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UK military intelligence issues warning over Russian supertank threat
by Robert Mendick, chief reporter Ben Farmer Roland Oliphant

British military intelligence has issued a warning over a ground-breaking tank being developed by Russia, according to a leaked document seen by The Telegraph.

The Ministry of Defence internal briefing paper raises doubts over the UK’s ability to combat the threat posed by the Kremlin’s new Armata tank.

It also questions why the Government has no plans for a rival tank for at least 20 years.

The internal document, written by a senior Army intelligence officer, states: “Without hyperbole, Armata represents the most revolutionary step change in tank design in the last half century.”

It adds: “Unsurprisingly, the tank has caused a sensation,” and it goes on to question the failure of current defence strategy to plan for a new tank that can compete.

There is growing alarm among military chiefs that a presidential victory for Donald Trump, who has criticised US funding of Nato, could leave the West badly exposed to Vladimir Putin’s aggression, especially in the vulnerable Baltic states.

A prototype of the Armata was rolled out last year at the annual May Day parade in Moscow, prompting the commissioning of the five-page intelligence report. The tank is pioneering, according to the document, because of a revolutionary turret design that makes crew less vulnerable under fire.

The tank is also reckoned to be lighter, faster and lower in profile than Western rivals.

The document also suggests the tank will be kitted out with a radar system currently used on state-of-the-art Russian fighter jets and new composite armour. It has a “reported higher muzzle velocity” gun and the possibility of an upgraded missile system.

“As a complete package, Armata certainly deserves its billing as the most revolutionary tank in a generation,” concludes the intelligence briefing paper.

“For the first time, a fully automated, digitised, unmanned turret has been incorporated into a main battle tank. And for the first time a tank crew is embedded within an armoured capsule in the hull front.”

The Army intelligence officer says UK defence strategy has concentrated on the threat from improvised explosive devices deployed by insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan and ignored the danger posed by tanks.

The paper asks: “Are we on the cusp of a new technological arms race? Has an understandable focus on defeating the single threat of IEDs distracted Western military vehicle designers? Challenger 2 [the British tank], with life extension programmes, is currently due to remain in service until 2035. Is it time to rethink?”

The paper also raises concern over the Scout, a light armoured fighting vehicle due to be introduced for British forces from next year. “In a familiar story of measure and countermeasure, the intelligence assumptions that informed the procurement of Scout as a superior battle-winning platform may now be open to question.”

The document says that on top of the Armata tank, Russia is adding “six additional armoured vehicles to the stable”, including a heavy infantry fighting vehicle and a self-propelled artillery system.

The intelligence report, which it stresses should “not be interpreted as an official MoD statement”, also raises the spectre of far superior Russian tank numbers, with plans to build 120 Armata tanks a year from 2018.

It points out Russia already has a fleet of 2,500 tanks with a reserve of 12,500, which is “35 times the size of the fleet in the British Army”.

“With such numbers, decisive effect is credibly achievable and losses are less important,” says the document.

The conclusions will ring alarm bells, not least following Russia’s annexation of the Crimea and the threat to the Baltic states.

Analysis for Western military leaders has suggested Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania – all Nato member states – would be overrun by Russian tanks within 60 hours of an invasion.

Brigadier Ben Barry, a land warfare specialist at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, said two features on the Armata would threaten Nato forces.

“Firstly, it is the first tank designed with an unmanned turret. This will potentially improve crew survivability,” he said. “The turret also looks to have the stretch potential to accommodate a larger-calibre gun of up to 150mm. If fielded, this would overmatch the guns and armour on existing Nato tanks.

“Secondly, it appears to be the first tank designed from the outset with an active protection system, to intercept incoming anti-tank guided missiles and shoulder-launched anti-tank weapons.”

He added: “This has the potential to greatly reduce the firepower of Nato infantry. Of course, there are few Armata yet, and it is not clear how rapidly they will enter service. But as they do, they will increase the effectiveness of Russian armoured forces.”

The Russian defence ministry announced in September that it had signed a contract for the delivery of the first 100 Armata tanks. Another 2,200 are expected to follow.

By contrast, the British Army has 227 Challenger 2 main battle tanks, dating from 1998. Germany has 410 Leopard 2 tanks, and France has 200 Leclerc tanks. America has 2,338 M1 Abrams main battle tanks – although just 250 tanks and armoured fighting vehicles are stationed in Eastern Europe.

The Ukrainian government estimates that Russian-backed separatists in their country have 700 tanks.

