NATO’s front line forces in the east need to modernize now

World Review – April 8, 2015.

Since this one was published last year, Poland is dumping lots of money into modernization, and has tried to rally her neighbor in Eastern Europe to joint defense procurement projects.

Below, I included the supporting facts we used for the original Have Your Say publication. Because, they’re particularly horrifying. Efforts are now being made by NATO to correct these. The immediate focus is on the Baltic States, since they are sitting on Russia’s doorstep.

NATO’s eastern members

  • None of the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania has a single combat aircraft, main battle tank or major warship.
  • Romania’s current most advanced warplanes are Soviet-built Mig-21 LanceRs Fishbeds designed in the 1950s. The government has announced that increasing its operational capability is a priority but cooperation is needed from providers.
  • The Hungarian Air Force has 14 modern Saab JAS 39 Gripen fighters.
  • The Slovak Air Force has 6 Russian Mig-29 Fulcrum aircraft, delivered in 1995.
  • The Polish Air Force has 48 F-16 Falcon fighters, 31 Mig-29 Fulcrum fighters and 32 Su-22 Fitter attack fighters.
  • All aircraft of Soviet/Russian origin are 100% reliant on engines that must be obtained from Russia.
  • Light infantry, anti-tank weaponry and artillery consist largely of obsolete former Soviet/Warsaw Pact production lines.
  • New acquisition light infantry and anti-tank weaponry and artillery have been sourced from several Western nations with little or no adherence to Nato-standard requirements or even commonality with immediately neighboring Nato member’s new acquisitions.
  • With the exception of Polish forces, all main battle tanks consist of various obsolete Soviet types.

WHILE there has long been cross training between the western and eastern military forces of Nato, there has been little effort to fully re-arm and modernize those former Warsaw Pact military forces, writes freelance writer on geopolitics and military events Kevin Brent.

Since the initial absorption into Nato of the former East German military forces in 1990, when Germany was reunified, there have been 12 more national military forces added to the organization: First – Poland, Czech Republic, and Hungary in 1999.

In 2004, Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia joined. They were followed in 2009 by Albania and Croatia.

However, the addition of those first three new members in 1999 saw a grave mistake being made that 16 years on has yet to be corrected.

The mistake was that no plan was put in place for modernizing any former Warsaw Pact forces that joined Nato.

And only in the last year, have efforts even begun to integrate battlefield command, control, and intelligence operations to Nato standards.

The cost of upgrading equipment, tactics, and military infrastructure was left entirely to the discretion of the individual governments which joined Nato. No requirements were placed on them prior to being welcomed into the organization.

This was a politically driven failure.

It meant that Nato membership became merely part of a ‘package deal’ to entice former Warsaw Pact nations to join the EU. This ran parallel to the equally mistaken policy of barring permanent repositioning of pre-1999 Nato members’ forces east of the old Iron Curtain.

The long-ignored result of this dual folly raised its ugly head like the snake-borne head of Medusa after the Russian seizure of Crimea in 2014, and the Moscow-backed insurgency in eastern Ukraine, which followed shortly afterwards.

It highlighted all too starkly that the military equipment of the East European member states of Nato was nearly 30 years out of date in every aspect. Most forces were equipped with obsolete Soviet military hardware, including AK-47 assault rifles with which much of their infantry were armed.

This state of affairs exacerbates the severe neglect of ‘legacy’ Nato forces, creating the perfect recipe for a geographically broad military calamity akin to Imperial Japan’s 1942 advance across the Central and South West Pacific, or the early successes of Nazi Germany’s Operation Barbarossa, which nearly defeated the Soviet Union in 1941.

There is still time to rectify this dangerous situation on Nato’s eastern flank, but it will require a determined rearmament and modernization programme that hits the ground running.

It will also require heavy monetary backing from those Nato members able to provide it. These are nations with much smaller gross domestic products (GDPs) trying to spend on weapons and equipment from expensive sources, such as the USA, UK, Germany and France.

Subsidies are needed, and it should be the wealthier Nato members who help with this. For example, Romania agreed to buy ex-Portuguese F-16s to replace the Mig-21s but has since had to pay extra for modifications, added sensors, and absorb the entire cost of improved air base infrastructure. These added costs have delayed the sale.

The initial phase of such a programme should encompass the seven nations that comprise Nato’s eastern front line: Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, and Romania.

The Baltic states are in the most immediate danger because they directly border Russia and Moscow’s puppet Belarus, and share Ukraine’s vulnerability of ethnic Russian enclaves that are being used as pawns in Russia President Vladimir Putin’s hybrid warfare game of chess.

However, one Nato member on that ‘front line’ – Poland – is already heavily investing in top to bottom rearmament and modernization because it takes the resurgent Russian threat very seriously.

Taking an independent lead in countering the Russian threat could provide the all-important template for the fast, determined rearmament and modernization programme which Poland’s neighbors to her north and south along Nato’s eastern front line need.

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