Russia and China brought war games back to the West


Russian Black Sea Navy warships and military equipment seen during exercise at Opuk training ground | Photo: Sergei Malgavko / TASS / Getty Images via Bloomberga

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Washington: Even as Russia massed more than 100,000 troops on Ukraine’s borders in April, Andriy Zagorodnyuk was convinced that President Vladimir Putin would not go to war.

The former defense minister in Kiev, who had also spent years on plans to modernize the Ukrainian military, felt Putin knew an invasion wouldn’t be a walk in the park for Russia this time around.

“Our task has been to make sure that we can inflict unacceptable damage, a level of damage so high that they will be demotivated to move forward,” Zagorodnyuk said in a video interview from the Ukrainian capital.

It was a daring gamble, even though Ukraine had made dramatic improvements to its armed forces since a few thousand Russian soldiers, in uniforms with no identifiable markings, annexed Crimea without firing a shot in 2014. That would have could be catastrophically wrong.

Regardless of Putin’s motives for the recent show of force (some of the additional troops have since withdrawn), alongside unspoken accusations with the UK about a British destroyer transiting Ukrainian waters, the comparison of military capabilities is difficult and becomes even more so. . After a brief post-Cold War interlude in which the United States and its partners in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization did not have serious competitors, they do now.

Many common measures of military force are misleading. On the basis of defense spending alone, for example, Spain should be stronger than Turkey, NATO’s second military power after the United States; Saudi Arabia should be able to easily crush Iran; and Britain could face any conflict with Russia. None of the above is the case.

But the effectiveness of an army is more than a number. Refining budget data, weighting weapons for age and effectiveness, and accounting for intangibles such as morale, doctrine, training, and geography are just a few of the factors. stake.

Defense dollars also overestimate U.S. strength relative to its rivals, according to Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley. “When everything is factored in and you normalize the cost of personnel, etc., you will find that the combined budgets of China and Russia exceed that of the US Department of Defense budget,” he said. to the House of Commons Armed Services Committee. Wednesday.


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Expenses in dclosing budgets

According to their declared defense budgets, China is spending about a third of the US administration’s request of $ 715 billion for the coming year and Russia a tenth.

Of course, governments and their intelligence agencies know more than they make public, and generals have reason to exaggerate the threats they face. Milley said in his testimony on Wednesday that he would have to attend a confidential session if the committee wanted him to explain the math behind his request. His office also declined to provide details.

In March, Milley’s Chinese counterpart as a senior uniformed officer, Central Military Commission Vice Chairman Xu Qiliang, made a similar appeal to his legislature. He called for enhanced capabilities to achieve “invincibility” against the threat of conflict with the United States

An index from the US State Department comparing defense budgets around the world highlights the lack of clarity and gives wide variances for each country – from $ 228 billion to $ 433 billion for China and from 66.5 billion to $ 159 billion for Russia in 2017, the latest data available.

Applying complex sets of information to particular geographies and scenarios is an industry that employs hundreds of thousands of analysts in defense and intelligence agencies around the world.

These services have been in increasing demand since 2014, in large part because of Russia’s military modernization and its Hybrid Warfare in Ukraine, according to David Shlapak, senior defense researcher at the Rand Corporation, a California-based think tank that works closely on scenario planning with the Pentagon.

“When we started working on a Russia-NATO scenario in 2014, the first thing we did was go look at the literature – what we found was that no one seriously thought about a Russia-NATO war for 20 years, “says Shlapak, at the time co-director of the Rand Center for Gaming. “We were in Afghanistan, Iraq – the services had their hands full.”

China’s rapid military development, with a laser-like focus on difficult US capabilities in the South China Sea and Taiwan Strait, has also helped. Researchers at the University of Sydney warned last year that Chinese missiles could wipe out US bases within “opening hours” of any conflict. In October, President Xi Jinping deployed the People’s Liberation Army’s new Rocket Force in a massive military parade.

And it’s not just Ukraine or the United States that are rethinking their security postures. In March, a British defense and security journal cited increased “global competition” and modernization by other nuclear powers to justify a controversial decision to increase the cap on Britain’s atomic warhead stockpile by 225-260. The decision reversed decades of nuclear weapon reduction; Britain currently has 195 warheads, up from 520 during the Cold War, according to a parliamentary backgrounder.

Russia, in particular, is developing new nuclear platforms, and Putin has boasted of having set up hypersonic slip missiles that would be virtually impossible to intercept, although their actual capabilities are largely unknown.

One of the reasons official data may underestimate China’s defense spending is that it excludes some things the United States does not do, such as research and development, according to finance specialist Fenella McGerty. of Defense at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London. Exchange rate comparisons also inflate the dominance of the United States because it gets less for its dollar – it’s much cheaper for Russia to build a plane, or for China to pay a soldier.

Comparison of countries’ defense sectors

Attempts have been made – including by the United Nations in 1984 – to develop a purchasing power parity index that would make defense sector comparisons more reliable, but so far without success. That’s what McGerty is working on right now and “it’s really tough,” she says. Much of the data needed is classified, disinformation is rampant, and there are few market prices to rely on.

Comparing material is not much easier. In 2016, the US Army’s Strategic Studies Group (now called the Future Studies Group) commissioned the Frederick S. Pardee Center for International Futures at the University of Denver to produce a heavy weapons weighted index. Pardee differentiated generations of fighter jets, for example, noting them for their efficiency. As part of this, they overturned older planes supplied with new avionics and new missiles.

“The counts are interesting,” says Collin Meisel, who heads the program. “But when we talk about Chinese aircraft carriers, they have ramps that depend on the wind and all kinds of other things. They are not as capable as the American aircraft carriers.

Pardee came up with a weighted aggregate index for each country’s share of global firepower: Iran scored just ahead of Saudi Arabia, Turkey twice as high as Spain and Russia four times as high. UK.

Russia also edged Ukraine by a factor of 12. The index was a first attempt and needs to be updated, Meisel warned.

To understand how a Ukraine-Russia conflict in 2021 would play out, you will also need to examine doctrines, training, morale, electronic combat capabilities, command and control systems, and most importantly, geography. , explains Rand’s Shlapak. For the 2014 NATO-Russia war game in the Baltic states, he said, “we had people in Latvia and Estonia literally taking the roads we thought the Russians would use.” The project concluded that Russia would win before NATO had a chance to react.

The Ukrainian army must foresee the possibility of a Russian assault from Belarus in the north, Russia and the separatist territories of Donbass in the east, Crimea and the Black Sea in the south and the Moldovan separatist territory of the Transnistria, to the west.

Ukraine has come a long way since 2014, when corruption plundered its arsenals, some senior commanders worked for Moscow, and archaic doctrine crippled it in the face of Russia’s hybrid tactics, Zagorodnyuk says. A tech entrepreneur at the time, he recalls struggling to produce makeshift heaters for troops frozen on barricades – only to find out later that the military had 25,000 unused heaters in stock.

While Russia’s danger remains, new doctrine and systems in Ukraine, more than 200,000 regulars, a corps of officers who have largely undergone NATO training, and better equipment mean it would be “Relatively easy to get in, but very difficult to get out,” Zagorodnyuk said.

Maybe, except that the Russian military has also improved since 2014, too. According to Yohann Michel, who covers land warfare for Military Balance, the volume of comparative military data that the IISS has published since 1959: “The capability gap has probably widened. Bloomberg


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