Mali War: Is It Really About Russia?

Mali War: Is It Really About Russia?
GDJ / Pixabay

Mali War: Is It Really About Russia?

The real message behind the Mali operation – which is a beans, bums and boots delivery – is to the Russians: Such things pass through the parliament before dinner, and they are off before the prime minister has left the pulpit. Northern Greenland, Estonia – Mali for Gods sake. Not much; but then a stitch in time.

Ultimately it is all about Russia! To fight, you develop units with capabilities – if not, an army is just a collection of thugs in ugly clothes mistreating expensive equipment – and they are ready for action with various notices: state of training, maintenance state of equipment, holiday rotation, assignment to other duties and so on. This means a list of units, where each individual unit is rated on the state of readiness: on call, 10 days, 30 days, ½ year, 1 year and so on, up to what you might scrape together emptying nursing homes. Lots is what we, in my time in the Home Guard, called “rubber band” soldiers – persons whose personel card was kept in the back of the drawer (remember to get the dead ones out occasionally  with a rubber band around them – people not to be bothered unless something was building up – then you talked to them and made a weekend with some sort of retraining (you always have veteran societies that follow ex-soldiers – if you know what you are doing), presenting latest developments in a watered down intelligence briefing, showing an exercise on how things are done today – you know the drill?

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This list with individual units is then built up into major units, where the btn f.i. is on notice of the longest of the individual units and so on.

From that list you pick out the units needed for your immediate and primary needs. Every enemy unit is assessed in some detail as to its best and worst case availability and position, and you match your list so you have the units ready to move against them in time. These lists are kept updated by intelligence on a regular basis – and your defence plan is kept updated: The most important information on each plan and sub-plan is the date! Some of them are easy enough – such as scramble units, SAR-duties etc., others are updated on longer terms – needing reconnoitring to see if trees have grown up and need to be cut down as they impair the view.

Now, this adds up to an order of battle on different time scales forwarded to NATO and is translated into DEFCON positions. DEFCON 1 is at war, DEFCON 2 is raised posture, DEFCON 3 is normal peacetime readiness and DEFCON 4 is no readiness. If DEFCON is raised – all the little officers are milling around to make their units up to scratch – which goes down into details such as having key personel within constant phone contacts, but it also involves drawing out the dusty records of units of lower priority and upping them one or two notches.

This leaves some units in a higher state of readines than truly necessary. That Hercybird sent to Mali wouldn’t have been send off – if it wasn’t because one was coming off maintenance to take its place in the readiness line up. Note that the foreign secretary pointed out that we might stay for more than 3 months if necessary (he hasn’t got a clue what he is talking about) – meaning that when the unit sent in is due back when there will be another “free” unit available to take over, so that personnel can get rotated and equipment maintained without upsetting other plans.

Denmark has 3 frigates for the Baltic Sea – where one (if I´m not wrong) is designated to Sct. Petersburg and one for Königsberg – leaving one as reserve for maintenance. To keep 3 medium vessel at sea at any one time you need 4, as one is always in the yard. Now one vessel give you 3/4 vessel on average. With three frigates you have 3*3/4 = 2 1/4 and you need 2 – leaving 1/4 unit “free” for political frivolity. The Absalon command vessel – there are 2 – giving 2*3/4= 1½ – needing 1 on call at any one time – giving ½ unit “free”. – this means (with a bit of nimble shifting) Denmark can have one vessel at the Horn of Africa (slack could be taken up by the polar frigates) at any one time. A bit of shuffling with the Norwegians will definitely bring that up to 1+. Without impairing readiness posture.

That is the immense strength of NATO; by exchanging emails you can put a force in place without  more expense than the odd sailing bonus or extra holiday later on. We are actually talking fleet size operations – for mere pittance. The huge benefit to Denmark, and the others is that they get operational experience and occasional command experience one level higher than we would normally have. This means more experienced high ranking officers (colonel and up) than all by ourselves.

People have ridiculed NATO since the cold war as useless, since the Soviet isn’t there any more. They couldn’t be more wrong. That is one of the achievements of Anders Fogh Rasmussen (Danish ex-PM and NATO secretary general); to use these “free” capabilities and political consent to putting up units that would otherwise be wasted. It will mean continued operations with allied forces – maintaining procedures, equipment standards, and potentially avoid screwing up in a real situation – sailing into each other using wrong frequencies and other nonsense that cost time and lives.

It won’t be a wartime operation and we will have some overkill: I mean a frigate against a pirate motorboat? But in many respect we are getting close and in a realistic operational environment.

This is a situation that will lean relatively heavy on the smaller nations, as f.i. Germany needing say 6 frigates, they will have the 8 and not 9. They have very little (provided competent planning) “free” units.

