Tuesday, 24 January 2017

NATO or bust

According to this article, the government of Canada may no longer be looking to participate in a UN Peacekeeping mission in Africa.  Contrary to popular belief, Canada is currently engaged in several operations at the time of this posting (24 January 2017). Some are large and some are not. As it stands, Canada has committed to augmenting NATO forces in Eastern Europe in the guise of Operation REASSURANCE.   In addition, Canada is closer to leading a multinational battlegroup in Latvia.  In this blog post, not only do I applaud the government's apparent decision to forego a major UN Peacekeeping mission in Africa, but I also urge the government to strengthen its commitment to NATO on the Latvian Front.

Canada currently spends less than 1% of its GDP on defence.  The NATO standard, which most of the countries fail to achieve, is to spend 2% on defence.  An intelligent increase in spending on defence, not squandered on pay hikes or arbitrary and unnecessary infrastructure projects is not what I mean.  Instead, this could be very well spent on acquiring battle-ready weapons and equipment.  This means trucks, rifles, missiles and most importantly: ships.  I personally would immediately defund the CBC and shift that money over to the Department of National Defence, but that's not the point.

Canada's commitment to Latvia makes sense from a purely political point of view; however, it would not last long at all against a concerted Russian offensive, which would include attacks across all planes; moral and physical.  In order to act as a viable deterrent, any deployed force must be combat capable and lethal.  It may not be of the size of our brigade group of the latter half of the Cold War, nor even of the even more powerful brigade group of the first half.  But a combat battlegroup, ideally a tank regiment battlegroup equipped with powerful and plentiful tanks and other armoured fighting vehicles, would prove to be a thorn in the side of any Russian attack into the Baltics, no matter how improbable that may be.

APFSDS-T can be hazardous to your tank

A battlegroup consisting of a single nation would not rely on several chains of command, languages and logistical requirements.  Although other NATO nations could plug into the battle group on an ad hoc basis, a permanent or semi-permanent presence demands that it be of one nation.
So, the big question: can Canada do it?  The short answer is yes.  After all, we are a G7 nation (G6 if Russia stops participating).  A force of some 2,000 all-ranks would require a hefty commitment from Canada's Army (augmented heavily by its reserve force), but it would not be all that different from our sustained effort in Afghanistan.  The difference would be that we would not be involved in continuous combat, nor would there be as many time zones between Canada and its deployed unit. 

Combat Proven
In conclusion, a Canadian battlegroup, infantry or tank, backed up by a strong logistical chain that goes back to Canada itself, would send a strong signal.  First to Russia, that we are serious about countering any potential Russian aggression in the Baltic states.  Second, to NATO, that we are serious about our commitment to the alliance.  Finally, to Canadians at home, that we are serious about their security, for it is ultimately Canadians we are defending, be it abroad or at home.

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Life's a Breach

In my latest post, The First Blows, my fictional Canadians were rather successful against an advancing Russian Tank Battalion.  Nary a Canadian suffered so much as a hang nail en route to a complete shellacking of the dimwit Russians.

"Where the Heck did all the Canadians come from?"

Some of my peers have made comments as to our capabilities, but as I told them, the intent was to show the ideal.  A skillfully lead tank squadron combat team could in fact deal such a blow to an advancing force.

So, in the interest of fairness, I now turn my attention to A Squadron, which in my scenario was tasked to destroy an enemy battalion much further to the north along the E22.
Like B Squadron, A Squadron is a combat team.  It has its Squadron HQ along with 4 troops of tanks and a platoon of infantry.  The route it has to cover is a bit more open than that of its sister squadron, so the OC came up with a slightly different plan.

His plan was fairly straightforward. In the first part, or phase, he would gain contact with the enemy in the area of Rezekne near the junction of the E22 and the north/south running A 13.
A Squadron Area of Operations
He was counting on contact at night where his night sights would have an advantage over the advancing Russians. Once contact were made, he would conduct a delay, maintaining contact at maximum range until he had shaped the enemy into his killing zone.
A Squadron Commander's Overall Plan
Once they had the enemy into Battle Position 101 ("BP 101"), he would then engage them frontally with dug in infantry and a tank troop, fixing the enemy along the front.  The enemy would then be drawn into conducting an attack, at which point the counter attack force of two tank troops would strike at the enemy's vulnerable flank.
The Simple Plan
On paper, the plan was simple enough and cunning enough to work.  It relied on surprise and took advantage of knowledge of the Russian doctrine.

