Army eyes new bases in Europe as Pentagon reviews force structure
By JOHN VANDIVER | STARS AND STRIPES Published: March 8, 2017
STUTTGART, Germany — The U.S. Army is scouting locations in Germany for potentially basing more soldiers in Europe, where a post-Cold War period of military downsizing is undergoing a reappraisal.
A team from U.S. Army Europe recently visited two military facilities in northern Germany, the Army said, a region without a current U.S. military presence.
“The purpose was to assess the sites if there was growth in permanently assigned U.S. Forces in Germany,” USAREUR said in a statement. “At this time no decisions have been made; we are engaged in prudent planning only.”
The downsizing of the Army in Europe had been steady after the end of the Cold War, but Russia’s intervention in Ukraine has prompted the Pentagon to reconsider its force structure on the Continent.
German officials have taken note of USAREUR’s site visits in the towns of Fallingbostel and Bergen, relatively rural areas with nearby training ranges and about 100 miles from the port of Bremerhaven, a key logistical node for the Army. They said they were told by the Army that it was considering putting as many as 4,000 soldiers in northern Germany.
These are “preliminary considerations” German parliamentarian Henning Otte told the Cellesche Zeitung, a local newspaper.
USAREUR did not provide details about the type of force mix it was seeking to potentially accommodate, emphasizing no decisions have been made. Instead, the Army is planning for various scenarios.
If the Army moved more troops to Europe — 4,000 soldiers are roughly the size of a brigade combat team — the Army would still be smaller than it was five years ago, when USAREUR had four brigades on the Continent.
Today, there are only two brigades — the Vilseck, Germany-based 2nd Cavalry Regiment and the 173rd Airborne Brigade out of Vicenza, Italy.
The downsizing of the Army in Europe had been steady since the end of the Cold War, but Russia’s intervention in Ukraine has prompted the Pentagon to reconsider its force structure on the Continent.
Retired Gen. Carter Ham, who heads the Association of the U.S. Army, said in a report issued last year that the Army should consider relocating a third brigade to Europe. Ham recently reiterated that point.
“The global security environment has changed since it was decided in the mid-2000s to base the U.S. Army primarily in the continental U.S. It is no longer clear the U.S. has the ability to deploy sufficient land power quickly enough to prevail against emerging threats,” Ham wrote in a March 3 editorial published by Defense One.
Any decision to base more forces in Europe would require the backing of President Donald Trump, who has called for more investment in the military while emphasizing a desire for closer relations with Russia.
The Army has sought to offset its smaller number of permanently stationed soldiers in Europe — roughly 30,000 — with rotational troops. In January, the Army deployed the 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, to Europe as part of a plan to ensure the year-round presence of a tank brigade. After nine months, the unit will be replaced by another rotational force.
In recent weeks, an Army combat aviation brigade also arrived in Europe on a rotational basis to take part in operations along NATO’s eastern flank.
The deployments are part of the ongoing Operation Atlantic Resolve, which involves larger exercises and more forces mobilized in places such as the Baltics and Poland. The intent is to reassure allies nervous about a more aggressive Russia and to deter any possible military adventurism from Moscow. Russia has denied any designs on NATO territory, and U.S. military officials also have said the likelihood of direct confrontation with Russia remains remote.
Nonetheless, allies remain concerned about Russian intentions, and some NATO members such as Poland have said they would welcome a larger Army presence in Europe.
“Anything we do will involve consultation with host nation(s)/Allies,” USAREUR statement said.
A convoy of the 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division arrives at the Bergen-Hohne near Bergen, Germany, on Jan. 9, 2017. The Army is scouting places in Germany, including Bergen, as possible locations for basing more soldiers in the event the Pentagon elects to add forces in Europe.
MICHAEL ABRAMS/STARS AND STRIPES