Ukraine Update 28 January, 2022: US Troops To Eastern Europe

President Biden confirmed in remarks to the media this afternoon that US troops will be deploying to Eastern Europe in the ‘near term.’ The purpose of the deployment is to deter Russia from launching an invasion of Ukraine or any NATO nations in Eastern Europe. Biden was light on details of the pending deployments such as confirming what units will be moving or when. Nor was the status of US forces presently stationed in Europe mentioned, even in today’s pentagon press briefing, which isn’t surprising. Operational matters are rarely discussed openly when a crisis is happening. The units going on higher states of alert for possible deployment are the usual lineup of rapid deployment suspects; 82nd Airborne Division, 101st Airborne Divisions and other elements of the XVIII Airborne Corps and the 4th Infantry Division (Mech) at Fort Carson, Colorado. The 4th’s parent command is III Corps, made up of heavy maneuver divisions.

3rd Brigade/82nd Airborne Division is likely to be the first unit to move. The 72 hour threshold the brigade required to pack up and be ready has passed. If it weren’t for the major nor’easter tracking up the east coast, the brigade might’ve been moving already. As it stand right now, Mother Nature has some say in the matter.

Author’s Note: Apologies for the very short update this evening. Spare time was at a premium today but I will make up for it tomorrow. For those readers in the Eastern US like myself, be safe this weekend with the storm approaching.—Mike

The US-Russia Military Balance in Europe: Introduction

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When the Soviet Union dissolved in December, 1991, its successor the Russian Federation hastened the withdrawal of its military forces from Eastern Europe. The United States followed a similar path, decommissioning scores of units, and closing dozens of installations that had protected Western Europe from the threat of Soviet attack for decades. Neither country could further justify maintaining large military forces in Europe with the Cold War having come to an end.

Russia’s military withdrawal from Europe was complete. No troops, aircraft, tanks, or ships remained in Eastern Europe owing to political and financial considerations both in Eastern Europe and back home in Russia. The US military pulled out the lion’s share of its forces from Western Europe, however, a respectable number of units remained in theater. Even though the possibility of a major conflict erupting in Europe was non-existent at the time, the Pentagon deemed it essential to US national interests to maintain a presence there in the post-Cold War time period. An underlying reason for the move was the growing importance of the Middle East to US policy. With US bases in Europe closer to that region than bases in the continental United States, the ability to quickly move forces there from Europe was certainly a factor.

The state of the US-Russia military balance in Europe was not a priority for the Pentagon during much of the early 21st Century. The conflicts in Iraq, and Afghanistan, and the overall Global War on Terror consumed the lion’s share of attention, money, and material. After the pullout from Iraq began in 2009, a smaller drawdown of US forces in Europe also got underway. Budgets were being cut and the forces in Europe were targeted. More installations were closed, and units either decommissioned, or moved to new home bases in the continental US. In April 2013, the last US armored unit left Germany. Less than a year later, Russia annexed Crimea, fighting began in eastern Ukraine. Almost overnight Europe again became a central interest to the United States and the Pentagon began to seriously examine the military balance in Europe, and think about the future.

Thursday 12 January, 2017 Update: US Armor Arrives In Poland

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The US Army is returning to Europe in force. Treads on the ground instead of boots, if you will.

Following almost two years of preparation and planning, the first elements of a US Army armored brigade are arriving in Poland. In a scenario that practically nobody in the world could’ve foreseen happening in 1989 without the aid of NATO winning a land war in Europe against the Warsaw Pact, US forces will be deployed to Eastern Europe. The deployment is not a permanent one per se. Some interpretations of the 1997 NATO-Russia Founding Act argue that it prohibits the permanent stationing of US troops in Eastern Europe. The agreement, however, holds no stipulations concerning the placing of equipment. Consequently, the equipment will remain in place and US troops will be rotated in periodically, every nine months or so.

Moscow’s reaction to the arrival of the US troops was predictably negative. Vladimir Putin’s spokesman denounced the move, stating: “We perceive it as a threat. These actions threaten our interests, our security. Especially as it concerns a third party building up its military presence near our borders. It’s [the US], not even a European state.” For the moment, the rhetoric appears to be the only card Russia is playing. There are no signs of a countermove being planned in the Kremlin. Next Friday Donald Trump will be inaugurated as the 45th President of the United States and Putin is likely waiting to see the direction US-Russia relations take before deciding if a countermove will be necessary.

The first rotation of US soldiers is coming from the 3rd Brigade Combat Team/4th Infantry Division based at Fort Colorado and consists of 3,500-4,000 troops. The first contingent of men and equipment will be stationed in Zagan, Poland which is also home to the Polish 11th Armored Cavalry Division, also a heavy maneuver unit like the 3/4th ID. It’s ranges and training areas will be put to good use and permit US and Polish tankers to train together regularly. After the brigade is entirely in Europe it will fan out to other bases across NATO’s eastern flank, giving other member-nations concrete indications of the US commitment to Europe’s security.

This move comes three years after the last US armor departed the continent. Budget constraints forced the last two permanently stationed heavy maneuver brigades to be shipped home. In the wake of this deployment, US defense planners might be looking at permanently returning tank-heavy forces back to Germany as the next step should US-Russia relations continue to deteriorate through 2017.

 

 

Weekend Update: POMCUS Site In Poland Closer To Becoming Reality

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The notion of positioning of US heavy equipment in Poland appears to be moving forward and gaining momentum. On Sunday,  Poland affirmed that it is in talks with the United States regarding the possible storage of US heavy weapons in Poland. The discussions are part of wider negotiations between Washington with its Eastern European allies concerning an increase in the US military presence in their countries.  The New York Times broke the story earlier in the weekend and since then, a number of news agencies around the world have been reporting the news.