Lord West of Spithead, a former First Sea Lord, said he was “very concerned” about Russian rearmament. “At the moment, their economy is a war economy,” he said. “They have got the GDP of Italy and they are trying to spend the same on defence as America. What they are doing is unsupportable and when something is unsupportable, then anything could happen.”

Fears over Russia’s tank programme have intensified over the prospect of a Trump win in Tuesday’s US election.

Mr Trump has threatened to abandon a core tenet of Nato – that an attack on one member is an attack on all under article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty – over his belief that Washington is shouldering too much of the financial burden for the military alliance.

General Sir Richard Shirreff, the former deputy supreme allied Commander Europe, said: “Here we are days from the election and that’s a real, real threat – Trump saying he might not commit to article 5.

“The defence of Europe during the Cold War depended on total certainty that whichever president was in the Oval Office, of whatever party, [the US] would come to Europe’s defence.”

Europe quietly arms itself against a Russian Invasion
by Nolan Peterso

This article first appeared on The Daily Signal.

Countries across Eastern Europe are militarizing to defend themselves from Russia, underscoring how Kremlin brinkmanship could spark a regional conflict.

“If you’re in Estonia, or Latvia, and Russia’s sitting there on your border, it’s scary,” Jill Russell, teaching fellow in the Defense Studies Department at King’s College London, told The Daily Signal. “And those countries want a capability to defend themselves.”

And by going outside the protective umbrella of NATO and U.S. security guarantees, the military buildup in post-Soviet Europe highlights a budding rift in security priorities across the continent.

“The states of Eastern Europe inevitably see their security focus as being the need to deter an increasingly antagonistic Russia,” said Ben Wheatley, honorary research fellow in the School of History at the University of East Anglia in the United Kingdom. “Therefore, the Eastern European states concentrate on building up their conventional armed forces to meet this threat.”

“The closer you are to Russia, the more you don’t care about terrorism,” Russell said.

Recent media headlines have painted modern East-West tensions as a new Cold War. However, some experts say the military buildup among post-Soviet countries across what the Kremlin considers its “near abroad” (essentially the former territory of the Soviet Union) might be the early stages of a regional arms race, and a reflection of centuries-old power struggles.

“Russia’s near abroad has once again become a flash point,” Russell said, adding:

But there’s not an ideological component, that is what defined the Cold War. Russia wants to show it’s still a great power … This isn’t at all like the Cold War.

What we are really in is a standard power struggle over frontiers. What’s unfortunate is that the frontier countries are peopled with those not necessarily interested in being pawns in a great power struggle—and are wanting to break free from Russian dominion.

“There is no doubt the conflict in the East is a localized affair rather than a new Cold War,” Wheatley told The Daily Signal.

Ready for War

Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia—NATO’s three Baltic member countries—increased their collective spending on new military equipment from $210 million in 2014 to $390 million in 2016, according to a report by IHS Jane’s, a commercial British defense analysis and intelligence firm.

By 2018, the three Baltic countries are expected to spend around $670 million a year on new military equipment. By 2020, the region’s defense budget will be $2.1 billion, up from $930 million in 2005.

Latvia and Lithuania have had the two fastest-growing military budgets in the world since 2014, according to IHS Jane’s.

“This growth is faster than any other region globally,” Craig Caffrey, principal analyst at IHS Jane’s, said in the report.

“The increase in defense spending in the Baltics is largely linked to the growing confrontation between Russia and the West, often described as the ‘new Cold War,’” said Alex Kokcharov, principal analyst at IHS Country Risk. “We have seen political confrontation between Russia and the West in the past two and a half years escalate to military assertiveness, and we don’t see this ending anytime soon.”

Poland, also a NATO member, has doubled its military spending since 2006, reaching $9.2 billion in 2016. Polish military spending has increased in eight of the past 10 years, with an 18 percent jump in 2015 alone.

For its part, the Kremlin also boosted its military spending by 28.6 percent in 2015—Russia’s largest defense budget increase since 2002.

This combination of escalating military firepower and the will to use it has some worried that a miscalculated act of brinkmanship, or nationalistic fervor run awry, could spark a broader regional conflict.

“It’s a regional war—and something more,” Tarik Cyril Amar, associate professor of history at Columbia University, told The Daily Signal. “It’s not merely a regional conflict. I think it’s connected to many larger processes.”

“They [Russia] are operating where they were always operating, in their near abroad,” Russell said. “Everything is about taking back territory that was historically Soviet.”


Tensions with Russia have been spiraling toward a nadir since the Kremlin annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in 2014 and followed up with military operations in eastern Ukraine.

