The Cold War Roots of the Integrated U.S./Japan/NATO Air Defense Network

Continental U.S. Air Defense Identifications Zones [MIT Lincoln Laboratory]

My last post detailed how the outbreak of the Korean War in 1950 prompted the U.S. to undertake emergency efforts to bolster its continental air defenses, including the concept of the Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ). This post will trace the development of this network and its gradual integration with those of Japan and NATO.

In the early 1950s, U.S. continental air defense, designated the Semi-Automatic Ground Environment air defense system or SAGE, resembled a scaled-up version of the Dowding System, pioneered by Great Britain as it faced air attack by the Luftwaffe in 1940. SAGE was initially a rudimentary and analog affair:

The permanent network depended on each radar site to perform GCI [Ground Control & Intercept] functions or pass information to a nearby GCI center. For example, information gathered by North Truro Air Force Station on Cape Cod was transmitted via three dedicated land lines to the GCI center at Otis AFB, Massachusetts, and then on to the ADC Headquarters at Ent AFB, Colorado. The facility at Otis AFB was a regional information clearinghouse that integrated the data from North Truro and other regional radar stations, Navy picket ships, and the all-volunteer GOC [Ground Observer Corps]. The clearinghouse operation was labor intensive. The data had to be manually copied onto Plexiglas plotting boards. The ground controllers used this data to direct defensive fighters to their targets. It was a slow and cumbersome process, fraught with difficulties. Engagement information was passed on to command headquarters by telephone and teletype. At Ent AFB, the information received from the regional clearinghouses was then passed on to enlisted airmen standing on scaffolds behind the world’s largest Plexiglas board. Using grease pencils, these airmen etched the progress of enemy bombers onto the back of the Plexiglas board so that air defense commanders could evaluate and respond. This arrangement impeded rapid response to the air battle.

It is hard to imagine an air defense challenge of the magnitude that potentially faced the U.S. and USSR by 1955. The Strategic Air Command (SAC) bomber fleet peaked at over 2,500 in 1955-1965, with 2,000 B-47s (range of 2,013 statute miles) and 750 B-52s (range of 4,480 statute miles). The range of U.S. bombers was extended considerably by the ~800 KC-135 aerial re-fueling tanker aircraft fleet as well.

In spite of the much publicized “bomber gap,” taking Soviet production numbers (and liberally adding aircraft of shorter range or unavailable until 1962…) produces an approximate estimate for a Soviet bombing fleet:

  • M-4 “Bison” (range of 3480 statute miles) = 93
  • Tu-16 “Badger” (range of 3888 statute miles) = 1507
  • Tu-22 “Blinder” (range of 3000 statute miles) = 250-300
  • Tu-95 “Bear” (range of 9400 statute miles) = 300+

That gave the U.S. an advantage in bombers of 2,750 to ~2,200 over the Soviets. Now, imagine this air battle being conducted with manual tracking on plexiglass with grease pencils…untenable!

Air Defense and Modern Computing

However, the problem proved amenable to solutions provided by the pending computer revolution.

At the Lincoln Laboratory development continued on an automated command and control system centered around the 250-ton Whirlwind II (AN/FSQ-7) computer. Containing some 49,000 vacuum tubes, the Whirlwind II became a central component of the SAGE system. SAGE, a system of analog computer-equipped direction centers, processed information from ground radars, picket ships, early-warning aircraft, and ground observers onto a generated radarscope to create a composite picture of the emerging air battle. Gone were the Plexiglas TM boards and teletype reports. Having an instantaneous view of the air picture over North America, defense commanders would be able to quickly evaluate the threats and effectively deploy interceptors and missiles to meet the threat.

The SAGE system was continually upgraded through the mid-to-late 1950s.

