Home Forums Modern Pre-emptive NATO air strikes?

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  • #156069
    Dan Kennedy
    Participant

    Hi,

    Can’t find anything online about this, I’m putting together a homebrew scenario for Red Storm, involving NATO aircraft crossing the EGB before hostilities started to conduct pre-emptive strikes.

    Question – does anyone know if there was actually any likelihood of that occurring? Obviously contingency plans of all manner existed, but how likely was it that NATO would actually be the one to shoot first?

    Thanks.

    #156079
    Mr. Average
    Participant

    Since the Soviet is gone but NATO remains, I think it’s unlikely you’ll find any information like a Western version of Seven Days to the Rhine, because it remains a relevant military strategy against the Russian Federation. I think it would be highly likely that scenarios exist for a NATO first strike as a result of definite danger or some form of major political provocation. You can get copies of NATO’s nuclear weapons reports, which would give some insight into this.

    Primarily, NATO has a major conventional and precision-guided weapons superiority intended to make a nuclear strike less necessary in the case of war, but this would mean conventional air and missile strikes would definitely be part of an integrated combined-arms campaign against an aggressor state, or against a nation warranting preemptive action. I think that in the context of the 1980s, when a spasmodic, all-out nuclear confrontation with the Soviet was more likely, this would still be true, since conventional arms today would have been cutting edge then – F-117’s, B-1’s, etc.

    #156080
    deephorse
    Participant

    I’m no expert in this area, despite potentially putting myself in harms way for six years, but wouldn’t a NATO pre-emptive strike nullify Article 5 of its constitution?  That could lead to all kinds of interesting problems.

    Less enthusiasm, please. This is Britain.

    #156081
    Mr. Average
    Participant

    Not really, I don’t think. They did it in the Balkans to Serbia.

    #156083
    Guy Farrish
    Participant

    Suspect it might.

    NATO was invited to intervene in Serbia by the UN with air attack in support of UNPROFOR in Operation Deliberate Force. There was also Operation Deny Flight which was the anti-air component.

    Here’s a photo of the USS Saratoga in 1994, having a shore run in Palma de Mallorca having just finished her stint on Deny Flight and about to join Exercise Dynamic Impact

    .

    I doubt the UN would invite NATO to pre-emptively bomb Russia/USSR (especially as they are on the Security Council!)

    #156084
    Mr. Average
    Participant

    Good point, but still, unilateral or collective action by a NATO member or members doesn’t obligate the others to participate, only collective security issues do, and so that would not invalidate Article 5.  So I think that, in a time like the 80s where there was more willingness to take a hard line with the Soviet (people like Mitterand, Thatcher and Reagan), some kind of major provocation might have gotten the Quint to push for a preemptive action.  I don’t think it would have unraveled the Alliance, particularly if it were quick, decisive, and could have had a major possibility of a non-nuclear resolution.  That’s a tall order, but Mitterand in particular was not happy about things like Afghanistan and Martial Law in Poland, and was very willing to move for heavy action that could result in a European unification scenario.  It’s easy with hindsight to forget that there were a lot of hard-line anti-Soviet voices in influential political positions across the world at the time, not just the American right.

    On the other hand, Seven Days to the Rhine supposedly took a NATO first strike as its jumping-off point, making it technically a “defensive” action.  So it’s quite possible that NATO defensive scenarios were really cover for possible preemptive action as well.

    #156085
    Mr. Average
    Participant

    There’s actually a very good German TV movie about the fall of the Berlin Wall actually precipitating a third world war when hard-liners take over the Soviet Union and push for the “Chinese Solution” to crack down on nascent independence movements in the East.  The initial Soviet attack is successful on land and partly successful at sea, but is blunted by overwhelming NATO airpower which destroys their supply lines in the second week, and German-American, French and British forces encircle the Soviets before they can retreat to secure defensive lines.

    This, if I recall correctly, leads the Soviet to launch a demonstrative nuclear attack on the North Sea Oil Fields, and this leads to a Western retaliation.  So much for conventional.

