Army to move brigade’s worth of firepower into Poland

Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, left, commander of U.S. Army Europe, confers with Polish Maj. Gen. Jan Sliwka during a visit to Drawsko Pomorskie Training Area, Poland, part of a four-day ''terrain walk'' of U.S. and allied leaders around strategic sites in central and Eastern Europe.


By DAN STOUTAMIRE | STARS AND STRIPES Published: April 26, 2017

SZCEZCIN, Poland — The U.S. Army in Europe is moving ahead with a plan to place another brigade’s worth of combat-ready armor and artillery inside Poland in an effort to push firepower closer to potential hot spots along NATO’s eastern flank.

If the Pentagon eventually decided to station yet another brigade in Europe in the future, the equipment could be used to arm any new unit assigned to the Continent, Maj. Gen. Duane Gamble, commander of the Kaiserslautern-based 21st Theater Sustainment Command, said Tuesday.

“Now what the Army is talking about, with the Pentagon and the administration, is that if we get a modest ‘grow the Army,’ what additional capabilities would we want in Europe?” he said.

Details of the plan were revealed after a large delegation of USAREUR and allied leaders began a four-day tour Tuesday of strategic sites in Europe. They are looking for ways to ensure that forces can more quickly assemble in the event of a conflict or crisis with Russia.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is now working on plans to construct a warehouse in Powidz, Poland. The roughly $200 million NATO-funded facility, which is expected to be ready for use by 2021, could also house a range of air-defense and fire-support weaponry, USAREUR said.

“It’s going to be capable of hosting an [armored brigade combat team’s] worth of equipment, but the space configuration will allow us or NATO units to store a variety of different types of equipment there,” said Col. John Baker, lead engineer at USAREUR.

The move is a continuation of recent Army efforts to pre-position combat-ready equipment in Europe, but so for those efforts have all been situated in western European countries such as Germany and the Netherlands.

“The first thing is to get a common understanding,” Gamble said. “This is our opportunity to talk through it and have everybody then see what more they can do, what we may have missed.”

Poland has emerged as the center of gravity for USAEUR’S growing mission on the Continent.

On Tuesday, the delegation visited several locations in Germany and the Netherlands before heading to Poland on Wednesday as part of a so-called “terrain walk” to look for gaps in the logistical chain and opportunities to speed up the movement of supplies and troops around Europe.

Leaders made stops at Ramstein Air Base and the Army’s ammunition depot in Miesau before heading to the Netherlands, where they visited a depot in Eygelshoven that is part of USAREUR’s pre-positioned stocks.

“Really, these are building blocks,” Gamble said of the stocks. “It’s like blocking and tackling — these drills on a field that don’t look like a football game but build the fundamental competencies you need.”

Still, a concern for the military in Europe is its ability to respond in time to a possible crisis in the Baltics or Poland. While Russia said it has no intention of instigating a fight, allies are skeptical, particularly in light of Moscow’s 2014 intervention in Ukraine. Russia, in turn, has complained that the military buildup along its borders represents a threat to its isolated enclave of Kaliningrad, which is surrounded by NATO territory.

Already, NATO has deployed multinational battalions to the Baltics and Poland, and the U.S. has added a rotational tank brigade that is working up and down NATO’s eastern flank. By concentrating a full brigade’s worth of combat-ready stocks in Poland in the years ahead, the Army would be beefing up firepower that would allow units to mass in a hurry.

“Ultimately, what we want to get to is an executable plan on the shelf that we can execute with reflexive competency,” Gamble said.

U.S. European Command chief Gen. Curtis M. Scaparrotti has said he eventually wants to have a full Army division situated in Europe. If that happens, even on a rotational basis, the Army would likely need more facilities for basing forces.

In recent months, USAREUR has conducted site visits at potential locations in Europe in case the Pentagon opts to build up forces.

With the Trump administration focused on boosting the Pentagon budget, Gamble said the Army in Europe is engaged in prudent planning for possible force grow. “What is clear is at some point we run out of space, so where do we get additional garrison capabilities?” he said.

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New vehicle lots at Drawsko Pomorskie Training Area, Poland, will enable the base to host up to two combined arms battalions' worth of heavy vehicles on site once complete.