Baltic land forces - musings

The Baltic countries have tiny populations compared to Russia, and appear to be threatened by the heavy division equivalent that Russia has in the St. Petersburg area, as well as another heavy division equivalent that Russia has in 10...24 hrs road march distance and at least one light brigade equivalent worth of Russian air assault troops.
The terrain restricts movements much with woodland and very wet & soft soil conditions in many places as well as some rivers and lakes, but this applies much less in wintertime when almost all water close to the surface is frozen. The improved wintertime navigability of the terrain (save for deep snow conditions) offers attackers many more possible routes or advance than the small Baltic armed forces could cover with their allied tripwire compound battalions. Offensive manoeuvre would be almost guaranteed to succeed. The de facto absence of area air defences and the weakness of the merely symbolic air policing fighter flights allows freedom of manoeuvre for Russian air assaults.

One could in theory build up the Baltic military forces, militarise the countries and make them strong enough to resist whatever first wave the Russians could throw at them currently. This could be a fairly simple ten to twenty years effort mimicking the Israeli army. Allies would provide military aid (subsidies), domestic companies would tailor equipment and services to match the specific Baltic needs quickly, conscription could turn the majority of 18...45 year olds into soldiers and reservists. Partial mobilisation and movement (hiding) of high value targets would have to occur at a slight hint of possible invasion. A major mobilisation would meanwhile become unsustainable for more than a few weeks in peacetime because it would shut down the economy (Israelis already know this issue well).

Obviously, this doesn't happen. Even the otherwise military aid-giving Americans thought of "tripwire" multinational compound battalions as answer to the Baltic security challenge, not of any 'Baltic IDF' scheme. The entire approach would help little in the next couple years anyway.
- - - - -

This leads to the obvious approach; the planners look at what little budget and manpower they have, look at what obsolete equipment they can get gifted by friendly nations and draw up miniature armies. Lithuania created three brigades (one even with high end SPGs), Latvia and Estonia each one brigade (Estonia buys SPGs). Mobilisation would add almost nothing but lightly armed forces, for they lack the heavy equipment stocks for a medium or heavy forces expansion.

This uninspired conventional approach is guaranteed to fail if tested in my opinion. They lack any effective or even reliable protection against fixed wing air attack and are horribly inferior to Russian artillery and tank forces. The idea of operating as combined arms brigades is bound to fail in face of the potential opposing forces that can mount a much more complete and much bigger combined arms effort. The force density would furthermore be so low that this approach is like locking only one of ten doors to your home.

- - - - -

This begs the question
"What is the optimal military policy for the Baltic countries?"

The first thing to remember and internalise is that the Baltic countries are allied with other EU and NATO countries. They do not need to defend themselves alone, but on the other hand they will not receive much military support in the first weeks of war.

Their countries would be part of a larger strategic map; an invader would seek to occupy them, establish a link to Kaliningrad Oblast and then either proceed to position himself against a counteroffensive or first attempt to push Poland into neutrality by disarming its brigades and going after Warsaw.

To successfully secure the Baltics does not require a successful defence of the Baltics themselves; it requires a decisive sabotage of the aggressor's operational and strategic plans.

Less generally speaking; one doesn't need to keep invaders from roving through the land; it's enough if their leaders understand that they cannot achieve their objectives. The Baltic countries could achieve this in many ways:
  1. They can make the entire Baltics inhospitable for high value targets (forward air bases, area air defence units, forward rotary aviation airfields, tank repair workshops, forward headquarters, electronic warfare units).
  2. They can achieve a giant diversionary effect by binding at least interior ministry troops and army reserve infantry battalions in a security role.
  3. They can wreak havoc against targets in Russia by infiltrating and sabotaging even hundreds of kilometres deep against military road traffic, critical infrastructure, airports and airbases.
  4. They can provide superior situational awareness to allied manoeuvre forces by being everywhere and reporting from everywhere - as if there were thousands of long range scout teams in the theatre of war.
Forces that were custom-tailored to achieve this would provoke countermeasures to some degree, but they would also considerably raise the bar for operational war of aggression planning.

- - - - -

Well, what would such forces look like?
There are historical precedents, and the answer is in my opinion a combination:
  • Jagdkampf (Germany, Austria)
  • Raumverteidigung (Austrian)
  • Long Range Desert Group (British Empire)
Jagdkampf is about a (reinforced) infantry platoon that pursues a mission 'behind enemy lines', mostly in a raiding and sabotaging, but also scouting fashion. It's extremely demanding regarding morale, cohesion and austere logistics.

Raumverteidigung is an operational-level concept that strives to make an invasion undesirable because it causes the invader more trouble than it benefits him. Austria was a possible terrain for flanking movements by the Warsaw Pact (akin to Belgium in both World Wars) and also threatened by NATO, which might want to force passage from, Germany to Italy for cut-off forces.
There were several such small unit infantry-centric concepts for survivable yet yielding low cost defence against the Warsaw Pact's tank and artillery strength in the 70's and 80's.