By 1954, with several more radars in the northeast providing data, the Cambridge control center (a prototype SAGE center) gained experience in directing F-86D interceptors against B-47 bombers performing mock raids. Still much development, research, and testing lay ahead. Bringing together long-range radar, communications, microwave electronics, and digital computer technologies required the largest research and development effort since the Manhattan Project. During its first ten years, the government spent $8 billion to develop and deploy SAGE. By 1958, Lincoln Laboratory had a professional staff of 720 with an annual budget of $22.5 million, to conduct SAGE-related work. The contract with IBM to build sixty production models of the Whirlwind II at $30 million each provided about half of the corporation’s revenues for the 1950s and exposed the corporation to technologies that it would use in the 1960s to dominate the computer industry. In the meantime, scientists and electronic engineers in the defense industry strove to install better radars and make these radars invulnerable to electronic countermeasures (ECM), commonly called jamming.

The SAGE development effort became one of the foundations of modern computing, giving IBM the technological capability to dominate for several decades, until it outsourced two key components: hardware to Intel and software to a young Microsoft, both of which became behemoths of the internet age. It is also estimated that this effort brought a price tag which exceeded that of the Manhattan Project. SAGE also transformed the attitude of the USAF towards technology and computerization.

Current Air Defense Networks

In the 1950s and 60s, the U.S. continental air defense network gradually began to expand geographically and integrate with NADGE and JADGE air defense networks of its NATO allies and Japan.

NATO Air Defense Ground Environment (NADGE): This was approved by NATO in December 1955, and became operational in 1962 with 18 radar stations. This eventually grew to 84 stations and provided an inter-connected network from Norway to Turkey before being superseded by the NATO Integrated Air Defense System (NATINADS) in 1972. NATINADS was further upgraded in the 1980s to include data from the E-3 Sentry AWACS aircraft (AEGIS (Airborne Early-warning/Ground Environment Integrated Segment); not to be confused with the USN system with the same acronym.)

Base Air Defense Ground Environment (BADGE): This was the automated system, in the same fashion as SAGE, which replaced the manual system in place with the JASDF since 1960. The requirement was stated in July 1961, and was actually modeled on the Naval Tactical Information System (NTDS), developed by Hughes for the US Navy. This was ordered in December 1964, and operational in March 1969. This was superseded by Japan Aerospace Defense Ground Environment (JADGE) in July 2009.

Active Defense, Forward Defense, and A2/AD in Eastern Europe

The current military and anti-access/area denial situation in Eastern Europe. [Map and overlay derived from situation map by Thomas C. Thielen (@noclador); and Ian Williams, “The Russia – NATO A2AD Environment,” Missile Threat, Center for Strategic and International Studies, published January 3, 2017, last modified November 29, 2018,]

In an article published by West Point’s Modern War Institute last month, The US Army is Wrong on Future War,” Nathan Jennings, Amos Fox and Adam Taliaferro laid out a detailed argument that current and near-future political, strategic, and operational realities augur against the Army’s current doctrinal conceptualization for Multi-Domain Operations (MDO).

[T]he US Army is mistakenly structuring for offensive clashes of mass and scale reminiscent of 1944 while competitors like Russia and China have adapted to twenty-first-century reality. This new paradigm—which favors fait accompli acquisitions, projection from sovereign sanctuary, and indirect proxy wars—combines incremental military actions with weaponized political, informational, and economic agendas under the protection of nuclear-fires complexes to advance territorial influence…

These factors suggest, cumulatively, that the advantage in military confrontation between great powers has decisively shifted to those that combine strategic offense with tactical defense.

As a consequence, the authors suggested that “the US Army should recognize the evolved character of modern warfare and embrace strategies that establish forward positions of advantage in contested areas like Eastern Europe and the South China Sea. This means reorganizing its current maneuver-centric structure into a fires-dominant force with robust capacity to defend in depth.”

Forward Defense, Active Defense, and AirLand Battle

To illustrate their thinking, Jennings, Fox, and Taliaferro invoked a specific historical example:

This strategic realignment should begin with adopting an approach more reminiscent of the US Army’s Active Defense doctrine of the 1970s than the vaunted AirLand Battle concept of the 1980s. While many distain (sic) Active Defense for running counter to institutional culture, it clearly recognized the primacy of the combined-arms defense in depth with supporting joint fires in the nuclear era. The concept’s elevation of the sciences of terrain and weaponry at scale—rather than today’s cult of the offense—is better suited to the current strategic environment. More importantly, this methodology would enable stated political aims to prevent adversary aggression rather than to invade their home territory.

