Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Russian Middle East A2/AD

This post is going to verge on political but I will do my best to keep the focus on the military aspects.

We’ve watched the Chinese steadily advance their goal of controlling the entire first island chain.  We’ve watched the Russians annex Crimea and they are in the process of seizing Ukraine

Now, we’re watching the Russians establish a military foothold in the Middle East, ostensibly in support of Syria’s efforts against ISIS terrorists.  Russian airstrikes against ISIS have begun, as I write this, however, initial reports suggest that the targets are Syrian rebels rather than ISIS terrorists.  That’s not exactly surprising.  Russia is going to prop up Syria while they consolidate their foothold. 

Those of us who can see patterns can clearly see that Russia is beginning a long term game to become the major power in the Middle East thereby securing oil supplies, ports, bases, weapon sales, political power, etc.  Worse, we see the beginnings of a new superpower A2/AD zone over the Middle East.  The US has, over the last several years, vacated the leadership role in the Middle East and Putin has adroitly stepped in to fill the vacuum. 

The problem with both the Chinese and Russian expansions is that sooner or later we will have to militarily confront them.  It might be over a Taiwan invasion.  It might be over support for Israel.  It might be over Russian sponsored terrorism directed at the West.  It might be over the flow of oil and Russia backed Iranian attempts to regulate shipping through the Persian Gulf.  It might be over something totally unexpected.  The point is that by allowing these expansions to happen, we are making our eventual response much more difficult and dangerous.

Don’t believe it?  The Russians today ordered the US to clear the airspace over Syria so as not to interfere with their airstrikes.  We’ll have to wait and see what the US response is but given our policy of appeasement in the South and East China Seas, I can’t really see us not acquiescing to the Russians.  We have no stomach for confrontation. 

Our future military situation has just gotten much, much worse.  We’ll be starting from a decided disadvantage and we’ll have no one to blame but ourselves.  We are being completely outmaneuvered politically.

On a related note, Russia is cranking out families of heavy armor vehicles while we’re cranking out jeeps.  While there is little the military can do about our political policies, they can stop the hollowing of our forces and start rebuilding for the high end combat that is coming.


  1. I remember a similar "pattern" that was espoused in the 50s & 60s. China would roll south through Vietnam and get to Indonesia's natural resources. THAT was why we had to fight in Vietnam. Well that pattern was wrong, the Vietnamese hate the Chinese and there was no monolithic communist block rolling over the world.

    While the recent moves on China's and Russia's parts are disturbing, just be careful of thinking you know their complete motivation. I think the two are completely different reasons and require completely different approaches.

    For Russia, the only faster way to bankrupt Putin, other than driving oil to $20/bbl, is to get him entangled in wars in the Middle East. It didn't work out for the Soviet Union when they had WAY more footholds AND resources to commit. Putin is on borrowed time and dead soldiers returning home will bankrupt him faster than the Fifth Army driving to Kharkov.

    For China, engagement is the key along with Alliances with their neighbors that have an even greater vested interest in who controls what. The first Island chain is defensive and is only important if you think you have to fight them. By that thinking, the Chunnel is a strategic threat to Britain and should be blown up.

    1. I can see the pattern and, to some extent, the reasoning doesn't matter. If someone breaks into my home and threatens me do I really need to know why? It's the actions that matter although understanding the reasons can certainly help us figure out what to do.

      There are many ways short of war that we can and should combat the Chinese and Russians. This is a naval blog so I look at the military options. I leave the geopolitical analyses to other forums.

    2. "If someone breaks into my home and threatens me do I really need to know why?"

      Do you live in Taiwan and Syria? Your response is common for a Neocon/Empire fan. We cannot rule the world like global super cop; we can't even manage to run Afghanistan and Iraq! If Syria disappeared tomorrow Americans would not know or care. Same with Taiwan, except we'd have to buy more microchips elsewhere.

      Pick your fights. The biggest threat now is wasting hundreds of billions in foreign adventures, our mostly open borders, and starting a nuclear exchange with Russia by overthrowing the democratically elected government of Ukraine because its President refused to join NATO. FYI - Russian troops have been in the Crimea for over a hundred years, which is filled with Russian people, who voted to rejoin Russia due to instability in the Ukraine, which it had been forcibly attached a few years prior.

