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How To Ensure Russia Can’t Beat NATO in a War: Forward Deploy the US Army

US Army Russia
Image: Creative Commons.

Wars are about seizing and holding territory. This is true even for insurgencies such as the ones in Afghanistan and Vietnam. The greatest geostrategic crises of the past decade involved efforts by Russia and China to expand their control over nearby territories and seas. One example is how Russia seized Crimea and occupied parts of Eastern Ukraine in 2014 and is once again massing forces along the Ukrainian border.

Moscow has also forged a military alliance with Belarus that creates a threat to the Suwalki Corridor, the only land route between the Baltic States and the rest of the NATO alliance. This makes an attack by Russia on one of its eastern neighbors the likeliest case of a war involving the United States. The best deterrent of such a threat is the presence of strong U.S. conventional forces along NATO’s eastern border. If Russia sees the prospect of territorial aggression to its west as a risky proposition, such aggression is less likely from Moscow.

For the duration of the Cold War, the presence of two heavy U.S. corps in Germany, plus additional British, Canadian, and French units, made it clear to the Soviet Union that even with its quantitatively superior conventional ground forces in Europe, any attack on NATO would come at a heavy price. Forward deployed forces would practice moving to their wartime positions in a matter of hours. These forces essentially denied Russia the chance to defeat NATO quickly.

After the Cold War, the U.S. allowed its presence in Europe to decline. This weakened posture is no longer viable in the face of qualitative improvements to Russian conventional forces and Moscow’s ability to position large numbers of forces along the alliance’s eastern flank.

The Trump Administration did much to improve this posture with the deployment of a rotational brigade and critical enablers in Poland. It also positioned equipment stocks for a second armored brigade in that country.

Unfortunately, U.S. military deployments in Western Europe still largely follow an obsolete Cold War equation. The Cold War strategy to reinforce NATO in the event of rising tensions with Russia relied on months of warning time to move forces from the continental United States (CONUS) to European ports and then on to the front lines. Today, Russia can initiate a surprise attack against its neighbors, including some NATO allies, with little or no warning.

Likewise, basing U.S. ground forces in Germany no longer fits the new strategic reality confronting NATO. NATO’s eastern flank with Russia, running from the Baltic to the Black Sea, is the new front line. This is where U.S. conventional forces should be concentrated.

There are several reasons why forward deploying U.S. forces in Eastern Europe makes sense. First, they are the only forces that will be relevant. Russia has designed its conventional force posture, backed up by large numbers of ballistic and cruise missiles and integrated air and missile defense, to achieve a massive superiority at the beginning of a conflict and to deny the U.S. and its allies the ability to deploy reinforcements forward. They hope that this will produce a swift victory and reduce the chance of a larger conflict.

Second, forward-deployed forces will be the only ones to get into the fight. The U.S. lacks the seagoing transportation capability to rapidly move forces from CONUS to Europe. In addition, in the event of a conflict, the Russian military is likely to make a major effort to interdict lines of communication and supplies on which U.S. forces deploying forward must rely on.

Third, many of the new capabilities the Army is pursuing as part of its modernization initiatives would be most effective if they are forward-deployed when a conflict opens. Long-range fire systems such as the Precision Strike Missile, Medium-Range Missile, and Extended Range Cannon Artillery, can threaten high-value targets deep in Russian territory from the opening movements of a conflict. The same is true for the Future Vertical Lift platforms, the Future Long-Range Assault Aircraft (FLRAA), and Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft (FARA).

These systems are designed for low-level, high-speed penetration of air defenses as part of a strategy to disintegrate an adversary’s anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) capabilities. Heavy armored forces with the latest model M1 Abrams tank, the Optionally Manned Fighting Vehicle (OMFV), upgraded Paladin self-propelled artillery, Joint Light Tactical Vehicle (JLTV), and Armored Multi-Purpose Vehicle (AMPV) could have a tremendous impact on the outcome of a conventional conflict if they were able to close rapidly with the Russian forces.

U.S. planning should focus on basing its forward-deployed conventional Army forces in Poland and other frontline NATO states. Specifically, the U.S. should:

Move the headquarters of the U.S. Army, Europe from Germany to Warsaw. New headquarters designed to exploit the advantages of modernized capabilities such as the Theater Artillery Command and the 2nd Multi-Domain Task Force also should be based in Eastern Europe.