In the article’s comments, many pushed back against reviving Active Defense thinking, which has apparently become indelibly tarred with the derisive criticism that led to its replacement by AirLand Battle in the 1980s. As the authors gently noted, much of this resistance stemmed from the perceptions of Army critics that Active Defense was passive and defensively-oriented, overly focused on firepower, and suspicions that it derived from operations research analysts reducing warfare and combat to a mathematical “battle calculus.”

While AirLand Battle has been justly lauded for enabling U.S. military success against Iraq in 1990-91 and 2003 (a third-rank, non-nuclear power it should be noted), it always elided the fundamental question of whether conventional deep strikes and operational maneuver into the territory of the Soviet Union’s Eastern European Warsaw Pact allies—and potentially the Soviet Union itself—would have triggered a nuclear response. The criticism of Active Defense similarly overlooked the basic political problem that led to the doctrine in the first place, namely, the need to provide a credible conventional forward defense of West Germany. Keeping the Germans actively integrated into NATO depended upon assurances that a Soviet invasion could be resisted effectively without resorting to nuclear weapons. Indeed, the political cohesion of the NATO alliance itself rested on the contradiction between the credibility of U.S. assurances that it would defend Western Europe with nuclear weapons if necessary and the fears of alliance members that losing a battle for West Germany would make that necessity a reality.

Forward Defense in Eastern Europe

A cursory look at the current military situation in Eastern Europe along with Russia’s increasingly robust anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) capabilities (see map) should clearly illustrate the logic behind a doctrine of forward defense. U.S. and NATO troops based in Western Europe would have to run a gauntlet of well protected long-range fires systems just to get into battle in Ukraine or the Baltics. Attempting operational maneuver at the end of lengthy and exposed logistical supply lines would seem to be dauntingly challenging. The U.S. 2nd U.S. Cavalry ABCT Stryker Brigade Combat Team based in southwest Germany appears very much “lone and lonely.” It should also illustrate the difficulties in attacking the Russian A2/AD complex; an act, which Jennings, Fox, and Taliaferro remind, that would actively court a nuclear response.

In this light, Active Defense—or better—a MDO doctrine of forward defense oriented on “a fires-dominant force with robust capacity to defend in depth,” intended to “enable stated political aims to prevent adversary aggression rather than to invade their home territory,” does not really seem foolishly retrograde after all.

The Third World War of 1985


[This article was originally posted on 5 August 2016]

The seeming military resurgence of Vladimir Putin’s Russia has renewed concerns about the military balance between East and West in Europe. These concerns have evoked memories of the decades-long Cold War confrontation between NATO and the Warsaw Pact along the inner-German frontier. One of the most popular expressions of this conflict came in the form of a book titled The Third World War: August 1985, by British General Sir John Hackett. The book, a hypothetical account of a war between the Soviet Union, the United States, and assorted allies set in the near future, became an international best-seller.

Jeffrey H Michaels, a Senior Lecturer in Defence Studies at the British the Joint Services Command and Staff College, has published a detailed look at how Hackett and several senior NATO and diplomatic colleagues constructed the scenario portrayed in the book. Scenario construction is an important aspect of institutional war gaming. A war game will only be as useful if the assumptions that underpin it are valid. As Michaels points out,

Regrettably, far too many scenarios and models, whether developed by military organizations, political scientists, or fiction writers, tend to focus their attention on the battlefield and the clash of armies, navies, air forces, and especially their weapons systems.  By contrast, the broader context of the war – the reasons why hostilities erupted, the political and military objectives, the limits placed on military action, and so on – are given much less serious attention, often because they are viewed by the script-writers as a distraction from the main activity that occurs on the battlefield.

Modelers and war gamers always need to keep in mind the fundamental importance of context in designing their simulations.