    #156086
    deephorse
    Participant

    Good point, but still, unilateral or collective action by a NATO member or members doesn’t obligate the others to participate.

    And this is the issue I was hinting at.  Since, in your hypothetical, NATO (and let’s face it, this is highly likely to have  been just the U.S.) started the conflict, some of NATO’s less willing/able members might decide to sit this one out.  They might not even have been consulted about the attack, either for fear that they might tip off the Soviets/Russians, or that they might vote against the operation.  So NATO is divided from the word go.  Not a good place to be, and an early propaganda victory for The Reds.

    Less enthusiasm, please. This is Britain.

    #156087
    Dan Kennedy
    Participant

    What about a situation where both sides had been sabre-rattling for some time and TTW was in effect, is it possible that NATO might’ve decided to  launch strikes across the IGB while they had the chance?

    The scenario I’m writing theorises that GSFG are plainly ready to jump off, and  NATO decides to try and blunt them while they can. It occurred to me that it might be implausible, not least because of the intact anti-air environment; the only place I’ve ever seen such a thing theorised is in Clancy’s ‘Red Storm Rising’, which says a lot about how likely such a move might be.

    #156088
    irishserb
    Participant

    I’ve read references to planning exercises where a NATO attack was created on paper (though never seen details of the plans), but never anything that suggested that NATO actually considered striking first.  Every indication I have is that a WarPac unit/element would have to cross a NATO border somewhere, before any strike would be put into motion.

    Starting from the early 1950s, I think as you move further into the Cold War that a planned western attack becomes increasingly less likely, and that after somewhere around 1962-63, as the Soviets start to really gain the ability to project and deliver their nukes, that the chance rapidly decrease from almost none to infinity less than that.  I mean, there was always opportunity for misjudgment and/or error, the Cuban Missile Crisis and Able Archer shows that, but from everything that I’ve read, no US administration ever really embraced the idea, and I just don’t see any European country ever thinking that glowing in the dark was a good idea.

    For gaming purposes, do whatever you like, maybe a false report of Soviet movement, computer glitch, accident at a fuel depo releases what looks like a mushroom cloud, etc. tips a domino, and woosh, things start popping.

    What year are you looking at starting things?

    #156089
    madman
    Participant

    Maybe a self aware computer wants to play a game. Couldn’t resist.

    #156095
    MartinR
    Participant

    Things may have changed in the late 1980s but as far as I can recall, NATO always reserved the right to strike first, including the use of nuclear weapons. The entire premise of WW3 in “The War Game” was a NATO attack into the DDR to relieve Berlin.

    So yes, pre emptive airstrikes in a period of heightened tension were/are entirely possible.

    "Mistakes in the initial deployment cannot be rectified" - Helmuth von Moltke

    #156110
    Etranger
    Participant

    Hi,

    Can’t find anything online about this, I’m putting together a homebrew scenario for Red Storm, involving NATO aircraft crossing the EGB before hostilities started to conduct pre-emptive strikes.

    Question – does anyone know if there was actually any likelihood of that occurring? Obviously contingency plans of all manner existed, but how likely was it that NATO would actually be the one to shoot first?

    Thanks.

    What about a situation where both sides had been sabre-rattling for some time and TTW was in effect, is it possible that NATO might’ve decided to launch strikes across the IGB while they had the chance?

    The scenario I’m writing theorises that GSFG are plainly ready to jump off, and NATO decides to try and blunt them while they can. It occurred to me that it might be implausible, not least because of the intact anti-air environment; the only place I’ve ever seen such a thing theorised is in Clancy’s ‘Red Storm Rising’, which says a lot about how likely such a move might be.

    There’s also Able Archer 1983 when the Russians thought that NATO WAS about to launch a pre-emptive strike, before someone fortunately worked the right answer out .. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Able_Archer_83

    #156121
    Mr. Average
    Participant

    That’s an interesting bit on the “con” side of the equation because even Soviet sources inside NATO did not think that the Alliance would strike first. In Able Archer the Warsaw Pact intelligence apparatus chose to ignore their own networks to some extent – and Western networks didn’t grasp the extent of Soviet anxieties about the potential for a secret first strike, like a Nuclear Barbarossa.

