Cold War Redux

The XX Committee* has a great post on just who NATO is facing in Russia, and why our responses have been so poor.

As the situation in Ukraine continues to deteriorate, with the Russian military and its “rebel” minions never having honored the Minsk-brokered “ceasefire” for even an hour, something like low-grade panic is setting in among NATO capitals. Western elites have a tough time sizing up Putin and his agenda realistically, for reasons I’ve elaborated, and the situation seems not to be improving.

German has a delightfully cynical line, die Hoffnung stirbt zuletzt (hope dies last), that sums up much of the wishful thinking that currently holds sway in Berlin, Paris, and Washington, DC. As the reality that Putin knows he is at war against Ukraine, and may seek a wider war against NATO too, is a prospect so terrifying that thousands of Western diplomats and “foreign policy experts” would rather not ponder it, so they don’t.

A classic example comes in a recent press report about how Western foreign ministries are striving to prevent Putin from doing more to destabilize Eastern Europe. Amidst much dithering about how to deter Putin — more sanctions? maybe some, but not too many, weapons for Ukraine? how about some really biting hashtags? — NATO leaders aren’t coming up with anything that can be termed a coherent policy, much less a strategy.

Western nations have consistently underestimated Putin’s willingness to use force.

How can we forget Putin overseeing the Second Chechen War? The 2008 invasion of Georgia? We’ve already effectively conceded Crimea. For that matter, who seriously thinks diplomacy will ever return eastern Ukrainian lands from Moscow’s grip?

Will we see a straight up invasion of Germany right out of Red Storm Rising? Probably not.

But almost certainly some “incident” will eventually take place in Latvia or one of the other Baltic nations that will, by amazing coincidence, be used by Putin to justify some Russian intervention.

Which, what a coincidence:

Increasingly frequent snap military drills being carried out by Russia near its eastern European neighbours could be part of a strategy that will open the door for a Russian offensive on the Baltic states according to defence expert Martin Hurt, deputy director at Estonia’s International Centre for Defence and Security.

The Lithuanian and Estonian defence ministries have expressed alarm at the increased military activity, and drawn comparisons with moves prior to the Russian invasion of Crimea.

Commenting on Russia’s announcement last week that its armed forces will not cease holding snap military exercises, Hurt, who has previously worked for Estonia’s Ministry of Defence as well as for the armed forces of both Estonia and Sweden, warned against taking this news lightly.


*If you don’t know where they got their blog name from, you most certainly should read this.

Big Lift and the birth of Reforger

In 1963, to demonstrate to the world, and especially the USSR, that the US could reinforce its troops in Germany, the Army and Air Force airlifted the personnel of an entire armored division from Texas to Germany. When they arrived, they fell in on prepositioned equipment, and quickly took to the field for large scale maneuvers. This was Operation Big Lift.

In the early morning of October 22, 1963, soldiers of the 2nd Armored Division at Fort Hood, Texas, lumbered up with their gear and individual weapons to an assembly of large cargo aircraft from the Military Air Transportation Service. Their destination was the front-line of the Cold War’s Central Europe.
Over the next 64 hours, the division, two artillery battalions, and assorted transportation units from around the country made the day-long flight across the Atlantic. An air strike force went as well. Altogether, the planes made over 200 flights, ferrying some 15,000 personnel and nearly 500 tons of equipment, one quarter of which belonged to the Army. It was the largest movement of troops by air to that date.
The deployment had been ordered by the U.S. government in consultation with its NATO allies to stem a likely attack by Warsaw Pact forces into West Germany. The scenario, however, was entirely notional. Instead of being met by hundreds of enemy tanks, the incoming troops were greeted by a 250 pound cake in the shape of a tank. The operation was, in fact, a preplanned exercise, aptly named BIG LIFT. Its actual purpose, as Defense Secretary Robert McNamara announced in a September 23 press conference, was to “provide a dramatic illustration of the United States’ capability for rapid reinforcement of NATO force.”

Interestingly, the airlift was conducted by Air Force transports.

A few years later, especially as Army readiness in Europe suffered during the Vietnam War, the Army again decided to show its ability to reinforce Europe. And thus began an yearly exercise dubbed REFORGER, or Redeployment of Forces to Germany.

Moving the equipment of a division overseas is a lengthy process, needing a month or more under the best circumstances. NATO certainly wasn’t sure that the Warsaw Pact would be kind enough to give that much strategic warning of any invasion of the West. So the Army instituted POMCUS, Prepositioning of Materiel in Unit Sets. Basically, every single bit of an armored or mechanized division would be stored in warehouses in Germany, and if the Army needed to reinforce Europe, they simply had to fly the people from an existing stateside division to Germany.

Rather than taxing the transport assets of the Air Force, commercial jets would be chartered, or those in the Civil Reserve Air Fleet would be mobilized to move the troops.

REFORGER itself came to be something of the capstone exercise for much of the Army. Remember, at the height of the Cold War, there was a massive US presence in Germany, and plans to send massive reinforcements, with the US III Corps first in line, followed by other elements as needed. Almost every year, not only would a US division be sent to Germany, but a major exercise involving most NATO nations would be staged.