When first contact was made, the first blows were delivered by the tanks of 1 troop.  At maximum range, they engaged the initial reconnaissance forces.  The affair was one-sided and the Russians didn't have a chance.  Unlike their brethren in B Squadron, A Squadron was intent on blinding the enemy's recce forces.  This was part of the overall plan to give the Russians the illusion of success in the south.  Unknown to the Canadians, that's just what the Russians surmised, and soon their primary route diverted from the North to the South.  In the first echelon, nothing was noticed, but the real difference came in the second, follow-on echelon, where the Mobile Obstacle Detachment moved behind the battalion that was even now assuming the lead over the Division and Brigade reconnaissance elements.  The division commander rightly assumed that the Canadians would fight for time in the north, and he wasn't going to risk his more lightly armoured forces against the tanks to his front.

After 1 troop fell back behind 3 troop, it wasn't long before the wrath of the Russians was felt.  Unknown to A Squadron, a flight of UAVs was even now scanning the intended route of the tank battalion to its front.  1 Troop was spotted as they withdrew to the West, and soon a flurry of 152mm shells fell among the tanks.  There was no significant damage to the tanks, but it did cause 3 troop to remain under cover.
The King of Battle firing on the Canadians
Soon their patience was rewarded with the sight of the advancing Combat Reconnaissance Patrol (CRP).  At maximum range, the Leopards opened on the first two T 90s they spotted.  The T 90s appeared to be hit, but one of them reversed quickly as the other started to burn as its interior ammunition caught fire.  The crew was able to escape with minimal injuries, but the tank was hors de combat for now.

The Leopards popped their smoke grenades and fell back, and just in a nick of time.  They were spotted just as they opened up and soon the 152mm shells were falling among their now-vacated position.

Further back, the OC decided that it was time to make a clean break.  The terrain just didn't really allow for his forces to risk being shot up in the open.  He wasn't quite sure how the Russians were able to bring down artillery so quickly on his positions, nor so accurately, but he did (rightly) assume that there were UAVs about.  With no AD Radar assets in the BG, his forces were virtually blind when it came to enemy air assets.  Thus far, his forces were fortunate in that Russian helicopter and fixed-wing assets were apparently busy elsewhere in the Baltics.

A quick issue of orders on the radio net later, his forces were set.  1 and 3 troop were set as the counter moves forces.  2 Troop and 4 platoon, H Company, 2nd Battalion, The Royal Canadian Regiment were set at their positions in BP 101.  They were well dug in and camouflaged and ready for the advancing Russians.  They wouldn't have long to wait.
Tank Attack!
Just as their doctrine dictated, the CRP led the advance with the main body not far behind.  It was back far enough to be out of harm's way, but close enough to be able to assist the CRP within minutes.  Soon that CRP would need its help!
Unlike the previous engagements, the aim of the position was to engage the CRP in close in order to entice them to draw in a battalion attack.  So, at about 2,000 yards, the first shots to land on the advancing tanks were by the Canadian Artillery some 20 km to the West.  The rounds did very little damage to the tanks, but it did cause them to take pause.  They dispersed and scanned the area to the front, where the route entered the woods, and they rightly determined that the position was held.  Although they could see no individual positions, some wire and markings of the limits of an Anti Tank minefield were noted.  This information was passed to the BG HQ and soon the orders were being generated for a battalion hasty attack.

