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Old September 12th, 2017, 06:05 PM   #1

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US/USSR conventional strength in 1980s


Does the US trouncing of Iraq in the 1991 Gulf War indicate that the US conventional strength in the 1980s was sufficient to repel a Soviet invasion of Western Europe? I had always heard that the US thought it could only hold back the Soviets for a few days. I wonder if the US underestimated its strength.
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Old September 12th, 2017, 06:51 PM   #2
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All realistic plans involved nukes and chemical weapons.

However, by some theoretical scenario that WMDs wouldn't be used the major defense buildup under Reagan did lead to a conventional force that likely would have defeated a Warsaw Pact attack.
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Old September 12th, 2017, 07:51 PM   #3

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Does the US trouncing of Iraq in the 1991 Gulf War indicate that the US conventional strength in the 1980s was sufficient to repel a Soviet invasion of Western Europe? I had always heard that the US thought it could only hold back the Soviets for a few days. I wonder if the US underestimated its strength.
Not really. From the interviews etc that I saw, the general wisdom was although Iraq did employ a lot of Soviet battle doctrines, they were not very good at it.
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Old September 12th, 2017, 08:24 PM   #4
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The 1980s are a long time, longer than most decades. In 1980, the US military was still recovering from the post Vietnam malaize. Once Reagan got into office he began a major military build up. Weapons like the M-1 Abrams were only approaching operational status in 1980. They didn't completely replace the older M-60 main battle tank until well into the decade - maybe 1986 or '87. The Air Force and Navy were still flying the F-4 in 1980. The F-4 was not fully replaced in the fighter role by the F-15, 16, and 18 until the late part of the decade. During the 1980s the Navy increased its number of aircraft carriers from about 12 to 15.

Similarly in the 1980s morale in the Soviet military decreased due to the Afghan war.

To conclude, in the early '80s the Soviets had a much greater conventional advantage over the US military, but by 1990 the scales had slid in favor of the US. This is not to say that the US could have won a conventional war with the USSR. I'm saying that the Soviet advantage was not as great. I honestly don't know who would have won a conventional war in 1989.
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Old September 13th, 2017, 12:13 AM   #5
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Does the US trouncing of Iraq in the 1991 Gulf War indicate that the US conventional strength in the 1980s was sufficient to repel a Soviet invasion of Western Europe?
I don't think you can extrapolate the US success in the 1991 war to a conventional war between NATO and the Warsaw Pact in the 1980's before the collapse of the USSR.

Last edited by stevev; September 13th, 2017 at 12:20 AM.
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Old September 13th, 2017, 12:30 AM   #6
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US/USSR conventional strength in 1980s


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Originally Posted by ez123 View Post
Does the US trouncing of Iraq in the 1991 Gulf War indicate that the US conventional strength in the 1980s was sufficient to repel a Soviet invasion of Western Europe? I had always heard that the US thought it could only hold back the Soviets for a few days. I wonder if the US underestimated its strength.


Yes, we had overwhelming technological advances in military equipment in general.


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Old September 13th, 2017, 02:24 AM   #7

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Does the US trouncing of Iraq in the 1991 Gulf War indicate that the US conventional strength in the 1980s was sufficient to repel a Soviet invasion of Western Europe? I had always heard that the US thought it could only hold back the Soviets for a few days. I wonder if the US underestimated its strength.
Disregarding nukes, no. Warsaw Pact numbers were much higher in everything, and while some countries still had T-55 variants, GSFG, the main component of forces that would have fought NATO in Europe, had the latest tanks. By 1985 GSFG was equipped with T-64, T-72B and T-80 of the highest models, while most of the British tank fleet was still Chieftain. The American forces and Bundeswehr was not by then fully equipped with Abrams and Leo2, in fact I saw many Leo1 A2 still in service, and Kanonenjagdpanzer, a false lesson from WWII, and not a match for any soviet tank higher than T-55. Soviets also had an overwhelming advantage in tubed and rocket artillery, and it does not matter if some NATO artillery had fancy targeting systems, a high rate of fire coming down is more important. Brigade upon brigade of Grad is more potent than far fewer units of NATO MLRS with the latest targeting gadgets.

Except for Marder, most NATO mechanized infantry was still using M113 and FV432, hardly on a level with BMP. BAOR infantry were still using the FN SLR, this might have sufficed in the Falklands, but for a major war in Europe was an anachronism, and the grunts would never have been able to put down enough firepower compared to an equivalent Soviet formation. With American forces that of course was not the case as the Americans actually got the idea that you bring massive firepower to bear on the enemy, unlike Britain which at government level was [expletives deleted], and the Falklands only won by the high quality of the men on the ground, not the utter morons in government.

If the war came, for sake of argument in 1985, after seeing at first hand the "quality" of some NATO armies, I don't doubt that while American forces would have likely prevailed at say, holding the Fulda Gap, the main Soviet thrust would being hitting BAOR and Bundeswehr formations. No offense to any Germans here, but I would not have given them much chance, and that leaves BAOR to take it on the chin, which would have held for a little while, or rather managed a fighting withdrawl for a few days, then wobbled, then broke, not by resolve but by being overwhelmed and not having enough reserves to make up for the large number of losses by enemy action and breakdown. The Soviets had sufficient resources to simply ignore losses, at least for a time, and just push fresh units through.

I've seen American formations in Europe up close, and the equipment and firepower available is impressive, but I really think they would have been engaged in a holding operation, and while very likely successful, have, in a conventional war, been outflanked to the North. At that point in a fictional scenario of American forces holding but a collapse to their North, other than nukes I cannot really see how it would then have developed as there are too many variables.

Bundeswehr Leopard 1 A2. Photo taken by me in 1986 somewhere in the Hohne area
Click the image to open in full size.

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Old September 13th, 2017, 02:47 AM   #8
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Surely one big difference is that the US had sufficient time to mobilise for Iraq and use as much of its resources as it thought necessary. Neither of those would necessarily have applied to a Russian attack on Western Europe.
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Old September 13th, 2017, 03:06 AM   #9

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Surely one big difference is that the US had sufficient time to mobilise for Iraq and use as much of its resources as it thought necessary. Neither of those would necessarily have applied to a Russian attack on Western Europe.
Firstly you can't compare Iraq with Russia. Secondly the first Gulf War was a massive effort from a large number of nations

And thirdly Western Europe was fully mobilised from the rise of the Iron Curtain to the fall of the Berlin Wall

The OP doesn't grasp that it was nuclear weapons which kept the status quo in Europe.
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Old September 13th, 2017, 03:38 AM   #10

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Firstly you can't compare Iraq with Russia.
Right and superior weapons were far from the USSR's only advantage. Their personnel were far better. Soviet instructors said that only about half the Iraqi pilots they trained would've been accepted for duty in Soviet air regiments. Even the Republican Guards were inept. From what I've read e.g. Zaloga, Iraqi T-72 crews didn't know how to use their laser rangefinders. It was bad enough that their equipment was a generation or two behind that of the US. They couldn't use what they had. There's a vid showing US APCs (Bradlees) encountering T-72s and beating them. It was just no contest.

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And thirdly Western Europe was fully mobilised from the rise of the Iron Curtain to the fall of the Berlin Wall

The OP doesn't grasp that it was nuclear weapons which kept the status quo in Europe.
The Warsaw Pact had the edge in conventional weapons and only n-bombs held them back.
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