
Nothing could be worse for morale and readiness than a toxic brew of racist suspicions and division being forced on participants for a full day. Instead of intimidating servicemembers for expressing normal political beliefs, military leaders should investigate whether military personnel are being recruited by extremists on both ends of the spectrum, not just one.
They should also take an even-handed, honest look at all incidents of violent extremism, without promoting leftist extremism in pursuit of extremists.
We cannot let our military be destroyed by partisan hacks.