If Russia invaded Canada…?

Originally posted as an answer to the question “If Russia were to invade northern Canada, what would be the most obvious strategic plan of attack?” on Quora.

I was an armoured officer in the LdSH(RC) and studied armour battles as a hobby before I joined the military. I was never of high enough rank that I was ever involved in strategic contingency planning, nor did I have any access to such contingency plans. However, the strategic battle plan for an invasion of northern Canada by Russia is subject to a number of logistic realities that make the answer relatively “obvious”. Of course, military experts, professional and amateur, have a habit of making statements of certainty, which the enemy promptly proceeds to ignore.

Please note, such an invasion would appear to be foolhardy. The strategic value of northern Canada isn’t sufficient to provoke a war, so unless Russia was certain of an almost instant capitulation by Canada to the violation of their territorial integrity, it will likely cost them far more than they will gain, at least in the near term.

First consideration, the distance. For reasons that should be obvious, you need a staging area on land in Russia, and until you make landfall in Canada, you haven’t really invaded, just foolishly violated territorial integrity for a piece of ephemera (the ice isn’t really worth all that much). From a rough look at a globe, the furthest north Canadian territory is at about 83 N latitude, while the Russian side is at about 81 N latitude. While the shortest distance between them is not through the pole, it is very close. At 111 km per degree of latitude, and 16 degrees difference in latitude, the distance is roughly 1800 km, accurate enough for our purposes. In reality, the route followed will be significantly longer, for a number of reasons that will be covered below, but if it’s below 2000 km, I would be surprised.

This distance needs to be covered by your invasion force. The quickest force to insert would be airborne special forces, but they can’t hold ground – their job is in and out, and accomplishing very specific missions in difficult circumstances. They could be used to suppress any active defences in Canada, and secure the landing zone for the follow-on forces, airborne regular troops, with their organic artillery and armour (if they have any). Although these troops will have a greater ability to hold ground, they wouldn’t be able to do so against any local resistance that has access to heavy ground forces, including tanks and artillery. Additionally, if the goal is to seize territory for resource exploitation, these troops are also not ideal, and need to be followed up by regular forces. Given that you have a beachhead secured by your airborne forces, but there is no port worthy of the name that far north, you either need to build one, or use ships that can self unload the required equipment… and there will be a LOT of it, all in danger of destruction from counterattacks. Since Canada’s north is essentially undefended by anything other than occasional overflights, it would seem to be simpler to just directly land your amphibious forces in the first place.

To answer the comment about driving 75 tonne tanks around… well, trust me, combat unloading from a ship is a far better choice than trying to drive them across the polar ice. First off, the ice isn’t smooth – your invasion force is going to need engineers scouting the best routes, improving them by demolishing heave ridges and bridging ice gaps (while also stabilizing them so that they don’t spread further). All of this will be done under satellite surveillance, and air attack once they reach Canada’s territory (at the halfway point, essentially). Second, you simply don’t drive tanks for 2000 km under their own power. For long land moves like this, the best approach is trains. Failing that, you use tank transporters (low boy trailers, like they use for tracked earth moving machines). You only unload the tanks and other armoured vehicles to actually fight. The reason that you don’t drive them is that, for all of their combat survivability, they are incredibly fragile vehicle systems – the combination of tracks and suspension (that allows road speeds across moderately unimproved terrain), a rotating turret (in tanks, infantry fighting vehicles like the Bradley, and SP artillery), and optics/computers for sighting and firing is a marvel of engineering… and 2000 km of direct driving, without a LOT of maintenance will result in essentially all of them being fighting casualties (mobility or weapons systems, or both) before they reach their goal. Third is the fact that you will need multiple routes, for a number of reasons – these include the fact that road travel is single file, so you are getting a string of tanks, ready to be picked off one at a time until they can concentrate at some point, the possibility of breakdowns in locations where there is no way around the broken vehicle, and vulnerability to attack. Finally, the amount of supplies required just boggles the mind. Organic refueling is only worthwhile for relatively short moves – modern armoured vehicles are engineering marvels, but they drink fuel the way a drunk downs their poison of choice, and the winter cold (this invasion would have to be in winter, to have enough extent and depth of ice) will mean that all the engines will be running from when they leave Russia until the spring arrives. The invading force will need to establish caches of fuel, spare parts, food and water and other supplies for the invading forces all along the over ice route. Each cache requires a significant amount of logistic support to emplace (they can be LAPESed in, but will need a logistics team to sort out the pallets for use – that  assumes that you have full air superiority. If not, all of that needs to come in by truck). And then you need defences along 2000 km of ice that you are travelling.

Invading the Canadian north from Russia is ludicrous on the face of it, but if it were to happen, it would NOT be by armoured forces crossing the ice, it would be either airborne forces preceding an amphibious landing, or a direct amphibious landing. Anything else is an attempt to kill your invasion force slowly and painfully.

About Tamara Wiens

Optimistic realist, quester, parent to 4 amazing children, casual on-line gamer, reader, runner, wannabe polymath, frustrated philosopher, successful sophist!
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