Raumverteidigung does not oppose a mechanised invading force first and foremost with mechanised forces, but with less fragile infantry forces that would resist for weeks.  They did still maintain some light mechanised mobile forces (they were necessary for opposing forces simulation anyway).

The Long Range Desert Group conducted long-range raids with unarmoured cars in the North African desert, collecting intelligence by observation and then striking especially airfields with sabotage raids (strike first, then gather intel proved to be the wrong order of events).

There's are two serious problems with any such rather infantry-centric approach:
Problem #1; snow.
Even the most stealthy and most elusive infantry leaves plenty traces of its own movement in snow. Snow also slows infantry down much of the time (except on skis). Small units can survive superior opposing forces only by evasion or stealth, so snow would compromise their survivability to some degree.
Problem #2; cold.
Infantry is more affected by very cold weather than mechanised forces are. Infantry has to seek shelter in buildings (or at least tents) during much of the time, whereas mechanised and even merely motorised forces have heated mobile interiors.

After weeks of deliberation I see but one solution to these problems: The stay behind militia needs to limit its movements to civilian movements while snow covers the landscape. This may be almost no movement if the invader implements a curfew. They could still be effective in some ways. They could gather information and transmit it by laser instead of by radio (to avoid triangulation), which would of course require satellites that could pick the signal up and reply with a robust signal.

The trivial answer to snow and especially snow+curfew is thus that the information gathering and violent resistance would need to happen from inside buildings. The most effective way to do so would be to use autonomous flying drones from within buildings.* Very small drones that fly at treetop height would not be traced to the building (military intelligence would still identify the origin sooner or later), but could execute pre-programmed reconnaissance and attack missions (warhead ~ approx. 40 mm HEDP) autonomously. They could be launched and recovered at night.

- - - - -

Latvia and Lithuania might actually delay an invading mechanised force (NOT air assault force) by securing the Daugava river for a while. This requires to make the bridges unusable, keep observation posts on both sides of the river and harass and disrupt hostile bridge engineers' efforts. That's a good case for MRLs in the area (SPGs are inefficient**). 

Latvia and Estonia could set up cheap raiding forces that would infiltrate towards the St. Petersburg region, nearby Russian airbases and other high value targets (switchyards, telecom cables etc.). They would use various means and ways that would require a disproportionate security effort to defend against.

All three Baltic countries should focus most of their military spending on a kind of Raumverteidigung scheme. Jagdkampf specifically is platoon-centric and may not even be optimal.
One could instead create small militia infantry sections (3...10 personnel) instead, most of which would be rifleman-centric and capable of sneaky raids, harassing sniping and long range scout-like observation.
Others would focus on direct fire support (using M4 Carl Gustav), high angle fire support (commando mortar), providing SatCom and HF communication links, electronic warfare (especially jamming against arty and mortar fuses and common portable radios), tank hunting (using ERYX or Spike SR) and harassment of hostile low level aviation (using RBS 70 NG / Bolide missile).
All of them could be trained at handling some of a gazillion of allies-sponsored autonomous small treetop altitude reconnaissance and attack drones.

The mission of these militia forces would cover the aforementioned points 1, 2 and 4. The small size of the individual elements and the radio jamming would render the invader's indirect fire support inefficient. The leg-only mobility in battle would make mechanised counters largely inefficient in many terrains as well, as mechanised forces could not or would not dare to pursue into infantry-favouring terrains.

- - - - -

Such forces would not achieve much on their own, but the Baltic countries do not stand on their own - and their fate would be a repeat of 1940 if they did, anyway.

There wouldn't be any brigades, and hardly any impressive heavy weapons to show off. Russian war planners would anticipate a quick passage at least to the Daugava, and they would likely come up with means and ways to cross it rapidly despite the defenders' efforts.
They would anticipate huge troubles for the later weeks due to guerilla and raiding activities, though. Air defences could not safely deploy forward, air power could not safely deploy forward, supply lines would be threatened by substantial harassment efforts, electronic warfare forces could not safely deploy forward. Huge quantities of security forces would be required to cordon off against and to hunt raiders. Even more security forces would be needed in the Baltic countries themselves, causing an infantry weakness among the manoeuvre forces without being able to properly secure a steady flow of supplies.

The rest of the deterrence and defence job would be a job for the allies, in particular Poland and Germany.

- - - - -

I should mention: It's fashionable to think of "hybrid" aggressions nowadays.
Well, those are extremely simple to deal with if you have superior military power in your team. You cordon off the intruders, prepare and finally kill them. A hostile strategic surprise attack is a much greater challenge.



*: I understand that this looks both intellectually lazy (reliance on a sci-fi-ish technological answer to a problem) and impossible for the time being. One could instead bet on the invader being unable to fully exploit vulnerabilities in the first couple weeks of occupation, but I'm too uncomfortable with that bet.
**: SPGs have a higher fixed cost for the launch vehicle/system, but lower variable costs for the effect of munitions. SPGs are thus cost-efficient if you expect them to shoot much. I don't expect this in case of Baltic defence because SPGs would be high value targets that would be searched, found and destroyed fairly quickly.