It is quite easy to project how one weapon system might fare against another, but taken out of a broader strategic context, such a projection is practically meaningless (apart from its marketing value), or worse, misleading.  In this sense, even if less entertaining or exciting, the degree of realism of the political aspects of the scenario, particularly policymakers’ rationality and cost-benefit calculus, and the key decisions that are taken about going to war, the objectives being sought, the limits placed on military action, and the willingness to incur the risks of escalation, should receive more critical attention than the purely battlefield dimensions of the future conflict.

These are crucially important points to consider when deciding how to asses the outcomes of hypothetical scenarios.

Combat Readiness And The U.S. Army’s “Identity Crisis”

Servicemen of the U.S. Army’s 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team (standing) train Ukrainian National Guard members during a joint military exercise called “Fearless Guardian 2015,” at the International Peacekeeping and Security Center near the western village of Starychy, Ukraine, on May 7, 2015. [Newsweek]

Last week, Wesley Morgan reported in POLITICO about an internal readiness study recently conducted by the U.S. Army 173rd Airborne Infantry Brigade Combat Team. As U.S. European Command’s only airborne unit, the 173rd Airborne Brigade has been participating in exercises in the Baltic States and the Ukraine since 2014 to demonstrate the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s (NATO) resolve to counter potential Russian aggression in Eastern Europe.

The experience the brigade gained working with Baltic and particularly Ukrainian military units that had engaged with Russian and Russian-backed Ukrainian Separatist forces has been sobering. Colonel Gregory Anderson, the 173rd Airborne Brigade commander, commissioned the study as a result. “The lessons we learned from our Ukrainian partners were substantial. It was a real eye-opener on the absolute need to look at ourselves critically,” he told POLITICO.

The study candidly assessed that the 173rd Airborne Brigade currently lacked “essential capabilities needed to accomplish its mission effectively and with decisive speed” against near-peer adversaries or sophisticated non-state actors. Among the capability gaps the study cited were

  • The lack of air defense and electronic warfare units and over-reliance on satellite communications and Global Positioning Systems (GPS) navigation systems;
  • simple countermeasures such as camouflage nets to hide vehicles from enemy helicopters or drones are “hard-to-find luxuries for tactical units”;
  • the urgent need to replace up-armored Humvees with the forthcoming Ground Mobility Vehicle, a much lighter-weight, more mobile truck; and
  • the likewise urgent need to field the projected Mobile Protected Firepower armored vehicle companies the U.S. Army is planning to add to each infantry brigade combat team.

The report also stressed the vulnerability of the brigade to demonstrated Russian electronic warfare capabilities, which would likely deprive it of GPS navigation and targeting and satellite communications in combat. While the brigade has been purchasing electronic warfare gear of its own from over-the-counter suppliers, it would need additional specialized personnel to use the equipment.

As analyst Adrian Bonenberger commented, “The report is framed as being about the 173rd, but it’s really about more than the 173rd. It’s about what the Army needs to do… If Russia uses electronic warfare to jam the brigade’s artillery, and its anti-tank weapons can’t penetrate any of the Russian armor, and they’re able to confuse and disrupt and quickly overwhelm those paratroopers, we could be in for a long war.”

While the report is a wake-up call with regard to the combat readiness in the short-term, it also pointedly demonstrates the complexity of the strategic “identity crisis” that faces the U.S. Army in general. Many of the 173rd Airborne Brigade’s current challenges can be traced directly to the previous decade and a half of deployments conducting wide area security missions during counterinsurgency operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. The brigade’s perceived shortcomings for combined arms maneuver missions are either logical adaptations to the demands of counterinsurgency warfare or capabilities that atrophied through disuse.

The Army’s specific lack of readiness to wage combined arms maneuver warfare against potential peer or near-peer opponents in Europe can be remedied given time and resourcing in the short-term. This will not solve the long-term strategic conundrum the Army faces in needing to be prepared to fight conventional and irregular conflicts at the same time, however. Unless the U.S. is willing to 1) increase defense spending to balance force structure to the demands of foreign and military policy objectives, or 2) realign foreign and military policy goals with the available force structure, it will have to resort to patching up short-term readiness issues as best as possible and continue to muddle through. Given the current state of U.S. domestic politics, muddling through will likely be the default option unless or until the consequences of doing so force a change.