The first step in the attack was the artillery.  The Brigade Artillery Group supported by the Divisional Artillery Group quickly formulated a fire plan and soon let loose an intense barrage across the suspected enemy position.  The initial barrage was more general in nature, as UAVs continued to scan and look for the positions.  As well, further UAV missions went west in search of the Canadian Artillery.
Unknown and undetected by the Canadians, the Russians decided to conduct a frontal feignt in order to draw in the Canadian counter attack as they even now deployed their mobile obstacle detachment (MOD) to block the enemy attack into their flank.  This involved a series of hastily laid mines across a frontage of some 2 km as anti tank formations set up to fire across the obstacles.

Russian Plan.  As they attack into the Canadians (Red Arrow), the Canadian Counter Attack would strike from the north (Blue Arrow).  They would hit the surprise obstacle (green rectangle) and right then, the Anti Tank forces would strike into their flanks.
The plan was simple but it adhered to the principles of simplicity and surprise.  And it was easily understood by all.
At H Hour, the time of the attack, the Canadian position, still not quite properly discerned, was struck with an intense  barrage of High Explosives and Smoke.  The two assaulting companies struck out from their attack position and raced towards the Canadian obstacle belt.  They were still not under effective fire as they began their breaching operation.  Soon, however, Canadian fire reached out and started to inflict casualties, even as the Canadian artillery fell among the Russian sappers and engineering vehicles.  There were some casualties, but the troops remained rather composed under  this enemy fire, intense as it was.
Suddenly, from the north, a dull rumble added to the sounds of the battle.  The ten tanks of the counter moves force were even now just starting to move into their firing positions off to the Russian Flank.  It was going very well even though the casualties from the Russian artillery were starting to mount among the Canadian infantry.
Suddenly a bright flash caught the Squadron Commander by surprise.  He looked to his left and saw a Leopard has just come to a screeching halt, smoke billowing from its near track.  It was quite immobile and even now the crew was seen to be bailing out.  Mines!  Just then, another flash and another tank stopped dead in its tracks.  They were still 500 metres from the firing position, and their presence was sorely needed to augment the fire into the kill zone!  Where did the mines come from?  Worse yet, he had no assets with which to breach the anti tank ditch that was even now being reported.
The squadron commander's heart sunk.  He has run into the Russian MOD's hasty belt.  He knew that it was only seconds before the enemy would....

It was right then that the anti tank missiles started to strike into his flank.  "MISSILE, MISSILE, MISSILE!" was called out over the net.  Two tanks were struck as the survivors began to launch smoke and seek cover.  But it was all but over for the counterattack.  2 tanks were immobilized and 2 more were destroyed.  The surviving six were able to escape the initial barrage but were even now straining to find the firing positions.  It was too late.  The enemy barrage had shifted and now fell among the fleeing Leopards.  One more was immobilized and the Squadron Commander realized that his plan had failed.  Smoke was called for and once his position was well-screened, his surviving tanks raced back to the battle position.  He ordered the remainder of the squadron to make its way back after breaking contact.  It was almost too late for the main force, but by skillful use of maintained track plans, the bulk of the main defending force made its way back.  But the plan now was in ruins and it was up to the relatively unused 4 troop (the squadron reserve) to take over the battle.
A Squadron fell back in some disorder and much the wiser as it made its way to the Battle Group rally point at Jekabpils some 60 km distant.

Monday, 20 June 2016

The First Blows

In a previous post, I talked about how a Canadian Battlegroup could make its mark felt in Europe once again.
In order to show how it could possibly make its mark felt by the Russians, I present here a fictional account of a battle.  After all, let's face it: you do not deploy troops unless you are fully intended to use them in combat.  This is how the very first blows of combat could happen, and in spite of the outcome presented here, it could very well turn out differently.


The 1st of August was the day that the Russians decided to end all diplomacy with NATO and resort to military operations.   Of course, it would take time to launch their divisions, but not so long that they would lose all advantages over the meagre NATO force in the Baltics.
Their aim was simple: overwhelm the forces in place and split the Baltic states from Poland.  Then, once in a position of strength, they could then revert to negotiations and end the sanctions against her that were really starting to take hold.
Up in Latvia, the Canadian Battlegroup, for this rotation it was The Royal Canadian Dragoons with an attached company from 2nd Battalion, The Royal Canadian Regiment, a squadron of Engineers and all supported with direct support from a battery of towed M 777 howitzers from 2nd Regiment, Royal Canadian Horse Artillery, who were augmented by two troops of Air Defence.  The Air Defence wasn’t much, it was all hand-held missiles as back in Canada the government was frantically trying to find some SHORAD and VSHORAD Air Defence.  Alas, it was too late.  The Battlegroup was already in country and soon moved to its battle positions along the border with Belarus and Russia. 

