Wargames: Joshua’s Nuclear War Scenarios 80-99

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Hard to believe that there were so many scenarios on that list. We’re up to 100 already. Wow.

  • GREENLAND DOMESTIC– This one is interesting. Greenland is Danish territory but hosted a number of important US military installations during the Cold War. It still does today, as a matter of fact. The population is very small too. The best spark I can think of is a Soviet backed insurrection that targets US bases there, especially the BMEWS radar site.

 

  • ICELAND HEAVY-Large scale air and naval combat between NATO and the Warsaw Pact for control of Iceland.

 

  • KENYA OPTION– During the Cold War Kenya was viewed as a strategic vanguard against communist influences from Ethiopia and Tanzania. A Soviet backed move against the nation could’ve backfired and led to escalation.

 

  • PACIFIC DEFENSE– Soviet or Chinese offensive in the Pacific resulting in a US and allied defense.

 

  • UGANDA MAXIMUM- The Ugandan Bush War boils over into a regional contest for control of East Africa.

 

  • THAI SUBVERSION– Vietnamese forces made limited incursions into Thailand in the late 70s and 80s. Compound that with an effort to stoke internal flames by Vietnam and/or the PRC, and the stage could be set for a major conflict.

 

  • ROMANIAN STRIKE– Ceausescu was a maverick. Either he lashes out, or the Soviets decide to intervene and remove him from power.

 

  • PAKISTAN SOVEREIGNTY– A situation where the survival of Pakistan is threatened. Internal insurrection, Indian invasion, or possibly a Soviet invasion out of Afghanistan.

 

  • AFGHAN MISDIRECTION– Basically, what the Soviets experienced during their time in Afghanistan.

 

  • ETHIOPIAN LOCAL– East Africa was a tinderbox in the late 70s and early 80s. Even after the Cold War, conflicts between Ethiopia and its neighbors continued.

 

  • ITALIAN TAKEOVER– The Communist Party enjoyed popularity in Italy. If they’d gained control through elections and demanded the removal of NATO forces from Italian soil, the situation could have escalated. NATO moves in, the Soviets move to support the communists and things go downhill quick.

 

  • VIETNAMESE INCIDENT– Border incident with China, tensions with Thailand.

 

  • ENGLISH PREEMPTIVE- They didn’t call Margaret Thatcher the “Iron Lady” for nothing. Perhaps the British received intelligence that the Russians were going to attack and decided to get their licks in first. That’s what pre-emption is all about, really.

 

  • DENMARK ALTERNATE– The Soviets move to capture Denmark using one of their secondary war plans instead of the primary one.

 

  • THAI CONFRONTATION-Similar to the previous Thailand-themed scenarios. Conflict with Vietnam and/or Myanmar.

 

  • TAIWAN SURPRISE– PRC invasion of Taiwan obtains strategic surprise.

 

  • BRAZILIAN STRIKE– Brazil strikes Argentina, Argentina hits back and suddenly South America is in flames.

 

  • VENEZUELA SUDDEN– Border clashes and tension with Columbia reach the boiling point. Out of the blue, Venezuela invades.

 

  • MAYLASIAN ALERT– Sino-Malay sectarian violence in Kuala Lumpur brings threats from the PRC. Malaysia goes on alert, China moves in ostensibly to ‘protect its citizens’ in Malaysia and before long the area is a cauldron.

 

  • ISRAEL DISCRETIONARY– Discreet Israeli action abroad (intelligence gathering, surgical strikes, commando raid) is unsuccessful. Israel is painted as the aggressor and the Arab world stands up to confront Tel Aviv.

 

First Strike: The American Nightmare- Introduction

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The concept of the first strike has been ingrained in warfare for centuries. In the broad sense, every war or conflict commences with a first strike. After all, there must be an instigator for a war to begin. One nation-state or coalition’s forces must cross the border of another in order to officially open hostilities. Wars rarely, if ever, start by mutual consent and armies clashing on the border of disputed territory. The factor that normally dictates the parameters for initiating a first strike are political in nature. The justifying reasons for a first strike can be economic, political, or military, however, the decision to initiate is made by a nation-state’s political leadership. This is the most important cog in the first strike mechanism. Since the introduction of nuclear weapons as a viable warfighting tool, even more so.

A first strike is essentially a pre-emptive attack undertaken to gain a definitive strategic advantage over an opponent. In the past 100 years there have been some visible examples of pre-emptive action. The Israeli air strikes in June 1967, Israel’s strike on Osirak are of them. What it boils down to is a ‘get them before they get you’ mindset for the initiator.

