Crete exercise tests NATO’s missile-defense capabilities
U.S. troops are launching Stinger and Patriot missiles from the Greek island of Crete in an effort to boost the Army’s short- and long-range air defenses in Europe, an area of heightened focus as the Army works to close potential capability gaps.
For two weeks, NATO air- and missile-defense teams are testing the alliance’s ability to deter and, if necessary, intercept missiles entering its airspace.
Besides two Patriot batteries from the Baumholder, Germany-based 5th Battalion, 7th Air Defense Artillery Regiment, Stinger missile teams from the 173rd Airborne Brigade and 2nd Cavalry will test newly acquired short-range missile defense capabilities. The infantrymen are fresh out of the Army’s missile defense school in Fort Sill, Okla.
“This is a recent Chief of Staff of the Army initiative to ... help bring back that capability of short-range air defense,” said Col. David Shank, commander of the 10th Army Air and Missile Defense Command.
In Europe, insufficient short-range fires capability has been an area of concern for the Army, which lost significant firepower during a long post-Cold War drawdown.
This year’s live-fire Artemis Strike exercise, with Germany in the lead, has taken on increasing importance in light of a more assertive Russia and a buildup of Moscow’s missile capabilities in its enclave of Kaliningrad, sandwiched between the NATO countries of Poland and Lithuania.
Last month, Russia deployed nuclear-capable Iskander missiles to Kaliningrad. The missiles have an effective range of up to 700 miles, enabling them to reach as far as Berlin.
More than 600 German soldiers from the Surface to Air Missile Wing 1, along with more than 200 U.S. soldiers from the 10th Army Air and Missile Defense Command, will fire about 100 Patriot and Stinger missiles during the four-day drills at NATO’s Missile Firing Installation in Chania.
“This is a great opportunity for these soldiers to do what they came into the Army to do, and that’s put steel on target,” Shank said. “This is what they train for, and this is how we improve our craft.”
Both units frequently take part in exercises along NATO’s eastern edge, with the 2nd Cavalry Regiment providing a squadron to NATO’s Enhanced Forward Presence initiative, which involves alliance battle groups in Poland and each of the Baltic states.
Troops participating in this week’s exercise will be evaluated by a team of NATO officers. The live-fire portion kicked off on Monday morning, when German and American troops fired short-range missiles.
Shank said that his unit’s support of the German-led exercise is part of its core mission.
“We consistently train not only with our German allies but also across Europe with allies and partners,” he said.