Base a new Army armored brigade in Poland (at minimum). It would be even more effective to deploy a full heavy armored corps to that country. Such deployments should be permanent.

Move other Army units that are relevant to preventing “fait accompli” aggression to frontline NATO countries from Germany. In particular, these should be new U.S. Army long-range artillery and tactical missiles, FLRAA/ FARA-equipped helicopter units, and heavy armor.

Accelerate foreign military sales of modern US weapon systems to NATO members such as Poland. These countries prioritize interoperability with American military forces and are budgeting to accomplish it.

The best strategic deterrent the United States can deploy is a robust, forward deployed Army. By forward deploying active-duty units, particularly heavy formations with their associated enablers, the U.S. will be sending an unambiguous message to Moscow. In the event hostilities do occur, these forces will increase the ability of the U.S. to mount an effective defense and engage in early operations to penetrate, degrade, and destroy high-value targets and formations from the outset of conflict. The effectiveness of many of the new capabilities being pursued by the U.S. under its current modernization effort will be enhanced by their forward deployment.

Now a 1945 Contributing Editor, Dan Gouré, Ph.D., is a vice president at the public-policy research think tank Lexington Institute. Gouré has a background in the public sector and U.S. federal government, most recently serving as a member of the 2001 Department of Defense Transition Team. 

Written By

Dr. Goure is Senior Vice President with the Lexington Institute, a nonprofit public-policy research organization headquartered in Arlington, Virginia. He is involved in a wide range of issues as part of the institute’s national security program.

39 Comments

39 Comments

  1. Ricky Miller

    December 1, 2021 at 8:42 am

    Actually, moving large American combat formations toward Russian borders makes war more likely, not less. It’s threatening to Russia but also presents them with the opportunity to cut off and destroy a significant percentage of American combat capability without facing everything at once. Most American analysts and media are missing basic facts about Russia’s buildup in her Western military district. Namely, the fact that Ukraine is ignoring her Minsk agreement responsibilities and threatening a large scale attack against the two breakaway regions which have among their populations tens of thousands of people who are Russian or dual citizens. That’s unacceptable to Russia, obviously, and so if you want to avoid war the easy way would be to pressure Ukraine into passing the laws required to bring about Minsk compliance.

  2. Slack

    December 1, 2021 at 1:08 pm

    Civilised societies don’t hanker for war, neither do they want to move soldiers and weapons to other peoples’ borders.

    Civilised leaders of civilised nations will, however, call for civilsed things like the boycott of 2022 winter olympics. 2019 military world games gave birth to covid. 2022 olympics will surely give birth to covid 2, or worse, novel or new form of smallpox.

    Biden so far has failed to control US/NATO which hanker for war.Neither has he arrest the man for spreading covid.

    Clearly, US not a civilised society.Only wants WW3.

  3. Alex

    December 1, 2021 at 1:23 pm

    Americans do not understand the main thing. Russia is not on their continent, it is not Russia that builds bases in Mexico or Canada. Russia has a new doctrine of war: in a collision, Russia will strike not only a nuclear but also a surprise blow at the center of decision-making. They openly stated this. Why doesn’t that stop the US? There are inadequate people in the United States who want to play war. What will it cost millions of Americans? It will not be a war overseas in Europe, it will be the Strait of Mexico and Canada in North America (the new doctrine of Russia). And they will do it. There is no doubt about it. NATO will do nothing. China recently forged a military alliance with Russia. Leave a foreign continent if you want to live. We are Poles and many, many peoples of Europe want to live! Get out of our land!

  4. ELINT-6

    December 1, 2021 at 2:01 pm

    I’m not sure I agree with the author viewpoint that the Trump Administration improved our defense capabilities in Eastern Europe. It seemed at every step he attacked the NATO alliance and made common cause with the Russian Federation.

  5. NorEastern

    December 1, 2021 at 3:10 pm

    So how does Russia counter a few hundred F-22s and F-35s and a half a dozen B-2 bombers? Those technological marvels were constructed with just such a engagement in mind. IHMO stealth aircraft would cut to shreds most every vehicle Russia would use to invade the Baltic nations. Mop up of the infantry would take NATO little time. Putin might not survive such a debacle.

