It's a question for the ages. Who would win in a war: the U.S. or Russia?Really though, with Russia conducting airstrikes in Syria and annexing the Crimea, we've all probably wondered: could we beat Russia in an all-out war?The answer is...yeah probably. But maybe not. And the answer is anything but simple.
Bro. We could totally beat Russia.
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Source: Janek Skarzynski / AFP/Getty Images[/caption]Face it: we've all sat around at one point or another, maybe while watching Red Dawn (the old one, not the 2012 disaster), and thought to ourselves: could the United States really beat Russia in a war? A real, full-on war?The answer is complicated (of course). The problem is, Russia and the United States have little to gain and much to lose by fighting an all-out war against each other. Even during the Cold War, when tensions were at their highest, U.S. and Soviet troops never actually faced each other on the battlefield.Don't get me wrong, we trained to fight the Russians. Even during the height of the Afghanistan war, when I was gearing up to go right back to Helmand Province, I was shooting Green Ivan targets and conducting company-size assaults on fixed objectives.Hell, Marines didn't run range 400 at CAX for nothing:https://youtu.be/Ae7iIBwsLs0Note: I would never want to have to fight a conventional army like that.The limited wars we fight nowadays in the name of promoting democracy or humanitarian intervention or counterterrorism are taxing enough on the military and force us to project force across thousands of miles.
But what if we do fight Russia, bro?
But enough about those "real" wars: what if we did fight Russia? What about the numbers, the technology, the pure military might?First, we need to take one major scenario off of the table. Russia and the United States have the two largest nuclear arsenals in the world.[caption id="attachment_8301" align="aligncenter" width="767"]
Source: Business Insider[/caption]Imagine two nuclear powers fighting each other. What happens when one side begins to lose, and lose badly? What does an injured animal do in the wild when it nears death?It flails. It takes drastic action out of desperation. It may even use the nukes, if it is not sure of its survival.[caption id="attachment_8293" align="aligncenter" width="620"]
Nukes are dope to look at sometimes, amirite? Source: International campaign to abolish nuclear weapons[/caption]So let's assume that the nuclear option is taken off of the table (for now).Let's also assume that these two democracies have decided to fight each other after something bad happens. But what?After the United States becomes too angry at Russia over its Syrian bombing campaign? After Russia tries to meddle in Ukrainian elections again? After more buzzing of U.S. aircraft carriers in the Baltic Sea?It is almost never in the interest of democracies to fight other democracies. Generally, democratic states stay at peace with each other, although this isn't always true: Russia invaded Crimea and fought with the democratically-elected government of Ukraine, as well as a limited war against Georgia in 2008.
But come on, seriously bro. When might we actually fight Russia?
It's conceivable that we could fight Russia, maybe...if Russia became un-democratic again.[caption id="attachment_8304" align="aligncenter" width="995"]
What if the communists took over again? Source: AFP[/caption]An alienated and combative Russia, a Russia that feels as though it is being disregarded on the world stage, a Russia that elects a new, exceptionally nationalistic leader, could conceivably bring things to the boiling point on an international stage.Russia has a history of expansionism, beyond even just the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Russians are generally okay with strong, even authoritarian leaders like Vladimir Putin, as long as the economy is doing well.It could also happen that Russia's nuclear weapons come under the control of some faction within the government as it weakens. This could lead to a "loose nukes" situation, although it is less likely now that Putin has consolidated power for so long.Whatever the situation, war between the two countries would be intense.
Spending and Modernization (bro)
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Source: Statista[/caption]Defense spending by both countries is very high. The United States clocks in at over $600 billion, while Russia spends around $66 billion on defense (in 2015). That buys both countries quite a bit of hardware, but while the United States spends lots of money on programs that are free market and competition-driven, Russia still struggles with state-sponsored defense programs. The free market drives innovation, which will always be to the advantage of the United States.
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Source: DOD, Air Force Association, Institute for Strategic Studies[/caption]The United States has far more military bases around the world, and Russia does not. Only in Syria and the Crimea could Russia project force. That means, however, that Russia would almost certainly fight on home turf or nearby, such as in Ukraine.The United States has 598 military bases in 40 countries, whereas Russia has only one base, a naval station in Tartus, Syria (one of the reasons for their continued presence in that country on the side of Bashar al-Assad). In addition, the U.S. has around 1.4 million troops on active duty, with 850,000 reservists. Contrast that with Russia, which has around 766,000 active duty and 2.5 million reserves. However, those numbers are somewhat deceiving: most of Russia's troops are minimally-trained conscripts, who are required by law to serve one year in the military between the age of 18 and 27.
