Late in September, we brought you “US Readies Battle Plans For Baltic War With Russia” in which we described a series of thought experiments undertaken by The Pentagon in an effort to determine what the likely outcome would be should something go horribly “wrong” on the way to landing the US in a shooting war with Russia in the Balkans.
The results of those thought experiments were not encouraging. As a reminder, here’s how Foreign Policy summed up the exercises:
In June 2014, a month after he had left his force-planning job at the Pentagon, the Air Force asked David Ochmanek – deputy assistant secretary of defense for force development – for advice on Russia’s neighborhood ahead of Obama’s September visit to Tallinn, Estonia. At the same time, the Army had approached another of Ochmanek’s colleagues at Rand, and the two teamed up to run a thought exercise called a “table top,” a sort of war game between two teams: the red team (Russia) and the blue team (NATO). The scenario was similar to the one that played out in Crimea and eastern Ukraine: increasing Russian political pressure on Estonia and Latvia (two NATO countries that share borders with Russia and have sizable Russian-speaking minorities), followed by the appearance of provocateurs, demonstrations, and the seizure of government buildings. “Our question was: Would NATO be able to defend those countries?” Ochmanek recalls.
The results were dispiriting. Given the recent reductions in the defense budgets of NATO member countries and American pullback from the region, Ochmanek says the blue team was outnumbered 2-to-1 in terms of manpower, even if all the U.S. and NATO troops stationed in Europe were dispatched to the Baltics — including the 82nd Airborne, which is supposed to be ready to go on 24 hours’ notice and is based at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
To be sure, the fact that this is even under consideration is somewhat surreal. Sure, no one took Hillary Clinton serioulsy when she presented Sergei Lavrov with the now infamous “reset” button (which actually didn’t say “reset” because thanks to a “typo” the prop said “peregruzka” which means “overcharged”), but with a Nobel Peace Price-winning President in The White House, no one expected things to deterirotate to the point that NATO was seriously contemplating a war with the Russians.
Nevertheless, Moscow’s intervention in Syria has the West concerned that for the first time in nearly thirty years, The Kremlin doesn’t fear a direct confrontation.
The problem for The Pentagon isn’t so much that the US has fallen behind in terms of spending money on expensive war toys (i.e. we don’t necessarily doubt that Washington has the best technology).Rather, the US seems to have fallen behind in terms of its ability to fight a conventional war against a formidable foe, presumably because there really haven’t been any formidable foes in decades.
Well now, it seems entirely possible that the US may have to fight a conventional war against the Russians (and possibly the Iraninans) and that means you can no longer depend on the fact that on a warrior-for-warrior basis, a handful of SEAL Team Six members can pull off battlefield miracles, because no matter how elite your spec ops are, you can’t pit twelve guys against four thousand and expect them to win.
It’s with all of this in mind that Washington is beginning to assess whether the US could hold its ground against Russia in a conventional standoff. According to retired Army Colonel Douglas Macgregor, American forces would get “annihilated.” Here’s more, via Politico:
For those villagers eagerly snapping pictures on the side of a road in the Czech Republic in late September, the appearance of the line of U.S. “Stryker” armored fighting vehicles must have seemed more like a parade than a large-scale military operation. The movement of some 500-plus soldiers of the 2nd Cavalry Regiment from Vilsack in Bavaria to a Hungarian military base was intended to strengthen U.S. ties with the Czech, Slovak and Hungarian militaries and put Russia’s Vladimir Putin on notice.
But not everyone is convinced. “This Stryker parade won’t fool anyone in Moscow,” says retired Army Colonel Douglas Macgregor. “The Russians don’t do many things well, but they have been subverting, destabilizing, invading and conquering their neighbors since Peter the Great. And what’s our response: a small unit of light armored trucks.”
Viewed by many of his colleagues as one of the most innovative Army officers of his generation, Macgregor, a West Point graduate with a Ph.D. in international relations (“he can be pretty gruff,” a fellow West Point graduate says, “but he’s brilliant”), led the 2nd Cav’s “Cougar Squadron” in the best-known battle of Operation Desert Storm in February 1991. In 23 minutes, Macgregor’s force destroyed an entire Iraqi Armored Brigade (including nearly 70 Iraqi armored vehicles), while suffering a single American casualty. Speaking at a military “lessons learned” conference one year later, Air Force General Jack Welsh described the Battle of 73 Easting (named for a map coordinate) as “a stunning, overwhelming victory.”
In the wake of the battle, however, Macgregor calculated that if his unit had fought a highly trained and better armed enemy, like the Russians, the outcome would have been different.
In early September he circulated a PowerPoint presentation showing that in a head-to-head confrontation pitting the equivalent of a U.S. armored division against a likely Russian adversary, the U.S. division would be defeated.
“Defeated isn’t the right word,” Macgregor told me last week. “The right word is annihilated.” The 21-slide presentation features four battle scenarios, all of them against a Russian adversary in the Baltics — what one currently serving war planner on the Joint Chiefs staff calls “the most likely warfighting scenario we will face outside of the Middle East.”
“Macgregor scares the hell out of the Army,” says a senior Joint Chiefs war planner. “What he has proposed is nothing less than the dismantling of the Big Green Machine, getting the Army to embrace a future of lighter, more agile forces than the big lumbering behemoth which takes forever to spool up and deploy. I’ll bet the armor and airborne guys are furious. Reform my ass: Macgregor has walked into the zoo and slapped the gorilla.”
Yeah well, the US has already “walked into the zoo” and slapped the Russian grizzly bear. It sounds to us like Macregror may have a battle plan that actually isn’t a joke, which means it will be promptly dismissed by The Pentagon.
After all, it’s all about covert ops these days. And that’s working so well for Washington in the Mid-East. Why fix something that isn’t broken right?…