  1. Any chance that fixed fortifications have utility? Increase the target list for prep strikes and complicate tactical planning for the Russians. This combined with maskirovka type tactics.

    Idea, increase the required size of the entry force which would reduce the force for counter attack defence across the rest of their front.

    1. short of Albanian-level craziness about pillboxes: no

    2. It seems like one could build extensive anti tank ditches at the borders and in depth before the conflict. Cover them with UAV or infantry spotted MLRS with submunitions and FASCAM. Their job is to slow down the pace of advance. One could also emplace mines and other counter mobility features.

      Infantry needs heavy allocations of anti-tank munitions and mines. The Spike family would appear to be ideal. truck mounted Volcano could quickly lay minefields in the path of enemy advance.

      Probably need comms and UAV jamming and ESM as well as counterbattery radars.

      The Russians love their MLRS and artillery. I wonder if buying large numbers of engineering vehicles like HMEE might allow forces to quickly establish fighting positions with overhead cover.

    3. Tank ditches are obsolete since bridgelayer tanks have become available.

      AT mines cannot safely be left in the ground in enough places during peacetime, so only very quickly-laid mines would make a difference. Quick minelaying into snow is bound to be quite inefficient because minefields would be easily visible.

      I don't see why infantry would need lots of AT munitions - at all. That's frontal thinking. Infantry can defend much better BEHIND the invading armoured spearhead.

      Spike is almost guaranteed to have been defeated by countermeasures. It uses the same principle of operation as Javelin. That's been known for about 30 years and in service for over 20 years.

      Counterbattery radars are pointless if you have little arty and even much less of it survives for more than a day or two. You cannot shoot at arty and armoured spearheads at the same time anyway.

      Smitty, you don't seem to really pay attention to the specific scenario. This is not an article about how to equip a NATO corps for defence of the Baltics. It's no fantasy wishlist either. I'd have followed the 'Baltic IDF' path if it was.

    4. A bridgelayer only produces a single lane over the ditch. Still a choke point. It still slows down the pace of advance, and provides opportunities to attack concentrated enemy forces waiting to cross with MRLs.

      Infantry will need AT munitions regardless of where they are defending. The more they have, the more dangerous they are to any frontline or follow-on forces.

      If Spike is "almost guaranteed to have been defeated by countermeasures" then you can probably point to a widely fielded system designed to do so in the Russian army. Arena? Not really. Its hard kill capabilities are designed to deal with direct attack munitions, not top attack. Maybe it has a magical, as yet unannounced, soft kill capability to defeat Spike/Javelin. But exactly how does that work?

      I would heavily invest in MRLs if I were them. Grad, Chinese and/or Israeli systems, whatever. Systems that can shoot their entire load and scoot rapidly. The Chinese make an AT scatterable mine rocket for Grad.

      I wasn't "equipping a NATO corps" at all. Did I mention tanks? IFVs? SPGs? Tactical aircraft? No.

      I was looking at how the Russians and Ukranians fought each other, and how the Syrian resistance fought the Syrian government.

    5. Multispectral smoke is not an 100% defeat mechanism. If not on automatic (e.g. via Shtora), then the rounds probably hit before the crew has a chance to fire it. (as seen with Shtora-equipped T-90s vs TOW in Syria)

      If on automatic, it depends on the particulars of the engagement. Again, the smoke patterns I've seen are mostly geared towards defeating direct attack munitions. Top attack may just fly over it or be temporarily disoriented before flying through it. And this can also be dealt with tactically, by firing a round or two, forcing the tanks to expend their smoke, and then firing more when it clears.

      TOW was temporarily and thus ineffectively countered by Shtora. May or may not be countered by Drodz, only over the frontal arc, and only partially countered by ERA. The couple TOW 2A hits on T-90s in Syria did not appear to penetrate, but did disable the tank. Of course TOW 2B has existed for decades, which is far more likely to beat ERA.

      HVMs may've worked, but they're vaporware. The only hypervelocity AT munition out there is APFSDS.

      Syria and Ukraine are very important models to understand the effects of and counters to modern Russian systems, as well as adaptations of Russian tactics that might be relevant to hybrid wars in the Balkans. Ignore at your peril.

    6. I did intend to write Baltics, not Balkans. Thanks for pointing that out.

      There may not be much any of the Baltic nations can do short of running their defense budget up past 10% of GDP , raising armies of 50k+ and turning their states into bunkers (e.g. Hamas).

      At best they can raise the stakes and perhaps delay. The Russians are willing to take losses to win, so simply killing a bunch won't change the outcome on the ground. I fully expect the Baltic states to lose, if Russian wants them bad enough, so my thinking was how to deliver the most hits in the shortest period of time and delay the inevitable the longest. MRLs, mines and anti-tank weapons seem to fit the bill. Counter-mobility measures could be taken at low expense before any conflict starts.

      How is "hybrid" utter nonsense? Estonia and Latvia are 25% ethnic Russian. Like they did with the breakaway regions of Georgia and Ukraine, the Russians could generate an ethnic crisis using their intelligence services and special forces that "requires" them to intervene militarily to "save" Baltic Russians. Given enough time, they could even enlist Russian Estonians and Latvians to fight for them. They could potentially win without any invasion. That's "hybrid" war.