The battle group had a very simple order: it was to destroy the first echelon of a Russian Tank Brigade that was assessed to be in the area of Polatsk, Belarus.  NATO intelligence assessed that this Tank Brigade was to drive to Riga in order to split the Baltics as well as to deny NATO its main port south of Talinn.  This Brigade was assessed to probably use two main routes: the A 6 to the south and the E 22 to the north.  These two routes joined at Jekabpils.  As such, this was the Battlegroup’s Vital Ground.  In other words, if the Russians gained control of this place, then the Canadian defence would be untenable. 
The battle group commander’s plan was relatively straightforward.  The deployment would see two squadrons forward with one in depth at Jekabpils.  The forward squadrons were to each destroy a tank battalion each before moving back through Jekabpils to further operations near Riga.  A Squadron was left, or North, and B Squadron was right, or south.  Each of the squadrons was attached a platoon of infantry.
B Squadron Combat Team 

The Squadron was responsible for the A6 in the area of Daugavpils.  Assessing the ground, the Squadron Commander came up with a simple plan.  He would put two troops forward that would engage the enemy formations, shaping them into a killing zone just north of the A6.  The plan was to make it look like the obvious routes were blocked, and leaving a secondary route relatively unguarded.  It was in there that the squadron would make its mark felt on the T 90s of the advancing tank battalion.

The way in which the battalion would be destroyed was rather novel.  The advancing Combat Recce Patrol, consisting of a Tank Platoon, some NBC and Engineer Recce elements, would be allowed to pass un touched.  The next portion, the Forward Security Element of a tank company, an infantry platoon, an artillery battery of 2S1s and a Movement Support Detachment of Engineers would then be destroyed simultaneously across the length of the advance.  At least that’s what the plan was At 0400 hours of D Day, the day of the Russian Invasion, the battlegroup stood to due to the overwhelming evidence that the Russians were on the move.  And by 0415 hours, the forward elements of the reconnaissance screen reported mass formations of helicopters and jets flying west.  These were en route to objectives in the rear of the battle group and were the concern of other NATO formations. 
At 0428, the battlegroup net crackled to life.
“Zero, this is six.  Contact, wait, out.” 
Every troop leader followed the battle along on their maps as the contacts were updated with information every few moments.  It soon became apparent that a Russian tank battalion was indeed using the A6.  Up front were elements of a recce detachment, and these were allowed to pass unmolested.  The BRDMs and BMP (recce) vehicles covered each other’s moves as they pressed Westward, pausing for about 5 minutes near the airfield at Lociki before moving along the A6.   They seemed to rely on speed as security when they moved along the densely forested highway en route to Riga. 
“C Squadron will deal with them,” thought the squadron commander as he noted that they were passing.  He did some mental math and realized that the next elements, the Brigade Reconnaissance patrols would be along in due course.  Sure enough, they were.  They were noted to spend more time at the airfield, poking around and even dismounting some troops for closer investigation.  Given that the sun would be up soon, the Squadron Commander surmised that follow on helicopter troops would be using this airfield for a staging area or even as a logistics hub. 
Soon even the brigade recce elements were moving along the path that the higher patrols had taken.  This means that the next elements would be from the tank battalion, the one with which he was tasked to destroy.  (As a note, this did not mean that he had to physically destroy each and every vehicle in that battalion, but rather just had to render that battalion non-effective.  As such, he estimated that he would have to knock out about 4 out of 9 platoons.  This would leave only about 15 or so tanks to do the job of 30 or more.  In short, that battalion would have to stop and wait for reinforcements before it could move on with its job.
As the recce elements passed, the squadron’s two front troops deployed.  1 Troop took up its positions near Stropi, blocking the A 6 itself, while 3 troop was further north, near Malinova, obstensibly blocking any flanking moves to the North.  The Leopards all moved out, 2 at a time, the other two in the troop covering the movers.  In short order, the troops were ready.  They were to engage the advancing combat recce patrol, forcing them to divert from the A6. 
“Two Niner, Two-one.  Contact, three T 90s, four APCs moving east to west along the MSR.  Am engaging, out!”

