In times when allies and partners of the United States have grown accustomed to negative news from Washington D.C., it is reassuring to learn more details on how the U.S. military is implementing its 2018 National Defense Strategy.
In short, the strategy acknowledges the re-emergence of long-term, strategic competition by revisionist powers, namely China and Russia. As a result, the U.S. Army has launched its Multi-Domain Operations concept to address the challenges posed by these two adversaries. These challenges, which span the multiple layers of stand-off found in all domains – land, sea, air, space and cyberspace, – are aimed at separating U.S. forces from their allies, in what is often referred to as anti-access/area denial or simply A2/AD. The army plans to conduct two major exercises in 2020 to practice rapid deployment from the continental United States both to the Pacific and to Europe.
A central element of each exercise is the deployment of one U.S. Army division headquarters plus several brigades with enablers, including joint-fires. Both will have a joint and multinational focus with a significant number of allies and partners. DEFENDER-Europe 20, will involve approximately 37,000 U.S., allied, and partner nation service members with roughly 20,000 soldiers deploying from the U.S. This will constitute the largest deployment of U.S.-based forces to Europe for an exercise in the last 25 years. The Defender Pacific exercise will reportedly include a somewhat smaller deployment from continental U.S. and will focus on the South China Sea.
At NATO’s 2016 Warsaw Summit, Heads of State and Government decided to establish an enhanced Forward Presence (eFP) in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland consisting of four battalion-sized battlegroups, underpinned by a viable reinforcement strategy. While the first element of this construct has been in place since early 2017, work on the latter has only just started. The readiness of Allied forces is improving slowly but steadily. NATO, in cooperation with the EU, is addressing shortfalls in C2, infrastructure, and cross-border procedures. But apart from Trident Juncture 2018, little has been done by NATO members other than the U.S. to exercise large-scale reinforcement and to test forces, infrastructure and procedures.
The U.S. routinely deploys Armored Brigade Combat Teams and other forces to Europe to enhance prepositioning and conduct exercises. The volume of these forces outmatches the biggest European nations, both individually and combined. The experience gained from deploying large formations on roads, railroads, and waterways benefits not only the U.S. military but also transit and destination countries, including civil authorities and private contractors. These deployments therefore contribute to strengthening NATO’s deterrence.
In addition to the U.S., the United Kingdom also stepped up its deployments and exercises in the Baltic Sea region. This summer, the UK-led Joint Expeditionary Force was deployed and tested during Baltic Protector, a training exercise which involved 3,000 personnel. In late October 2019, the UK will rotate the personnel and equipment of its eFP battlegroup in Estonia, taking the opportunity to transport equipment by sea, road and railroad, mirroring the U.S. approach. Personnel from both the incoming and the outbound battlegroups will participate in ‘Exercise Tractable’.
Moreover, other NATO Allies have gained valuable experience by contributing to the NATO Response Force, the eFP battlegroups in the Baltic states and Poland and to the tailored Forward Presence in the Black Sea region, although the scale of these efforts has in most cases been more limited.
To quote General Robert Brown, who recently stepped down as commander of U.S. Army Pacific: “When you look at Defender Pacific, the idea is, you can talk about being rapidly deployable, being able to get to a fight, but unless you do it, it’s talk. You’ve got to practice it.” This understanding has only started to spread among European nations.