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Thread: China v USSR 1989

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    Senior Contributor Bigfella's Avatar
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    China v USSR 1989

    I've borrowed this from another forum, but I'm hoping some of the deep knowledge here will produce a decent discussion. Maybe we can tempt the Colonel to favour us with an opinion.

    We will need to suspend a few likely outcomes to get to the meat - how would Russian & Chinese conventional forces go head to head in 1989?

    The scenario is that the Tiananmen Square protests spread more widely in China, and having put them down, hardliners decide to unite the country with a great national undertaking. They take advantage of Russian weakness post-Afghanistan & with reform shaking the foundations of the Soviet state & Warsaw pact.

    There is a grab for Mongolia & Vladivostock/Far East, with the trans-Siberian railway cut & occupied in places. The contrived part of the scenario is that somehow NATO & the US manage to pressure both sides not to escalate to nukes. I know it is a leap, but it makes this more interesting.

    What happens next?

    What sort of forces can Russia bring to bear & what shape are they in? Will it risk using forces from some of the more unhappy republics - Baltics, Caucases, Central Asia. Will the Warsaw pact contribute anything? How long can Russia fight before cracks start to show?

    On the Chinese side, what shape are its forces in? Can they go toe to toe with the Red Army? Will China trade space & lives for time hoping Russia starts falling apart before it dies much damage?

    Curious to get some views.


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    China gets ripped a new one-- the PLA was not an effective fighting force in the 1980s. IIRC they were still busily re-instituting the concept of ranks then! doubt they could power project to Vladivostok.

    they had enough trouble projecting power to -Beijing- in 1989, lol.
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    "IIRC they were still busily re-instituting the concept of ranks then! doubt they could power project to Vladivostok."

    And plus points for that too.

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    Question. What forces did Russia have prepositioned along the Sino-Soviet border? I ask because as far as I was aware the majority of their first line assets were deployed against the West at the time. (Although that could simply be my Euro centric ignorance of military history talking.)

    Not withstanding the lack of readiness on the part of China, assuming there was little or no warning of such a move (IMO highly unlikely) Russia might have trouble moving significant new forces to the region in question before the shooting started.

    The only advantage I can see for the Chinese is that in this scenario their territorial ambitions are limited to a relatively small section of Soviet territory directly adjacent to their own border. The Chinese are not seeking to annex all of Siberia and the rest of the Russian Far East in one insane grand campaign.

    Given the element of surprise, or at least short notice I could sort of see them fumbling their way into Vladivostok. I simply don't see them being able to hold onto it for very long once the Russians got organised. Or is even that to optimistic?
    Last edited by Monash; 20 Aug 18, at 22:59.
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    Too optimistic. Vladivostock sits behind some major swamps & a really, really big river. I'm not convinced that even a much better equipped and trained Chinese force would have much success against Vladivostock. Maybe now, but not then. They have a better chance of taking bits of Mongolia, but holding them would be a different matter. It would also make sense for China to move forces to occupy the more vulnerable bits of the trans-Siberian railway. Whether or not they could do it.....

    It is hard to imagine that China could mass forces sufficient to take on Russia without being noticed. While transferring land forces all the way east might be difficult for Russia once fighting began, shifting enough air power to stop any major Chinese incursion would be a lot easier. The gap in quality in the air was big. China would struggle to provide decent air cover for its land forces.


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    Senior Contributor Monash's Avatar
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    Yep, its the positioning of their land based forces in advance of the operation that should be the big tell, even at a time when Moscow's was in chaos politically their military would have been able to track that kind of action so close to the border.

    Now on the other hand a second (revenge) push into Vietnam??
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    Chinese advantages in 1989 include a CIA eaves dropping station, American and Israeli AAAM's and the 105mm gun and most importantly, US support at least politically even if we won't join the fray. US blocking a UNSC resolution and our build up in the West would pin the Soviet's best divisions in the West. Whatever the USSR is gonna do they have to do it on a 1/3rd tank of gas...

