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Fulcrum of force: NATO’s technological supremacy to beat Russia’s numerical advantage?

A report by Shepherd media house quoted Sean Monaghan, a visiting fellow at the CSIS Europe, Russia, and Eurasia Program, as saying that NATO was more prepared to engage in combat now than in the past two years

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Fulcrum of force: NATO’s technological supremacy to beat Russia’s numerical advantage?
Image source: Reuters
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NATO countries are taking various steps to ready their troops and gear for a high-intensity conflict. They are doing this because there is a chance that Russia’s war in Ukraine could spread to other parts of Europe.

A report by Shepherd media house quoted Sean Monaghan, a visiting fellow at the CSIS Europe, Russia, and Eurasia Program, as saying that NATO was more prepared to engage in combat now than in the past two years, although it might not be ready for a long-drawn war. At a recent CSIS webinar, Monaghan noted that NATO still had plenty of work to do in this area. He mentioned that member countries needed to overcome some challenges to work together effectively on the battlefield.

NATO countries’ ability to work together smoothly has become a major issue. Although they follow shared standards for buying and using military systems and are trying to make their systems more synchronous, the wide variety of equipment they have could make joint missions difficult. Their varied equipment also makes it hard to link systems together for communicating and sharing information. Besides, using many different types of gear or systems puts pressure on logistics and supply chains because each platform needs different ammunition and spare parts.

Another challenge for NATO is recruiting and keeping skilled professionals. In the US, the army, navy and air force—all fell short of their recruitment targets in 2023. The UK’s military is struggling to hire professionals in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). Meanwhile, the Netherlands is dealing with a 20-25 per cent shortage of personnel.

On the other hand, data from the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) shows that NATO has more active-duty personnel in 2024 (1,891,635) compared to Russia (1,100,000). 

NATO’s overall strength is also greater than Russia’s. Member countries have 2,429 combat-ready aircraft and 6,652 main battle tanks, while Russia has 1,377 aircraft and 2,000 tanks.

Despite the losses since invading Ukraine in February 2022, Russia has managed to restore its troops and equipment to nearly pre-war levels. International sanctions have not stopped Russia from getting key parts and electronics, or from keeping up high levels of defence production. 

With help from China, Iran and North Korea, Russia has been bypassing export controls and using Western-made components.

Cynthia Cook, director of the CSIS Defense-Industrial Initiatives Group and senior fellow with the International Security Program, emphasised that, although NATO had more modern equipment than Russia, the alliance still faced capability gaps and readiness challenges. These issues weaken its conventional deterrence, reports the media house.

Since 2014, the number of NATO’s combat vehicles, including main battle tanks, infantry fighting vehicles, armoured reconnaissance vehicles and self-propelled artillery, has either stayed the same or decreased. European countries also had gaps in naval forces, air support, air defence and critical munitions, noted Cook. Some of these issues were discussed at the 2022 Madrid Summit, where a task force was created to improve the strength of critical infrastructure, including energy, transportation, digital systems and space.

This also led to an increase in defence funds. In February, the alliance shared its numbers on military spending, revealing that European countries and Canada had raised their investments by 11 per cent over the past decade, amounting to over $600 billion. Additionally, NATO predicts that, by 2024, 18 out of 32 allies will allocate 2 per cent of their GDP towards defence.

To enhance their defence capabilities, members recently approved a Defence Production Action Plan. By initially concentrating on land munitions, it aims to enhance cooperation and standardisation of military equipment.

According to Cook, policymakers are now giving the defence industry the attention it deserves. Countries have also bolstered their supplies by acquiring new systems, solutions and platforms across all areas. The induction of Finland and Sweden into the alliance has further strengthened it, as they have brought in advanced defence equipment to the collective arsenal. Monaghan believes this event has been the most significant development for NATO in recent years.

To enhance their structure, member countries have established four additional multinational battle groups called Enhanced Forward Presence (EFP) in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland. This brings the total number of multinational forces within the alliance to eight. The remaining EFPs are located in Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania and Slovakia. NATO hailed these advancements as the most substantial enhancement of collective defence within the alliance in many years.

The year 2022 saw the establishment of Standing Naval Forces by NATO, which was a significant milestone as it was the first time that these types of troops were placed under the leadership of the Supreme Allied Commander Europe’s command.

Another initiative focused on improving joint training and operations across various domains. In 2023, NATO countries intercepted over 300 Russian aircraft in Baltic airspace and increased their contributions to air and missile defence. Additionally, in May 2024, NATO conducted its most extensive exercise since the end of the Cold War. The Steadfast Defender exercise consisted of a large-scale deployment involving over 90,000 personnel, 50 ships, 80 aircraft and 1,100 combat vehicles.

According to Monaghan, NATO has significantly intensified its high-level and high-end collective defence exercises over the past two years.

(The author of this article is a Defence, Aerospace & Political Analyst based in Bengaluru. He is also Director of ADD Engineering Components, India, Pvt. Ltd, a subsidiary of ADD Engineering GmbH, Germany. You can reach him at: girishlinganna@gmail.com)

Disclaimer: The views expressed above are the author's own and do not reflect those of DNA

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