That is the French problem – being outside the planning club – forcing them to ask nicely – and limiting the short term assistance to rather basic transport. Germany hasn’t the equipment and units for these long range jobs – where they do have they participate well enough – the missiles to Turkey  and Israel for that matter – is an example. Another issue is that something has happened with France since Oct 08. Furthermore, one of the conditions for Germany’s NATO-membership was never to have a general staff of its own again. This is very much a staff and planning scenario, so Germany is not in the same position to forward units and solutions.

The real strength of NATO is that they can scrape together a force, just by using the phone. And they can have much of the operational planning done beforehand.

Back to Russia: They similarly have access to NATO  and are improving their national capabilities constantly. Estimating the capabilities of different units. The important information is not that a Danish Hercybird is on vacation in Africa – they know the range of the aircraft in detail – but the obscene readiness. They off course know the 10 day “on call” – and they know that there have been more preparations behind the scenes so the 24 hours is a blurb figure; but there is a hell of a difference between 1 and 10 – which means the Russians will have to re-evaluate their planning for realism. The principal information is that there is a will to use force, which means that level of preparedness is not likely to slip – making their own rust bucket fleet a dismal sight. And it means that any Russian preparation for war will be an uphill struggle – nearly impossible to hide even on a low level – and they know they have only themselves to blame.

There is a strong message to Russia: Don’t mess with even Estonia – we will find out – maybe their defence is a joke, but there are heftier members of the gang just sitting next to them – with a different sense of humour. This is defence policy on a higher level: Providing the potential enemy with accurate information, so he can stop wasting his time on a lot of unrealistic plans – and gag political blustering, because his military staff will tell the politicians that they can’t back up that stance without getting into serious escalation. Are the Russians looking: You BET they are. Intelligence is not so much about keeping secrets, as it is about controlling the information the enemy gets – one thing is lying and deception – the other and more scary part is giving the truth so as little as possible of the planning relies on faith. Always tell the enemy the truth – on areas where it will do the largest damage.

The Kosovo ops: Air Defence, which was natural at the time, as Denmark had probably the best air defence with high responsibilities  on the pilot. I remember a F-16 pilot speaking of a dogfight with a F-15 Eagle, where after pulling g’s for some time – he heard the missile lock on, but didn’t see it!

Iraq: Submarine and corvette (both terrible in that environment)

Afghanistan: A firm stand of light infantry, at Musa Qala against overwhelming odds.

Off Somalia: Protection of shipping – apart from the heat – it is the same thing they would/will be doing in the Baltic.

Libya: Long range precision strikes against small targets with minimal collateral damage.

Look at it the other way round: If you were a Russian intelligence analyst, how would you interpret the press reports? Consider the build up to the Gulf-wars by the USA – it took months. Here this tinpot nation – with Uncle Sam as back-up – how likely is Russia to slip up on us? Well the press report for Mali said normally 10 days notice, which by official counting has been cut to 1. Normally that can’t be done – getting all the planning done should take at least a couple of days, even for a reasonably uncomplicated op. Note France isn’t even in the NATO-planning circle!! Libya was a bit different as we’ve operated from Italian bases before.

But look at the Swedes, they took weeks before even considering getting nasty – after deploying! Danes working with the Norwegians, as if they’ve never done anything else from widely dispersed airfields punching holes in tanks after 48 hours (no air defence necessary – it turned out) and getting resupplied from Israeli stock when running short of unpleasantness. Staying on as long as it took.

Just think like a Russian planner: Ops in 24 hours with pre-stocked supplies on bases they have operated from before (in Lithuania and I believe Estonia) – all that information on public record. A parliament where the leftist foreign secretary asked the extreme left: “What are You thinking?” – A parliament saying: Go, go, go! As a Russian planner I would look at the press coverage and have a very careful look at my plans – just to see that positions, as H+24 didn’t really cut it (even best case)! That is the real effect – preventing aggression from the planning stage. The questions I would be asking myself would be: Can they put a nuke on the main boulevard in Sct. Petersburg within 24 hour notice – again: Never assess intents, assess capabilities – the short answer is: Yes. Is it possible the US has a nuclear device ready to be flown in for the RDaAF? Again: Very possible. Can we stall it in parliament? Not likely. Is it likely they could cut our oil-export down permanently? Oh yes. Can we get a fleet out of port before being mined? With an insane amount of luck – well – how likely is it that you throw snake-eyes three times in a row with somebody else’s dice? Hmm  1 in  (6^2)^3 – or less than 1%, so mr. Putin, how do you like the odds?

As to intents: Well, where is  Mali – by the way?

It sort of shortens Putin’s  list of options. Shall we proceed on with defence cuts? and hope for a friendly negotiation of our absolutely, positively minor disagreements.

Why do You think in the Libyan case that the USS CVN-65 Enterprise sailed through the Suez Canal into the Mediterranean? and did nothing?? Uncle Sam has minions for minor jobs.

As Sir Basil Liddell Hart wrote: The decisive battle is the one fought in the mind of the opposing commander.

One thing about Putin: He is not stupid!

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