Appropriate Counter-measures and Credible Force
March 30, 2014 § Leave a comment
In an article in the Daily Beast, former NYT columnist and president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations, Leslie H. Gelb, argues for the US to take a hard line against Russia’s undeclared war against Ukraine. Yep. Concur. He then goes on to slam president Obama for doing too little or nothing at all, reiterating how Obama has failed to enforce red lines in Syria, Korea and elsewhere, as a preliminary to suggesting that the US deploy a mass of 50-60 F-22 Raptors, unquantified Patriot anti-missile defense units and ”appropriate ground support and protection”. In addition to this, Mr Gelb suggests the US deploy, as a deterrent, instructors and materiél to support Ukranian partisans.
While the assessment that Putin will only be intimidated by actual force or the very credible threat thereof is beyond reproof, there are a number of holes in the hardware department. The chief problem is that 50-60 F-22 fighters comprises nearly half of the total combat-coded inventory, a number which, were they to be deployed, would be an ”all-in” move and leave the US utterly denuded elsewhere. Those 50-60 F-22’s represent the most advanced, and a most signifcant, part of the United States’ combat aircraft capability. They are not to be wantonly played with in a game of chicken on foreign soil. Furthermore, you don’t move such bulk of materiél and personnel on a moment’s notice. Yes, you can deploy a fighting team of four aircraft in just a day or two, but to get the ground services and command intelligence of a full deployment together, you will need a week at the least. It is an altogether unrealistic suggestion.
What then might a credible response look like? We’ll come back to that in a moment but let us first look at the most important factor: time. You may not have noticed it, but time is fast running out, on both sides of the fence. That fact alone governs much of the subsequent drama.
The Russian troops have been at a high state of readiness ever since the start of the Crimean campaign. Lack of action, a heightened sense of anticipation and weeks of unrelenting ”Ukrainians are fascist”-propaganda to keep them on their toes means that the average Russian grunt is now likely to suffer a measure of fatigue. Given a few more days the Russian troops will deteriorate further: physically, mentally and in terms of combat efficiency. Many of them are but conscript boys at the end of their term: they will be itching to get home as much as some of them will be itching for a fight, the kind of fight they’ve trained for and have come to expect as inevitable.
Russia has amassed thousands of soldiers and a lot of materiél close to the borders. This force will have to be used shortly, or it will start to break down. If inactive for more than two weeks, its morale and fighting capacity begins to erode. The ”grace” period is all but over. The spring is loaded. The troops must either attack or return to base. You don’t keep that kind of bargaining chip in the field for weeks and months on end.
This leaves Ukraine’s defense forces either precious little time for further preparation, or a lot of time. If there is little time available, the west should not do anything at all, inside Ukraine that is – because whatever it attempts will be too little, too late. Besides, NATO will not cross into Ukraine under any circumstance, as it is barred from acting outside its mandate and because there is nothing to be gained from a direct confrontation with Russia. Whatever message NATO wants to send is more conveniently communicated outside Ukraine’s borders than within. If there is a lot of time available, diplomacy may yet work and a military show of strength may not be required at all.
Now, back to the credible response. I believe NATO has delivered a substantial message already or Russia would be all over Ukraine like flies on shit.
That response includes deployment of a number of E-3 AWACS aircraft to the region, 12 F-16 fighters and 300 support personnel and a number of additional F-15 Strike Eagle air superiority fighters to patrol NATO airspace. Further significant signals have been communicated via the USS Truxtun, an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer currently participating in joint exercises with Bulgaria and Romania in the Black Sea. Beyond this there have been reports about Polish reservists being called back to the colours – whether this is “routine” as professed or a subtle propaganda signal to the Russians is anyone’s guess.
Outside of these well-publicized deployments, it would be fair to guess that a number of other measures, overt and covert, have been employed in sending messages of substance to Russia. Such measures include increased signals monitoring, rerouting of satellites, radar lock-on’s, mobilization of JTAC assets, the appearance of ground observers and the deployment of passive monitoring devices at strategic junctions. Further covert measures are also likely, but I won’t speculate further.
The big question now is what leverage Russia will have behind her claim to maintain hold over Crimea once she is compelled to pull back her ground forces. The UN and world at large have condemned the invasion and annexation as illegal, and no squirming on Russia’s part is likely to change that position.