Breaking Russia’s Naval Blockade

Please see the full text of the Breaking Russia’s Naval Blockade post on Google Docs.

Abstract

NATO should make breaking Russia’s naval blockade of Ukraine a top, urgent priority

  • Avoid open sea defended convoys; exploit near-shore, territorial waters; go lo-tech, small and numerous; deploy NATO’s most advanced EW and land-based air and missile defenses.
  • Establish a near-shore, shallow-water, defended corridor, entirely within Ukrainian/NATO territorial waters, to move grain and other exports from Odesa to Constanta (with its 4-5m depth canal to the Danube) and further south to Bulgaria and potentially to the Bosporus.
  • Keep Ukraine’s coastal waters and territory (Snake Island) under its control (or at least deny all to Russian forces), necessary for success of larger design.
  • Bring NATO land, air/missile, and naval/maritime power to bear on Russia’s Black Sea Fleet under purely defensive, least escalatory conditions possible.
  • Exploit BSF submarine force’s shallow-water limitations/vulnerability; wear down/deplete surface and logistics forces; present the BSF with a problem it cannot solve.
  • Augment NATO’s coastal mine sweepers to clear/keep clear Odesa and a near-shore sea corridor running southward. (In Ukrainian waters mine sweepers would be “Ukrainian” flagged and manned.)
  • Deploy as many coastal and riverine ships and barges as NATO at large can muster; flood near-shore corridor with laden ships and barges and with multiple false targets to dilute/defeat Russian air/missile attacks, particularly those launched from Crimea/nearby seas. Mask operations with massive land- and sea-based electronic warfare.
  • Deploy Mk VI patrol boats and multiple riverine and coastal craft for security, ISR, and command and control rivers, ports, and coastal zones of operations.
  • Provide dense land-based air/missile defense focused on Ukrainian and NATO air space over territorial waters; enforce a “no-fly zone” of strict geographical limits for specific strategic purpose.
  • Protect Odesa and the near-shore corridor with antisubmarine mine barriers as needed.
  • Deploy multiple land-based anti-ship missiles to force Russian surface ships out of range of land targets and ships and barges operating near shore.
  • Help Ukraine hold and control Odesa and the land and riverine LOCs that connect it with upstream grain storage depots; augment transport capacity to store and move grain and other goods southward from dispersed riverine locations.
  • Seek NATO’s political approval of these plans—the least escalatory possible —to answer Russia’s blockade which has been a signal success and adds to Russia’s strategic leverage over Ukraine and NATO in general.
  • Restore Ukraine’s diminished sovereignty; defeat BSF in its main offensive mission; open Ukraine’s economy to vital exports; cast NATO and its navies into selfless role of worldwide famine relief.
  • Harden the West’s currently defenseless seaward approaches to its southern flank; provide strategic seaward glacis from Odesa south to Turkish border (possibly to the Bosporus); show Black Sea is not Russia’s lake.

Analysis is urgently needed to determine whether a design of this kind is operationally and politically feasible with existing NATO civil and military resources/capabilities. At a minimum, blockade-busting action must surely be better than continuing current policy: Accept Russia’s victory; do absolutely nothing.

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  1. There’s just no stopping you, Clio. I’ll give you a call tomorrow. Hope all is well.

    Barry

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  2. Thank you Brad for this thoughtful plan. I have argued for the need to break the blockade. My best, John Rodgaard

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    1. John,
      Glad to hear your thinking goes to blockade-busting too. Have you seen the RAND paper that advocates a near-shore defended corridor (RAND, “Unblocking the Black Sea for Ukrainian Grain”
      COMMENTARY (The Hill) by Bradley Martin and William Courtney, June 15, 2022)? Meanwhile, the harvest starts in less than a month and there’s nowhere to store the grain. The Administration has talked of building temporary silos in Poland. Far better would be lending Ukraine 50+ barges, stow the new grain in them in dispersed riverine locations, and await southern movement when defended convoys start. And while we’re at it, immediately lend Ukraine a dozen coastal mine sweepers to clear Odesa and approaches and to counter possible Russian mining. Let’s stay in touch. Brad

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      1. Just curious Brad, have you received any feedback from Admiral Stravidis? I heard him on MSNBC recently, and he said that the next phase in the war will be one at sea. My best. John

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