‘Your Lyin’ Eyes’: Visualizing the A2/AD Environment in Europe

The Russia – NATO A2AD Environment. [CSIS]

Over, at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), Ian Williams, Kathleen Weinberger, and Colonel John O’Grady have assembled data on NATO and Russian anti-access/area denial (known as A2/AD, love it or hate it) capabilities, which has been turned into a fascinating interactive graphic. The capabilities depicted include “air defenses, counter-maritime forces, and theater offensive strike weapons, such as short- or medium-range ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, and other precision guided munitions.”

Information on the map is divided into six categories:

Russia – Air Defense: Includes deployments of long-range Russian anti-air missile systems. Specific systems represented are the S-300 and S-400. Not included in map are Russia’s shorter ranged, highly mobile air defense assets, such as the Buk family of surface to air missile systems. These “shoot and scoot” launchers are embedded with Russian ground forces, and thus do not have fixed locations.

Russia – Land-based Strike: Includes deployments of short-range offensive ballistic missile systems, such as the SS-26 or Iskander short-range ballistic missiles, as well as deployments of Russian Oniks anti-ship missiles to Kaliningrad.

Russia – Naval strike: This category reflects the range (from notional locations) of Russia’s sea-based SS-N-30A Kalibr-type cruise missiles, and its SS-N-27 Sizzler anti-ship missiles.

NATO – Air Defense: Shows the estimated coverage areas and home-base disposition of NATO PATRIOT missile units, separately showing ballistic missile and air defense coverage areas. Although not reflected in this map, NATO is heavily reliant on fighter aircraft for air defense.

NATO – Naval Strike: Reflects the estimated range of U.S. Tomahawk Block IV (TLAM-E) sea-based cruise missiles.

NATO – Ports of Debarkation/Embarkations (PODs): These points show key logistical infrastructure, such as airports and seaports (APODs / SPODs), that could be used by NATO forces.

Figuring out how to fight effectively in this environment is what is keeping American and Western national security thinkers and planners up at night these days. The Third Offset Strategy was the first crack at doing so. Whether it will survive into the incoming Trump administration remains to be seen, though some signs indicate that it will. Stay tuned, folks.

The Roots of Russian ‘Hybrid Warfare’

Special Forces (spetsnaz) personnel of the Russian Federation federal agencies receiving awards from Russian President Vladimir Putin during an official reception.

On Russian foreign and military affairs, I have a lot of time for British academic Mark Galeotti. I recommend his work to anyone interested in these topics. An expert on Russian history and government, he is currently a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of International Affairs Prague, and Principal Director of the consultancy Mayak Intelligence.

In a piece at War on the Rocks, Galeotti acknowledges the traditionally cited sources for Russia’s so-called “hybrid war” approach: its relative post-Soviet economic weakness and a military/political inheritance from the Soviet and Tsarist eras. However, he argues that the Putin government’s approach to foreign and military policy is a reflection of the hybrid nature of the current Russian state:

Today, Russia is a patrimonial, hyper-presidential regime, one characterized by the permeability of boundaries between public and private, domestic and external. As oligarch-turned-dissident Mikhail Khodorkovsky put it:

[W]hat distinguishes the current Russian government from the erstwhile Soviet leaders familiar to the West is its rejection of ideological constraints and the complete elimination of institutions.

Lacking meaningful rule of law or checks and balances, without drawing too heavy-handed a comparison with fascism, Putin’s Russia seems to embody, in its own chaotic and informal way, Mussolini’s dictum “tutto nello Stato, niente al di fuori dello Stato, nulla contro lo Stato” — “everything inside the State, nothing outside the State, nothing against the State.” Parenthetically, Mussolini sent what could be called “little blackshirt men” to Spain in the 1930s to fight on Franco’s side during the civil war. All notionally opted to do so of their own volition (as the Voluntary Troops Corps) and initially without insignia.

