Defence on the Northeast frontier of EU and NATO

This is a view on typical Northeast European terrain (look at the link, please!).

Flat country, cultivated woods, open agricultural areas, settlements and an odd water obstacle. The terrain is somewhat reminiscent of the North German plains (link), but with more woods.

Right now there's no real threat to us (EU, NATO)  there, but in ten or twenty years we might be in need of a credible deterrence and ground forces capability for such terrain.

The mix of closed terrain with short lines of sight and open terrain with long ones is not unique, but it's interesting; it leads to terrain-specific tactical answers.

Mechanised forces could dash through undefended woods, fight a path through defended ones, move along their outline or avoid short-ranged anti-tank munitions by following a route on the open field. The quality of the options depends on what's being perceived as the bigger threat or strength and on the situation itself.

Infantry on the other hand would need to see the settlements and woods as islands, great concealment for its own purposes (difficult to evacuate under pressure, though).
The outskirts would be highly dangerous to it. It's an old tactic to hammer those outskirts with artillery since there's rarely enough ammunition to hit the entire closed terrain patch. The wood / settlement outskirts could thus only be used well for observation posts and for temporary fighting positions only. The interior of the closed terrain on the other hand would house caches and hideouts, if not bunkers. There would be a certain mobile element, for the infantry would (a) need to throw its strength from interior to outskirt and back and (b) it would need to be able to move from 'island' to 'island'.

Infantry on the attack would likely require much support because crossing the large open areas without would be terminally stupid. Arty fires (HE and smoke) on the outskirts in line of sight and a dash in an (H)APC till disembarkation at the closed terrain to be assaulted would be advisable. Infantry paving the way for mechanised battlegroup through closed terrain would be a plausible scenario.

The whole setup of the terrain leads naturally to a kind of 'hidden strongpoint' defence not totally dissimilar to the old hedgehog tactic, but certainly with great emphasis on concealment. Any operational-level push of fast (mechanised) forces would require follow-up infantry for holding the path in order to avoid that bypassed hostile forces close the torn-open gap and cut the intruding spearhead off. Alternatively, the spearhead would need to turn back before it becomes too weak to fight its way to a meet with friendlies.

This leads to one pillar of ground-level deterrence on such a terrain; hostile deep incursions could be turned unaffordable and extremely risky by having enough troops for a deep (100+ km) occupation of the closed terrain patches with a hidden (and semi-stationary) strongpoint defence.

The second pillar would be about deterring rather shallow incursions, against a rather systematic and wide advance. A good ability to delay such an advance and the ability to make good use of the time gained with reinforcements moves and air power should do this trick.

The third pillar of ground-level deterrence should be the ability of own incursions with multiple battlegroups (think: half brigade size at most).
This means we would need the capability to suppress the outskirts of such closed terrain (= lots of multispectral smoke, comm and radar frequency jamming) and we would need long-endurance mechanised battlegroups (enough fuel for ~500 km practical range).

This should all be self-evident capabilities, but a certain disinterest in actual defence (especially defence of the new EU and NATO members), a decades-old neglect of infantry, a decades-old neglect of armoured forces mobility endurance (fostered by small training grounds and short exercises) and an unhealthy focus on guided or cluster munitions (=rather few HE and smoke shells in depots and standard loadouts) mean that this is not trivial stuff at all (sadly).

S Ortmann


  1. The M56E1 Smoke Generator from the US can help with some of that. It has special "chaff" like stuff you can add that will help confuse radar. It also puts out lots of smoke for urban or rural ops.


  2. That would be suicidal, as the vehicle would need to drive ahead.
    Plus: You'd actually risk a vehicle if not a driver even for diversionary smoke (deception); 120 mm mortars and 155 mm howitzers can do the same each from a distance and at minimal risk.

  3. "help with some", you use the mortars or 155mm to do some and the M56E1 could keep it going after that using the cover of the mortars or 155mm. I have no idea if the mortars or 155mm have the same anti-radar ablities or not, if they don't then the M56E1 could bring that to the table. At other times the risk of driving around wouldn't be too great and so you could just skip the mortars or 155mm.

    M56E1 could reduce barrel wear and the amount of ammo need. If you want smoke for a brief amount of time you don't have to use it, but if you need staying power then it can help keep it going.

    For some cities you could use it with a small force to create so much smoke that the enemy wouldn't be able to see how many men you had in that place. Is your main force here or there?


  4. Sven,
    Good article !
    The Estonians, based on experience with the Germans, concluded they could have simply used area denial weapons, some anti-tank and snipers. The Russians really got their butts kicked by a relatively small fighting force with no logistics at all. Back then, there were an estimated 2,000 "Forest Brothers" (those apposed to Russian occupation and now most part of the Defense League) that would appear out of nowhere and provide flanking fire. They would be discounted at first, but later were responsible for saving several infantry units in the heavy forest and bogs. The Defense League is now over 20,000.

    Yes, these are not professional infantrymen, but numbers do play a part.

    Not always so easy to discount what a bunch a patriots are capable of doing, even in modern warfare.

    Your Third Pillar seems to be the best approach for Estonia's borders.

    Regards, Stan

  5. gimme a platoon of speznat and a batallion of sph and i ll show to you what strategic defeat by attrition looks like.