The Growing Russian Threat in the North Atlantic

Russian nuclear attack submarine SeverodvinskRussia could hinder US reinforcements headed to Europe in the event of a major war, warned the recently retired Supreme Allied Commander, Gen. Philip Breedlove….

“If we are in a shooting war with a big nation to the east, do you believe you will cross the Atlantic uncontested, either in the air or on the sea?” Breedlove asked rhetorically at the Air Force Association conference here.

“The unobstructed crossing of the Atlantic to fight a war on the land mass in Europe, I think, is a thing of the past,” Breedlove told me and a reporter from Russian agency RIA after his AFA remarks. “We need to think about our ability to defend our capability to reinforce Europe….”

Both air and sea reinforcements flowing from the US to Europe will be “contested… from the East Coast across,” Breedlove warned the audience at AFA. (Given Russian cyber skills and the vulnerability of US transportation infrastructure to hacking, there may be problems as soon as troops drive off base). Reinforcing the Baltic States — close as they are to Russia — may not be even possible in the opening days of a major war, Breedlove said.

So NATO’s European members need to improve their readiness so they can move in a crisis, preferably before the shooting starts, so they can at best deter a war and at worst get in position to fight before Russian A2/AD shuts down the flow of reinforcements. NATO intelligence needs to improve — European Command gets just about five percent of US Intelligence, Surveillance, & Reconnaissance assets — so it can rebuild the Cold War “warnings and indicators” system to detect a Soviet offensive before it happened.

If the nightmare scenario occurs, however, and the new iron curtain of Russian A2/AD clamps down over Eastern Europe, we’ll have to find ways to break through. Too many Air Force officers have oversimplified this as an exercise in Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses (SEAD), something we’ve gotten very good at, Breedlove said. But the problem is far bigger than SEAD, he warned, and the solution is far bigger than the Air Force.

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Image: Russian nuclear attack submarine Severodvinsk (photo: Russian Ministry of Defense)