    #156291
    John D Salt
    Participant

    The scenario I’m writing theorises that GSFG are plainly ready to jump off, and NATO decides to try and blunt them while they can.

    The trouble with this is, the Sovs planned — and rehearsed — moving into combat straight out of barracks, giving no warning at all.

    None of the NATO nations did anything of the kind, except for ACE Mobile Force’s spearhead battalion. Nor did NATO have the same sort of authoritarian centralism in their command and control system that WARPAC did, which would have enabled the big chief to say “Go! Go! Go!” on an impulse and expect anyone to react with something other than puzzled confusion, embittered references to the current notice to move, and queries as to when they could expect their war establishment reinforcements and war emergency spares packs.

    Things may have changed in the late 1980s but as far as I can recall, NATO always reserved the right to strike first, including the use of nuclear weapons. The entire premise of WW3 in “The War Game” was a NATO attack into the DDR to relieve Berlin.

    I’d bet quite a lot of my own money that you can’t find any NATO statement to that effect, or even implying it, from any time during the Cold War. NATO always refused to renounce the first use of nuclear weapons, because this was part of the flexible response policy that had been in place since the early 60s. The Russians would occasionally enjoy baiting NATO about this, but NATO’s position was that it didn’t intend to attack anyone, there would be no use of nukes unless someone else had made first use of conventional weapons, and so there’s no need to worry yourself, Niki/Leo/Yuri/Konnie.

    The relief of Berlin is clearly a response to an attack on it; the Berlin garrison was a tripwire force to make it clear who the aggressors are when things kick off, just like NP8901 in the Falklands.

    So I think that, in a time like the 80s where there was more willingness to take a hard line with the Soviet (people like Mitterand, Thatcher and Reagan), some kind of major provocation might have gotten the Quint to push for a preemptive action.

    Remember, those three were all old enough to have lived through WW2, and Mitterand fought in it. I strongly doubt that even Reagan would have had the cavalier attitude to starting wars that became popular in the West when we started getting government cabinets with nobody in them with any experience of uniformed service.

    Even if those in charge had thought it would be a jolly jape to give the Reds a biffing, I think their military leaders would have disabused them in short order. Anyone who lived through the Cold War will recall all those maps showing three Russian tanks to every NATO one, and the idea of attempting a re-run of Barbarossa was so very remote from contemporary military thinking that, as well as lacking the force elements and the logistics to do it, we wouldn’t have had the doctrine. You may recall that when a British armoured division was shipped to Kuwait (and all the other divisions ransacked for kit and spares to get it there) one of the problems was the lack of an offensive doctrine — fortunately, everyone in BAOR had spent so long studying Russian offensive doctrine, they just nicked that, rather than attempt to create one of their own.

    What’s more, don’t forget the Bundeswehr’s emphasis on “Innere Fuhrung”. If given an order to engage in what is pretty clearly a war of aggression, German commanders were trained to refuse to obey, and I’m sure a very large number of them would, not just those with family in the East. As for the Germans in the East, and the other WARPAC minor nations — the Cold War saw rebellions against the Russian occupiers from East Germans, Hungarians, Czechs, and Poles. There was always a good chance that they would not have been too enthusiastic in their support for a Soviet drive to the Channel Ports — why on Earth would NATO attack their countries and make determined enemies of them?

    As has been said, it’s anyone’s right as a wargamer to invent scenarios of whatever level of improbability they wish. However, a NATO pre-emptive attack on WARPAC strikes me as being of the same order of never-going-to-happenness as all those “Operation Sealion” games that rely on the RAF getting thrashed, the English Channel staying a flat calm for weeks, and the Royal Navy undergoing spontaneous evaporation from a mass infestation of anti-shipping pixies.

    All the best,

    John.