      Handfuls of partisans running around an invaded country with rifles, commando mortars and Carl Gustavs will just be a minor annoyance to the Russians. They'd be better off learning how to make IEDs and suicide vests.

    7. Hybrid is nonsense in the Baltic context because NATO forces would rush in if there's some slow "hybrid" op as in Donezk basin. They would rush in, issue an ultimatum, and kill.

      An aggression only stands a chance if it's quick, and that requires a conventional assault, preferably including airborne ops.

      The war in the Ukraine is NOT much of a template for the Baltics on anything. It's extremely slow-moving, more like Serbs vs. Croats around Vukovar minus air attacks.
      Ukraine and Syria are no more relevant to NATO defence than the Spanish Civil War was to the Battle of France or the Boer Wars for the First World War. Most of the "lessons" that get attention are inapplicable if not outright misleading.

    8. If the Russians did it within 2-6 years, NATO might not get the help of the US. Our president is in Putin's pocket.

      Do you really think the remaining NATO members will mobilize against a Russian invasion of the Baltics without the US? How long would squabbling EU members take to decide and come up with a coherent plan and act on it?

      I don't foresee a lot of "rushing in there". NATO forces on the ground would fight, but there aren't many.

      All recent Russian aggression was preceded by a hybrid conflict. The flavor may change, but it would happen here too.

    9. The Europeans would get serious. It's an overly america-centric view to think otherwise.
      The U.S. armed forces were a small majority in Cold War Europe even.
      Russia has only 2 1/3 heavy division equivalents and part of the VDV in striking distance. That's inferior to Polish + German land forces.
      The Russian armed forces are extremely inferior conventionally, the entire deterrence and defence challenge is about getting forces to where they matter in time. We already have the forces - nobody in Europe needs the Americans.

    10. I would be happy to be proven wrong, but how long would it take for EU nations to agree, mobilize and actually get forces into the fight? Can Poland and Germany have heavy units rolling tomorrow? Next week?

      It's 1000km from Germany to Lithuania by road. 1500km to Estonia.

      A road march of heavy forces from Germany to Lithuania could take 3-6 days alone. Add at least another day to repair before committing them. Then they have to transit past the Kaliningrad corridor, which might subject them to artillery or air strikes, as well as flank attacks.

      A rail march could be faster, if you can clear the lines and prioritize traffic, and assuming the Russian's don't sabotage or attack rail lines in Poland. But you're still looking at days.

      According to RAND, the fight could be over in 36-60 hours.


      The Russians have a major geography advantage. Without heavy forces already IN the Baltic states, the fight is likely to be over before anyone useful gets there to help.

    11. Go back and look at the discussion.
      "The fight could be over in 36-60 hours." is my recurring concern regarding a conventional invasion.

      Some "hybrid" aggression is inherently slow and would be crushed by EU or NATO with ease. That's why it's an irrelevant scenario for EU and NATO security.

      Regarding road march speeds - 24...36 hrs from Germany to Baltic region is possible. It depends on the readiness and availability of tank transporters, though.
      This is rather relevant for conventional invasion scenarios, though. A week or two would easily suffice against stupid "hybrid" nonsense.

    12. Check out this RAND paper on "hybrid" warfare in the Baltics,


      The hybrid parts could go on for years and not trigger an EU/NATO response.

      However it does appear from the analysis above, that the Baltic states are somewhat more resilient to this type of influence than the Ukraine and Georgia. They apparently have done a better job at integrating their Russian populations.

      I'll look more into the VJTF. I was using planning factors for Soviet road marches assuming tracked vehicles. I couldn't find estimates for western forces. Wheeled vehicles could get there faster, but have far less punch. If they don't have full access to roads, say due to Baltic refugees, they will slow down.


      How many HETs does Germany have? I saw they bought twelve new ones fairly recently.

    13. The closest thing to a "hybrid op" in EU or NATO was the Greek Civil War, which happened in the 40's and was won by the government.

      Any punk who tries such nonsense inside EU or NATO would see his pawns smashed. You keep ignoring the difference between inside EU/NATO on one hand and outside EU/NATO on the other hand.

      Neither Yugoslavia nor Ukraine nor Syria nor Georgia were part of the West and its collective security institutions. All of them were effectively no-man's land from the point of view of the Western bloc.
      HET quantity in the armed forces is very much unsatisfactory, but plenty civilian ones exist that suffice for anything up to Leo2A4.

    14. So, for the moment at least, rapidly moving significant numbers of German heavy forces would be out of the equation. Identifying and calling up civilian HETs would take time. Long road marches without HETs would force vehicles to stop for days to repair and eat up a lot of fuel.

      Pure wheeled forces obviously aren't constrained by this but they won't bring heavy armor and may have trouble offroad in the Baltics.

      That means it's currently up to Poland to provide any immediate heavy forces. Can they mobilize fast enough?

