The US Army’s general staff has paid the RAND think-tank in California to devise a brand new plan of attack against Russia. The plan was released a month ago, on April 24. The new idea is Operation SWARM – that means throwing everything the US can think of at Russia.
SWARM (lead image) isn’t exactly new. He started in 1977 when Spider-Man discovered SWARM was a German scientist who had survived Hitler’s defeat and escaped to South America. He wasn’t doing too well until he was irradiated by a super-collider at RAND. SWARM moved to the East Coast of the US, and then to Syria. He hasn’t been doing too well against Spider-Man anyplace.
One of the reasons for the new plan is that the Pentagon generals don’t take seriously RAND’s public declaration that it’s “a research organization that develops solutions to public policy challenges to help make communities throughout the world safer and more secure, healthier and more prosperous.” The US Army, like RAND, has a narrower view of whose prosperity they aim to help, starting with themselves.
Another of the reasons is that retired State Department official James Dobbins, the lead author of the new attack-Russia plan, needs money to replace his past employment at the State Department and White House where he worked on US wars in Bosnia, Kosovo, Somalia, and Afghanistan. Equally in need of cash are his co-authors, several of whom are retirees from the intelligence and armed services.
And finally the third reason, as RAND concedes in several charts, is that none of the things the US Government has been throwing at Russia for the past five years has been working as intended, while the risks of BBB have been growing; that’s backfires, boomerangs and bloodshed.
RAND stands for Research ANd Development. It’s a charity, the corporation says on its website, inviting sympathizers to make “a tax-deductible charitable contribution ”. But the new report was not a philanthropy. It was “sponsored by the Army Quadrennial Defense Review Office, Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff G-8, Headquarters, Department of the Army.”
The full 354-page report can be read here. For those who must work for a living, there’s a brief summary of 12 pages. For the picture version of SWARM, go to Marvel Adventures Number 38 or Ultimate Avengers Number 5.
Since the Army paid for the report, it’s unsurprising that land warfare is a preferred option in the attack plan, especially SWARM. “The Army should consider investing—and encouraging the other services to invest— more in the handful of capabilities… that could extend Russia. The U.S. Army also might consider spending some of its R&D resources on less mature, more futuristic systems (e.g., swarm unmanned aerial vehicles or remote ground vehicles). While these measures would likely be insufficient in and of themselves to extend Russia, they would benefit U.S. deterrence efforts and could augment a broader whole-of-government policy.”
By “extend” Russia, RAND means threatening Russian defences to compel the Russian armed forces and the state budget to spend more and more money, diverting resources away from domestic welfare and increasing the likelihood of internal rebellion and regime change. This is a strategy of bleeding Russia; RAND insists it isn’t bloodshed. Instead, it claims the plan of attack comprises “nonviolent measures that could exploit Russia’s actual vulnerabilities and anxieties as a way of stressing Russia’s military and economy and the regime’s political standing at home and abroad. The steps …conceived of as elements in a campaign designed to unbalance the adversary, leading Russia to compete in domains or regions where the United States has a competitive advantage, and causing Russia to overextend itself militarily or economically or causing the regime to lose domestic and/or international prestige and influence.”
One of the cheapest of the proposed US Army attack options is multiplying the number of NATO exercises on Russia’s borders. The problem, RAND concedes, is that American troops are unpopular in most of Europe. “Large-scale operations involving heavy equipment, such as main battle tanks, inevitably involve substantial damage to private and public property and a heightened risk or rate of accidents involving civilians. These factors could undermine popular local support for NATO and its activities, and Russia would undoubtedly take steps to strengthen this negative perception of the exercises through its propaganda arms and other means of influence in NATO member states.”
When the RAND team calculated which of its land warfare options stood a high enough likelihood of success to warrant the US and NATO costs and risks, less than half the proposals scored. Half of those, however, were also rated as risking the probability that Russian retaliation would wipe out whatever advantage the generals intended. As the RAND chart illustrates, if the Army develops new types of missiles but deploys them to Europe, it’s near-certain the Russian Army will do the same.
Even “revolutionary, swarm counter-anti-access and area denial capabilities” flash red on the chart — Russians can swarm too. If it’s Russian SWARM versus American SWARM, RAND warns there’s no firepower advantage for the US; no Pentagon confidence in the outcome.