    #156301
    Dan Kennedy
    Participant

    I would say that – absent the nightmare scenario of 3rd Shock (yes I know it wasn’t actually 3rd ‘Shock’ but we’ve all got so used to it…) and 8GA not turning around when they hit the IGB – it’s highly implausible that, in the event of a  TTW situation, NATO might decide ‘bugger it’ and chuck some airpower at East Germany, not with the Pact air defence network intact, and cruise missiles would look too much like a nuclear launch. So yes, I concede my scenario is pretty unlikely on all levels. But as an intellectual exercise? I’m going to give it a try anyway, see if NATO can get maybe a couple of flights of F-111’s back.

    Interesting thoughts on the willingness or not of various nations to fight. I was given to understand the Bundeswher had every intention of heading east to if it could, though I never could work out how they’d achieve that. Regarding the various Pact nations, I’ve always felt  that the Polish military was the most likely to cause trouble. I’ve worked with a lot of Poles, and while they don’t like the Germans, they hate the Russians, and it seems to me that if given the chance they’d happily settle scores. The rest of those nations – toss a coin. If airstrikes are only targeting GSFG formations then I can’t see them being too concerned, but then it’d be a massive propaganda coup. As I say, the scenario is pretty much an intellectual exercise.

    Thanks to everyone who took the trouble to respond – some very good food for thought, thank you all.

     

    #156305
    John D Salt
    Participant

    On the topic of WARPAC nations joining in or not joining in, SPI’s 1976 folio “Revolt in the East” is a splendid little game that covers the well-worn central front area at a very broad level of detail, with numerous options for WARPAC members going rogue that make a nice change from the traditional Soviet steamroller heading west.

    it’s highly implausible that, in the event of a TTW situation, NATO might decide ‘bugger it’ and chuck some airpower at East Germany, not with the Pact air defence network intact, and cruise missiles would look too much like a nuclear launch.

    This raises another point I was vaguely intending to mention but didn’t — most NATO analysts lived in mortal fear of WARPAC air defences. I recall at least one ground attack planning tool that relied on routing raids around the engagement envelopes of WARPAC groud-based air defence (GBAD), it being considered that entering them was equivalent to losing aircraft. In retrospect, this seems to suffer from a remarkable lack of justification. GBAD generally does not perform well in live operations — look at the ropey performance of British GBAD in the Falklands, and the massive exagerration of Patriot performance in the Gulf. Soviet-supplied (and to some extent Soviet-manned) GBAD did not do well in Viet Nam; admittedly they may have accumulated a lot of kills, but over a period of many years, many thousands of engagements, with the expenditure of something like fifty SAMs per kill, and without ever once preventing the US from hitting a target if they wanted it hit. Whenever US air has decided to wade in at medium attitude and take on the SAMs toe-to-toe, it is the blokes on the ground who have come off worse. Non-US NATO air forces, not being able to afford elaborate EW/SEAD support to strike packages, trained to go in very, very low indeed. Jaguar may not seem a very high-tech aircraft, but at four hundred knots on the deck in claggy met, it’s effectively impossible to intercept. Granted that air attacks also tend to be less accurate and less effective than expected on real operations, there is still a lot of truth to Stanley Baldwin’s 1932 apothegm, “the bomber will always get through”. As for Soviet fighter defence — their historical record seems to consist largely of bagging a couple of stray Korean Jumbos, and completely missing Mathias Rust’s Cessna, which succeeded in penetrating all the way to Red Square.

    It occurs to me ask what, as far as the air aspect is concerned, the difference would be between a NATO air attack (“strike” specifically meant nukes in NATO at the time) half an hour after, or half an hour before, the Red hordes rolled over the IGB. Is the assumption of NATO agression actually necessary?

    All the best,

    John.

    #156306
    deephorse
    Participant

    On the topic of WARPAC nations joining in or not joining in, SPI’s 1976 folio “Revolt in the East” is a splendid little game that covers the well-worn central front area at a very broad level of detail, with numerous options for WARPAC members going rogue that make a nice change from the traditional Soviet steamroller heading west.

    .

