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Old 06-20-2009, 03:39 PM
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Raellus Raellus is online now
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Default In Defense of the Red Army

I just finished Red Army by Ralph Peters, a fine novel of WWIII set in Europe. What sets this novel apart from contemporaries like Red Storm Rising and Team Yankee is that it is written entirely from the POV of its Soviet protagonists. It's very well written and focuses more on the various characters (from lowly NCOs to general officers) than on militiary technology. It doesn't reference specific weapon platforms, allowing the reader to imagine either a MiG-27 or SU-35, depending on his/her preference. It pulls no punches in examining the faults of the Soviet Military of the mid to late '80s, but it also highlights several of its comparitive strengths.

Anyway, it got me thinking about a conventional war in Europe between the Soviet Union/WTO and the U.S./NATO, circa the mid '80s or, following the v1.0 timeline, the late '90s.

A lot of folks seem to hold the opinion that the Soviet Union, even at the height of its military powers, could never have had significant successes against NATO forces in a conventional land/air war in Europe. They make several arguments to back up this assessment. I'd like to take some time to rebutt some of these arguments and then open a discussion.

1.)The Soviets had inferior military technology.

True, in almost every category of military hardware, NATO gear was superior. NATO gear has repeatedly trumped Soviet gear over the years, most recently in Iraq. But, one must keep in mind the way in which that Soviet gear was used (see point #2). And, for the most part, Iraq's Soviet/Russian gear was of the export variety, meaning that it did not have the full capabilities of the platforms used by the Soviets. In other words, a Soviet MiG-29 would have better radar, avionics, and missiles than an export model employed by Iraq or Serbia. Some Soviet systems have proven to be remarkably capable. For instance, modern Russian ATGMs were able to able to savage Israeli Merkava Mk. III and IV MBTs in Lebanon a few years back. The Merkava IV is arguably the most modern and heavily armored tank in the world and around a dozen were destroyed by Russian-made ATGMs. I believe a Soviet SAM shot down an F-117 in the Balkans. Other Soviet systems, although less capable than their NATO counterparts, have proven track records of robustness and serviceability.

2.) Soviet model armies have repeatedly been defeated by Western model armies. This proves the superiority of the Western model and the inherent inferiority of the Soviet one.

Yes, the Iraqis followed, to a degree, a Soviet model. The Iraqi army was, for all intents and purposes, a joke. It was poorly led, poorly supplied, poorly motivated, etc. This trend was also in evidence in the varios Israeli-Arab wars of the '60s and '70s, in that the Western model IDF repeatedly defeated its more numerous, Soviet model adversaries. But simply because a Soviet-backed military fell to a de facto NATO model army, does not mean that the same thing would have occured had it been the Red Army vs. NATO. This sort of "once-removed" argument is not valid. If it were, what would it say about the U.S. when the South Vietnamese, who it trained and supported with massive amounts of American hardware, were decisively defeated by the Soviet-supported North Vietnamese army?

3.) The Soviet officer corps was poor in quality, with rigid systems of command that discouraged junior officers from showing innitiative.

This is true, to some extent. Conscripted Soviet non-coms especially were of low quality, having received very little training and lacking the experience that comes with years of voluntary service. But, historically, the Soviets have shown a surprising ability to adapt and evolve under harsh battlefield conditions. The Soviet army of 1941 was slow, under-supplied, and poorly led. But, by 1944, the Soviet Army was arguably more flexible and better led than its western Allies and their German adversaries. Hitler underestimated the abilities of the Red Army. I would argue that we not make the same mistake.

4.) The Soviets suffered through a long and ultimately unsuccessful war in Afghanistan. If they couldn't defeat the Afghani Mujahadin in the mountains and valleys of Afghanistan, they couldn't possibly have defeated NATO armies on the forrested plains of Europe.

This argument doesn't hold much water. Comparing an unconventional, guerrilla war in the difficult terrain of Afghanistan with a conventional war in Europe is comparing apples and oranges. The U.S. was unable to achieve its strategic objectives in Vietnam. Four presidential administrations tried and failed to defeat the communist insurgency in Vietnam. In keeping with the arguments made by detractors of the Red Army, it follows that the U.S. and its allies, unsuccessful in Vietnam, could not have defeated the Soviet Union in Europe. Furthermore, the U.S. and its NATO allies have still not pacified/stablilized Afghanistan after nearly a decade of occupation and military operations there. Does this mean NATO could not have defeated the Red Army of the late '80s? What's even more telling is the relative superiority in technology enjoyed by U.S./NATO forces today, as compared to the Soviet Army of the 1980s.

5.) The Soviets performed badly against the Chechnyans in the mid to late '90s. This proves that the Soviet Army wouldn't have performed well against NATO.

Once again, this is the same sort of apples to oranges argument outlined in #4. And, the Russian Army that bogged down in the streets of Grozny was an army that had suffered near on a decade of financial and institutional neglect after the collapse of Soviet Communism. This was not the fully funded Red Army of the '80s. It was a severely under-funded, ad hoc military with extremely low morale and very poor training (due largely to lack of funds). Imagine if the U.S. military's funding was cut by 75-90%. Would anyone expect it to perform as well in combat as it would have at its full funding levels?

6.) Conscript armies, like the Red Army of its heyday, are inferior to volunteer armies, like those of the U.S. and most of NATO.

Once again, this is true, but to a very small degree. But look at how well the mostly conscripted Red Army performed late on in WWII. Look at the combat record of the Israeli Army, most of which is made up of conscipts and reservists (themselves former conscripts). Furthermore, one could argue that the Soviet soldier is in some ways superior to his western counterparts. He's used to living with less than most westerners. He's tough, fit, and used to deprivation, harsh discipline and following orders. Many Red Army units were responsible for producing some, if not most, of their own food. This agricultural skill/experience would prove invaluable in the later years of the Twilight War.

Also, having a largely conscript army would help streamline mobilization because many reserve and newly mobilized units would have at least rudimentary military training already, due to their earlier conscript experience.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

Now, here are two more arguments in favor of the Soviet army that are often wilfully overlooked or casually dismissed.

A.) Weight of numbers. The Red Army had more of everything- men, tanks, artillery tubes, aircraft, etc. than NATO. The only area in which the opposite was true was in naval power. Even if the Soviets lost men and material at a rate 3x that of their enemies, the Red Army would still outnumber them. The Red Army's superior numbers in artillery would prove especially troublesome for NATO.

B.) Experience. By the time the Twilight War kicked off in Europe, the Red Army- especially its officer corps- would have operational and tactical combat experience from their campaign in China. As any combat veteran can tell you, there's simply no substitute for experience. Soviet general and staff officers would have invaluable hands-on experience which most of their NATO counterparts would lack.

There you have it. The arguments of a Red Army apologist. Let the debate begin!
Author of Twilight 2000 adventure module, Rook's Gambit, and campaign sourcebook, Korean Peninsula, available-


Last edited by Raellus; 06-20-2009 at 06:58 PM.
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