    15. Again; I've written repeatedly about the need to enable a quick deployment by road (incl. pontoon bridging) as a highly desirable conventional deterrence feature for the German army. We agree there, it's just that I dismiss the fashionable "hybrid" stuff as irrelevant to collective security.

      Regarding Poland; mobilisation is not the issue. They have different issues (but the Russian forces near St. Petersburg and somewhat near Moscow have severe issues as well):

      BTW, I've repeatedly seen Strykers and other 8x8 or 6x6 APCs on tank transporters, both on photo and personally in Central Europe. It appears that their components' durability is not THAT much better as the marketing suggests.

    16. Were they on tank transports to preserve their durability? Or because it was just easier and/or cheaper to administratively move them with commercial truckers than with trained crews?

      According to this,


      They get around 1000-2000 Mean Miles Between System Aborts (MMBSA). So maybe it's a bit of both. They aren't as reliable as long-haul trucks, but are more reliable on road than tracked vehicles.

    17. My suspicion is that the spare parts are simply much more expensive at a production run of thousands (with liekly single source) than with trucks with a production run of ten thousands or more.

      Another possible reason may be that some 8x8 APCs don't meet legal-technical standards for public road traffic in some regions.

      I've seen them too often to dismiss it as mere transports of broken down vehicles to workshops.

    18. Yes, I'm sure 6x6/8x8 parts are more expensive than commercial long-haul. Tractor-trailers regularly rack up 100,000 miles per year in the US. So they're probably orders of magnitude more reliable.

      And if wheeled APCs don't meet legal-technical standards for some public roads, I seriously doubt tanks and IFVs will.

      Still, even with all that, I think it's much more reasonable to expect a pure wheeled force to make a 1000-1500km road transit in fighting shape than a tracked force.

    19. You seem to debunk Russian hybrid warfare as a misplaced fear, asserting NATO and the UN would “crush” it based on the fact it is “slow” and an implied assumption that such a scenario would be very obvious and - a more dangerous assumption - would present clear grounds for the deployment of a sizeable ground force to “rush in, issue an ultimatum and kill”.

      I do not want to get into an argument with you as you clearly are adamant that Russian aggression would only ever take the form of a conventional invasion. Your position is one I hope is correct. The deployment of the eFP should go a significant way to ensure that that is indeed the case.

      However much I hope it is correct, I do not believe it is. Russia dislikes having European-looking nations on its border and dislikes yet more having NATO forces on its border. To counter this, Russia already has begun a campaign to sow socio-political disruption within the Baltic states. Persistent and low-level efforts are made to undermine the eFP, to provoke discontent amongst the ethnic Russians (25% Smitty said?) and significant EW activity. Russia can plausibly deny any involvement but a quietly persistent effort to disrupt the B3P is already underway.

      Before any decisive action, commanders must shape the battlefield. Are the Russians not doing that already?

      I accept it’s low-level and not suggesting it’s a harbinger of WW3 but surely this sort of socio-politico disruption is an element of the hybrid warfare you dismiss so absolutely?

      Russia will not commit ground forces to an invasion of B3P. It does not serve its interests at this point. But a Baltic nation struggling to contain internal upheaval and discontent...

    20. 75% trumps 25%. Internal problems are internal problems. NATO is about external threats.

  2. I'm not sure your assessment of the Baltic land forces is entirely correct. Latvia can field something akin to a recconnaissance brigade(-) during peacetime and its main defence would be formed by the National Guard (tested during the recent Namejs exercise). Estonia has one brigade(+) during peacetime and would form two infantry brigades during wartime (tested during Siil exercises), plus territorial defence forces, which would be based on the Defence League. Lithuania has two infantry brigades during peacetime and would form a third brigade during wartime, in addition to volunteer forces. Thats three very different approaches and consequently the concepts around these forces vary quite a lot.
    Estonia relies mostly on conscripts and volunteers, while Latvia and Lithuania are much more focused on professional troops. This difference in approach is also reflected in their corresponding equipment. Estonia has quite a lot of anti-tank and artillery equipment, while Latvia didn't even have any howitzers nor heavy mortars until very recently. Lithuania seems to be putting more money into armored equipment. Volunteer forces are an altogether different thing in their approach. Those would tend to be smaller, mostly company-sized units, with fairly light equipment. They would be used for holding territory, not for manouver. Naturally, stealth would play an inherent role in their approach.

    1. I've repeatedly pushed back on the idea of balanced miniature armies in favour of purpose- and scenario-tailored armies (in the case of small and medium power, up to Germany).
      You should read the piece as a pushback on whatever elements of balanced miniature army thinking have appeared in the Baltics.
      Additionally, it's a pointer at the issues that a light infantry approach faces in snowy landscapes where the invader can make full use of aerial surveillance day and night.

      I'll add another hint: A portable ground surveillance radar can detect a crawling sniper at 2 km, without mistaking a rabbit for a sniper. LI has severe and novel issues nowadays.

