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Russia's Worst Nightmare: A European Union Army?

October 3, 2017 Topic: Security Region: Europe Blog Brand: The Buzz Tags: RussiaMilitaryTechnologyWorldEUArmy

Russia's Worst Nightmare: A European Union Army?

Could it happen? 

That’s because actually fielding those forces forward does require money. That said, if Prime Minister Sobotka really believes that Europe lacks the wealth to pay for its own defense, then perhaps noted naval blogger Commander Salamander had a point when he called the Czech Republic “a national security welfare queen.” To her credit, Germany’s von der Leyen understands the problem, and has been working to reverse the worst of German dithering on defense. When she visited the Atlantic Council in June 2014, she noted that “it’s not only a matter of two percent of the GDP, but it’s also a question of where you want to spend the money and how you want to spend the money.” In practice, what should that really mean?

CEPA’s Doran offered four recommendations, based on lessons from that smoldering Russo-Ukrainian War. Thermobaric, cluster-bombing, precision-guided artillery is causing 70 to 85 percent of the casualties, so it’s time for European armies to seriously relearn counter-battery operations. Killing howitzer crews is best, but harassing them may be enough. When Russian artillery is scooting, it’s not shooting. Those cannons are pointed to their targets by lots of drones, but remember that they are not yet so autonomous, so learn to counter unmanned aviation with electronic attacks. As demonstrated by the survivability rates of those T-90s, heavy tanks have been bought some time, but only if you buy active protection systems. There are a few good concepts coming on the market. Lastly, because artillery is dangerous, it’s time to update your infantry vehicles with more survivable models. But wait! With vehicles like the CV90, the Ajax, the Puma, and the Boxer available today, European armies have robust and competitive European offerings from which to choose.

Fairly, none of these armies are particularly large on their own. Fortunately, they needn’t be. Like the Russians, European defense ministries can think smaller and quicker, lowering the minimum efficient scale of forming and sustaining military forces. For an operating concept suitable for taking on the Russians, any brigade that goes forward should be built something like a Russian counterpart, just committed more seriously. As Nicolas Fiore wrote in “Defeating the Russian Battalion Tactical Group” (Armor magazine, Spring 2017), the Russian Army looks a lot more impressive than it actually is. The relatively small motorized units it sends forward are well-supported by tanks, artillery, drones, jammers, and air defenses, but the entire Russian Army remains short on solid, professional infantrymen. Many European armies have those, if only from long experience in Afghanistan. To Doran’s fourth lesson, I will add a fifth. If there was something Europeans didn’t learn recently along the Hindu Kush, it was how to manage battle-hardened logistics, dispersed away from easily spotted convoys and supply depots, that provide all-too-easy targets for Russian missiles.

All of these are solvable problems. Rebuilding the power of European land forces will require some more money for developing some new kit, specifically in electronic jamming and air defense. At least as notably, it requires a robust program of exercises to train each national contingent to move forward quickly to defeat any Russian incursion onto European soil. Most importantly, it requires serious thinking about new operating concepts, specifically in dispersed operations and networked logistics. And most usefully for parsimonious European politicians, new thinking is mostly free.

James Hasik is a senior fellow at the Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security, where this first appeared.

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Leopard_2_A5_der_Bundeswehr.jpgImage: Creative Commons.