When it comes to nuclear weapons, a first strike is a more complex and deadly instrument.  The consequences of launching a nuclear first strike are considerably higher, but so are the potential rewards. Nuclear weapons are, after all, weapons, only with a far greater explosive power. When they are designed and built, it is assumed that these weapons could be used one day.  In the years before the Soviet Union exploded its first atomic weapon, there were some influential voices calling for the use of nuclear weapons against Russia to curb its aggressive appetite. One of the supporters of such action was, surprisingly, Bertrand Russell, the famous philosopher and renowned pacifist. Military planning has also included first strike options, mainly because contingency planning, as a rule, covers every conceivable scenario. The public perception that a nuclear war would result in no winners does not carry over to the military mindset. Wars are not suicidal ventures. They are initiated to achieve objectives.

The prime objective of a nuclear first strike is to neutralize the enemy’s nuclear forces before they can be used in a retaliatory strike, and force it to either accept terms of surrender or endure a follow on strike against its population centers. The moment a nation loses its nuclear weapons, it is at the mercy of the first strike initiator. The initiator has to be willing to absorb an acceptable amount of casualties and destruction in exchange for achieving nuclear primacy. Once that primacy is established though, the game is over.

Despite the addition of new members to the nuclear club, the United States and Russia are the only nations currently capable of launching a successful nuclear first strike. The number of available warheads, and delivery systems, command structure and communications systems are the elements that determine this. China is expanding its own nuclear forces as well. However, for the foreseeable future will not be in a position to launch a successful first strike against either nation without bringing down massive retaliation upon itself.

At this point in the 21st Century, the tenets of Mutually Assured Destruction no longer apply. The balance of terror as it was in the Cold War no longer exists as the standoff between the United States and Soviet Union has ended. The number of warheads and missiles each nation has aimed at one another has diminished significantly. The power to destroy the world four times over still remains, but the ability to do that in the blink of an eye does not. Global destruction is not necessary to neutralize the other side’s strategic forces. It can be accomplished with a smaller number of weapons and the element of surprise.

At the moment, Russian Federation is crashing the global stage in an attempt to recapture the influence and power once yielded by its predecessor, the USSR. Vladimir Putin is undertaking a modified version of security through expansion and with mixed results. In the eastern Ukraine, Russian backed separatists continue to fight for the right to create their own independent nation-states, but their efforts have bogged down. Russia’s newest expedition is in Syria and while Moscow does not want to include Syria in a territorial expansion, it does want to expand its power and influence in the region and globally. It is too early to say with confidence how this venture will play out. Concurrently, Russia is facing economic issues at home that have the potential of causing issues down the line. If pressed, there’s no telling how Russia’s leaders will respond.

The United States is currently trudging through a period of vulnerability to a nuclear first strike. The argument can be made that all nations are vulnerable to surprise attack regardless of their vigilance. This is true, yet at the present time, the US is especially vulnerable. The national mood is similar to the ‘Malaise’ days of the Carter Years. The economy is not entirely back on track. America’s societal priorities are in disorder. On the foreign policy front, the current administration has been unable to construct and execute a consistent doctrine. The US continues to have commitments around the world in spite of efforts to disengage in some regions and shift focus to areas more vital to national interests. Military budgets continue to be slashed even as the number of flashpoints multiply across the globe. The cumulative erosion of military and economic resources is diminishing American security. This reality is most evident in US strategic forces. There have been a number of high profile cheating and drinking scandals in recent years involving personnel from the US Air Force’s missile wings. Senior officers at Strategic Command have not been immune either. More than one have been dismissed because of inappropriate behavior. Readiness is down across the boards. For a command entrusted with two arms of the nation’s nuclear triad this is not a good combination.

The situation will be remedied eventually but until it is, the United States is vulnerable at a time when Russia is hungry and aggressively expanding its influence and power.

Defending Poland: The Russians Drive West

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Through the Cold War years it was generally expected that if war were to erupt in Europe between NATO and the Warsaw Pact it would begin with a full scale Soviet invasion of West Germany. Endless waves of Soviet armor pouring across the North German Plain was a constant nightmare for western military planners. Should the day have come, both sides were prepared to fight and decisively win the battle. For over forty years Europe was a veritable armed camp on both sides of the Iron Curtain. Fortunately, the war that so many expected and prepare for never came.  In 1989 peace broke out instead. The Cold War ended and the massive armies staked out on both sides of the border either fell victim to the Peace Dividend or simply melted away.