In Russia, state institutions are often regarded as personal fiefdoms and piggy banks, officials and even officers freely engage in commercial activity, and the Russian Orthodox Church is practically an arm of the Kremlin. Given all that, the infusion of non-military instruments into military affairs was almost inevitable. Beyond that, though, Putin’s Russia has been characterized — in the past, at least — by multiple, overlapping agencies, a “bureaucratic pluralism” intended as much to permit the Kremlin to divide and rule as for any practical advantages.

Galeotti asserts that the Putin regime believes itself in a “geopolitical, even civilizational struggle” with the West, and its approach to the conflict mirrors the way the regime operates, with “blurring of the borders between state, paramilitary, mercenary, and dupe.”

He lays out his argument fully in a newly published study, Hybrid War or Gibridnaya Voina? Getting Russia’s non-linear military challenge right.

Can Russia Cow Europe into Submission?

My previous post addressed a famous 1980s U.S. policy and strategic debate in which quantitative analysis featured prominently. Such debates are ongoing, of course. The International Security Studies Forum just posted a roundtable discussion of a recent book by MIT political scientist Barry R. Posen, Restraint:  A New Foundation for U.S. Grand Strategy. The prolific Posen is the Ford International Professor of Political Science and director of MIT’s Security Studies Program. He played a role in the 1980s NATO/Warsaw Pact debate and his ongoing research “focuses on US military strategy, force structure and capabilities, and force posture (the global distribution of U.S. military forces.)”

His new book addresses the relationship between contemporary U.S. national strategy and net assessments of military power. In it, Posen makes an argument for a new grand strategic approach, as described in its blurb:

The United States, Barry R. Posen argues in Restraint, has grown incapable of moderating its ambitions in international politics. Since the collapse of Soviet power, it has pursued a grand strategy that he calls “liberal hegemony,” one that Posen sees as unnecessary, counterproductive, costly, and wasteful. Written for policymakers and observers alike, Restraint explains precisely why this grand strategy works poorly and then provides a carefully designed alternative grand strategy and an associated military strategy and force structure. In contrast to the failures and unexpected problems that have stemmed from America’s consistent overreaching, Posen makes an urgent argument for restraint in the future use of U.S. military strength… His alternative for military strategy, which Posen calls “command of the commons,” focuses on protecting U.S. global access through naval, air, and space power, while freeing the United States from most of the relationships that require the permanent stationing of U.S. forces overseas.

In his response to the comments of the roundtable participants, Posen offered his capsule assessment of Russia’s current strategic situation in the context of his recommendation that the U.S. scale back its military commitment to European security:

Russia, under the leadership of President Vladimir Putin, has made itself into a meaningful military power, and is practicing a muscular foreign policy. It seized Crimea, subverts the Donbas, and backs the Assad regime in Syria. This does not mean that it is no longer possible to implement Restraint in Europe. Russia’s power must be put in perspective. The National Intelligence Council assesses Russia’s net power as a fraction of the European Union’s today, and expects little improvement by mid-century. Its disastrous economic policies show no sign of change and the decrease in oil prices has made things even worse. Europe, taken as a whole, will remain quite capable. The question is whether Russia, by virtue of a sustained commitment to the generation of military power from a deteriorating economic base, can somehow cow Europe into submission. Would the Europeans invest so little in defending themselves in the absence of the U.S. military commitment that Russia could win what the Soviet Union could not–hegemony in Europe? [Emphasis added]

In light of recent debates over the correlation of military of forces and alleged military vulnerability of the Baltic States, a realistic assessment of overall strategic and military power seems like a good question to address. Posen’s arguments are well interrogated in the roundtable and his response is illuminating. It is all worth the time to read.

[Post edited for contextual clarity.]

Brexit and NATO’s Tanks

A British army Challenger II main battle tank from the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards fires at a target during a training exercise in Basra, Iraq. (Sgt. Gustavo Olgiati, U.S. Army)

A British army Challenger II main battle tank from the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards fires at a target during a training exercise in Basra, Iraq. (Sgt. Gustavo Olgiati, U.S. Army)

In case anyone was worrying, it does not appear as if Brexit will have a negative impact on the future of NATO tank technology. Some foresee Britain’s pending (?) departure from the European Union has having a positive effect on the military strength of the alliance. The appearance of Russia’s new T-14 Armata tank has caused some concern among rivet counters, but it seems the NATO countries have some pretty decent armored vehicles these days and some downright capable crews (Achtung Panzer!).