The concept of creating prepositioned storage sites for a US armored brigade in Poland has been discussed and explored in recent months by defense analysts. It has even been mentioned a number of times on this blog. For what it is worth, I am a firm supporter of the idea. It is practical, cost effective and gives NATO ground forces a significant advantage in a potential conflict in Eastern Europe.

The timing of this development dovetails perfectly with the Defending Poland series. I will elaborate more on pre-positioned material and possible POMCUS sites in Poland this week.

Gamble In The Desert: The First Thirty Days Of Operation Desert Shield Part II August 7-17

 

                                                  Part Two: August 7th-17th

           

CENTCOM began moving its forces on August 7th, marking it as C-Day. Many units based in the Southeastern United States had CENTCOM roles and had been quietly preparing for possible movement overseas since the invasion began. Consequently, the orders to begin moving came as little surprise. By August 8th, the first ground troops of what would ultimately be a 540,000 thousand soldier effort were on their way to Saudi Arabia with orders to be prepared to fight as soon as arriving in the Kingdom.

The first unit movement of Desert Shield began with  F-15s from the 1st Tactical Fighter Wing based at Langley Air Force Base, Virginia and elements of the 2nd Brigade of the 82nd Airborne Division from Ft. Bragg, North Carolina.  The F-15s traveled across the Atlantic, refueling in the air multiple times and began landing at Dhahran Air Base on August 8th (C+1). 2/82nd Airborne was not far behind, also arriving at Dhahran and immediately establishing defensive perimeters around airbase and nearby port for the arrival of follow on forces.

The first soldiers on the ground recognized how exposed they were. If Iraqi tanks crossed the border and came south, the fight would be short. The F-15 pilots greatest concern for the first two days in the Kingdom was ordnance. Their fighters only had enough air-to-air missiles for one engagement. Two at the most. The paratroopers of the 82nd had an even greater dilemma. Iraq’s units in Kuwait at the time were armor heavy. The 82nd was, in essence, a light infantry unit. Consequently, it had very little anti-tank weaponry. Until a sizable number of ground forces arrived in theater, CENTCOM commanders were keenly aware that air power alone was going to have to deter Iraq.

F-15C of the 1st TFW at Dhahran Air Base, Saudi Arabia

By C+2 the first squadron of F-15s to arrive in Saudi Arabia was ready to conduct combat operations despite the shortcomings with ordnance.  Within a week of C Day there were five USAF fighter squadrons in Saudi Arabia with even more on the way. After the arrival of the first five squadrons there was a delay before more could be sent. Airlift assets were shifted to ensure the movement of the rest of the 82nd Airborne to the desert. The fighters could self-deploy, however, airlifters were needed to transport the squadron support personnel, munitions and supplies. Without these crucial elements, the fighters themselves were essentially useless. In the absence of additional fighters, twenty B-52Gs arrived on the island of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean.

In the first week of Desert Shield Military Airlift Command (predecessor of current Air Mobility Command) apportioned its entire fleet to the effort. CENTCOM had a lot of units to move and immediately put them to work. On August 11th (C+4) the Civil Reserve Air Fleet was issued orders to prepare for authorization.  A limited number of civilian airliners and cargo planes had already been volunteered by their companies and were augmenting the MAC airlifters.

Aircraft were not the only form of transportation. America’s sealift capability was mobilizing, with the assets closest to the region moving on C Day. On the island of Diego Garcia, Maritime Prepositioning Ships carrying the equipment of a full Marine Expeditionary Brigade and enough supplies to sustain it for 30 days had slipped their moorings and were steaming west towards the Persian Gulf. The Marines of the 7th Marine Expeditionary Brigade would marry up with the equipment were preparing to fly to Saudi Arabia. Similar in concept to the MPS vessels, the Afloat Prepositioned Ships carried weapons, supplies and fuel for Army and Air Force units also left their anchorages at Diego. They proved their worth. The first MPS ship arrived at Dhahran on the 14th of August (C+7) and the first APS vessel made port on the 17th (C+10).

Ground forces were what would be needed to stop Iraq’s forces if they invaded Saudi Arabia. Airpower and naval power would slow them down, however, troops were needed on the ground. As the 82nd Airborne Division deployed, behind it was a queue of forces preparing for their turns to move to Saudi Arabia. The 24th Mechanized Infantry Division was the most critical element. It was an armor heavy division, essential for defending against Saddam’s own tank heavy forces. On August 9th (C+2) it’s lead elements were moving from Fort Stewart to its embarkation port of Savannah, Georgia where fast sealift ships were gathering to move the division’s heavy equipment to Saudi Arabia. The vanguard of the 101st Airborne Division had begun moving two days earlier. In spite of the rapid movement, both divisions would fully arrive in theater until late August or early September.

With it becoming apparent that the United States was resolutely determined to defend the Saudi kingdom from the threat off to the north, how Saddam reacted was anyone’s guess. The US was forming a wide coalition of nations, diplomatically attempting to isolate Iraq and force it to withdraw peacefully from Kuwait. US and allied naval forces were conducting operations in the Persian Gulf and Red Sea, enforcing the embargo set upon Iraq by the UN. Time remained on his side, however, the window of opportunity to invade and conquer Saudi Arabia was beginning to evaporate. Every day the forces arrayed against Saddam Hussein were growing stronger, while his troops in Kuwait sat aimlessly, awaiting orders to either continue south or begin digging in.