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    Quote Originally Posted by zraver View Post
    Chinese advantages in 1989 include a CIA eaves dropping station, American and Israeli AAAM's and the 105mm gun and most importantly, US support at least politically even if we won't join the fray. US blocking a UNSC resolution and our build up in the West would pin the Soviet's best divisions in the West. Whatever the USSR is gonna do they have to do it on a 1/3rd tank of gas...
    But Soviet brute force was too stronk. Wasn't it a time when PLA's best tanks were type-69s?

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    Quote Originally Posted by hboGYT View Post
    But Soviet brute force was too stronk. Wasn't it a time when PLA's best tanks were type-69s?
    Well, the Type 80s (I don't think there were any Type 85s in service then). With a 105mm gun, it could pose somewhat of a threat to your run of the mill T-72.

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    Quote Originally Posted by hboGYT View Post
    But Soviet brute force was too stronk. Wasn't it a time when PLA's best tanks were type-69s?
    The main Soviet tank in the East was the T-55 followed by the T-62. The upgunned type 59's (69, 79) were a match for them. Soviet strength was in the air and in artillery.

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    Quote Originally Posted by zraver View Post
    The main Soviet tank in the East was the T-55 followed by the T-62. The upgunned type 59's (69, 79) were a match for them. Soviet strength was in the air and in artillery.
    Faced with an actual invasion Russia will move units with better tanks to lead the counter attack.

    China might have numbers on the ground, but Russia has spent most of the century training its military to undertake large scale combined arms warfare. China doesn't have the doctrine, training or for the most part equipment to match that. Any Russian deficiencies will pale in comparison to this.

    There are aspects of this war that could well resemble Russia 1941, though Russia won't make the mistake of driving too deep. If it can target & engage Chinese armies there is a good chance it can chew a few up & take a bunch of prisoners. if it also grabs some defensible territory & uses air power to make a mess of important Chinese infrastructure it has all the bargaining chips it needs to negotiate a favourable settlement.


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    Quote Originally Posted by Bigfella View Post
    Faced with an actual invasion Russia will move units with better tanks to lead the counter attack.

    China might have numbers on the ground, but Russia has spent most of the century training its military to undertake large scale combined arms warfare. China doesn't have the doctrine, training or for the most part equipment to match that. Any Russian deficiencies will pale in comparison to this.

    There are aspects of this war that could well resemble Russia 1941, though Russia won't make the mistake of driving too deep. If it can target & engage Chinese armies there is a good chance it can chew a few up & take a bunch of prisoners. if it also grabs some defensible territory & uses air power to make a mess of important Chinese infrastructure it has all the bargaining chips it needs to negotiate a favourable settlement.
    Maybe, and I say this because of Grozny and a whole host of other issues. The failing Soviet economy really impacted Soviet army units in the interior and east heaviest. The Red Army already got the lowest class of recruits. Anyone with any real talent went to the Navy, Air Force, Air defense forces, or strategic rocket forces first. Of those that were left, the best of the worst so to speak went West to Germany, Hungary and then European Russia. Many were deficient in Russian language skills let alone national fervor. They lacked anything even resembling a professional NCO corps, NTC style training regime or any sort of professional development infrastructure. Besides severe hazing, Soviet privates also spent a lot of time helping bring in crops or doing other non-military tasks that ate into the 2 years in uniform. This meant a Soviet private getting ready to ETS likely didn't have much more skill than a Western private only 6 months from his completion of initial training.

    There were some good units like the Talinin Guards or some airborne and spetznaz units but by and large the bulk wasn't much better than the Chinese. They lost pitched battles against the Muhajadeen in Afghanistan despite overwhelming superiority in armor, air support and artillery. The war may well have devolved into something like Iran-Iraq. By the late 70's the inefficiencies in the Soviet system were becoming known. It's one reason Reagan thought we could spend the Soviet's into defeat. By 89 the Soviet's are begging for a way out. Gorbachev is desperate to cut both conventional and nuclear forces, he is facing massive strikes across the Soviet economy and the Baltics were already boiling. Hungary and East Germany were teetering by 88. We all know what happened next the Soviet union imploded in 1990 and when a new born Russia tried to do a pitched battle in 1994 in Grozny it turned into a bloody defeat.