This short burst transmission alerted the squadron commander to the fact that 1 troop had spotted the Combat Recce Patrol, or “CRP” as it was known, and that they were going to start shooting.  According to plan, the enemy was at maximum range, and at most, one tank would be hit.  The idea wasn’t to trigger an enemy hasty attack, but rather to divert its advance.
After the pre dawn sky was lit up by the massive cannons of the Leopards tanks, followed by the streak of the hyper velocity shot, it was apparent that a T 90 had been hit; however, its active armour system had defeated the round and already the tanks were making smoke and moving north.  In short, the ruse had worked and soon the enemy CRP was out of sight.  This was reported on the radio net and the squadron commander nervously awaited word from 3 Troop.  2 and 4 troop, along with 6 platoon of H Company, 2 RCR, were given the code word “saddles” and were all mounted in their vehicles, ready to take up their battle positions.
In the Russian Camp, the CRP commander was shocked by the sudden gunfire from off to his left.  “Dammit!” he thought.  “They’ve blocked the A6!  We’ll have to swing north!”  He paused in some low ground as the artillery OP vehicle called for a quick mission to suppress the enemy tanks.  They were unsure if they were Latvian or Canadian, but it didn’t matter.  Their job was to get to Jekabpils by noon!
He got on his radio net after a quick look at his map.  He ordered the formation to head north and then turn West near Sparite.  Unknowingly, his path was taking the exact one his enemy was going to try to make him take.
“Two niner, this is two three.  Contact, enemy CRP advancing north.  They are heading into the gap along route CLUB.  I say again, they are heading into the gap along route CLUB.  Out.”  With this, the squadron commander realized that his plan was coming to fruition.  He ordered 3 troop to remain in place and report on the follow on formations, even as 1 Troop was falling back in an attempt to avoid the very heavy artillery that was falling amongst their tanks.  Though they were very heavily armoured, the shock of the blasts was having an effect on the troopers and it was best to leave now to avoid any damage at all to the tanks.

Now the battleplan depended on the Russians adhering to their own schedule.  The Squadron Commander’s plan was to hit the CRP and the Vanguard Company simultaneously.  2 troop at the end of the gap through which the CRP was advancing would hit them with massed fires just as 4 troop and 6 platoon would ambush the remainder as they entered the gap near Sparite. 
Following the battle on the radio, the squadron commander was pleased to see that the Russians were indeed following their schedule.  3 Troop reported the company of tanks advancing into the gap, albeit a bit further north, obstensibly to avoid 1 troop, which was at that very time passing through 2 troop and heading for some replenishment before occupying the squadron’s next battle position. 
Satisfied that the CRP was past the ambush position for 4 troop and 6 platoon, he ordered his squadron into position.  3 Troop would simply avoid the battle and swing round the north to the next position before heading to the next bound.  The battle was now in the hands of the troop leaders and platoon commander on the ground.  All the rehearsals would now either pay off or prove to be not good enough.
The success of the plan of attack was best illustrated by the radio traffic on the Russian net.  The Tank Battalion Commander was just passing Slutiski, about 5 kilometres away from the vanguard company when he was shocked to see the sky in front of him light up in a series of flashes.  Just then, on the radio came a number of confusing messages.  He tried to sort out if the CRP or the Vanguard was in contact.  Soon he was shocked to realize that they both were under contact, and it wasn’t clear where they were or where the enemy was.  All he knew was this: about 10 tanks, 6 APCs and 6 2S1s were up there and they were quite obviously in a close fight. 
As the intensity of the flashes waned, so too did his radio net. It wasn’t apparent at the time, but all control had been lost up front as his forces were hit from the front and both sides all at once.  They were now in survival mode, and they were only able to shoot back blindly and without even knowing if they were effective or not.
Unknown to him, what happened was this.  As the CRP exited the gap in the trees, they were hit by a volley of tank fire that targeted the T 90s.  Although the active and reactive armour saved two tanks in the initial volley, the subsequent volley finished the survivors.  The accompanying APCs simply sought cover and attempted to report, in vain, what was happening. 
Meanwhile, in the woods, the rest of the tank company along with its accompanying infantry were hit by a combination of tank, APC, rifle, machine gun and recoilless rifle fire.  The tanks suffered the most in the first volley, but as the subsequent volleys poured in, it soon became apparent that the enemy was too well hidden to shoot back to any effect.  The only meaningful fire that was returned was from the 2S1s, their 122mm shells falling amongst the Leopards.  Had they been able to see the Canadian infantry, they would have had some effect; the Leopards were just too robust.