At sea, RAND is also less than confident in the US Navy’s advantages. “It is more politically and logistically difficult for the U.S. Navy to operate in the Black Sea than it is for the Russian Navy to do so; it is also more dangerous in the event of a conflict. Therefore, an increased naval presence does not seem a promising competitive strategy. Improving NATO’s land-based A2AD [anti-access and area denial] capabilities over the Black Sea seem to be a more-promising approach. The effect would be to drive up Russian costs of defending its Crimean facilities and to lower the threat posed to neighboring countries.”
Land-based, in RAND speak, used to mean Turkey, but no longer. It also means Romania, but President Vladimir Putin has explained why that country’s US missile batteries are in the cross-hairs of Russian attack. There is no sign that the RAND strategists and their Pentagon clients have caught up with the new Russian doctrines of Cross-Hairs, the 12-Minute Red Line , and Hostile Intent . These aren’t the symmetrical risk for risk, tit for tat, which the RAND charts imply. They are the Russian scripts for warning before pre-emptive (repeat pre-emptive) fire. In naval encounters in the Black and Baltic Seas, for example, the Russian script starts with buzzing by air; if that doesn’t deter, then cruise-missile launch can follow without warning. For the time being, Russian maritime forces are ahead on points.
In short, the RAND chart for US naval operations against Russia reports no promising option.
RAND’s attack-Russia plan doesn’t mention that US and NATO operations have triggered the Russian countermoves now flashing red on the charts. However, Dobbins and his staff concede this is what has happened.
In the outcome, is the US better off? That’s not what the US Army asked RAND to calculate. Still, the report cautions, “if the US escalates its attacks, most likely [that would] prompt some Russian counter-escalation. Thus, besides the specific risks associated with each option, there is additional risk attached to a generally intensified competition with a nuclear-armed adversary to consider. This means that every option must be deliberately planned and carefully calibrated to achieve the desired effect. Finally, although Russia will bear the cost of this increased competition less easily than the United States will, both sides will have to divert national resources from other purposes. Extending Russia for its own sake is not a sufficient basis in most cases to consider the options discussed here.”
In fact, the RAND attack plan identifies very few options which combine the calculation of high likelihood of success in imposing costs on Russia with the calculation that the risks to the US remain low. Just three in fact. The economic warfare of increasing sanctions isn’t working to purpose; adding more sanctions, the report warns, will run much higher risks to US interests. Worse, if the price of oil stays up, and the European states decide sanctions are not in their interests, RAND is predicting the US economic war against Russia will be defeated.
“The international sanctions have not improved Russian behavior and have furthermore allowed the regime to plausibly blame the West for ordinary citizens’ economic distress. Russia’s economic weaknesses are extensive, but the counterintuitive effect of the sanctions regime exemplifies how weaknesses are not the same thing as vulnerabilities that the United States can leverage to its advantage.”
The one economic warfare measure Dobbins and his staff recommend is expanding US energy production with the idea of driving Russian oil and gas out of their traditional markets in Europe, and cutting Russian export revenues. The rest are military measures – reposition US bombers in closer striking range of Russia; and two swarm tactics — electronic and cyber-war operations and deployment of robot and drone weapons.
The attack plan dismisses US schemes for proxy wars and regime change in Belarus or the Central Asia states at worth chancing.
The report endorses Alexei Navalny but concludes he can’t be weaponized on the US side, not at least among Russians. “It would seem highly inadvisable for Western intelligence agencies to attempt to cooperate directly with anticorruption groups inside Russia, such as Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation. Such cooperation would undermine the effectiveness of those groups within Russia, as well as put their members at greater risk of imprisonment or death. Instead, Russian-language outlets outside Russia would need to be identified or created.”
So far, there has been no direct reaction to the publication of the RAND attack plan in the Russian press; RAND has been unmentioned in print since 2012. However, this week there was an indirect reply in the obscure website of Information Agency Rex. “If the United States and other western states feel the slightest weakness of Russia, its unwillingness to [defend itself in] military and political conflicts and its internal political destabilization, they will certainly take full advantage…to weaken or destroy it as much as possible. And this cannot be allowed.”