Thursday, December 10, 2015

US Army - Rapid Reaction vs Russian Threat in Europe

Russians can operate on their interior lines and quickly shift forces around. As a result, all exercises conducted by the U.S. and its European allies place heavy emphasis on speed, said Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges.

Hodges, commander, U.S. Army Europe, or USAREUR, spoke Dec. 9 at a Pentagon press briefing.

By speed, Hodges said he meant the speed to recognize a potential crisis, speed to act politically and speed of assembly and movement of troops to the point of crisis by road and rail. Once in place, speed and proper execution of operation would also depend on interoperability among all of the U.S. allies. That's the focus of training and exercise.

The general then provided an overview of Russian actions and the responses by the U.S. and its European allies.


Hodges explained that as recently as a few years ago, the U.S. thought Russia could be a partner. Russian-led incursions into eastern Ukraine and occupation of Crimea changed all that.

The Russians have not allowed independent monitoring to determine Russian compliance with the Minsk Agreement, he said. Since September, there have been several hundred cease-fire violations and Ukrainians have been killed.

Although a lot of their heavy equipment has been pulled back from the border area with Ukraine, the infrastructure remains in place and the Russians could quickly ramp up if they wanted to, he said.

In Crimea, Russia has 25,000 soldiers, a credible air defense and its Black Sea fleet, which has the capability of blocking U.S. and ally access to the Black Sea, where allies Romania, Bulgaria, Turkey, as well as Georgia are located, he said.

Moving westward, the Russians have a significant naval and ground force in Kaliningrad, a wedge of Russian territory between Lithuania and Poland. That force, he said, could effectively cut off access to the Baltic area.

Furthermore, Russian officials have talked about Denmark, Sweden and Romania in terms of being nuclear targets, he said. That's a very irresponsible use of words. "So you can see why our European allies are nervous."


As mentioned, the allies are working on speed of response. Hodges said the Wales Summit was all about preventing crisis and improving deterrence and being more responsive.

An outcome of that was the development of the alliance's Very High Readiness Joint Task Force. The U.S. contribution to that is a rotational brigade out of Fort Stewart, Georgia.

Since Eastern Europe is not a small distance from Fort Stewart, the U.S. has set up European Activity Sets, or EAS, in Romania, Bulgaria and Lithuania. That includes about 1,300 vehicles, including tanks and howitzers, he said.

By September of 2016, the U.S. expects to have additional EAS sites in Poland, Estonia and Latvia, and by 2017, Hungary. Guard units are welcome to add their equipment to any of those sites, he added.

All of this is being funded by the European Reassurance Initiative, and Hodges said he's optimistic funding will extend into 2017.

Some 400 Soldiers are now helping allies train and equip Ukrainian troops in the western part of the country, Hodges said.

It's part of the Joint Multinational Training Group Ukraine, which includes British, Lithuanian and Canadian trainers.

He noted that training has been a two-way street as Ukrainians have been helpful in describing what happens during a Russian attack. For instance, they've tuned their ear to differentiate between different types of unmanned aerial vehicles and when they hear certain ones, they know missiles will soon follow.

The U.S. hasn't had to fear attack from the sky in decades, he noted. As the U.S. learns more and more about Russian capabilities, they've employed opposition force teams in German training areas to test their capabilities against things like air power, jamming and intercept capabilities.

Lastly, Hodges said that while the U.S. has and will continue to do a lot, each European country is responsible for its own defense too, in terms of training and equipment.
"We don't want Russians to miscalculate that we're not capable or willing to respond."