Satisfied that the enemy company was no longer functional, the squadron commander ordered the clean break.  Supported by 155mm shells falling among the Russian survivors, the Canadians mounted upon their APCs and with the tanks covering, moved back to the relative safety further west. 
The initial battle was over and the Canadians didn’t suffer a scratch.  In 20 minutes, the enemy advance was stuttering already, and soon the first rays of sunshine would allow anyone to see the carnage that had been left behind.

Thursday, 16 June 2016

Letting the Cat out of the Bag

In a previous blog, I wrote about the possibility of Canada providing an infantry Battle Group to a NATO deterrence effort in the Baltic States.  I've heard many comments from my peers about the difficulties of raising such a force, so I decided to think outside the box and propose an alternate ORBAT:  A Tank Regiment Battlegroup.  It would look something like this:

Regimental Headquarters

3 x Tank Squadrons

1 x Armoured Reconnaissance Squadron

1 x Mechanized Infantry Company

1 x Armoured Engineer Squadron

That's it, that's all.  It would be a lean force equipped primarily with the Leopard 2 a combat-proven tank that is arguably the best tank in the world.

So, how would this force fight?  Essentially, it would rely on its mobility and secure lines of communications to counter any Russian thrust into the Baltic state of Latvia.  Alternately, it could form the nucleus of a counter-moves force for an ad-hoc NATO brigade in the area.  The Armoured Reconnaissance Squadron would be the eyes and ears of the NATO force in the east in general and as such would not be part of the fighting force for the Tank Regiment.  The Armoured Engineers would provide the much-needed mobility and counter mobility required by the Regiment to conduct operations.  The Infantry would be to retain terrain (when needed) as well as to provide close-country protection to the tanks, again, as needed.  Alternately, they could be used in the rear to provide the much-needed protection to the vital logistical links back to Riga.

If it came to blows, this force of some 59 tanks would most likely conduct a delay or mobile defence in order to attrit and/or destroy the lead Russian formations as they closed in on vital areas in the NATO rear.  For fire support, this regiment would have to rely upon other nations to provide that given that Canada doesn't have any mobile medium artillery.  Unless we were to purchase some M 109s, we would have to ask Germany or even the Netherlands to provide a battery of Panzerhaubitze 2000s.

Yes we could.  It would require a massive recruitment campaign in order to get trained crews for a second rotation as well as a massive effort to retrain our crewmen back in our regular force regiments.  It would not be an easy task, but it could be done.  This would project some serious combat power overseas and would arguably be the most powerful NATO unit in theatre.  As such, it would therefore demonstrate our resolve to stand shoulder to shoulder with our NATO partners overseas.

Logistics! Logistics! Logistics!

In a previous blog, I wrote about the possibility of Canada providing an infantry battlegroup on an enduring NATO deployment.  Since then, the government seems to have shown some interest in doing just that.  In this blog, I'm not going to rehash the order of battle, or ORBAT of that battlegroup.  In fact, the order of battle is nearly irrelevant.  It could have the very best of everything, but if Canada could not sustain it, then it would be moot.