  6. Jerry Syder

    December 1, 2021 at 4:02 pm

    The cat’s out of the bag. Warmongers who’ve been pushing NATO ever more East have come clean and now admit what they’ve been wanting all along – American troops on the front lines with a nuclear Russia. A clear majority of Americans want nothing of it, even when Russia acts selfishly and bully’s her neighbors. Those countries that border Russia have to learn to live with it, and not expect the world to risk of a nuclear holocaust.

  7. KHiggs

    December 1, 2021 at 4:49 pm

    This is exactly what China would want us to do.
    While we are using nearly all of our resources to transport a division to Europe.

  8. Alex

    December 1, 2021 at 5:44 pm

    Tests in Syria have shown that the F-22 and F-35 glow on the radars of Russian aircraft and air defense systems like New Year’s garlands. It is worth considering the report of the Pentagon analysts, who assure that when entering the airspace of Russia, up to 85% of NATO aircraft will be destroyed. So, most likely even more. You should not fight with Russia on its territory. This is far from Vietnam, even from which the United States was defeated. Get out of the European continent and millions of American lives will be saved.

  9. Gringo Boracho

    December 1, 2021 at 5:52 pm

    How To Ensure Russia Can’t Beat NATO In A War?

    Easy – Let Europe defend itself, by itself. The EU countries plus Britain have 4 timea the population of Russia and 10 times the GDP. If Europe cannot defend itself, that is their own decision. Let them live with it, or remedy it on their own.

  10. Joe Comment

    December 1, 2021 at 7:07 pm

    As is often the case with articles about military issues, this one completely overlooks the political consequences. If NATO and the current government of Ukraine make plans to deploy large NATO forces near Russia’s border, that will create a huge incentive for Russia to try to get Ukraine’s government overthrown. And that isn’t just a Putin thing. It doesn’t work to point a gun at someone and then say, “Don’t worry, I have no intention of pulling the trigger.”

  11. sarsfield

    December 1, 2021 at 7:49 pm

    those 35s and 22s will be useless if caught on the ground on opening day; b2s? depends on where they are deployed – UK or Diego Garcia could be a problem

  12. Vic

    December 1, 2021 at 11:55 pm

    I think Daniel is completely right, absolutely. Everybody knows that WW3 will be fought exactly as WW2. The big tank armies will clash,then infantry follows fighting with bionets. Absolutly. Russians know that only way to fight enemy that 5 times bigger is a battle on the open. Also NATO was victorious against donkey riders in Afghanistan, for sure defeat of nuclear armed enemy is no problem in a light of Afghan military success.

  13. TrustbutVerify

    December 2, 2021 at 7:35 am

    Wow, seems the Russian media influencers are out today! NATO was formed as an allied response to aggression by the USSR – as in their actions in Eastern Europe (and around the world for that matter) following WWII. That the USSR fell apart and the formerly free countries of Eastern Europe finally escaped the thrall of that regime, while galling to Putin, is certainly not some grand conspiracy against Russia. It is merely a return to the pre-WWII independence those countries enjoyed and wish to maintain.

    Russia does not have a right to either subvert their government through covert actions nor invade just because the USSR used to be the tyrannical government that oppressed those countries in the past.

    The NATO concept has always been defense in depth. We DO have weeks, if not months, of warning right now…but no ships are moving units to Europe. So there we are wasting time. While others here have said “oh, yes, you know it’ll be a fight like WWII with tanks…harharhar”…you have to consider the formations that Putin has on the border. They are mechanized and armored units…harharhar. So opposing forces will need to deal with them.

    At the moment, we should be prepping all our airborne and light infantry units for action. Looking at the topography and transportation networks, and the routes of invasion east of the Dnieper and south from Belarus, augmentation of the Ukrainian forces with thousands of mobile hunter killer teams with equipment-mounted Javelins (properly used and deployed in sufficient numbers) will certainly blunt any movement by Russian forces. Combined with long-range indirect fires and Air Force assets, you could put a hitch in Putin’s plans quickly. Then allow the Ukrainian ground forces to get in the action.

