“Let’s be clear, Russia started this war and Russia is the obstacle to peaceful resolution. They can start by respecting Ukraine’s sovereignty and integrity and in the meantime, we will continue to do everything we can to support Ukraine’s efforts to develop capabilities to defend itself and protect its sovereign territory.” Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin III
Russia is bearing down on Ukraine large scale troop deployments along the border amidst escalating hostile rhetoric from the Russian government. Last week, Russian President Vladimir Putin issued a warning to NATO, stating “Formal membership (of Ukraine) in NATO may not take place”. He declared that expansion of NATO infrastructure into Ukraine would constitute crossing a “red line”. Earlier this year in July, Putin issued a direct threat against the West, “We will never allow our historical territories and people close to us living there to be used against Russia… And to those who will undertake such an attempt, I would like to say that this way they will destroy their own country.” Putin’s leadership demonstrates Russia’s aggression and confrontational intent towards NATO. The mass deployment of tanks, missiles, and long-range artillery to the Ukrainian border is a threat that impacts the Biden Administration’s intent to focus on China in the South China Sea and Taiwan. The Russians are bearing down on the fragile alliances within NATO and putting the United States in challenging position to have the resources and political will to take on China in the Pacific and Russia in Europe.
In September, in conjunction with Belarus, Russia conducted Zapad 2021, one of its largest military exercises involving its Strategic Command. Zapad 2021 was a monumental display of upwards of 200,000 troops participating in military training for regional and large-scale war, demonstrations of capability, and political signaling. Following Zapad, several regiments as well as Russia’s 41st Combined Arms Army and 1st Guards Tank Army, were deployed to the Ukrainian border instead of returning to their respective cities. It is currently estimated that there are between 80,000-90,000 Russian troops deployed near the border, in addition to the Russian-backed separatist forces in Crimea and the Donbass region.
In response to increasing Russian assertiveness throughout 2021, the US has sought to work with NATO to reinforce U.S. and European capabilities in the region. One of the top priorities is growing and, in most cases, modernizing the air defense artillery of the maneuvering Joint and Combined NATO land forces. In early October, the US Army tested its new M-SHORAD Strykers, an 8-wheeled Chassis Platform armored infantry vehicle, armed with sensors and missiles to perform air-defense functions, and surface to surface weapons to support maneuver formations when enemy aircraft are not present. The M-SHORAD capability will provide a much-required unique protection against low-flying aircraft, missiles, and drones to enable Combat Brigade Teams greater maneuverability and survivability. The long-awaited return of ASHORAD capability is a welcome development. In his visit to Ukraine last month, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin stressed that one of the greatest challenges facing European security was the current air defense vulnerability.
Additionally, radar capabilities need to be modernized to complement ground-based systems to track warn, and target over the horizon missiles. The Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) has long served its purpose in supporting the warfighter during the Cold War and Post-Cold War, tracking Russian Aircraft and deconflicting air space. However, advances in the technological capacity from adversaries of small profile, low heat cruise missiles demand that the U.S. deploy new capabilities. The E7 Wedgetail, the latest in early warning and control aircraft, should be a top priority for Air Force budget planners. With the procurement of a global persistent space-based capability still in development, the Wedgetail is the bridge, as it is in the Pacific, with improved technologies and capabilities that can be deployed immediately and provide the warfighter with overhead persistent capability.
The future of cost-effective air and missile defense must include electronic warfare and directed energy. The Army must be able to rapidly develop these much-needed capabilities placing directed energy, electronic jamming systems, and IFPC interceptors on SHORAD platforms. Directed energy gives the SHORAD mass defensive capability, drastically lowering the cost per kill and increasing magazine capacity. This capability will drive Russian political and military leaders to reconsider being overly aggressive and change in their Calculus.
Russia’s buildup on the Ukrainian border is a direct threat to NATO and regional stability in Eastern Europe. The Russian military doctrine legitimizes the use of all manners of force, across all domains of warfighting, up to tactical nuclear weapons to include hypersonic glide missile capabilities. With the thousands of tactical nuclear weapons targeting NATO, the Russian troops deployed along its border, as well as its real hypersonic, cyber, and gray zone capabilities, NATO and our Eastern European partners are at significant risk. The growth and modernization of missile defense capabilities to defend critical logistic sites, air bases and combat land maneuvering forces among NATO allies and U.S. partners, coupled with joint and combined long-range fires is a necessary stabilizing force for NATO.
The United States and NATO have to Bear Down!