    3. Yes but the US is also getting involved in this war against ISIS and has been bombing for quite some time.

      The US is far more likely to cause self-inflicted problems the way it is going, particularly in the case of China.

  2. I'll leave the China side of it alone for a raft or reasons, not the least of which is I don't understand this as well.

    For Russia.... They have some major problems. They're a nation with a one horse cart economy and that horse is lame. On top of that their demographics are completely upside down. They are a massive nation with a crapton of resources and an aging population of 150 or so million people. Further, their economy is still bedeviled by corruption. Annexing Crimea and getting a foothold in Syria might not be a bad idea... but over time they are going to have a very hard time holding on I think.

    Now, they do have some good stuff. The stuff they can afford (The SU variants) are reportedly quite good, but that's about the only thing I can see that they've been able to buy in numbers. The Armata looks like its unaffordable to them. Same the PAK. Both will be bought in very small numbers.

    Finally, I've been hearing since I was 12 about how the Russian equipment is always better. The Hind is unstoppable. The T-72/80/90 will practically shoot right through an Abrams or Challenger, are logistically perfect, and never break down. It just never worked out that way.

    While I think your broader comment about us being politically outmaneuvered is spot on, I think the better thing for us to do with Russia is just stop letting them have their own way, but largely get out of the way while they beggar themselves.

    1. Well, they bankrupted themselves during the Cold War and they may well do it again. The problem is the difficulties they'll create for us in the meantime. Suppose, for example, that before they collapse they create a Syrian/Iranian support group which in turn supports all the factions that hate Israel and that, emboldened by Russian support, those factions decide to attack Israel (as they've done in the past). That creates a potential Russian-US confrontation. Better to have prevented the Russian Middle East incursion rather than have to deal with the ramifications. So, getting out of their way is not really an option unless we're willing to sacrifice and concede a very great deal while we wait for them to implode.

    2. Good point. I think we do need to take action in the middle east. I'm thinking in other areas though; in Crimea and Ukraine there is little we can do effectively at this point. I could see offering to base troops in Poland if they want, but we'd want to think about that.

      One good thing is that at least as far as eastern Europe is concerned, they seem to be taking things quite seriously. The Polish defense spending is up quite a bit. I'd joke here that their military is larger and in better shape than the German military. Except its not really a joke anymore.

      By offering help and potential alliance in case of invasion, but not going further east, we may well deter.

    3. Some Russian equipment is good, some crap.

      Regarding the Hind, it's proven quite vulnerable. Truth be told, all attack helicopters are, although Russia does have some very decent ones.

      I personally think fixed wing CAS is much better.

  3. One more thing WRT us and our manufacturing of Jeeps while Russia makes tanks...

    There have been numerous articles written comparing our current era to that of the 70's when the Army outlined the Big 5 needs, and I think alot of them are correct. We barely know what we want to be doing, let alone what we want to be doing it with; and that causes alot of confusion and 60 ton IFV's.

    I'd prefer if we picked the biggest guy on the block (China, Russia, Whomever) and geared up to defeat them in a major way. That gives us direction and flexibility to fight down if need be. Maybe not efficiently, but effectively. We might also be able to get away with smaller, better trained formations then too. We don't need a REFORGER sized army to fight what Russia has now or is likely to have in the future; and God Forbid we ever decide to fight the PLA on their own turf. We just can't win that. Now that might also mean that we expand the Navy and our sealift ability to move those formations somewhat safely.

    But there is a final wrinkle to the whole thing. We spend ALOT of money on our military. And I think we've been getting increasingly smaller bangs for our bucks. I think procurement is broken in obvious ways (concurrency) and in some less obvious ways (how do smart people come up with the LCS or a 60 ton IFV?). In military culture we keep going for 'transformational' stuff instead of 'what works'. Good God even the Marines seem compromised.

    In a civilian sense... we seem to want the Star Wars technology because we are fine with committing troops to combat but seem to want our military to act like a scalpel: Cutting out problems violently with no damage to itself. We've lost the idea that military commitment to achieve goals costs both treasure and blood.

    Before we can really move forward on the world stage with a strong military that doesn't bankrupt us... I think we need to solve some of these issues.

  4. I think all your points are sound ones. The one that I think is going to cause the biggest concern by creating potential flash points is the Freedom of Navigation challenges all of these area denial zones are going to cause.

    We are already seeing it with China in the South China Sea. I do not think we have seen the end of just how far China will play that card. And that is going to force our hands to challenge it on many opportunities. Each time we have to reenforce the international standard for the global commons creates an opportunity for a potential confrontational incident. Yet, if we do not take proactive steps to challenge claims to international waters and air space, we'll hand the claiming power fait accompli.

    With the new economic wealth that will be produced from the lifted sanctions Iran will be regaining several military capacities. They have long tried to claim the Straight of Hormuz. I expect to see them try again if the USA starts walking away from Freedom of Navigation challenges.

  5. I think there is a very high chance that Putin’s actions are primarily for internal consumption. Russia is in trouble, financially and socially. They have lost their “empire” and are getting “pushed around” by the international community. The Russian people are not used to thinking this way. Putin has distracted his people by ploughing money into the military, pointing that way and saying, hey Russia we are still an almighty global power. It’s a classic during global recession, it always happens to some extent or other somewhere in the globe.

    Now unfortunately, if things get bad, having shiny new tanks isn’t enough unless you do something with them.

    Russia is genuinely under much more threat from ISIS than we are, they are directly trashing Russian interests now, and once through Syria will make inroads into important Russian satellites almost immediately. Not to mention main land Russia.

    Putin has been quite restrained, (wanting us to do his dirty work for him). But we have been less effective than normal, and with the threat of a NATO “controlled” government right on his doorstop (see actual reasons for Ukraine crisis) he is forced to act.


    There is an opportunity here to bring Russia somewhat into the fold, OR to let them hang themselves when they break the alliance and commit some atrocity or other. So I suggest we take it.

    The cost is Assad, but given we have seen that “our kind” of government turns into a disaster out there, leaving the B*stard in power actually serves our purposes, and we have a political get out, blaming it on Putin. Sounds like a good deal to me ?

    I suggest our leaders have already seen this, and weighed up the (very bad alternatives), as we are already having joint photo ops together. When do things EVER move this fast in all our countries normally.


    1. Geez, it's day one! Give it a chance to develop before you totally write it off.

    2. Where would be the fun in that? Difficult to be a pundit after the facts.

      Don’t worry we will see a serious build up pretty soon, this is just a beach head.

      Putin is angling for “CCCP” ground troops already, [he has his favourite Chechen Muslim buddies chomping at the bit]. He probably wants to make sure NATO won’t accidentally bomb them, before he sends them in.

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    4. Smitty, think deeper. I don't see Putin doing this simply to prop up Assad. Russia has to get more out of this. What will Russia get? I see an assured oil supply, influence (dominance?) over an entire region, proxy combatants against the US, a captive arms market and, over all of it, a military regional base and A2/AD zone to assist in furthering Putin's ambitions not only in the area but against Europe from another direction and into Africa. What, specifically, Putin is looking to get beyond the items I listed, I don't know but he absolutely has a plan and I doubt any of it will benefit the US.

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    6. You seem to think that I've stated that the Russians have a fully operational, all-encompassing A2/AD zone in place. I have not said that. I've suggested that this is the start of a regional move that will result in an A2/AD zone as one part of an overall plan. Might all this stop with just some assistance to Syria and not develop into anything further? Sure, it might. But, it might not. I might be right.

      The thing about making predictions, as I attempt to do, is that I make them without the benefit of knowing every last fact there could possibly be. If I waited until every possible fact was known, it would be history not prediction. Unfortunately, by the time something becomes history, it's too late to take action.

      Here's a statement of history: Hitler turned out not to be a nice guy. Here's a prediction: Putin is not a nice guy. Had we acted sooner, we might have prevented WWII. If we act now, we might prevent whatever Putin is trying to do. Prediction: being a not nice guy, whatever he's trying to do will not be in our best interest.

      You also seem to think this is just about Syria. That's not even remotely correct. This is about regional aspirations and Syria is just a convenient starting point.