    By that point, the Army may have shaken off the rust enough to get some heavy units into action – or within range to scare Putin off after he gets a severely bloody nose.

  14. Tony

    December 2, 2021 at 9:14 am

    The best way to avoid a war with Russia – let the Europeans handle it on their own. The European NATO members include four of the world’s ten largest economies, and two nuclear-armed nations. Of course they can handle their own defense if they choose, but they will not so long as we continue to let them play us for suckers.

  15. SurfBird

    December 2, 2021 at 9:16 am

    “War is about seizing and holding territory.”

    Mr. Goure is wrong from his very first sentence. War is about using force to achieve political and/or economic objectives.

    The United States would be much better served by encouraging the European nations to beef up their own defenses rather than sending large numbers of forces to the very border of Russia to do it for them.

    This isn’t 1945 and the continent is not in ruins from WWII.
    Europe has far more resources, both human and economic, than Russia and is quite capable of defending themselves should they choose to do so.

    Mr. Goure is no doubt concerned about the price of his defense industry investments.

  16. Alex

    December 2, 2021 at 9:26 am

    How interesting. What a belligerent NATO in the words of the mama fighters. You have no idea what war is. Poland, my country, knows what it is. Russia will not attack, but in the event of an attack on it, it will go through a fiery tornado not only across Europe, but also through the centers of decision-making overseas. You have no idea what not only technology is capable of, but also soldiers in Russia. Many times great commanders called not to fight, but to be friends with Russia. But the new generation of mother’s warriors decided to try the fist of the Russians on their own skin. You won’t be able to sit at home, you will have to see a Russian face to face and it will not only be wet pants from fear. Madmen.

  17. Doyle

    December 2, 2021 at 10:30 am

    Lot’s of Russian trash on this board today. Mental cases all I pity them.

  18. Brian Foley

    December 2, 2021 at 11:05 am

    Forward deployed large elements require troop levels the US can’t maintain. Forward deployed large elements require funds the US can’t/won’t afford. Forward deployed large elements create problems among the local populations that “sour” the relationship eventually. The truth of the matter is the US shouldn’t be overly concerned about what Russia does…that’s an EU problem. The US should be considering down sizing its participation in NATO to levels commensurate to Germany and France. The EU makes a point asserting its opinion and its independence from the US…and I applaud them for it…but that independence comes with a price tag and its time the EU paid up.

  19. Boris

    December 2, 2021 at 1:24 pm

    “By forward deploying active-duty units, particularly heavy formations with their associated enablers, the U.S. will be sending an unambiguous message to Moscow.”

    I am Russian, and i can say that it will surely send us an unambiguous message. This message will be understood as “We are going to attack you first, soon and without declaration of war”. The cosequences are quite obvious, I believe.

  20. JMIII

    December 2, 2021 at 3:46 pm

    Need to get Nato nations, particularly Germany to take the threat seriously. Today’s German military is a kitten compared to the tiger of the Cold War era. At least move it up to Alley Cat status.
    The rest of the author’s suggestions are along the lines of the moves President Trump wanted to make that had everyone up in arms. The US can help, but the main burden of the defense of Europe clearly needs to be upon the Europeans themselves. They should be able to handle Russia without any US involvement.

  21. Brian Reilly

    December 2, 2021 at 4:09 pm

    Ensure that Nato never loses to Russia by never fighting them. Costs nothing, very simple.

    alternative: Withdraw the US from Nato. Remove all US forces from Europe. Then we can be sure that we will not be any part of Nato that loses to Russia. an even better idea than the first.

  22. Sara

    December 2, 2021 at 5:44 pm

    Russian military doctrine says: a nuclear strike if the existence of a state is called into question. Russian nuclear weapons will be enough to destroy Europe, the United States and the whole world several times. Don’t touch the Russians.

  23. Bankotsu

    December 3, 2021 at 1:57 am

    “Wars are about seizing and holding territory.”

    Wars are not about seizing and holding territory. This is amateur talk.

    Wars are about destroying and disrupting the enemy’s military organisation so that it can no longer function and smashing the enemy’s will to resist.

