How might a ground battle between NATO and Russia in Ukraine go?

Suppose that the NATO leadership says, next week, “what the heck” to Ukraine’s requests for military assistance. Obama is tired of looking weak, so he deploys 100k or so U.S. troops - whatever is available at this time. Tanks, helicopters, everything is deployed into West Ukraine. About 1/3 more troops come from token contributions from all the other NATO members.

Putin orders the Russian Army to seize West Ukraine before the NATO troop deployments have completed, attacking as soon as the Russian army is ready. (I would think that getting 100k+ troops and all their gear in country would take several months, while OTOH the Russian army would need time to get their vehicles and troops to the border and organized.)

What would happen from here? This would be one modern military versus another. How might the combat go? I’d think that it would be incredibly lethal for soldiers of both sides - everyone has vast quantities of indirect fire weapons, accurate artillery and rockets, helicopters and anti-aircraft missiles. I think the Russian federation has a modern tank with explosive reactive armor, modern helicopters, etc.

There’s an easier way to win this battle…
Just bomb the place with lobsters, champagne, and bulgari watches…they’ll all become ‘westernized’ as quick as a blink of an eye…

NATO wins the battle through air superiority, followed by annihilation of armor. But the prospect of the war are horrifying.

There seems to be no way such a war would not spiral up into a nuclear exchange.

I don’t think it would go nuclear, not without NATO invading Russia proper.

Both sides (Russia, US and UK anyway) have combat veteran troops, modern weapons, and are professional armies.

The difference would be the much better NATO command and control systems; the fog of war would be much less on the NATO side than the Russian side, allowing NATO to dictate the tempo and maintain the tactical initiative.

Here you go. Just substitute “Western Ukraine” for “West Germany” and “Crimea” for “East Germany”, and skip the submarine and Iceland chapters (hopefully).

Even ignoring the idea that it would go nuclear - which it would - NATO cannot presently project power into the battlespace. All the talk of NATO technological superiority ignores the fact that we don’t have safe access to the area. Building it up would take a long time, relatively speaking, and Russia can far more easily build up its forces there. It would take awhile to push a substantial ground forces all the way across Ukraine and establish bases of operations, and Russia is not going to let you just float a naval carrier group or three into the Black Sea without resistance.

Their immediacy of access would be a tremendous advantage that would outweigh NATO’s myriad technological edges (which are vastly less pronounced than in the ass-kickings Western nations have handed out in places like Iraq.) Unlike Iraq, Russia has all the critical elements of a modern military that would present tremendous problems to a NATO attack, as opposed to a substandard force like Iraq’s that might have had a lot of tanks but was missing other parts of a modern military - in this specific case, for instance, Russia has nuclear attack submarines that present a horribly lethal threat to NATO ships and top of the line anti-ship missiles. So floating ships up to attack range just would not be a thing you can do without a second thought.

ETA: The Black Sea Fleet is not known to include any nuclear submarines. Nonetheless it is a substantial and modern force. And of course if NATO attacks Russia their submarines operating in the Atlantic will be more than happy to start shooting, so that’s not great news.

It would go:


About the same way ground battles went between NATO and the Warsaw Pact, for the same reasons.

A shooting war between NATO and Russia today would be completely unlike anything Clancy envisioned. The Russian military is still the second most advanced in the world, but it’s advanced very little since 1993. The Sukhoi T-50 will probably be a legitimate threat to the F-22, but it won’t see service for another 10 years.

Ukraine’s western neighbours are all NATO and/or EU members, so staging shouldn’t be that difficult (once the forces are there.)

Ukraine is more than a thousand kilometres across, and even Crimea’s a long way from where most NATO troops are. It would take a substantial period of time to move an army of significant strength into position. If you want to fight Russia on the ground you don’t need a quick and dirty invasion like with Afghanistan. You need divisions. Hundreds of thousands of troops.

Plus aren’t most US troops in Germany? Plus the REFORGER stocks don’t exist anymore.

I think you mean out of Germany? If so, yes. Only about 25,000 Army personnel and about 50,000 total.

Or I guess you mean most of the troops that are in Europe are in Germany. That is true. And the number of total troops are down significantly from a few decades ago. Used to be about 250,000.

The ground combat portion of the novel posited M1 Abrams, German Leopards, and British Challengers vs. Soviet T-72s and T-80s. The T-72 has been supplanted by the T-90, but otherwise pretty similar forces. The book definitely emphasized that NATO had tech superiority, while the Soviets had numerical superiority. The M1 tank commander who is followed throughout the book kills multiple Soviet tanks in each battle, but they keep getting pushed back because there are so damn many tanks. That probably wouldn’t change. But it is true that we don’t have WWIII troops & supplies sitting in Germany at the moment.

IIRC, there was very little fighter vs fighter dogfighting in the book as well - mostly you had fighters (from either side) ambushing ground attack craft during CAS runs. But being Clancy, he did mostly concentrate on the naval side of things.

Badly for the west.

We are weak both militarily and in political will. A bad combination in an actual war.

The west is not weak militarily. Not even close. The west has the strongest Army, Navy and Air Force the world has ever seen. What the west lacks is popular support for committing those assets to a foreign cause.

The US military has been shifting from an armor heavy force to a lighter force better equipped to fight a low intensity conflict. Which isn’t much comfort when you find yourself in a tank war. As always preparing for the last war and not the next.

There are still a lot of tanks in the US forces; the Heavy Brigade combat teams have heavy combined arms battalions with 2 tank companies & 2 mech infantry companies, and there slated to be 10 Heavy/Armored BCTs in the Army after the latest round of restructuring.

I think I understand the answer now. If Russia only wants Ukraine (and there’s no reason to think otherwise, if Russia wanted more they would have taken it already), then all Russia has to do is rush in and grab the rest of Ukraine when they hear about NATO forces getting ready.

Since the REFORGER stocks are gone, it would take NATO forces months to get divisions worth of troops into place. While if Russia is dug in in Ukraine, the battle is already over - they have numerical superiority and you need about a 3:1 advantage to take action against a prepared, dug in enemy.

All of NATO doesn’t have enough troops to take the offensive in this situation. NATO’s tech advantage would not be enough. (and this assumes there is such an advantage : Russia has new tanks that are much closer to parity with the Abrahms, new jet fighters that are good if not as good as F-22, new SAMs, etc etc etc)

Better tech is called a “force multiplier”. If Russia had 100 tanks, and the NATO forces have 100 tanks, but the NATO tanks are better, then you multiply the base number by the multiplier to get an adjusted number. Maybe the NATO tanks are “worth” 150. But, since the Russian ones are on the defensive, you need a an adjusted score of 300 to win, so it’s hopeless.

So it’s unwinnable for NATO. Instant loss. Sure, NATO could “win” by softening things up with nukes and sending their troops in to seize the radioactive ruins…but Russia can do the same thing, and we all know what that would escalate to.

“A lot” is a relative term. Compared to Luxembourg, yes. Compared to Russia, not even close. 10 brigades is not a tremendous amount to fight a war with.