In that previous blog, I made mention of a National Support Element or NSE.  This would have as its main task the sustainment of that battlegroup.  Canadian doctrine is pretty clear on its sustainment, and as such, how or what that NSE would have to do.  As a synopsis, it would carry seven days' of supplies for that battlegroup, acting as its so-called "B" echelon.  It would also care for the longer-term maintenance of the guns, weapons and other equipment, carry forward fuel, ammunition and food for the men and so on.

In times of peace, its job would be relatively easy.  That is, compared to our logistical efforts in Afghanistan during the height of combat operations there, it would be infinitely easier.  Virtually all classes of supply would be able to be procured in country: ammunition is NATO standard, POL standards are the same and so forth.  In fact, if you can think of it, there is a NATO STANAG for it.  (Consider this STANAG for bar codes on shipment labels as an example.) The Canadian-only things we would have to get to our troops would be hard rations, or IMPs as they are called, weapons and equipment parts specific to our national assets (such as LAV 6 barrels and other widgets for our "stuff"). 

If war were to break out in the Baltic between NATO and Russia (or, "NotRussians" as the case may be...), then the logistics would be relatively difficult.   Again, this is relative to our efforts in Afghanistan.  The reason would be that the Russians would effectively cut out our efforts to reinforce and/or sustain our forces in the field by sea and by air.  Consider this map of the region:

Any efforts to bring in supplies via Riga or any other port would be an exercise in futility.  Also, Russian Surface to Air Rocket Forces would be able to project its power over the entire area from Russia as well as from the Russian enclave that used to be the eastern-most edge of the German Empire and Prussia. The S-400 "Triumph" has a reputed range of 400 km.  Even at a fraction of that, our C-17s would be highly vunerable even in German airspace off to the West. 

For this reason alone, strict adherence to our doctrine of a net total of 10 days' of stocks across the A and B echelons would be vital for the survival of our force.  Our forces would be quickly cut off and isolated by a Russian surge from Belarus into Russia via the corridor straddling the Lithuanian-Polish borders.  It would take perhaps 10 days' of build up by our NATO allies to mount a counter offensive capable of reaching our forces, most likely in the area around the capital of Riga.  (Attempts by our Leopard 2A6Ms to relive Otto Carius' efforts at the battle of Malinava in the region of Daugavpils would be an effort in futility.)

So, in conclusion, efforts to sustain a national effort in Latvia is completely within the realm of the possible.   Canada sustained a similar sized task force during 5 years of combat operations in Afghanistan, and a much larger sized brigade group in the Federal Republic of Germany for decades.  The key, however, is that if push does come to shove and it comes to war, the Canadian task force must be prepared to withstand 10 days' of high-intensity combat before being relieved.  As such, its needs to be able to have firepower, mobility and protection all sustained by a robust combat echelon.

Monday, 6 June 2016

D Day, 72 years on

It was 72 years ago that the Western Allies landed on the coast of France.  6 divisions landed by sea and 3 more by air.  I cannot begin to understand the dread the soldiers must have felt just before landing.  Having been in Afghanistan, I have a bit of a feeling of jitters the night before an operation, but nothing anywhere as near as what they must have felt.

I weep now, looking at Europe.  Birth rates are such that the French, the Germans, the Dutch, etc, are all dying out.  I wonder what it was all about...

Wednesday, 1 June 2016

Opportunity in the East

Check out this article:
Opportunity in the East

Synopsis: NATO is looking for a fourth.  A fourth battalion, that is.  The US, the UK and Germany have each agreed to deploy a battalion of infantry to Eastern Europe in the face of a resurgent Russia. Specifically, these battalions would be earmarked for Poland and the Baltic States.
None of these four countries are very friendly with Russia.  Historically, they have been foes.  Whether or not Russia really will march West is irrelevant.  In the face of Russian sabre rattling over the Baltic and in the Black Sea, NATO must stand united, lest it fade to irrelevance.
This is where Canada could come in.  If I had the ear of the MND or the PM, I would whisper this into his ear:
"We have an opportunity to take a leadership role in NATO and in the Five Eyes (the unofficial alliance of the UK, the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.  Also called the Anglosphere, Quebec notwithstanding). It is low risk and very high pay off.  Here's what we do..."  This is where I get into policy and details and such.
But in short, Canada could, no, ought to be that fourth battalion.  This is how it could look, going from the top down.

