The United States Marine Corps: 245 years of butt-kicking and tradition.
Russian Naval Infantry: A Russian military force with 315 years of victory — and defeat.
Which is the deadlier unit in a matchup of the U.S. versus Russia when it comes to naval infantry?
In a major crisis, the U.S. would likely send a Marine Expeditionary Brigade. Perhaps the most notable example was its use in 1990 after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait.
Using a force of five pre-positioned vessels, the U.S. delivered the gear and supplies needed for the 4th MEB to operate for 30 days as additional heavy forces arrived. It wasn’t anyone’s idea of a slouch: It brought a reinforced regiment of Marines (three battalions of Marine infantry, a battalion of artillery, and companies of AAV-7A1 Amphibious Assault Vehicles, Light Armored Vehicles, and tanks) for ground combat, and also featured three squadrons of AV-8B+ Harriers, two squadrons of F/A-18C Hornets, a squadron of EA-6B Prowlers, and seven squadrons of helicopters.
A Russian Naval Infantry Brigade is also quite powerful. For the sake of this discussion, let’s look at the forces of Red Banner Northern Fleet, centered on the 61st Kirkinesskaya Red Banner Marine Brigade.
The Red Banner Northern Fleet’s naval infantry force has three battalions of naval infantry, one air-assault battalion, one “reconnaissance” battalion, one “armored” battalion, two artillery battalions, and an air-defense battalion.
If things were to come to blows in Norway during the Cold War (or today, for that matter), these units would go head-to-head. In fact, ironically, the 4th MEB was diverted from preparations for a deployment exercise to Norway to respond to the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. So, who would win that face-off?
With what is effectively four battalions of infantry, a reconnaissance battalion, a tank battalion, two artillery battalions, and the other attachments, the Russians have a slight numerical edge in ground firepower. The air-defense battalion can somewhat negate the air power that a Marine Expeditionary Brigade would bring to a fight.
That said, some of the equipment is older, like the PT-76 light tank and the BRDM-2 armored car. The BMP-2 is equipping some units, but many still use BTR-80 and MT-LB armored personnel carriers. Very few BMP-3 infantry fighting vehicles or T-90 main battle tanks have arrived.
That said, the American Marines have potent firepower of their own. Perhaps the most potent ground firepower would come from the company of M1A1 Abrams tanks. Don’t be fooled by their 1980s lineage — these tanks have been heavily upgraded, and are on par with the M1A2 SEP tanks in Army service.
Marine Corps LAV-25s and LAV-ATs can also kill the armored vehicles attached to the Red Banner Northern Fleet. This does not include man-portable anti-tank missiles like the FGM-148 Javelin or the BGM-71 TOW.
What will really ruin the day for the Russian Naval Infantry is the Marine aviation. Marine aviation specifically trains to support Marines on the ground, and the close-air support — particularly from the AV-8B+ Harrier — will prove to be very decisive.
In short, the Marines might be spotting Russian Naval Infantry seven decades of tradition, but they will show the Russians why they were called “devil dogs.”