Why NATO Should Fear Russia's A2/AD Capabilities (And How to Respond)
Russia's military is modernizing with new equipment and tactics. Time for NATO to step up.
Russia’s hybrid warfare and anti-access, area-denial (A2/AD) capabilities have caused great concern among neighboring nations. Moscow’s aggressiveness is viewed as seeking to weaken the NATO alliance and European partnerships. As a result, many European countries view Russia as a threat, and have decided to boost their defenses to protect themselves.
Russia’s hybrid warfare is challenging the U.S. and allies in Ukraine and on NATO’s four flanks. This type of combat includes a combination of cyber activities of unclear origin, irregular forces, conventional weapons and traditional forces applied in coordinated fashion. Russia purposely holds these activities below the threshold that the U.S. would normally consider conflict to limit response options and to challenge the norms usually guiding regional security.
Moscow is also increasing its military cooperation with Beijing by conducting regular exercises. Last week Russia and China began an exercise in the South China Sea focused on marine corps units conducting live-fire practices, sea crossing and island landing operations, and island offensive and defensive drills with Chinese and Russian surface ships, submarines, planes, helicopters and amphibious armored equipment. This is not their first exercise — they held drills in the Sea of Japan and in the Mediterranean last year.
So many countries are concerned about the Russian threat that cuts in Western European defense spending that have continued for the past two decades have come to an end. Norway plans to purchase 52 F-35 fighters, replace its submarine fleet, purchase new surveillance aircraft, upgrade tank units, and acquire new anti-aircraft systems. The Czech Republic, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania have also decided to increase their defense spending. Even neutral Sweden is planning for an additional $2 billion to purchase armored personnel carriers, artillery, anti-tank weapons and air defense systems.
Russian A2/AD capabilities have been implemented in Kaliningrad along the Baltic Sea and in the Black and eastern Mediterranean Seas. For example, Moscow placed an S-400 missile air defense system, with a range of up to 250 miles, in Crimea last month. This system potentially denies airspace to NATO aircraft over the Baltic States, Ukraine, the Black Sea, northern Poland, Syria and Turkey. F-35s and other fifth-generation aircraft are needed more than ever because Russian air defenses are challenging fourth-generation air forces. U.S. planners have also learned more about Russia’s tactics from training Ukrainian soldiers: Moscow employs unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) that can jam communications, mark targets, and transmit coordinates to artillery pieces and rocket launchers.
By 2019, Moscow will likely deploy Iskander advanced nuclear-capable missiles to Kaliningrad in response to the new Aegis Ashore Missile Defense System in Romania. Russia views this system, which is part of the European Phased Adaptive Approach, as a threat to its aircraft even though U.S. and NATO officials have repeatedly explained that it is to protect Europe from Iranian missiles. Russian Iskanders have a range of 500 kilometers, about 300 miles, and could hit Poland and Germany. Moscow has already deployed these missiles twice to Kaliningrad, but has removed them afterwards.
NATO nations are almost completely dependent on air forces to counter Russian A2/AD. The alliance should consider developing A2/AD capabilities of its own even though they are considered offensive in nature. General Philip Breedlove, former supreme allied commander for Europe, noted that NATO needs more long range, survivable precision strike capabilities on the ground such as the Army Tactical Missile System, Multiple Launch Rocket System or High Mobility Artillery Rocket System. Lieutenant General Ben Hodges, Commanding General, United States Army Europe, noted that a Stryker regiment could really help in the restrictive terrain in the Baltic region.
Intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance have also become a higher priority when taking into account Russian A2/AD capabilities. NATO isn’t especially proficient sharing intelligence during peacetime, and this must be improved. Understanding the security landscape is crucial to developing indications and warnings, bringing concerns to decision-makers, and taking early action.
To protect itself from Russian tactical ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, drones and advanced aircraft, Poland has decided to purchase the Patriot, an air-and-missile defense system. The Patriot is known for its past success in 2003 when U.S. forces deployed it to Kuwait in the Iraq conflict and destroyed several hostile surface-to-surface missiles. The Israeli Air Defense Command also used Patriot to shoot down two Hamas UAVs and a Syrian aircraft that entered Israeli airspace. Other countries that utilize the Patriot include Taiwan, Greece, Spain, Israel, Japan, the Netherlands, Saudi Arabia, and United Arab Emirates. Poland is also looking at other missile defense systems for protection. For instance, a Polish defense group called PGZ plans to co-develop and share work on the Medium Extended Air Defense System, a ground-mobile air and missile defense system.
Taking into consideration the Russian threat, NATO needs to be able to switch from peacetime to wartime operations at a moment’s notice. NATO has created a 13,000 man rapid response force and the U.S. has been leading pre-deployment of heavy armor to Eastern Europe. Multinational Corps Northeast located in Szczecin, Poland has transitioned from a low readiness to a high readiness headquarters to coordinate and provide command and control for U.S. and NATO forces in Eastern Europe. Officials are working on ensuring continuous movement of cargo in the Baltic States by becoming familiar with local seaports, airports, roads and rail networks along with different weather conditions that could cause challenges.
Lieutenant General Hodges says that the U.S. and NATO must demonstrate capability to prevent a Russian attack. This is why the U.S. Army is moving from an assurance to a deterrence posture in Europe. The Army now has to counter UAVs, camouflage and tactical dispersion – much different from experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan. Armored brigade combat teams have expanded rotations into theater from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea to six months — rotations will last for nine months beginning in February 2017. Rotational aviation forces and sustainment forces have also been requested to support this effort. Sustainment hubs will be established in the north, center and south of the Atlantic resolve area to distribute supplies efficiently. A permanently stationed armored brigade combat team would be best, but such a permanent force is costly and challenging with limited defense resources.
The U.S. and NATO must continue to work together against the increasing Russian threat. Member nations need to keep on investing in defense systems to not only protect themselves, but also to defend the European continent. It should not take a new threat for nations to understand that they must invest in security. Countries should constantly maintain and improve their security strategies because capabilities are critical to deterring present and future threats, whether from Russia or elsewhere.
This first appeared on the Lexington Institute website here.