Command and Control
At the top there were have to be a National Command Element.  This would be the commanding general (ideally a Major General) and his or her staff.  He or she would report back to the Canadian Joint Operations Command in Ottawa.  His or her staff would be lean, but big enough to deal with our coalition partners and provide the national rear link.  It would by necessity have to have a signal squadron in order to provide that bandwidth.  It would not be in the same location as the battalion. Instead, it would be at a national capital, be it Warsaw or elsewhere.  The secondary role of liaison with our partners would necessitate this.
Another necessity would be a National Support Element.  This would be the logistical link back to Canada.  In army doctrinal terms, this would be the "BSA".  This "Brigade Services Area" would stockpile the necessary logistical "stuff" (ammo, fuel, water, food, etc) for up to 14 days of sustained operations.  It would also handle the challenging task of deploying the battalion into theatre and of course its replacements.
The Battlegroup
The battalion, in reality, a battlegroup, would be a full-up infantry battlegroup.  In addition to its battlegroup headquarters, it would have the following:

  • Four Rifle Companies
  • One Combat Support Company complete with:
    • Anti Armour Platoon
    • Mortar Platoon
    • Reconnaissance Platoon
    • Pioneer Platoon
  • One Administration Company 
  • One Tank Squadron (complete with full echelon)
  • One Armoured Reconnaissance Squadron
  • One Direct Support Battery (8 x 155mm howitzers)
  • One Anti Aircraft Battery
  • One Armoured Engineer Squadron
This is a huge beast.  This would be close to 2,000 all ranks and would require a Division to assemble this kind of force.  It wouldn't be easy, but with the regular force Brigade Group leading, and with ample support from the reserve brigades, this could be done and sustained, just as we did for our combat mission in Kandahar.

The Cycle
Ok, so we have them there, now what?  Well, I would offer that they would go to Eastern Europe for a 12 month long tour, with each Division being the lead for a tour.  For example, 4 Div would lead the first, followed by 2 Div, etc.  (The anomaly would be 5 Div, but that's only because it doesn't have a regular force brigade group.)  Prior to each tour, the battlegroup would be trained up to what is termed "Level 6", which is Battlegroup.  So, the unit complete has completed its work up training at CMTC in Wainwright, Alberta, and is now sitting somewhere in Eastern Europe.  Now what?
I see the unit there going through four phases, each of roughly 3 months.  In each of the first three phases, they work up their training in a specific phase of war.  For example, in the first phase, they could work on enabling operations, such as delay operations, advance to contact, etc.  Next phase, they could work on defensive operations, and in the third, work on offensive operations.  The last phase would be reserved for a coalition-level exercise, coordinated with the other three NATO battalions.
In each phase, the battlegroup would go through a cycle first of planning and then executing their training, culminating in a level 6 event.  Finally, the battlegroup would go through a rest and refit cycle of a few weeks.

It's a Deployment, not a posting
This is the key part.  The soldiers would deploy without their families or other dependents.  Yes, they would be able to get leave to go home, or even bring their families over to them.  This would be part of the rest and refit cycle.  

Have no doubt, this would be expensive in terms of capital and effort.  But it would pay massive dividends.  First and foremost, on the political front, Canada would be able to proudly announce that it is taking a leading role in NATO.  This would follow on our long service in Kandahar, but in this case, the risk to our national treasure would be low.  Also, it would serve notice to Russia that NATO is not a European or American alliance.  We as North Americans would be on the forefront of NATO, just as we were until we moved to the very south western tip of Germany in the late 1960s.  Prior to that, we were one of the most powerful brigades in all of NATO.  Were we to deploy as outlined above, we would have the cutting edge of our combat power deployed forward.  We are a G7 nation, and it's time we starting acting as such.