    I played that game a few times, and it was quite enjoyable.  It hasn’t seen the light of day for maybe 40 years now though.  I was a complete sucker for any of SPI’s WWIII games.  N.A.T.O., The Next War, Nato Division Commander (IIRC), World War III, B.A.O.R., and others kept me entertained for months.  Especially B.A.O.R., because my battalion had its own counter, and I could depict my demise over and over again.  I must dig it out some time and see what combat value we were given.  It was probably much inflated.

    Less enthusiasm, please. This is Britain.

    #156309
    MartinR
    Participant

    Especially B.A.O.R., because my battalion had its own counter, and I could depict my demise over and over again.  I must dig it out some time and see what combat value we were given.  It was probably much inflated

    I use BAOR to run my intermittent 1981 WW3 campaign (standing start attack triggered by a nuclear response to a Sov invasion of Iran). The BAOR are indeed quite chunky compared to the poor old BW, there just aren’t very many of them.

    I’m also a bit puzzled as to what a few pre emptive air strikes are going to achieve apart from making the Russians even crosser? It would take an awful lot of bombs and rockets to make even a tiny dent in a Shock Army. The airstrikes in Iraq took months to achieve an attritional effect, whatever claims the flyboys may have made.

    "Mistakes in the initial deployment cannot be rectified" - Helmuth von Moltke

    #156316
    Guy Farrish
    Participant

    I think the part of the ‘theory’ of air power used here was to bomb and destroy/severely damage the HQ and command elements of Army and OMG elements (Not Oh! My! God! – although that might be appropriate if it turned up a few hundred Km behind your lines!) and key transport/logistics hubs.

    Whether someone had clearly identified those elements and their locations prior to the event is a matter still of some conjecture of course.

    The establishment (return of?) Allied Air Forces Central Europe (AAFCE) in 1974 and the continuing change and refinement of NATO air power theory through the mid 80s shifted the focus from small sorties to very large co-ordinated mixed capability attacks both in support of the land battle, but from our point of view, more interestingly in terms of interdiction well behind the IGB. As well as the conceptual changes new aircraft and more of the old (another wing of F1-11s was deployed in the UK in 1977) gave a real (so the PR went) chance of deep interdiction attacks succeeding.

    This at least in theory would stop the deep battle, follow on force attacks, almost on their start lines in WP countries (even before the FOF concept was properly formulated)

    That all sounds very warry and no doubt might have worked to an extent given a fair wind and perfect execution, but as Martin suggested, Air Forces tend to overpromise and underdeliver  a little(lovely mess accommodation and food though).

    There’s quite a lot of stuff around about the changes in the theory and concept around, not a lot about the methodology or effectiveness of the intelligence picture needed to make this work, so you have to take this bit on faith or a pinch of salt depending on your preference.

    Probably worth a read of  something like this paper for an idea of changing conceptual frameworks of both sides (some caveat as usual about perspective – NATO planner with all the agendas) but it does include lots of references for more reading if you are so inclined.

    Good luck with the project/game

    #156319
    irishserb
    Participant

    Dan Kennedy,  Despite our general perception of the improbability of the NATO first strike, I hope that you might share your adventure with us, as I know that I would be greatly interested in reading about it.

    #156340
    Dan Kennedy
    Participant

    I will, I plan to do a full AAR, with photos.

    The map for Red Storm doesn’t include much of East Germany, so I’m postulating a scenario where NATO makes a major effort to degrade Pact airfields as much as possible, hoping to establish air superiority from the start.

    I fully appreciate the implausibility of this! However, Red Storm is a good rule set and I’m interested to see how this plays out.

     

    #156343
    Whirlwind
    Participant

    The map for Red Storm doesn’t include much of East Germany, so I’m postulating a scenario where NATO makes a major effort to degrade Pact airfields as much as possible, hoping to establish air superiority from the start. I fully appreciate the implausibility of this! However, Red Storm is a good rule set and I’m interested to see how this plays out.

    Isn’t this what happens in the actual Red Storm Rising novel, without NATO needing to initiate hostilities itself?

    https://hereticalgaming.blogspot.co.uk/

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