Fast forward to the current day. The ghosts of that hypothetical battle appear to have found a new home in Eastern Europe. NATO is once again facing the prospect of having to fight a potential conventional war in Europe against Russia. The current parameters and balance of forces are somewhat different when compared to 1989, though. And for that matter, so is the real estate where the fighting would take place. Yet, for as many differences as there are, a number of similarities between then and now also exist.

For the purpose of this article, let’s assume the NATO-Russia war centers on a Russian invasion of Poland. Let us also assume that by the time Russia launches its attack on Poland (H Day), at least two of the three Baltic states have been neutralized either through political or military means: Hybrid War and/or political coups negate Estonia and Latvia. The NATO forces stationed there have been redeployed to Poland. Only Lithuania is holding out, but it will not last for very long once offensive operations commence.

At first glimpse, an invasion of Poland appears to be a condensed version of a Soviet invasion of West Germany. On the Russian side, the main offensive weapons will be heavy maneuver (tank and motor rifle) forces, supported by a respectable amount of artillery and airpower. Airmobile and special operations forces will be employed to seize key objectives and cause disruptions in NATO rear areas. Speed and shock are essential for a Russian thrust. The armored spearheads on the ground must overwhelm NATO defenses and achieve a breakthrough before additional NATO reinforcements arrive to plug the gap. When a breakthrough is made, Russian forces need to exploit it quickly and take advantage of the terrain. As mentioned in previous articles, the eastern half of Poland is very favorable for tanks and mechanized infantry.

Expect the main Russian effort to come from Belarus in the form of two pronged assault. One, spearheaded by the 20th Army and attached reinforcements, advancing from the Grodno area and crossing the frontier east of Bialystok, Poland. The second, made up of the 6th Army and attachments, will cross the border from around Brest in Belarus and driving west towards Biala Podlaska and beyond. The 1st Guards Tank Army will serve as an Operational Maneuver Group of sorts, prepared to exploit a breakthrough. The primary objective of an invasion would be Warsaw. In all likelihood, it is not viable for the Russians to want to advance beyond the Polish capital. West of the city the terrain becomes more favorable to the defender and the closer the Russian army gets to Germany, the higher the possibility of escalation.

An advance from Kaliningrad is feasible as well. However, the objectives of it will likely be limited. The terrain in that area of Poland is somewhat more rugged and defendable and the Russian forces in Kaliningrad do not possess the combat power and logistics for a deep advance into Polish territory. But they can at least hold down NATO forces for a period of time.

Eastern Poland is dominated by farmlands and thick swaths of forest. Cities and towns dominate the landscape, yet none of them are so valuable that either side would feel compelled to spend valuable time and efforts in defending or seizing them. The terrain is generally flat with low rising hills being common. There are no mountains or ridges in the potential areas of advance and fighting. The Bug River is an obstacle that will need to be handled by the Russians should NATO use it as a defensive line. Its value was mentioned in previous articles. To summarize, if Russian forces move fast enough and can achieve a breakthrough, the possibility of pocketing NATO forces east of the Bug does exist. Such a scenario would be disastrous for NATO and Poland especially. It would lead to a cease fire agreement with terms very favorable to Russia.

For NATO, defending Polish territory would be an exercise similar to what would have been seen in West Germany had the balloon gone up there during the Cold War. The Poles have to avoid defending too far forward and standing its ground too stubbornly. Both instances will result in heavy casualties for little in return. Poland can trade space for time until reinforcements arrive from other NATO allies and from across the Atlantic. But it has to be willing to accept having a portion of its territory and citizens in Russian hands for a period of time.

*Much of my posting lately has been devoted to Greece. I anticipated finishing the Defending Poland articles by last Thursday. This has not happened, so I am extending the timeline slightly. I will publish Part Two of this article later in the week and wrap up with a concluding article over the weekend. In between, expect more updates and some analysis on what is happening in Greece right now.*

Defending Poland: Three Critical Elements

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I’m kind of putting the cart in front of the horse with this article. I probably should have left it for inclusion towards the end of the month instead of making it the first installment of the Defending Poland series. However, the material is fresh in my mind right now so I am going forward with it. Through my research and preparation for this series, I’ve selected three factors that, in my opinion, have the power to significantly influence or even determine the outcome of a NATO-Russia conflict in Poland.

NATO Airpower

Two Soviet Army generals run into each other in Paris after World War III ends. “By the way,” one asks of the other “Who ended up winning the air war?”

The joke is from the Cold War era and obsolete politically. On the military side though, the meaning is clear and still holds true today: Wars are won on the ground, not in the air. Airpower has certainly contributed to victory in a number of campaigns but has never single handedly been responsible for winning a war.

