Recon, special ops and choppers get boost in Europe
STUTTGART, Germany — More Air Force intelligence-gathering assets, Army attack helicopters and special operations forces are headed to Europe under a Pentagon budget plan to boost the military’s presence in a region unnerved by a more assertive Russia.
The Pentagon’s plan to add $22 million in spending on intelligence and surveillance missions represents an uptick for U.S. European Command, which has lobbied for more reconnaissance capability.
Under the Pentagon’s plan to quadruple spending on the European Reassurance Initiative, the military will send one contracted surveillance aircraft into the Baltics and eastern Europe to carry out missions aimed at improving NATO situational awareness. Also, Air Force experts will assist allies in analyzing and processing intelligence data.
“This initiative directly supports crisis response by ensuring NATO partners’ ISR (intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance) assets are integrated and can effectively support coalition and NATO operations,” the budget document says.
The Defense Department fiscal 17 budget request for $3.4 billion for the European Reassurance Initiative is primarily allocated for pre-positioning a brigade’s worth of artillery, tanks and a heavy brigade’s worth of rotational troops.
“ERI is a reflection of the U.S.’s strong and balanced approach to Russia in the wake of its aggression in Eastern Europe and elsewhere,” EUCOM’s Gen. Philip Breedlove said in a statement. “ERI enables us to further support the collective defense and security of our NATO Allies and bolster the capacity of our partners.”
U.S. Army in Europe also will receive a surge in aviation assets. For USAREUR, a shortage of helicopter support has been a top concern as the service leads the military’s ground efforts in the Baltics.
“Army aviation is the most significant capability we need, so I am counting on the department and the Army to figure out how to get us the aviation capability we need on a rotational basis,” Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, USAREUR commander, said in an interview days ahead of the Pentagon’s budget rollout Tuesday. “Aviation is such a force multiplier.”
The Pentagon more than doubled investment in Army aviation in 2017 with $58.6 million to fund the rotation to Europe of a combat aviation brigade, complete with battalions of Black Hawks, Chinooks and Apache attack helicopters.
The European Reassurance Initiative, which is funded through overseas contingency funds separate from the main Pentagon budget, still requires congressional approval.
The package also targets a range of other small, under-the-radar missions. For example, $5 million will be spent on information operations such as using social media “to counter misinformation and propaganda by malicious actors,” budget documents say. U.S. military commanders in Europe have frequently accused Moscow of deploying disinformation and propaganda to deny its actions in Ukraine and to blame NATO for ratcheting up tensions.
However, most investments under the ERI deal with more conventional military operations, such as helping allies improve their fighting tactics.
In connection with that, Special Operations Command Europe’s activity in eastern Europe is set to grow, with $28.5 million going toward an increased presence in the region. Special Operations forces' role will focus on helping allies “counter malign influence” in central and eastern Europe.
The range of efforts in the ERI, which also include improvements to training ranges and runways in Europe’s east, help make the U.S.-led NATO alliance more responsive, Breedlove said.
“For example, when you increase rotational presence, you're able to increase the frequency of training with allies and partners, ultimately leading to greater interoperability,” Breedlove said. “Or improving infrastructure, not only increases your responsiveness, but also builds partner capacity."