U.S. to Counter Putin by Sending Europe More Tanks, Copters

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An M1A1 Abrams battle tank.

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  • Army is taking `lessons learned from Ukraine,' general says
  • European Reassurance Initiative includes cyberwarfare training

The U.S. Army plans to bolster its presence in Europe next year with the long-term deployment of its best armor, tank-killing helicopters and infantry vehicles capable of destroying Russian armored personnel carriers.

QuickTake Vladimir Putin

The service will increase the prepositioning of combat equipment that soldiers surging from the U.S. could use in a crisis, as the U.S. and NATO work to deter an assertive Russia in the aftermath of President Vladimir Putin’s intervention in Ukraine, according to Army officials and documents. The service also has been retooling its training forces to role-play as Russian troops employing tactics they might use in assaults against Ukraine’s military, including cyberwarfare.

“We are working very hard, taking those lessons learned from Ukraine” and incorporating them at the Joint Multinational Readiness Center in Hohenfels, Germany, Lieutenant General Ben Hodges, commanding general of the U.S. Army in Europe, said in an interview with a small group of reporters.

The return to Europe of Army equipment that was pared after the Cold War is part of the Defense Department’s European Reassurance Initiative. President Barack Obama is seeking $3.4 billion for the program in his proposed fiscal 2017 budget, four times the funding this year. The budget says the goal is “to increase security and reassure our NATO allies and partner states in Europe” in response to “increasing attempts by the Russian Federation to constrain the foreign and domestic policy choices of neighboring countries.”

The initiative will mean the return to Europe of the M1A2 Abrams tank and the AH-64 Apache and UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters. They are among the Army’s “Big 5” systems that were fielded in the 1980s to deter the threat of hordes of Warsaw Pact armor pounding through the strategic Fulda Gap in Germany.

The expansion doesn’t portend an increase in the Army’s 30,000-personnel permanent presence in Europe nor slow plans to reduce the service’s total force to 450,000 by fiscal 2018 from 471,000 today. While the added equipment would stay in Europe, the Army would rotate some of its nine armored brigade combat teams through the region.

Special Operations

The Army wants to spend about $25 million on low-profile allied training by U.S. special operations forces as well as possible missions. It also wants to improve the processing and distribution of aerial intelligence among allies in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

The European initiative also includes $5 million for operations to “leverage social media and advanced marketing techniques to counter misinformation and propaganda by malicious actors” through traditional and digital media, according to a budget document.

Hodges cited the significance of giving the “opposition forces” used in training exercises new skills based on Russia’s latest military initiatives in specialties such as electronic warfare and offensive cyber-operations.

“We’ve already given our OPFOR those kinds of capabilities -- cyber, EW, long-range rocket artillery strikes so we can start practicing against that-- how to camouflage again, how to disperse - things that we haven’t done in the last decade.”

Still, Hodges played down the prospect of open warfare with Russia. A “serious kinetic situation” with Russian forces “is unlikely and we want to keep it unlikely,” Hodges said. “That’s what we’re about -- keeping it unlikely.”

Evelyn Farkas, the Pentagon’s former top Russia policy official, said the Russians need “to know that we have capable forces ready to respond fast” if they made a move on a NATO ally.

‘Demonstration of Resolve’

“The Russians will understand this is a demonstration of resolve; the allies will too, but they may press for more,” she said in an e-mail. “I also hope that other major NATO countries contribute to the eastern deterrence effort.”

Hodges said the first armored unit to arrive next year for a nine-month rotation will be the 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team of the 4th infantry division based at Fort Carson, Colorado. A typical brigade fields about 87 tanks, 138 Bradley Fighting Vehicles and 18 mobile howitzers.

“Every day of the year in 2017, 2018 and 2019 as far as I can see there will be an armored brigade with all its equipment and all of its troops conducting exercises, training,” Hodges said. The fiscal 2017 request includes $507 million for continual armored brigade rotations.

The expansion also includes rotating in a combat aviation unit after the Army recently disbanded all but the headquarters of it previous unit, the 12th Combat Aviation Brigade that was stationed for years in Germany, Hodges said.

Apache Deterrence

“To have the Apaches there is an important part of the deterrence,” Hodges said.

A standard combat aviation brigade includes about 2,800 personnel, 48 AH-64 Apaches, 53 UH-60 Black Hawks and 24 Shadow and Gray Eagle drones.

A small but significant initiative calls for spending about $530 million over several years to install 30mm cannons on Army Stryker infantry vehicles in Europe.

“After watching what the Ukrainians have dealt with with the Russians, you have to think about if we need additional firepower -- increased lethality” -- to destroy Russian personnel carriers, he said.

A “Stryker’s not a tank, but if you go from a 20mm to a 30mm it will enable us to be a lot more effective if we ever did have a kinetic engagement,” Hodges said.

The Army plans for General Dynamics Corp. to integrate 30mm cannons from Orbital ATK Inc. into unmanned “Protector” turrets built by Kongsberg Gruppen ASA of Norway. General Dynamics will first build eight test vehicles.

“The 30mm is a big deal,” Jim Hasik, a senior defense fellow at the Atlantic Council in Washington, said in an e-mail. “I frankly used to doubt that, but I’ve had enough armored infantrymen tell me otherwise” because the weapon in close terrain “can hold off heavy tanks by damaging their sensors, weapons, running gear.”

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