  24. Yeah-Me-Neither

    December 3, 2021 at 5:12 pm

    Instead of deploying the American Army, forward or in reserve, how about deploying the armies of those most directly affected by the Russians — Germany, France, Poland and so forth and so on?

    Oh, they don’t want to pay the freight for a large standing army? Too bad. Suffer the consequences.

  25. dan g

    December 3, 2021 at 6:51 pm

    LOL, how about the Euros finally do some heavy lifting instead of sucking on America’s teets for 70 years…

  26. Michael Veritas

    December 3, 2021 at 7:02 pm

    Daniel Goure seems to be writing neocon fantasies down and attempting to pass this propaganda as information. How about EU provide the majority of troops and cash to so-called defend Europe? Yes, Daniel is another of George Bush elf that very concerned about Poland or Lithuania borders but not so much with our south border!

  27. Michael Veritas

    December 3, 2021 at 7:06 pm

    Daniel Goure seems to be writing neocon fantasies down and attempting to pass this propaganda as information. How about EU provide the majority of troops and cash to so-called defend Europe? Yes, Daniel is another one of those George Bush elves that very concerned about Poland or Lithuania borders but not so much with our south border!

  28. Alex

    December 4, 2021 at 2:36 am

    Are Germany, France and Poland affected by the Russians? What kind of Nazi is he writing here?

  29. Melvin

    December 4, 2021 at 7:20 am

    Daniel……do you have your bunker ready?

  30. Vladimir

    December 6, 2021 at 12:09 am

    haha, the comment from Russia has been deleted. expected.

  31. Leo

    December 6, 2021 at 12:33 am

    Daniel, even assuming that U.S. troops destroy Russian weapons, don’t forget Russia’s rich tradition of partisan warfare. I will personally take great pleasure in destroying anyone who comes to my homeland. And I will end up with you, senseless and stupid militarist.

  32. Vatnik Petrov

    December 6, 2021 at 1:35 am

    Napoleon and most of Europe, Hitler and most of Europe…. every 100 years united West coming to conquer my Mother Russia. I hope gents you know the result. Want to come again? No problem, we are will fix you again. Only this time western prisoners of war on return will find they motherland as a dead glasscoated flat desert.

  33. GV

    December 6, 2021 at 2:34 am

    Author writes. Wars are about seizing and holding territory.

    No, wars are about achieve what you failed to achieve during diplomacy.

  34. Gerald

    December 6, 2021 at 6:24 pm

    creating a target rich environment at Europes expense isn’t a very bright idea and certainly shows a real lack of understanding of Russias military strength in depth. We would see the larger bulk of US and EU forces destroyed within a working week and then what exactly would NATO do? Start suing for peace? America has numbers but is doe not have escalation dominance nor technical superiority in any way shape or form, added to which the first thing to go in any war will be the Western miliitaries satellites and CENTCOM assets, so unless you are teaching US military personnel morse code still, you will find all your forces unable to communicate with one another. I think the Pentagon needs to get out of its 20th Century bubble and smell the coffee, Russias 21st century military is not that of the 1990s and sadly, neither is Americas.

  35. Vladimir

    December 6, 2021 at 9:30 pm

    Hitler and his blitzkrieg fucked up and the same thing awaits you, plus, as written above, a glazed flat desert. But where to find such a number of diapers for Biden’s soldiers is not clear.

  36. Edmond V.O. katusz

    December 12, 2021 at 7:17 pm

    Dear Mr. Goure,

    No I am not Russian but from the Netherlands. However I know a thing or two actually quite more, about war. WWII, Napoleonic wars, etc, etc.
    My Dutch mother, father, uncles and aunts lived through WWII and told me enough to understand the real horror. They did not like very much talking about, but sometimes you just have to.

    The horrors my Ukrainian family lived through WWII, makes the war experiences of my Dutch family almost a walk in the park. My father-in-law fought in Stalingrad, hope that this means anything to you. He lied about his age being 17 and enlisted in the Red Army.

    He was one of the lucky ones, cause a Red army soldier knows only one rule: Forward, to die or to win. He lived, don’t ask how. Nine million other soldiers (m/f), no human beings, died kicking the Boche out of their Motherland.
    Twenty seven million is the total number of dead human beings in the USSR alone, now Russia. (BTW, about 55 million human beings eradicated in WWII)
    I assure you!
    They remember!
    Sergey Shoigu remembers
    Valery Gerasimov remembers!
    It Will Not Happen Again.

