From 'Sleepy Hollow' to war-fighting footing, EUCOM muscles up
October 13, 2016
STUTTGART, Germany — For years, U.S. European Command’s headquarters, which focused in the post-Cold War era on training and fostering relationships, had the informal nickname of Sleepy Hollow.
Now, EUCOM is pivoting from a peacetime footing to one in which the command can lead in a high-end fight.
“We are transitioning this headquarters and really the entire command to more of an operational focus and to really train toward some of our key warfighting tasks,” said Maj. Gen. Mark Loeben, EUCOM’s director of exercises and assessments.
High-profile tank convoys along NATO’s eastern edge, the deployment of warships in the Black Sea and stepped-up rotations of Air Force fighters in the Baltics over the past two years have garnered much attention.
But perhaps as significant is the behind-the-scenes work, often done at computers and in briefing rooms at EUCOM’s Patch Barracks. There, leaders are working through a series of simulated warfighting scenarios to speed the conversion to a headquarters capable of commanding in a conflict.
Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula two years ago and its increasingly aggressive posture has upended the security landscape in Europe, U.S. military leaders say, and the goal now is to recapture the kind of fluency with command and control in a crisis that defined the Cold War era.
Already, recent exercises have revealed key EUCOM gaps, including a headquarters in need of more cyberspecialists, intelligence analysts and targeting experts. Requests for more personnel have recently been made to the Joint Staff, Loeben said.
When the Cold War ended after the collapse of the Soviet Union,EUCOM’s mission shifted focus from combat readiness to training with allies and fostering relationships — softer missions that had skeptics questioning the need for a significant number of troops in Europe. The numbers were significantly reduced from a high of about 300,000 at the end of the Cold War to 62,000 today.
Amid post-Cold War calm, EUCOM’s warfighting command skills atrophied along with the readiness of forward-stationed troops.
“U.S. European Command is a command in transition,” EUCOM’s chief, Gen. Curtis M. Scaparrotti, said in a statement. “The strategic environment is changing rapidly across the entire area of operations. From the staff and components to tactical level units, we must actively shift our mind-set, vigilance, plans, and posture in order to be prepared for today’s challenges, and those in the future.”
EUCOM this year is terminating several mainstay legacy exercises, typically small bilateral drills focused on relationship building that distract from the headquarters’ new overarching aims of building a war fighting command structure.
Austere Challenge 2017, a massive exercise that started this month and will culminate in February, is designed to enhance EUCOM decision making. A simulated war game involving 5,000 U.S. troops in Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom and the U.S., it will test leaders’ ability to confront unfolding crises that require marshaling forces with speed.
Several combatant commands and all the services are to be pulled into the exercise, with EUCOM in the lead.
The details of scenarios for Austere Challenge are classified, military officials said, but the exercise will involve juggling several crises to test the chain of command’s can manage a simulated “full-spectrum” fight.
It is perhaps the most complex headquarters test since the end of the Cold War. In the year ahead, EUCOM has 20 joint exercises planned, with a primary focus on the development of EUCOM as an operational headquarters, Loeben said.
More than two years after Russia annexed Crimea, there is little sign that tensions are easing. With Washington and Moscow also divided over the conflict in Syria and charges by U.S. intelligence services that Russia is meddling in the American presidential election with a series of hacks, relations are at a low point.
Russia has warned that moves to increase NATO’s presence in the Baltics are a dangerous provocation that would be met with countermeasures. Recently, Moscow said it had started moving nuclear-capable Iskander missiles into Kaliningrad, a Russian enclave on the Baltic Sea that is wedged between Lithuania and Poland.
“If these reports are true, this would mark an unfortunate and unnecessary event that could lead to unintended escalation and destabilization,” said Lt. Col. David Faggard, a EUCOM spokesman.
The Pentagon has upped the ante in Europe, with plans to quadruple spending on deterrence efforts to $3.4 billion this year. These plans hinge on Congress’ passage of a budget. Since the start of the fiscal year on Oct. 1, the Pentagon has been operating under a stop-gap continuing resolution that caps spending to last year’s levels. At some point, the Pentagon will be forced to scale back its plans for Europe without a proper budget.
For now, EUCOM officials say the budget impasse hasn’t hindered their plans.
“I think people are cautiously optimistic” the budget will get resolved, Loeben said.
“The European Reassurance Initiative has been fully funded every year, and we are fully committed to all our exercise with our allies and partners while operating under the Continuing Resolution,” he added.