    2. I was just pointing out that the force structure of these countries is much more complicated. Anyway, balanced miniature armies would be impossible in those countries, simply because they lack resources to build such forces. It is always going to boil down to light infantry. Even Latvia, which employs a fully professional peacetime force and is most committed to it, relies mostly on volunteer units and reservists for national defence. However, those units tend to operate quite differently to aforementioned brigades, which isn't actually much publicized. I do understand your concerns though.

    3. These countries do want to play and active role in NATO though. Estonia managed to scrape together a battlegroup to Afghanistan briefly and maintained a very well-regarded recce group in theatre for a number of years.
      How would your ‘tailored force’ focussed ruthlessly on the Russian invasion scenario generate a formation capable of sustained rotational deployment on an enduring operation?
      I wonder how quickly your ORBAT would look like a conventional brigade enabling combined arms manoeuvre...?

    4. I don't want a dime spent on stupid small wars or capabilities specifically for those.

  3. One thing I don't get in the Baltic state's modernization plans, is why no tanks? There have to be at least a few hundred surplus Leopard 2s laying around somewhere. If not, then the US has lots of M1's that could be refurbished.

    Tanks seem far more relevant to their defense than the medium and light armor they're buying (e.g. CV90s, Boxers).

    1. Simple answer: no money. Estonian Defence Forces were looking into buying Dutch Leopard 2s. It eventually came down to the fact that they couldn't afford them and they would have to cut back in other areas. Instead, they chose to go for a batch of CV90s and large quantities of various artillery, anti-tank and air-defence ammunition.

    2. That would be my read as well.

      Unless they're willing to dramatically increase their defense spending, or allied countries are willing to basically gift them hardware. I don't see much hope for them building an effective counter.

      They probably need at least a heavy mechanized brigade each as the core of their land forces.

      RAND suggested six or seven NATO brigades, including at least three heavy brigades, along with native land forces, would be needed to give the Russian's pause.

      Otherwise, RAND suggests, it'd all be over within 36-60 hours.

    3. What is an “effective counter” in your opinion? Do you really intend to stop them at Narva in the event of an invasion?
      Surely the mission should be part of a broader strategy to deter and prevent Russian disruption to society and to stop efforts to promote subversion and dissent.
      In the event of a limited invasion, it should be a guerilla force. The MN eFP BG (in Estonia at least) would not have time to react and deploy to fighting positions. The best hope is either to scatter and fight as small independent units or to withdraw.
      To fight as small units is a suicide mission, at least that’s how many of the Brits, Danes and French would view it. They would not have the motivation, save for those individuals who love soldiering and those leaders who can maintain a fighting ethos in their men. I believe only the LNs would actually fight a guerilla campaign, the NATO forces overrun in their camp or still at the forming up point.
      Not that it should ever need to come to that: as I said at the beginning of this post the deployment of NATO forces should be part of a broader effort to deter Russia and promote and enable stability. Local forces however should absolutely be capable of reorbatting into small independent guerilla units focussed on sabotage and raiding actions. You would hope the NATO forces would join them, but would you if you were suddenly left behind the Russian lines on a third-rate deployment to the Baltics?!

    4. The Europeans' defence posture should be about dissuading the Russians; convincing them that they don't have a war plan that would work.
      I think it's necessary to stop the Russians from occupying all of the Baltic countries, and I think we have a good case that it's possible to stop them in Lithuania - especially if we can reassure the Poles so much that they would intervene aggressively ion the first hours instead of going all in on securing Warsaw. The current Polish government appears to be mentally incapable of that feat, of course.
      The Baltics could buy some time (not much) and by resisting they could provide the signal that the invasion is illegitimate and opposed by the Baltic people.

      So we should be able to deploy forces to NE of Warsaw quickly, and then destroy Russian brigades quicker than they arrive. There also needs to be some counter to hypothetical Russian threats to use nukes against any counteroffensive.

      Part of all these efforts could be the denial of additional bargaining chips (preventing Russian airborne occupation of Iceland, for example) and threat to counter an invasion by destroying the Russian position elsewhere (such as in Abkhazia, South Ossetia - but the Turks aren't credible, so this would amount to little more than a diversion threat that fixed Southern Military District forces).

      I wrote about such things repeatedly, this is but a small glimpse. example:

  4. I'm not so sure snow is that much of a problem. If you look at Estonia from google Earth, you will see that much of it is forested with evergreen trees. IR sensors would have trouble seeing through that and all you would have to do is have quad bikes going up and down forest tracks to leave a morass of tracks that ultimately didn't go anywhere.

    A ground surveillance radar can pick up a crawling sniper at 2km, if that sniper is out in the open and crawling around in LOS of a ground surveillance radar. In reality, they would be shooting from inside buildings or woodland in which GSR would have problems. You could always tie bits of metal to rabbits etc. as decoys :)

    The big wasted opportunity IMHO is that any attack on the ground and its subsequent resupply would be dependent on a limited number of very easily damaged and interdicted roads. There is lots of scope for demolition, mining, IEDs, ATGW and RR use and anti materiel sniping.