    Furthermore you seem to be unaware of the huge changes in the Russian army. The the technological advances e.g. are staggering. Just look at the 3M22 Zircon or the A235 Nudol systems.
    This mean that the US, NATO and the EU will be pulverized when the oligarchic lust for power and economic dominance of the US starts a war. On purpose or by accident, human error, you know.

    The US one tried once to scare the world with the Great White Fleet. Now vice admiral Karl Thomas ask voor more aircraft carriers. Apparently he does not understand that a well placed rocket destroys the deck and no aircraft can take of or land.

    But the worst show of nonsens coming out of the US is from senator Roger Wicker who proposes a first strike atomic attack on Russia to defend Ukraine.
    You, know with the battle cry: Alle options on the table.
    The US Administration + War Machine + Weapons dealers are totally nuts!
    Sincerly Yours, Edmond V.O. Katusz

  37. Edmond V.O. Katusz

    December 12, 2021 at 7:38 pm

    @Boris (December 2, 2021 at 1:24 pm)

    Short while ago there was meeting of Anthony Blinken and Sergey Lavrov. There is a photograph with Lavrov sitting at his desk and behind him on the wall is big picture of a pesets. The cunning arctic fox. Did you happen to see it?

    Well you know what pesets also stands, you don’t need the Urban Dictionary. You probably als know what Пиздец подкрался незаметно (Pizdets podkralsya nezametno) means. (Also romanized version if Cyrillic is not accepted in this field)
    Many Russian have been laughing their *** of.
    Пока, Edmond V.O. Katusz

  38. Lavonen

    December 26, 2021 at 6:13 am

    No need to worry about a potential war in Europe between America and Russia because all the real military analysts in America as well as Europe knows perfectly well that America would not be able to fight a war with Russia in Europe under any circumstances for obvious reasons. A comparison of Hitler’s Nazi Germany with USA and/or EU is just too hilarious for words. A war between collective Europe and Russia is even less likely since there aren’t any real armies in Europe since WWII (everybody knows this as well).

    For the above reasons you can always read in the same fake articles about an “imminent” war between America and Russia that America under no circumstance will involve itself in the event of an attack on Ukraine or any other NATO-member (Turkey etc.). Except for sanctions of course which are completely useless since 2008. An attack by Russia on Ukraine or any other eastern European country would lead to the same results as all the other “attack” by Russia for the last 30 years – nothing.

    No matter how corrupts the European liberal leaders are today they would never go to war against Russia on their own continent to satisfy American interests. The fact is that they would rather kick out the Americans and negotiate with the Russians.

    The best thing is just to ignore all these keyboard warriors and lets them go back to their Call of Duty, Halo or whatever.

  39. Michael Jardine

    January 10, 2022 at 3:31 pm

    Russia is not as powrful as it thinks it is, either. First, it has a population problem that it cannot easily rectify. There simply aren’t enough young people to replace her losses. COVID-19 deaths have only served to exacebate the problem and prolong the recovery.

    Russia had better do well to realize its populaton problem. If it picks a fight that it cannot just win, but also sustain, the losses of the young (which, indeed, are the ones doing the most dying in any Nation’s military) it will not recover; at least not swiftly. The pain will be great and her disintegration probably assured.

    Moreover, Russia has a GDP roughly the size of Texas’ GDP, about $1.6 trillion. Does anyone really doubt our ability to crush the Russian economy sould we put our minds to it? California’s GDP is $2.6 trillion ALONE. How cand the Russia deal with that with its economy hurting and its people dying? Meanwhile, Putin himself is a very wealthy man (one of the wealthiest in the world, they say) and Russia continues to buy new military hardware. Sound familiar, tovarisch? You know, t they say History does not repeat itself, but it does rhyme and I am getting more than a whiff of Communist Times returning to the Rodina. All you naysayers and Russian sycophants can get to the back of the bus now, Putin want a return to the bad old days of the USSR.

    If it happens, it happens on YOUR watch, tovarisch. As you said, it’s not our job to fix your country. Stop meddling in ours.

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