Russian military brinksmanship has taken many forms across the region, including the buzzing of NATO ships and aircraft by Russian warplanes, subversive propaganda campaigns, cyberattacks and covert efforts to stir up separatism among minority Russian populations.

Contributing, more broadly, to the breakdown in relations between Russia and the West are accusations of Russian cyberattacks to affect the U.S. presidential election, and Moscow’s financial support for far-right political parties in Western Europe.

The deployment of military hardware and troops to Russia’s Kaliningrad exclave and occupied Crimea (including bombers and missiles capable of carrying nuclear weapons) and Russia’s scorched-earth bombing campaign in Syria also have the West on edge.

For the time being, the Baltic states and Poland haven’t given up on NATO. In fact, the alliance’s military presence in Eastern Europe is set to expand dramatically.

To reassure its eastern members and to send a message of deterrence to Moscow, NATO has announced plans to deploy military units to Eastern Europe in numbers unmatched since the Cold War.

At the NATO summit in July in Warsaw, Poland, alliance leaders formally announced the planned deployment of four combat battalions to Poland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania on a rotational basis beginning next year.

The battalions will be fielded by Canada, Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States. The U.K. announced last week that it was bolstering its planned force to be stationed in Estonia from 500 to 800 troops.

These deployments are in addition to a previously announced U.S. plan to deploy about 3,500 troops to Eastern Europe on a rotational basis.

The deployments are considered “tripwire forces,” presumably meant to deter Russia from an attack due to the risk of spurring a massive NATO response to defend forward units.

“They’re really just notional forces,” Russell said, referring to the NATO units. “They’re not at all capable of doing anything offensive into Russia.”

The rotational NATO units planned for the Baltics and Poland are not a realistic threat to Russian forces, Wheatley said, but they have a deterrence value.

“Their installment in reality guarantees peace in the Baltic region and Poland, as Russia would never attack NATO units in open conflict,” the U.K. research fellow said.

U.S. warplanes and land units constantly cycle through Eastern European countries in an ongoing series of exercises. The U.K. also has announced it will send Typhoon fighters to Romania as part of an air policing mission.

Grassroots Defense

Paralleling the rise in defense budgets, the ranks of civilian volunteer militias in the Baltic countries have swelled since Russia’s military intervention in Ukraine in 2014. The change reflects the deadly seriousness with which politicians and populations in the region consider the possibility of war with Russia.

Conscription has been reinstated in Lithuania, where the government also recently issued a guerrilla warfare manual for the country’s 3 million citizens.

Estonia’s standing army comprises about 6,000 troops out of an overall national population of 1.3 million. Meanwhile, the country’s Defense League—a civilian paramilitary group—holds weekend partisan warfare training events for its 25,400 volunteers.

Civilians of all stripes spend their weekends tramping through forests with heavy rucksacks, training in military skills such as how to lay land mines and plant booby traps.

Like many post-Soviet countries, the legacy of World War II paramilitary units runs deep in the Baltic states and Poland, where citizens fought against both Nazi and Red Army invaders.

Tensions with Russia also have rattled longtime NATO holdouts Sweden and Finland. The two Scandinavian countries, which claimed to be neutral interlocutors between NATO and the Soviet Union during the Cold War, have forged closer ties with the Western military alliance since 2014.

“Sweden is no longer part of any buffer zone,” former Swedish Defense Minister Sten Tolgfors told The Wall Street Journal. “That’s an idea from the old days.”

Brothers at Arms

Ukraine is the epicenter of modern East-West tensions, and could be a flash point for future conflicts.

A war between Ukraine’s armed forces and a combined force of pro-Russian separatists and Russian regulars has killed 10,000 people and displaced about 1.7 million from their homes in the Donbas, Ukraine’s embattled southeastern territory on the border with Russia.

Despite a 17-month-old cease-fire, heavy artillery, rocket attacks and tank shots still occur daily along the front lines in the Donbas. So do military and civilian casualties.

The war in Ukraine has not spilled over into a broader conflict involving NATO countries as many feared it would in 2014.

Today, NATO members such as the U.S., Canada and Poland have military training missions ongoing in Ukraine, but NATO troops are not directly involved in combat operations in the Donbas.

“There was never any possibility of NATO combat troops being stationed in Ukraine,” Wheatley said.

The Ukrainian military was a ragtag force in the opening days of the conflict. Its soldiers were not prepared for combat, and reserves of weapons and ammunition had been depleted by decades of plundering by corrupt oligarchs and arms dealers.

In a speech at a military parade on Ukrainian Independence Day, August 24, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko signaled a long-term plan to build up the nation’s military to counter the Russian threat.