  5. I agree that there is no way that the Baltic countries can directly stand up to Russian attack - like you posit, their best defense is to known to be ready to jam up anything the Russians do AFTER they do it: essentially guerrilla warfare against supply and communication routes. I suspect that with the right efforts, even the Russians can be made to think about casualties, but it would have to be done right.
    As far as rivers and transport go, another feature that I think would help the Baltics is to plan to destroy infrastructure like South Korea is known to - predrilled holes in bridges and roads, etc. Due to the terrain they couldn't do as much to stop the enemy as South Korea could, but (for example) a plan to drop every major bridge would tie up lots of Russian bridging equipment and slow logistics. Since this equipment is relatively vulnerable, it means tieing up lots of security troops as well and maintaining large buffer zones; even one sniper in range of pontoon boats can cause big problems!

  6. I don't think the fact that Spike could theoretically be countered by rapid blooming multispectral smoke or active proximity fuze jamming is damning argument against it. How many vehicles will actually be fitted with such systems and on how many of those will they be switched on and actually working. Frequency agile proximity fuses have existed since at least the mid 1980s and it wouldn't take much to add a small MMW sensor, like that fitted to the SMART 155mm submunition if necessary. The latest Spikes and MMP are already dual mode in any case. I agree that an impartially guided hypersonic anti tank rocket is a strange omission in Western arsenals. Whilst LOSAT was huge, motor development has taken great leaps forward in recent years. Something like an enhanced CRV7 carried in pods of 7 or 19 and linked to an autotracking FCS with MMW radar would provide the capacity to engage a Russian mechanized infantry company in seconds from a single vehicle. The same type of missile would form part of a very impressive off route mine system.

    Somewhere else you mention that AT ditches were rendered obsolete by AVLBs. Obstacles of any kind ate pointless if not covered by fire. You shoot the obstacle breaching vehicles first.

  7. As an alternative thought exercise, rather than Sven's "bullfighter defense" (i.e. let them pass and stab them in the sides and rear) how about consider a "distributed active defense" (DAD) using highly dispersed, mobile forces. Their job is to race to the point of an attack, blunt it with ATGMs, indirect fires, and scatterable mines, and then quickly retreat to the next defensive location. The traditional Russian response to infantry attacks is to rain down artillery, so these forces will have to break contact soon after firing their initial salvos.

    Shades of US Tank Destroyer Doctrine? Perhaps, but on defense. Also similar to a modern cavalry function.

    They obviously have to be mechanized, but traditional heavy armor appears too expensive to buy in the quantities needed.

    So how about start with the lowly Panhard VBL, a 3.5-4t, STANAG level 1 protected, four wheel drive vehicle. A notional DAD squad is composed of three VBLs with three crew each. Two VBLs have Spike LR launchers with six reloads and 7.62mm MGs. The third VBL has an AGL or .50 cal, a small UAV (e.g. Wasp or quad copter), and modest ability to call for fires. Throw in a handful of single shot AT weapons like NLAW and AT4 for use at close range.

    DAD Squad:
    - 9 x soldiers
    - 3 x VBL
    - 2 x Spike LR (12 missiles)
    - 2 x 7.62mm MG
    - 1 x AGL/.50 cal
    - ~4-6 x NLAW/AT4
    - Tier I UAV
    - Personal Weapons

    An DAD platoon consists of three DAD squads, two command VBLs, an FO VBL with Wasp/Raven UAV, and a high mobility logistics vehicle (truck or 6x6/8x8 armored vehicle). The logistics vehicle carries fuel, additional missiles, scatterable mines (e.g. MOPMS), and so on.

    DAD platoon
    - 38 soldiers
    - 12 x VBLs
    - 1 x Logistics vehicle
    - 6 x Spike LR launchers (36 missiles)
    - 6 x AGL/50 cal
    - 6 x 7.62mm MGs

    An DAD company consists of an HQ, three DAD platoons, a mortar section, an Air Defense team using VBL-Mistral, and a logistics section with additional trucks.

    Individual platoons could be used to blunt an advance. The nine squad vehicles would spread out over a significant area. When they make contact, the six ATGM VBLs fire off one or two missiles, call for mortar/artillery/MLRS fire, and then displace. As they go, they can emplace scatterable mines at chokepoints.

    ATGM VBLs may not even need to have line of sight to their targets. Commanders could use the Spike networking feature to direct missile strikes remotely. Twelve missiles, fired in a minute or so, could wipe out a lead mechanized company, if they all hit. Even if they don't, with some hits and all of the active defenses going off, I have to imagine it would be disruptive.

    Deep snow could be a problem, but how often do Baltic states get truly deep snow that would stop light 4x4s with snow chains?

    This formation would probably lose most meeting engagements vs armor, where they don't have the luxury of initiating the fight on their terms. But if the aim is to slow/delay/blunt a mechanized push, something like this seems like a viable option.

    Cost-wise, for equipment, figure around $4m USD for each squad, including vehicles, UAVs, missiles and CLUs. A platoon might run $14m. A company might run around $50-60m.

    Obviously it would take well trained and motivated soldiers to pull off this type of defense. Conscripts need not apply. But poorly trained conscripts probably won't mount an effective defense no matter what they have.