That being said, whoever controls the skies over Poland in a future conflict will have a tremendous advantage. Airpower has become the cornerstone of NATO military power since the end of the Cold War. In an era of regularly shrinking European defense budgets, continental air forces have received a bulk of the available funds and an even higher percentage of national missions. Fighter planes are sexier and require less funds to maintain than ground forces. As a result, NATO air forces are fully integrated and highly capable instruments of war.  If the shooting begins, it is essential for the NATO commander to get his air forces into the fight as quickly as possible and on his terms.

NATO has to be able to claim air superiority early on. Allied airfields, supply depots, command centers, and military positions in eastern Poland must protected from Russian air attacks. The Russian fighter threat also has to be whittled down enough to allow NATO airpower to be unleashed. The skies over the battlefield will also have to be owned by friendly fighters so NATO can provide close air support for its ground forces on the battle line.

Close air support is something that will look decidedly different from previous 21st Century conflicts. In Iraq and Afghanistan, US and NATO aircrews did not have to worry about dodging SAMs and triple-A when called down to provide CAS. The enemies in those conflicts possessed very limited battlefield air defense capabilities, namely small arms fire and hand-held SAMs.  The Russian Army possesses many different types of mobile SAMs and self-propelled anti-aircraft systems. They will move these weapons right up to the forward edge of the battle area. NATO fighter bombers and attack helicopters are going to have to deal with this threat before they can begin dropping ordnance and letting missiles fly against enemy forces on the ground. If they can’t, it will mean heavy losses in airframes and pilots and a minimal influence on the battle. NATO can afford neither.

Air superiority is also essential to the survival of Polish airbases, especially ones north and east of Warsaw. If bases such as Minsk-Mazowiecki and Malbork are knocked out of action early, NATO fighters will have to stage from bases further west. This cuts down their effectiveness.

The first forty eight hours of a war will be crucial. Assuming a degree of strategic surprise is achieved by Russia, the Polish Air Force will not be able to hold out on its own. The best it can hope for is to bring about a situation where both sides are fighting under a neutral sky. After two days, more NATO airpower should arrive to influence the battle.

Polish Land Forces Doctrine

The Land Forces of Poland are in the midst of a necessary modernization. The threat to the east is growing more imminent and less potential by the week. Poland’s civilian leaders and general officers have responded accordingly in a number of ways. Weapon upgrades and new systems are being introduced into the inventory. Interoperability with other alliance members is improving remarkably.

The unknown factor is in the Land Forces doctrine. A war on Polish soil will not be similar to what is taking place in Ukraine. It will be high intensity warfare with a capable enemy. Airborne, Dessant and foot infantry will play roles, however, heavy maneuver forces will be the centerpieces of a Russian offensive. Poland and NATO need to come around to the idea that a future war in Poland could be something of a throwback and resemble a miniaturized version of what a NATO-Warsaw Pact conflict in Central Europe may have looked like in the 1980s.

For Poland’s army, this means it has to be able to hold the line until sizeable ground forces start to arrive from outside of the country. Light forces do not have the combat strength to hold the line effectively and a Russian breakthrough early in the conflict could have disastrous consequences. Revisions to the way the Land Forces fight have to be made.

The Bug River

The battle for Poland could be won or lost at the Bug River. A tributary of the Narew River, the Bug is a major river which runs through eastern Poland and even forms part of the border between Poland and Belarus for 111 miles. It provides an excellent natural defensive barrier for the Poles and with it opportunities.  On the other side of the coin, the Bug also has the potential to be the death knell for Polish and NATO forces in the east if the Russians can move fast and decisive enough to envelop the Poles and NATO.

In the south, up against the border with Belarus, the river will be invaluable in the first twenty four hours of fighting because of the bridges that span the river. They are needed by the Russians to move large numbers of forces across and into Poland and to maintain supply lines as the fighting moves west. If the Russians are able to secure the bridges, it bodes well for their timetable and assault.

For this reason, destroying as many of the bridges as possible the moment hostilities appear imminent has to be a top priority for Poland. The most obvious way to do this is to rig the bridges with explosives and set troops on the left bank of the river to defend and ensure they remain in place. An attempt would likely be made by Russian Spetznaz to secure the bridges before they can be demolished, so the Poles need to be prepared for that. Airstrikes and artillery could also be used to destroy the bridges, but artillery is not entirely reliable and in the opening hours of the conflict the Polish air force will be stretched too thin to take on the mission.