With the collapse of the Soviet Union, REFORGER eventually faded away. No longer certain where it might be called upon to fight next, the Army has since struggled to become more expeditionary, able to move units and their equipment to any battlefield.

What’s in a name?

Ugh. Hand me some aspirin, willya?

I’ve been doing some research on the Chinese OrBat, and it’s giving me a headache.

First, I don’t read or speak Chinese.

Second, I’m so set in my ways in understanding the basic nomenclature norms of Western and Soviet states that learning a new one is like teaching an old dog a new trick.

The Chinese have a nasty habit of restructuring their entire nomenclature system from time to time, and even worse, have lately adapted the execrable Western habit of allowing marketing names to actually become nomenclature. And a system sold for export will have an entirely different nomenclature for the export product, even if it is identical.

Actually, on the understanding of the Soviet nomenclature, that’s a bit of a misnomer. What I really understood was the NATO reporting names for most Soviet systems. While some stuff, like tanks (T-54/55, T-62, T-64, T-72, T-80) used the actual Soviet designation, a lot of stuff used a designation rather arbitrarily assigned by NATO. For instance, what I spent the first half of my life knowing as the SA-2 SAM Surface-to-Air Missile system, was really the S-75 Dvina. If I were to say Fresco, Farmer, Fishbed, Flogger, every fighter pilot in the West would know exactly that I meant the MiG-17, –19, –21, and –23. While the Soviets used those numbers, I have no idea what they actually nicknamed those jets.

Similarly, most groundpounders know what an AT-3 Sagger is, but might be a little fuzzy on just what the 9K11 Malyutka is.  I sometimes forget that the NATO reporting name isn’t really the name the Soviets gave things.

The standard NATO reporting name system (an outgrowth of the standard reporting names for Japanese planes in World War II) made understanding easy for peabrains like me.

There really isn’t a similar system for Chinese weapon systems. I’m starting to glean the basics of how the Chinese name things. And about the time I do, they’ll probably change their system again.

Ballistic Missile Defense in Europe

The US policy of extending Ballistic Missile Defense capabilities to our European allies originally envisioned building installations in Poland based on our own GMD program as installed in Alaska. Political factors, far more than technical or tactical ones, caused that plan to be scrapped.  US Aegis BMD capable Aegis cruisers and destroyers will be forward deployed to Europe to provide BDM. Significant questions of cost and capability also lead to a decision to forego using the GMD program and instead to install a land based version of the US Navy’s Aegis system in Romania and Poland.

The U.S. and NATO have begun construction on the first deployed Aegis Ashore installation in Deveselu, Romania as part of a wider ballistic missile defense (BMD) strategy on Monday, according to several press reports.

“The facility here in Deveselu will be a crucial component in building up NATO’s overall ballistic missile defense system,” NATO deputy secretary-general Alexander Vershbow said.”By the end of 2015 this base will be operational and integrated into the overall NATO system.”


Aegis BMD had a bit of stunning publicity back in 2008 when the USS Lake Erie used her Aegis system to knock down a dying satellite.

Aegis, named for the shield of Athena and Zeus, is an integrated shipboard air defense system in service from the early 1980s.  The term Aegis more properly refers to the computers and software that make up the combat system, but is colloquially used to refer to the entire hardware suite of combat system, radar, launcher, and associated equipment.

The radar itself, the SPY-1, is a passively scanned phased array. The launcher, the Mk41 Vertical Launch system, can be loaded with any of a number of types of missiles. Aboard ship, it carries several versions of the SM-2 and SM-3 Standard Missile family to intercept aircraft and missiles, Tomahawk cruise missiles, the Vertical Launch ASROC anti-submarine rocket, and increasingly, the Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile short-range air defense missile. I think we can safely presume the shore based installation will only carry Standard Missile family members.

The SPY-1 radar was developed with open ocean air defense as its priority, and has struggled with tracking targets over land. But because ballistic missile trajectories are so far above the horizon, that shouldn’t be an issue.

Aegis Ashore is a great example of leveraging existing technologies for a low risk, low costs solution to a problem. With over thirty years of use, the basic components are well tested. The systems are already in production for shipboard use, and adapting them to shore use is a far easier task than adapting a shore based system for shipboard use.

Indeed, before the Navy even fielded its first operational Aegis system, it build a shore based system for testing and integration.

Shore basing the Aegis system is also quite a bit cheaper than providing the same capability via a forward deployed ship. Lower operating and manning costs, and simplified logistics drive down costs.

Aegis and the SM missile family have a good track record of success in testing against short, medium, and intermediate range ballistic missiles. Full capability against ICBMs has yet to be demonstrated, but as capability grows, updating the ashore installations will be relatively simple.

Very Cold Launch

We wrote a post a while back about hot and cold missile launches, and noted that the US, submarines aside, uses hot launches for most missiles, because if the motor of the missile doesn’t start…. well, you’ve got problems. Like this: