Early this year, it looked as if the US and Russia were about to go to war over the Donbas region of Eastern Europe, where many Russians and Russian speakers live, and which is part of Ukraine. Fortunately this did not occur. A couple of months later British and Dutch warships sailed through disputed waters adjacent to Crimea. The Russians fired warning shots. Again, fortunately, a war did not occur.
But, if you would like to know how the Americans propose to conduct a land war against the Russians, you can find out pretty easily. The US Army has placed copies of its war-fighting plans in several places. You can download one here. One click and you can view all hundred pages of TRADOC pamphlet TP52 5-3-1, The US Army in Multi-Domain Operations 2028, “approved for public release, distribution unlimited.” There’s a preface and an executive summary, if you just want the synopsis. But I encourage you to read the whole document, as it contains some gems.
Not that it’s entirely clear or consistent. The drift from peace to war in pamphlet TP52 5-3-1 is murky, as the US Army believes we’re already in the early stages of war with Russia and China. The evidence for this is their (particularly the Russians’) bad behaviour on the Internet. Many pages are devoted to the “unconventional” and “information” warfare our “near-peer competitors” are already waging non-stop against us. But fear not. This snowlake stuff doesn’t last for long. At some point, the bad guys are going to make their move – and the US Army will be ready! Not on its own, of course. The Army is but one player in a Multi-Domain Operation which includes the US Air Force, US Navy, US Marines, US Cybercommand, US Space Force, not forgetting NATO, of course, all of which will battle the aggressor in space, cyberspace, the air, the sea, the land, and the waters under the earth.
The way the Army’s war will go is this: at some point the Russians (or the Chinese) will seize territory which isn’t theirs: Donbas, perhaps, or a land bridge between Russia and Kaliningrad, or the American-held oil fields of Syria, or Taiwan. They will do this swiftly, in an attempt to present us with a fait accompli. The example the pamphlet gives of such a possible enemy action is “anti-Russian rallies in Kiev in 2015.” (Appendix D-4) It’s a strange example, since Russia didn’t seize Kiev. But, as we shall see, TP52 5-3-1 anticipates battles in “dense urban terrain” and so Ukraine fits the intended war scenario.
Obviously, enemy aggression cannot be allowed to stand. Perceptively, the pamphlet observes that the USA is a long way from its chosen battlefields, while Russia and China are comparatively close (said battlefields being on their borders), and so the US has to preposition large quantities of war material nearby. Prior to the war, the US must prepare and harden APS sites: bunkers fortified against cruise missile strikes, in order to supply the US expeditionary force (Pg. 37). To protect the bunkers and repel the attack, “Forward presence Army long-range fires must enable the Joint Force to immediately begin neutralizing enemy long-range systems (IADS, SRBM, long-range MRL, and command and control) and have munitions stockpiles in theater sufficient to support operations for several weeks.” (Pg. 30) Let us unpack that sentence, and what it means.
IADS means Integrated Air Defence System: in other words, Russian radar, aircraft, and anti-missile defences. An SRBM is a short-range ballistic missile. An MRL is a multiple rocket launcher: the Russians have many of these, and they are mobile. So, in response to a localised Russian or Chinese aggression, the Americans plan to take out all these air defences. And they propose to do so “during the transition to armed conflict” (pg. 33) In theory, the US Army will do it all, through ground-based, long-range artillery fire. In practice, they will probably receive assistance from the USAF. In the case of Taiwan, presumably the Army’s role in shelling enemy defences will be superceded by the US Navy. But since this is an Army document they don’t talk about that.
Apparently, the US Army will destroy Russian air defences via “converging capabilities across all domains, the EMS, and the information environment … high-volume analytical capability and sensor-to-shooter links enabled by artificial intelligence.” (Pg. 38) Perhaps the reader can detect some bullshit here. Fortunately, the pamphlet is more concrete on Pg. 34, where we are told that the Army will receive targeting information “from space- and high-altitude-based surveillance or low-observable air platforms, and striking those high-payoff targets within minutes.” At the same time, cyber-warfare will include decoys and simulated attacks in order to “stimulate enemy long-range systems” (e.g. radars), locate, and destroy them.
Armed conflict on the ground has not yet begun. “Forward presence maneuver forces and partner nation conventional forces use the advantages of the defense, particularly in dense urban terrain… Army forces leverage their preparation during competition to harden friendly urban areas…” We are not told how this “hardening” is to be done. At the same time, “proactively countering enemy space surveillance is particularly important.” This involves disabling the Russians’ “space ISR capablities.”
ISR stands for intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance, and “space domain” is defined in appendix GL-8 as “the area above the altitude where atmospheric effects on airborne objects become negligible.” In other words, while the Americans are destroying the Russians’ radar and airfields, they will also take out their satellites.
Neutralizing all Russian air defences may take more than a couple of minutes. Pg. 40 notes that “while the enemy has dozens of long-range systems in each combined arms army, they possess hundreds of mid-range systems”, all of which must be destroyed for the plan to work. Nevertheless, at some point the Russians’ defences will be overwhelmed, and the much-anticipated “manouver in dense urban terrain” can begin. This fighting will be based on the recommendations of the Army’s Mosul Study Group (appendix D-1), a report on a nine-month long battle (Oct 2016 – July 2017) in which more than 100,000 US and Iraqi troops ultimately defeated between five and twelve thousand ISIS insurgents, destroying the city in the process. But the US Army and its partner nation forces now have a chance to improve on the Mosul experience as “dense urban terrain offers increased possiblities for using cyberspace- and EMS-based weapons.” (Pg. 44) EMS means elecromagnetic spectrum (not emergency medical services). The acronym also appears in the Executive Summary on pgs. vi and vii, in conjunction with the “information environment”, which seems to mean EMS weapons designed to knock out electricity grids or other infrastructure. The EMS referred to in the city-fighting section may be that, or anti-personnel weapons of the science fiction kind, or Tasers.
When we get to the section titled “Conclusion: Penetrate” we might assume the battle is almost won. But no: we are told that “the key to penetration is the neutralization of the enemy’s long range systems” – something which a few pages back was to be achieved “within minutes”, while the U.S. Army was still rumbling towards its chosen battlefield. Nowhere in the 100 page TP52 5-3-1 document is it clear how the war is to be concluded. Various words are defined in Section II – “Terms” – including adversary, battlefield, fix, reset, and destroy. But the word victory does not appear there.
Instead, the goal appears to be to fight the Russians to a standstill, in whatever cities have been selected as the battleground. The section titled “Conclusion: Exploit” reports that “in a conflict with a near-peer enemy armed with nuclear weapons, the operational exploitation, however, will conclude with some combination of policy, logistics, and resource constraints. Although the enemy’s conventional forces will be severely degraded, it will retain cohesion and capablities to remain a threat.” After thwarting Russian aggression, the US and its allies will oversee “a successful transition from conflict to return to competition.” (Pg. 44) On the next page, the pamphlet acknowledges total victory over Russia or China is impossible: “where peer enemies have nuclear capacity, it is an unlikely expectation to hope for a vanquished opponent”, so US occupation forces will be necessary “to consolidate gains.” Meanwhile the Army will embark on the “rapid regeneration of munitions stockpiles.” (Pg. 45)
Appendix A-2 is titled “Fundamental assumptions.” Assumption G is as follows: “Neither the U.S. nor adversaries will employ nuclear weapons. The use of such weapons would so significantly alter the strategic context that different operational approaches would be required.” This is good to know.
AN EXAMPLE IN PRACTICE
Let’s take one of the above examples and see how these US military plans might work in practice. The ideal war from the perspective of TP52 5-3-1 would be a Russian fait accompli seizure of Donbas. The US and NATO have armed Ukraine and presumably created substantial APS bunkers there. There are several large urban areas, including Donetsk and Luhansk, which could be hardened/reduced to rubble. But let’s look at a less-discussed, far more incendiary possibility: a Russian invasion of the territory which separates it from its enclave of Kaliningrad, on the Baltic Sea. Kaliningrad was a “spoil of war” allocated from Nazi Germany to the Soviet Union at the Potsdam Conference that divided up Europe in 1945. The countries which lie between Russia and Kaliningrad are Latvia and Lithuania, both members of NATO. To the immediate east is Belarus, currently a Russian ally. Much effort is currently being expended by US and European intelligence agencies to encourage a “colour revolution” in Belarus, and overthrow its pro-Russian government. What if they succeed? Russia will then have nothing but hostile nations on its Western border. What if it decides its interests are best served by seizing a land bridge to Kaliningrad?
Lithuania is home to a 1000-soldier NATO detachment. Most of the soldiers are from Germany, the Netherlands, and the Czech Republic. A Polish Air Force detachment with four F-16 fighters represents NATO at the Siauliai air base. US Army and Special Forces troops also operate there. APS bunkers have been established at Marijampole: since 2014, the US has given Lithuania 200 million euros to buy weapons and store them there.
Latvia is home to a batallion-sized NATO battle group of 1,500 soldiders at Adazi, with troops from Canada, Albania, Poland, and elsewhere.
There is also a NATO battle group in Estonia, to the north – run by the English – and a much larger one, in Poland, to the south – run by the US. More than 10,000 US troops are deployed to Poland, with a “surge capacity” of 20,000 additional Americans availiable in the vicinity. Together these forces are known as NATO’s Enhanced Forward Presence in the Baltic States.
These are substantial forces, which surround Kaliningrad. The US Air Force and NATO practice near-constant training exercises in the vicinity of the Russian enclave, which contains the headquarters of the Russian Navy’s Baltic Sea fleet, a forward staging point for combat aircraft, ground-based ballistic and cruise missiles, and anti-ship and -aircraft defences. Some 25,000 Russian troops are based there. Let us assume that an increase in tensions, or just plain wickedness and hatred of freedom, causes the Russians to invade central Latvia and Lithuania, in order to secure a permanent link to these naval and air facilities.
Kaliningrad is two hundred miles from the Russian border. It seems unlikely that the 2,500 NATO troops in Lithuania and Latvia could hold back several Russian divisions. But as NATO’s website reminds us, “an attack on one Ally is an attack on the whole Alliance of 30 members.” What happens next?
Per the US Army plan, the US Space Force will knock out Russian satellites to deny them intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance. Simultaneously NATO artillery and air forces will attack Russian air defences, both in mainland Russia and in Kaliningrad. And US/NATO cyberwarfare will spoof Russian radar with multiple imaginary attacks, in order to locate and destroy them. American Aegis missile complexes in Poland and Romania will be activated. Meanwhile the tanks and artillery in Poland will be rolling.
Their air defences having been destroyed “within minutes”, the Russian expeditionary forces will be confronted in the “dense urban terrain” of small cities like Rezekne (population 30,000), Utena (population 30,000), and Kaunas (Lithuania’s second-largest city, population 300,000). Russia will become bogged down in Mosul-style streetfighting. Despite much greater numbers and vastly superior equipment (the Fourth Russian Tank Division has 12,000 active duty personnel, 320 battle tanks and 300 infantry fighting vehicles), the Russian military will be defeated just as ISIS were.
Armchair generals can interject at this point that tanks and armoured cars are useless, in the face of drones. And there is truth in this. But it’s still remarkably optimistic of TP52 5-3-1’s authors to equate several Russian armoured divisions with a lightly-armed band of terrorists. And even more optimistic, perhaps fanatically so, to imagine that the war will not go nuclear. With this in mind, let’s turn from this hopeful fantasy to:
THE LIKELY RESULT
When the Russians and the Chinese lose their satellites, and their radars show incoming missiles and aircraft, what will they do? Leave their own missiles and planes on the ground, to be destroyed? Or launch them?
In the case of Baltic warfare, NATO’s number one target will be Kaliningrad. It is, after all, the site of numerous air defences, which it is our policy to destroy. General Jeff Harrigan, Commander of US Air Forces in Europe, told the National Interest that “US forces know how to crack Kaliningrad.” But Kaliningrad is also the home of a nuclear weapons storage site at Kulikovo, as well as the fleet base at Baltysk, where frigates, destroyers, corvettes, and nuclear-capable submarines are berthed. The missile base at Chernyakovsk houses nuclear-capable SS-21 and SS-26 SRBMs (short-range ballistic missiles). And there are half a dozen S-300 and S-400 air-defense units. Kaliningrad is what General Harrigan and the authors of TP52 5-3-1 would consider a “target-rich environment.” Artillery and planes based in Poland, or at sea, can reach it within minutes.
What will the Russian response be, to an incoming attack on Kaliningrad? Leave the subs and aircraft and missiles to be destroyed? Or get as many planes and missiles in the air before the bombs arrive? As Daniel Ellsberg told us, local American commanders had autonomy to launch nuclear attacks in a time of crisis – especially if their “command and control” network was disrupted. And TP52 5-3-1 aims for disruption of Russian command and control.
The blithe statement that “neither the US nor adversaries will employ nuclear weapons” (emphasis in the original) seems unsustainable. Nuclear and conventional weapons are co-mingled in both US and Russian inventories. Aircraft can carry either type of weapon. SRBMs like the S-400 and the Aegis are dual capable: that is, they can be fitted with conventional or nuclear warheads. In the absence of a treaty-based inspection program, it’s impossible to know how many nukes either side fields. And even if nuclear missiles are not targeted, there are nukes in bunkers in the target area, nukes aboard aircraft, nukes aboard submarines.
The Russians have observed that if they are attacked they will respond “asymetrically” not just against the attackers, but against those who ordered the attacks. This is an important distinction, for it means that Russian missiles may not be reserved for “defence.” After all, what is there to defend if Kaliningrad is about to be destroyed? So rather than attempting to knock down incoming planes and missiles, the Russians may target the NATO capitals which sent them. Their “defensive” missiles, with a range of 500 kilometers, can reach Berlin and Warsaw. Those aircraft and ICBMs which get out ahead of the attack can target London and anywhere in Europe, plus the continental USA. Like the Americans, the Russians do not have a “no first use” policy and reserve the right to respond with nukes, if they consider the homeland endangered. They are committed to defending their little enclave, just as NATO is committed to defending tiny Latvia, with nukes if required.
As Mike Tyson said, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” TP52 5-3-1 is an illuminating document, illustrating the wonderful American capacity for optimism and the belief that everything can be forced to turn out for the best. It also demonstrates a complete lack of imagination and a narcissistic inability to learn anything or to step outside themselves. If this is serious military doctrine, we don’t need to worry about global warming. Nuclear winter is on the cards.