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    8. Oh, Iranian troops, not Chechen, didn’t see that one coming, very imaginative, nice one Putin.

      (Really hurts to have to say that  )

      This has been on the cards for some time hasn’t it ! You naughty Putin you !

      CNO, to some extent you are thinking rather UK \ US on the “what does Russia want” question. The clichéd criticism’s on us being imperialistic land grabbers, is still a little in our sub consciousness.

      As Smitty says the Russian have a historically of being a lot less like that than we might like to think.

      And we sadly are perceived like that for a reason. Mostly because we wouldn’t do this except for land, money, power or control. (That’s harsh, but to some extent true). Sorry it’s obviously just a genetic thing from the British o cousin o mine :S

      NEXT WEEK : he will expand his protective umbrella bring ground forces to begin to push ISIS back, creating a secure front and then start grabbing back Syria. He MAY start moving in Iraq too, I’m just not too sure how ambitious he is yet, but after the Iran move and the Iraq government statements I’m thinking quite a lot.

    9. Russia has modern, long ranged SAM systems and various kinds of long range anti-ship missiles. That's the basis for an effective, large A2/AD zone. That's my point. Our efforts, whatever they may be, have become much more problematic given Russia's demonstrated aggressiveness.

      You seem to want to argue about things I haven't said! I've not claimed that Russia has the same degree of power that the old Soviet Union had. I've simply said that they have the beginings of an effective and problematic A2/AD zone.

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    11. "As Smitty says the Russian have a historically of being a lot less like that than we might like to think."

      Am I reading you right?? You think Russia is historically not expansionistic?? You do recall the Soviets grabbing Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, Romania, EGermany, and Albania? The Soviet's attempt at Afghanistan? You recall more recent grabs of Georgia, Crimea, and Ukraine? You're seriously suggesting that's not expansionistic?

      You're suggesting the US is preceived as expansionistic, instead? What countries has the US grabbed during that period? Yes, the US has invaded countries but inevitably (and unwisely) turns them back over to the native citizens in fairly short order. The Soviet Union/Russia does not turn anything back over voluntarily!

      I hope I simply misunderstood your comment.

  6. The civil war between the various sects of Islam is nearly a millennium in the making - in the long term, nothing the Russians (or the USA) does in the region is going to have any permanence beyond the range of the guns on the ground, and when they leave, the nonsense will start up again.

    I believe the ultimate Russian goal is part of a centuries old historical play for Turkey. At least the western part that controls the passage through Istanbul.

    What we are seeing in Syria is the next step in an attempt to isolate the Turks physically, and to give the Russians the ability to place ground forces on the eastern borders of Turkey to support future operations to wear down the Turks.

    on the other end of the Arabian peninsula, the Saudis and crew were warned to construct pipelines to liberate themselves from the effects of potential blockade: they have done nothing. A decade ago I would have argued that the Saudis were vital to maintaining the dollar as the world's reserve currency with all of the vital benefits that come with it. Now it seems to be a foregone hope given the ongoing collapse of US manufacturing, as well as our social and political decay.

    So what is the value of propping up the bastards, that even now, are funding ISIL and a host of other anti-USA fanatics?


  7. Douglas MacGregor has some sobering thoughts about this:

    I'll quote


    Unfortunately, instead of looking for a solution that people in the region can live with, Jeffrey wants to exacerbate the tension by providing the very threat that makes Putin’s public claims about NATO credible when they are not. Apparently, he thinks a few troops will “quell” the crisis. Is he nuts?

    Unless we can send 150,000 US combat troops, at least 50,000 in the first 30 days, then, Jeffrey is simply courting disaster. To be credible, these forces must be armored and include substantial quantities of rocket artillery, air and missile defense units, as well as, logistical elements. Perhaps, he’s unaware that no such US force exists. Thanks to the last 12 years of superb political and military leadership, what we did have was squandered in Iraq and Afghanistan. As for alleged conventional superiority, policing Arabs and Afghans with no armies, no air forces, no air defenses and no missile forces is not much evidence for superiority.

    If this is the best the State Department can produce, we are in lots of trouble. Putin is obviously far better advised than Obama is. "


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