    1. “Deep snow could be a problem, but how often do Baltic states get truly deep snow that would stop light 4x4s with snow chains?”

      The B3P countries do get very deep snow and incredibly dense forests.
      I understand that the French VBLs and VBCIs struggled to keep up with British and Danish tracked vehicles during winter exercises as part of the Estonian eFP BG.

    2. This is a good idea. It’s one that was proposed through the Cold War: small highly mobile units with ATGW performing hit and run style strikes. Perhaps the eFP BGs should incorporate an anti-tank company to conduct this mission?

    3. “Obviously it would take well trained and motivated soldiers to pull off this type of defense. Conscripts need not apply. But poorly trained conscripts probably won't mount an effective defense no matter what they have.”

      The B3P nations rely heavily on conscripts. These conscripts are, on the whole, well trained and well motivated. Many in the Baltics have a genuine fear of Russian aggression. They cherish and value their new independence and don’t want to cede that yet again (the Baltics have had a tumultuous history of constant invasion and annexation). And if the balloon were to go up, what greater motivator would there be than the defence of one’s way of life?!

    4. "As an alternative thought exercise, rather than Sven's "bullfighter defense" (i.e. let them pass and stab them in the sides and rear) how about consider a "distributed active defense" (DAD) using highly dispersed, mobile forces."

      You're writing about the 1970's and 1980's fashion of proposing light infantry based asymmetric defences against Soviet tanks based on high tech.
      There were multiple such alternative proposals to "active defence"," AirLand Battle" etc. Keywords are Raumverteidigung, Techno Kommandos et cetera.

      In other words; I pretty much covered that already in the blog post itself.

    5. Correct me if I'm wrong, but Raumverteidigung and Techno Kommandos are usually described as dispersed, foot-mobile infantry, without vehicles.

      In contrast, I proposed something more akin to light cavalry or skirmishers, with lots of relatively inexpensive, light armored vehicles and anti-tank missiles (two, medium-range ATGM systems per squad, plus additional single use weapons).

      They wouldn't be tied to a geographical location and would have 100% vehicular mobility.

      This is similar in some regards to the USMC Distributed Ops proposals (at least the mobility parts), or the US Army 9th Infantry High Technology Test Bed.

      Their mobility would allow them to concentrate or disperse forces relatively quickly over a significant geographical area.

    6. ATGMs and ManPADS were featured heavily in the Techno Kommandos concept. I remember those concepts from the 80's as focused on infantry, but I do not remember any insistence on them not being motorised (except Uhle-Wettler's guerilla infantry proposal, he would certainly not have preferred small motor vehicles).

      To be frank, I don't think any armed service in Europe could pull off a regiment of small teams with lightly armoured 4x4 and missiles for agile hit&run tactics without turning it obscenely expensive AND with a high share of non-combat personnel.

      My own skirmishers & raiders concept calls for something similar (albeit in platoons as units of manoeuvre, and with LRRP keeping an eye on the region almost as a whole). I woudln't call that cheap or affordable for the Baltics without huge foreign subsidies at all.

    7. Well step #1 in their defense plan should be to increase spending well past the ~2% of GDP they're spending now.

      Any country at such significant risk of attack by the Russians should be willing to invest in their own security and not rely entirely on NATO to come to their rescue.

      Israel has a history of highly belligerent neighbors too, and they spend 5.4% of GDP. So upping to at least 3-4%, if not higher, should be a no-brainer, IMHO.

      Unfortunately I haven't found a lot of detailed info on the Techno Kommando concepts that wouldn't require me to buy a hard copy book and translate it. Have any links?

    8. Horst Afheldt was the author and champion for it. The book "Alternative Conventional Defense Postures In The European Theater" has a whole chapter from him and similar proposals.

    9. (try interlibrary lending, but Google books has excerpts)

    10. From the Google Books excerpt, it looks like there were a number of similar-ish proposals as well as some aggregations that took bits from each proposal. Seems like many settled on a layered approach with some combination of,

      1. Tripwire or firebreak layer
      2. Deeper, static or semi-static "Afheldt jäger" layer.
      3. Mobile, mechanized, maneuver layer

    11. Here are some more:https://de.scribd.com/document/393319137/Uhle-Wettler-Light-Infantry-Squads

      Some Frenchman (forgot the name) had some alternative concept as well, but it rested a lot on the then-fashionable attack helicopters. Most other concepts (Uhle-Wettler, Spanocci, Ahlfeldt, Unterseher) rather emphasised infantry because it isn't so offensively threatening, relatively stealthy up to platoon and relatively cheap.

      The establishment adopted Spanocci's Raumverteidigung (Spanocci was establishment...) and other than this little was adopted. Some lip service was paid to infantry platoon-centric Jagdkampf.

  8. Here's an interesting take on a NATO Maritime strategy when faced with Russian Baltic aggression.


    Primarily relies on "horizontal escalation" to dissuade and respond to aggression.

  9. Sorry, but it is a definitely wrong suggestion