Even though Ukraine has a long way to go to match Russian firepower, some fear the current conflict could spark an arms race between the two former Soviet states.

Since the war in the Donbas began in 2014, Ukraine has fielded more than 300,000 soldiers, both recruits and draftees.

Ukraine increased its military budget by 23 percent in the year after the war began, and military spending is set to increase by 10 percent each year going forward.

Ukraine’s overall military strength went up by 25 percent—from 200,000 to 250,000 troops—in the two years since the war began in 2014. Ukraine currently has a reserve force of more than 80,000 men and women.

The composition of Ukraine’s armed forces also has evolved during the past two years.

About 17,000 women currently serve in the Ukrainian military, 10,000 of them in combat units. On June 3, Ukrainian women were officially allowed to serve in combat units, although many women already had served unofficially in combat roles within civilian volunteer battalions. Ukrainian women are also eligible to be drafted as officers.

Ukraine’s military now comprises 70 percent contract soldiers, a jump from 60 percent before the war began. An average of 6,000 servicemen signed contracts to join Ukraine’s armed forces each month this year. Ukrainian officials expect 65,000 new contract military personnel in 2016.

To boost recruitment, military officials bumped up the salary for active duty volunteers to about $275 a month—well above Ukraine’s monthly minimum wage of about $54.

Ukraine also reconstituted its National Guard, folding into its ranks the myriad civilian volunteer battalions that formed in the early days of the war when the regular army was caught on its back foot.

Russia’s military campaign in eastern Ukraine has hardened Ukrainians’ attitude toward their eastern neighbors.

In 2011, 84 percent of Ukrainians had a favorable opinion toward Russia. Today, 72 percent of Ukrainians have an unfavorable opinion about Russia, and 77 percent consider Russia to be a threat to its neighbors, according to the Democratic Initiatives Foundation, a Ukrainian think tank.

After more than two years of war, there also has been a turnaround in Ukrainians’ attitudes toward military service. In the post-Soviet period, military service was not held in high regard in Ukraine, and often was considered a life path for those with limited options.

Today, soldiers in uniform are a common sight on the streets and train stations of any Ukrainian city or town. Veterans groups have sprouted up, and a subculture of bearded war veterans wearing stylized T-shirts—much in the model of America’s post-9/11 veteran generation—has emerged.

“Soldiers and officers will feel once again not only their social responsibility, but also society’s respect and esteem to their defenders,” Poroshenko said at the Independence Day parade.

“This parade will signal to our international partners that Ukraine is capable of defending itself, but requires further support,” Poroshenko said. “Finally, our parade is a signal to our enemy as well. Ukrainians are ready to carry on the fight for their independence.”

Nolan Peterson, a former special operations pilot and a combat veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan, is The Daily Signal’s foreign correspondent based in Ukraine.

Is Putin's threat to invade the Baltics a distraction?
by Michael Kofman

This article first appeared on the Wilson Center site.

Since 2015, NATO has steadily become consumed with the issue of deterrence, a seemingly ancient word that dominated Cold War discourse, which, along with other classical military terms of art, was recently reawakened in light of the Russian threat.

After the 2014 Wales Summit, the Alliance sought to reassure nervous Baltic allies, increase the visibility of its presence and jump-start a regimen of training and exercises. However, the further defense researchers and other analysts dug into the Baltic security issue, the more obvious it became that NATO indeed had a serious problem.

The military reforms Russia launched in late 2008 and the expensive modernization program running since 2011 have restored its armed forces as a useful instrument of national power. While there are a host of limitations and caveats to this accomplishment, the reality for NATO is that the size and presence of the Russian military makes defense of the Baltics a dubious proposition at best.

Due to the geography of Russian forces stationed in Kaliningrad to the West and around St. Petersburg to the East, the Baltic States think of themselves as enveloped.

Russia’s ally, Belarus, borders them to the South, while North is the Baltic Sea, a shallow and enclosed body of water where most littoral states can easily effect sea denial to others.

Since 2015, Western military planners have become seized of a possible Russian “fait accompli” scenario in the Baltics, envisioning armored battalions rolling in and defeating NATO forces in 36 to 60 hours.

Although there is nothing to suggest that Russia wishes to invade the Baltics, nor does it make sense to occupy three countries in order to break NATO’s credibility, this fear lies at the heart of NATO’s change in rhetoric from assurance to deterrence.

Unfortunately, these latest worries typify a field of Russia analysis in the West, which tends to lurch between one ill formed theory and another. In 2014 and 2015, we experienced near panic over concerns that Russian forces would create a “land bridge to Crimea,” and we have now moved on to equally unlikely fears of a Russian “land bridge to Kaliningrad” in 2016.