(H/T to COL Patrick Donohoe)

Fulda Gap?

Two Washington Post articles of interest. An article today on the “Suwalki Gap”

And an older article on “6 reasons why not to worry about Russia invading the Baltics”


Wargaming the Defense of the Baltics: The Debate Continues

CIA map from the Perry-Castañeda Library Map Collection.

1994 CIA map from the Perry-Castañeda Library Map Collection.

RAND’s wargame that explored a potential Russian invasion of the Baltic countries continues to feed a robust debate within the ranks of strategic analysts.

Michael Kofman assessed the premises of RAND’s wargame and expressed skepticism of the call for a buildup of American and NATO ground forces to deter Russian military aggression. Kofman argued instead that

The way forward is to shore up deterrence by punishment, which has been working just fine all these years. That means leveraging U.S. airpower and the Navy as a global force able to horizontally expand the theater of conflict and inflict colossal military and economic punishment on Russia should it aggress against a NATO member state. As a consolation to AirLand Battle warriors, perhaps we can call the strategy Air-to-Land Battle. It also means the United States must focus on mobility in theater and assets that counter, rather than match, the Russian military. This is why Gen. Ben Hodges, commander of U.S. Army Europe, is right in arguing that the number one need is for Army combat aviation in Europe.  The United States should also revisit the nuclear toolkit, since the credible threat of nuclear escalation had always been an important pillar in deterring Russian aggression against NATO.

In rebuttal, RAND’s Karl Mueller, David Shlapak, Michael Johnson and David Ochmanek defended the focus of their wargame, arguing that “the whole point of the games was to explore, develop, test, and refine concepts, based on our best — and evolving — understanding of Russian doctrine, tactics, and capabilities, as well as NATO’s extant capabilities and options for enhancing them.” They take specific issue with Kaufman’s emphasis upon threats of post hoc punishment.

In contrast, deterrent approaches that depend upon threatening to punish Russia for occupying the Baltic states after the fact, as Kofman prefers, would be susceptible to Russian leaders imagining — rightly or wrongly — that these threats would not actually be carried out. Similarly, a threat by the Baltic states to wage prolonged partisan warfare against an occupying force might well lack credibility given the potential costs to the populace of doing so, especially against an occupier as ruthless as the one that razed Grozny. Leaving the Baltic states to fend for themselves in the event of an invasion would also represent a catastrophic failure by NATO to honor its Article 5 responsibilities.

A NATO strategy based on temporarily accepting the inevitability of an invasion succeeding and instead mobilizing an overwhelming force to counterattack against Russian forces and liberate the Baltic states might encounter similar skepticism in the Kremlin. It would depend on the alliance remaining determined to right the wrong through costly military action even after months of Russian reinforcement, propaganda, and subversion. Moreover, Moscow might well persuade itself that threats to use nuclear weapons in defense of Kaliningrad (which would stand in the way of a counteroffensive as a “nuclear landmine” in Kofman’s incisive turn of phrase) and its newly acquired territory in the Baltics would be sufficient to deter NATO from carrying through with a “we shall return” promise. Indeed, such an expectation could prove to be correct.

The arguments and criticisms made by Kofman and the RAND team are thoughtful, well-reasoned, and well worth the time to peruse. They also demonstrate the insight that wargaming can bring to strategic problems.

However, the question that comes to my mind is, what strategic interest would Russia serve by invading the Baltics in the first place? Even without NATO imposing extra costs through an active defense, occupying them would reap negligible, if any, political, economic or military advantages for Russia, and would likely impose significant costs in terms of damage to relations with the West. It would also entail an expensive military occupation and suppression of a potential insurgency. Unfortunately, wargaming the correlation of forces does not seem to be able provide a plausible strategic motivation for such a Russian gambit to begin with.