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    Quote Originally Posted by zraver View Post
    Maybe, and I say this because of Grozny and a whole host of other issues. The failing Soviet economy really impacted Soviet army units in the interior and east heaviest. The Red Army already got the lowest class of recruits. Anyone with any real talent went to the Navy, Air Force, Air defense forces, or strategic rocket forces first. Of those that were left, the best of the worst so to speak went West to Germany, Hungary and then European Russia. Many were deficient in Russian language skills let alone national fervor. They lacked anything even resembling a professional NCO corps, NTC style training regime or any sort of professional development infrastructure. Besides severe hazing, Soviet privates also spent a lot of time helping bring in crops or doing other non-military tasks that ate into the 2 years in uniform. This meant a Soviet private getting ready to ETS likely didn't have much more skill than a Western private only 6 months from his completion of initial training.

    There were some good units like the Talinin Guards or some airborne and spetznaz units but by and large the bulk wasn't much better than the Chinese. They lost pitched battles against the Muhajadeen in Afghanistan despite overwhelming superiority in armor, air support and artillery. The war may well have devolved into something like Iran-Iraq. By the late 70's the inefficiencies in the Soviet system were becoming known. It's one reason Reagan thought we could spend the Soviet's into defeat. By 89 the Soviet's are begging for a way out. Gorbachev is desperate to cut both conventional and nuclear forces, he is facing massive strikes across the Soviet economy and the Baltics were already boiling. Hungary and East Germany were teetering by 88. We all know what happened next the Soviet union imploded in 1990 and when a new born Russia tried to do a pitched battle in 1994 in Grozny it turned into a bloody defeat.
    Zraver, weren't there also serious questions in the late 1980s about how willing the average Soviet conscript (or heck, even the lower ranking officers) would be to prop up a puppet government, like say, Poland, in the event of civil unrest?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Skywatcher View Post
    Zraver, weren't there also serious questions in the late 1980s about how willing the average Soviet conscript (or heck, even the lower ranking officers) would be to prop up a puppet government, like say, Poland, in the event of civil unrest?
    They stuck it out in A-stan. I thik the questions were directly more at the lolaty of WP troops, not the Red Army.

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    Good Day, Gentlemen,

    Been away for a while. Went down to Georgia for a wedding and then on the spot decided to do a fishing tour of the lakes in the US.

    The scenario does not make sense militarily. The bulk of the PLA was stationed 100 miles from the Sino-Soviet border. That was the strategic depth they were counting on absorb a Soviet thrust. So, right off the bat, the Chinese would have to build the logistics tail just to get to their own border, never mind venturing forth into the teeth of Soviet military might.

    The PLA was also starved of funds during this period; having to cut over 2 million men just to have funds for equipment. And that was another can of worms. The bulk of Chinese air might was the MiG-19 and these would have go against MiG-21bis/23/27s and the Soviet had numeric and qualatative superiority in airpower. Chinese tanks was the Type-59 variant and it was a wet dream if they can punch through the T-72 armour.

    However, look at the map. The Soviet 58th Army was poised against Lop Nor and there was nothing in between them and Lop Nor. And this would not be a conventional strike. The 58th Army was going to use nukes to blast their way to Lop Nor within 24 hours. The time the Soviets think the Chinese would need to issue a nuke strike order against Moscow. Lop Nor represented the only point in China where they could hit Moscow with a nuke.

    Whatever the issue with Grozny, do note nothing stopped the Soviet Army from reaching Grozny and nothing was going to stopped the 58th from reaching Lop Nor.

    Plesae look at where Lop Nor is. The Soviets take Lop Nor. They cut China in half. Tibet automatically becomes indefensivable.

    In the East, there has been a lot of talk of repeating AUGUST STORM. By 1989, I don't think that was going to happen. The Soviet economy was going downhill and there was no threat from the PLA (being 100 miles behind their own border). There was also Deng Xia Peng. As bad as a shape the PLA was in, there was absolutely no doubt that he was going to fight. Tianamen Square proved that much.

    And before you asked, I was feeding musquittoes more than I was catching fish. Almost all catch-and-release. Motel living isn't condusive cooking a nice fish dinner.
    Last edited by WABs_OOE; 17 Sep 18, at 20:41.

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