The Western approach to Russia looks for conceptual pillars as organizing principles to understand the threat, such as hybrid warfare, or the need for more deterrence in the Baltics. This is a shared problem, since Russian outlooks on U.S. military capability have long been characterized by unfounded fears and sensitivity bordering on the paranoid.

The false gods of military analysis in Russia include alleged U.S.-orchestrated Color Revolutions and the near magical properties of American long-range conventional weapons. In the same vein, some Western officials have gone from dealing with a plausible contingency in the Baltics to believing it’s really going to happen.

In reality, Russia has been repositioning permanent forces along Ukraine’s borders in preparation for conflict escalation there, while paying little heed to the Baltic theater. The recent firing of the Baltic fleet’s command staff is illustrative not only of the woeful readiness of that force, but also that Moscow felt comfortable firing this fleet’s leadership to send a message to more important naval units elsewhere.

Countries that prepare for offensive operations, or anticipate attack, typically do not fire the entire command leadership, sending organizations into turmoil. Russia, if anyone, is well aware of its own historical mistakes when Stalin deeply wounded the military by purging much of the officer corps ahead of World War II.

However, the Baltics represent a wicked problem for NATO. When it comes to improving deterrence, NATO is trapped between the pointless and the reckless.

The recently approved proposal for four rotating battalions, led by four different countries, is still about assurance versus deterrence. This is a meaningless force from the standpoint of war-fighting capability. America’s promised armored brigade, due to arrive next year, will also be cut into numerous pieces and separated amongst European allies for reassurance.

NATO has switched its language to deterrence, but in reality military planners understand there is no prospect of successfully defending Baltic territory. Hence, much was said about deterrence at NATO’s recent meeting, and little was done.

Simply speaking, the Baltics are impossibly difficult to defend. This was the case even before Russia’s military reforms. The only recent change is that over 25 years, Western military officials have been distracted by a host of expeditionary counterinsurgency and counterterrorism campaigns, and have become grossly unfamiliar with the European terrain and the Russian armed forces.

The Russian forces in Kaliningrad have always been there, as have Russian air defenses, anti-ship missiles and weapon ranges that make reinforcing the Baltic States in the event of war simply impractical. NATO is now struggling with the reality of needing to reconcile itself as a defensive alliance, while having spent the past two decades expanding as a political one.

The Warsaw Summit’s answer was illustrative of the solution: simply rebrand assurance as deterrence. The odds are that few will notice, because despite Baltic fears Russia has been successfully deterred by NATO all these years.

Indeed, Moscow has a remarkable track record of invading countries to prevent them from joining NATO, no doubt because it believes in U.S. treaty commitments. More importantly, just as it did during most of the Cold War, the United States is able to deter Russian aggression effectively through punishment and conventional retaliation.

That’s not the ideal scenario, and plenty of work remains for the U.S. military to present a more credible deterrent via punishment in the European theater. However, Russia’s ability to fight and win a conventional battle with the world’s superpower is very much in doubt, perhaps more so in Moscow than in the panicked circles of the transatlantic community.

The escalation dynamics of this conflict are not favorable to Russia. A conventional entanglement can quickly spiral out into nuclear conflict, or escalate globally, bringing the full power of the U.S. military to bear against a Russia that is far too vast for its armed forces to defend.

The risk and costs of a conventional incursion in the Baltics grossly outweigh Moscow’s prospects for military gains. Alternatively, unconventional approaches, such as mobilizing compatriot groups, offer much activity without much accomplishment.

Baltic countries can likely handle such scenarios without NATO’s help, and have been preparing for a Crimean-type use of special forces ever since Russia demonstrated its willingness to use such tools against non-NATO members. In truth, scenarios for this hypothetical fight tend to all have one thing in common: Nobody can logically posit what is in it for the Russians.

Leveraging bellicose rhetoric to bluster in front of their domestic audience, Russian leaders have watched gleefully the flutter of NATO’s political and military activity around the subject of deterrence. The more the Alliance frets over a war with Russia, the more it assumes a defensive posture, which preoccupies it and deters the organization from pursuing proactive policies in places Moscow truly cares about, like Ukraine.

Indeed, from the unlikely Baltic high-end fight, to its increasingly successful military intervention in Syria, Russia has NATO preoccupied with everything other than Georgia and Ukraine.

Michael Kofman is a global fellow at the Kennan Institute.

This is a revised version of an op-ed published in Vedomosti on July 15, 2016.
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