KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany – U.S. European Command will participate in the Austere Challenge 12, planned for the fall in Israel, but is now expected to have a reduced American presence, according to Pentagon officials.
The exercise was scheduled for May but was postponed at the request of the Israeli Ministry of Defense, said EUCOM spokesman Air Force Capt. John Ross in an email.
In announcing this week that the exercise was back on, Pentagon Press Secretary George Little said the United States will send fewer people because of other operations scheduled for the same time frame.
“The exercise has not changed in scope and will include the same types of systems as planned,” he said. “All deployed systems will be fully operational with their associated operators, including the missile interceptors.”
Soldiers with the 10th Army Air and Missile Defense Command at Rhine Ordnance Barracks in Kaiserslautern have said they will try out a new piece of equipment, a tactical operations center, during the exercise. The tactical operations center deploys with soldiers and allows the unit to quickly provide command and control for missile defense from a remote location.
Ross said the exercise is “the largest ever ballistic missile defense exercise between the U.S. and Israel, and is significantly increased from the last combined exercise, held in 2010.”
Specific numbers of participating servicemembers from both the U.S. and Israel are classified, Ross said.
But TIME magazine, quoting military sources in both countries, reported last week that the United States would send as few as 1,500 troops, down from about the 5,000.
The reduction comes amid growing tensions between the two countries over how to deal with the threat of an Iranian nuclear program.
A series of warnings by Israeli officials in recent weeks has raised concerns that Israel could soon stage a unilateral military strike, according to The Associated Press.
Senior military officials in response have said they oppose any such plans.
Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told journalists in London last week that an Israeli attack would “clearly delay but probably not destroy Iran’s nuclear program,” and that the “international coalition” pressuring Iran “could be undone if it was attacked prematurely,” Britain’s The Guardian newspaper reported.
Ross said that Austere Challenge 12 is the next in a series of exercises EUCOM has held with Israel since the 1990s and is not related to any real-world events.
“This exercise gives both nations a chance to continue building on our strong cooperative military capabilities and strategic relationship, promote regional stability, and helps maintain Israel’s national security and qualitative military edge,” Ross said in an email response.