The portion of the river to the northwest is where the danger exists. Assuming a two pronged Russian invasion from Belarus, from the Brest area in the south and Grodno in the north, there’s a chance that the Poles and any NATO forces in accompaniment can be enveloped. Provided the Russian assault is swift enough and overcomes resistance rather quickly, they could potentially envelop the Poles on the east bank of the Bug and cut them off. The main force in the east would therefore be cut off and the door to Warsaw and beyond left wide open.

Farther on in the Defending Poland series, I will delve deeper into the Bug River envelopment scenario. The next series post will come on Wednesday, 17 June. I hope everyone has an enjoyable weekend.

East Is Forward: The NATO Response

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Happy New Year!

Christmas and the holiday season are now officially behind us. A new year has arrived, and with it will come challenges, crises, and conflict. Some will be extensions of previous conflicts and crises like the war against ISIS, Syria and the fighting in the Ukraine. Others will be entirely new and unfamiliar in their textures and complexities. In any event, 2015 promises to be no less violent than the previous year.

I will begin 2015 with the final East Is Forward post. This post will focus on the NATO military response to events in the Ukraine and Baltics. As Europe struggles to maintain a united front against Russia with regards to what is happening in the Ukraine, NATO is moving ahead with plans to strengthen its military capabilities in Eastern Europe and widen its response options should a new crisis with Russia appear out of the simmering tensions. The Alliance’s response to heightened Russian air and naval activity has been resolute, however, nowhere near as decisive as its reaction to facing a potential conflict with Russia on the ground.

Baltic Air Policing

The 37th rotation of NATO forces assigned to the Baltic Air Policing mission officially stood up today ( 2 January, 2015) with the Italian Air Force taking the lead. Since last May, the force had been heightened in response to the annexation of Crimea and events in the Ukraine.  For the current rotation, four Italian Eurofighter Typhoons will be fly from Siauliai Airbase, Lithuania. Four Polish MiG-29 Fulcrums will support them, flying out of the same base. Four Spanish Typhoons are being based at Amari Airbase in Estonia, along with four Belgian F-16s at Malbork Airbase, Poland.

From September 2014 through the end of the year, Russian air activity in the region was very high. NATO aircraft flew 250+ sorties, intercepting Russian aircraft that were flying close to member nation airspace, flying without flight plans or transponders and not communicating with civilian air traffic controllers.  Until the situation in the Ukraine reaches a conclusion, the level of activity will probably not be diminishing. Therefore, the expanded NATO mission should be expected to continue through 2015.

One advantage of the expanded air mission has been in the number of airbases available to NATO in the Baltics. Until 2014, NATO fighters flew almost exclusively from Lithuania. Now, Amari Airbase in Estonia has been utilized for use by the alliance and the Polish airbase at Malbork has seen an increase in activity since last year. In the event of hostilities, the familiarity with these airfields will be an advantage for NATO pilots and ground crews, allowing them to operate with a greater degree of ease.

Boots And Treads On The Ground

A lot of attention has been given to plans for a strengthened NATO rapid-reaction force and for good reason, given what has been happening lately. Whether or not this force will come into being in time to be of use is another question entirely. With constricting defense budgets and a lack of alliance resolve, there is no guarantee that the 5,000 man force can even be created. Fortunately, SACEUR has not been idle on the matter of contingency plans for reinforcements in Eastern Europe if a crisis calls for it.

In October, 600 troops and accompanying armored vehicles from the 1st Brigade/1st Cavalry Division deployed to Poland and the Baltic states for a series of exercises over three months. The move was made to reassure nervous allies as tensions with Russia increased. Now, the US presence is going to be permanent, it would seem. Plans to preposition equipment and supplies for a US armored brigade in Europe are moving forward. The bulk of the equipment will probably be placed in Poland in storage sites similar to the POMCUS facilities in West Germany during the Cold War. US troops would fly from bases in the US to Eastern Europe and mate up with their equipment. Smaller numbers of tanks and other armored vehicles will be placed at US training sites, namely Grafenwoehr in southern Germany. The presence of heavy US forces would serve as a deterrent in a time of crisis and as an effective instrument of war if fighting broke out.

Concluding Remarks

Think of Eastern Europe and the Baltics as a chessboard, with military units acting as the playing pieces for both sides. The board is becoming increasingly crowded. The buildup is nothing comparable to the number of NATO and Warsaw Pact forces that faced off against each other for over 40 years in central Europe. Nor is the level of tension as great as it was during the Cold War.

All of that can change in an instant. And if war should ever come between NATO and Russia, the first shots will be fired in the Baltics or Eastern Europe.