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The Russian aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov. Source: Wikimedia Commons[/caption]While the above infographic might make it seem as though Russia's navy is at least comparable to the United States, in reality the only thing that matters is the aircraft carriers. The United States has 10 of the most technologically-advanced aircraft carriers in the world, while Russia has one aging carrier. World War 2 showed that the tradition of battleships fighting other battleships on the high seas was not a good idea, as one ship after another was sunk by aircraft delivered from carriers, including Japanese Kamikazes.The naval side of things reflects two different goals by the United States and Russia: one is to project power across the globe. The other is a view of the country as a land-based power as Mark Galeotti, a New-York based security expert said:
"The United States and Russia are going for different things...what the Russians are looking for is not to take on and compete on equal terms with us. It's denial... one can look at the U.S. Navy as massively superior to the Russian navy. Most of them are legacy Soviet ships. But in a way, that doesn't matter, because Russia does not plan to send its forces all across the world's oceans."
Russia does have some pretty sweet anti-air capabilities. The Pentagon isn't sure whether it can jam our radar or use signals intelligence against us. Russia invests heavily in these capabilities, and fighting Russian planes will be tough. They are more maneuverable and better at dogfighting, whereas our planes have exceptional technology and are meant for close air support.[caption id="attachment_8302" align="aligncenter" width="482"]
Top Gun dogfighting might get you inverted, but it's not essential in modern warfare. Source: Top Gun movie[/caption]However, Top Gun-style dogfighting is kind of a thing of the past. Plus, Russia is known to exaggerate its capabilities. RussiaToday, a publication that works closely with the Russian government, recently ran an article about "drone swarms" that would accompany a pilot and take down enemy aircraft or missiles. The only problem? That's almost certainly just a response to an earlier article about United States capabilities in doing the same thing. Except that the United States can actually do it, whereas Russia is...maybe...developing the capability. This quote from Russian defense analyst Ruslan Pukhov further drives home the point:
"Ever since Soviet days we have been lagging behind the U.S. in military aviation." Because of that gap, he adds, Soviet and Russian military planners have invested heavily in air defense systems, and the S-300 and S-400 systems are the best in the world. "It's like boxing," Pukhov says. "If you have a weak right arm, you need to compensate by a strong left arm. Soviet strategists made up for a weakness in aviation by investing heavily in air defense systems."
Look, nobody's going to deny that Russia has some sweet-looking, technologically advanced tanks:[caption id="attachment_8294" align="aligncenter" width="1024"]
Sweet Russian T-14 Armata tanks. Source: Business Insider[/caption]But the United States and its NATO allies have the M1 Abrams tank, which is pretty damn good. And all of our tank units have that tank, rather than just the one-third of Russian troops who are not conscripts and actually have decent gear.Anti-air capabilities inside of Russia would enable them to shoot down our helicopters full of troops before they even got there, and we haven't really had a whole lot of success in the past with parachuting troops into major operations (see World War 2's Operation Market Garden). However, the ground war would likely consist not only of American, but also NATO troops, and together these would overwhelm the Russian forces.
Look, I get all that. But who has cooler-looking special operations soldiers?
Well, this is obviously a point of major concern. Combat effectiveness is often directly correlated with coolness, so in the interest of being fair we are going to provide some pictures of both SOF forces and let you decide for yourself:[caption id="attachment_8295" align="aligncenter" width="1024"]
Source: Systema Spetsnaz[/caption][caption id="attachment_8296" align="aligncenter" width="900"]
Source: Systema Spetsnaz[/caption][caption id="attachment_8297" align="aligncenter" width="634"]
Source: Dmitry Beliakov / REX Shutterstock[/caption]Versus:[caption id="attachment_8298" align="aligncenter" width="960"]
Source: SOFREP[/caption][caption id="attachment_8299" align="aligncenter" width="600"]
Source: Military.com[/caption][caption id="attachment_8300" align="aligncenter" width="1023"]
A war with Russia is a bad deal. No matter who wins, we all lose. Whether it's because of thermonuclear war or because tons of soldiers have died, even considering war with Russia would really, really suck.Thankfully, the world has moved into a time when major powers don't really fight each other in all-out wars any more. We already did that, twice, and the results were disastrous.That doesn't stop us from daydreaming about taking out the Communist scum as they fly down into our rural American towns though, does it? WOLVERINES!https://youtu.be/MVqK6wNkSxA