Transforming EUCOM, Part 2:Opportunities in Eastern Europe
Stars and Stripes June 16, 2003
Europe-based paratroopers, long-range artillery crews and Apache gunship pilots wanted to come together for a muddy boots dress rehearsal on the tactics they would eventually use to storm Iraq. They didn’t turn to the Army’s twin training areas at Grafenwöhr and Hohenfels in southern Germany.
Instead, it was a sprawling former Warsaw Pact maneuver area in the hills of eastern Poland that hosted the monthlong war games. Live-fire, all-day, all-night training was offered there — where the Apaches, for example, could hug the terrain below treetop level over long distances, maneuvering into position to unleash Hellfire missiles. It was more realistic than anything the troops could have done in Germany, where commanders complain training for critical skills such has nighttime ground exercises and low-level flying have become overly restrictive.
Meanwhile, the buildup for combat was under way. Turkish leaders were walking a political tightrope over whether to support the U.S. war effort or to bow to local antiwar sentiment. Eventually, it wasn’t Turkey — the only NATO ally on Iraq’s doorstep — that provided a logistics hub and hosted a new squadron of air-refuelers needed to bridge the routes into the Middle East. It was Romania and Bulgaria.
And now that the war is over, it is Poland, Romania and Bulgaria, as well as other eastern European countries, that are among the first to raise their hands volunteering for peacekeeping duty in Iraq.
With its better training, proximity to hot spots and allies who are willing to be there when it counts, it’s little surprise that Eastern Europe has become the focus of attention as U.S. military chieftains look for new basing and training opportunities outside the restrictive confines on the western side of the continent.
And they are wasting no time scouting out the possibilities.
Army Gen. B.B. Bell, who leads the approximately 62,000 soldiers in Europe, has been among the top brass doing recons into the area.
“He’s been there on several occasions recently looking at training and basing possibilities,” said Command Sgt. Maj. David Lady, who until last month was Bell’s top enlisted adviser.
Bell’s senior training manager, Brig Gen. Robert Williams, head of the 7th Army Training Command, also has led survey teams into Bulgaria, Romania and the Czech Republic, according to Army spokesman Capt. Scott Gibson. Both Bell and Williams declined to comment for this story.
Air Force officials also have been looking east.
Gen. Gregory Martin, commander of U.S. Air Forces in Europe, said he has begun negotiating with Romania and Bulgaria to expand basing opportunities in the two countries beyond the arrangements reached for the war in Iraq.
It’s all part of a developing plan to begin shifting forces out of what Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has dubbed “Old Europe” and into the expanding frontiers of the NATO alliance.
Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic were the first to join the alliance after the Berlin Wall fell even as NATO prepared for war against Yugoslavia in 1999. Now, Romania and Bulgaria are among seven more former alliance enemies preparing to join the fold next year.
“The new members of NATO bring a certain fresh spirit to the organization,” Rumsfeld’s deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, told Romanian reporters on May 19 during a tour of the region. “I think it’s a spirit that comes from the unfortunate experience of only recently having lived under totalitarianism.”
Meanwhile, Wolfowitz said, “the kinds of threats that we faced in the Cold War, particularly in Central Europe, that required large, fixed military installations have largely disappeared.
“On the question of how we arrange and deploy our forces in the future,” he said, “the fact that Romanian facilities were so useful during operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom, and the fact that we’ve gotten such great support from the Romanian government, are clearly factors in our thinking.”
This shift east is also about getting real when it comes to what Tom Donnelly, an analyst for the American Enterprise Institute and a former editor of Army Times, calls the new “global American security perimeter.”
In Europe, he said, the perimeter has expanded beyond NATO’s borders, and even the Balkans, and into the Caucasus and down along the southern rim of the Mediterranean.
Yet, he told congressional leaders Feb. 26, “our long-term basing patterns have been little altered since the Cold War. We are actively patrolling the new perimeter, but treat these new missions as the exception rather than the new rules.”
Peacekeeping duties in the Balkans that are entering their eighth year, and no-fly zone operations from Turkey that ended in April after more than a decade, are not short-term “contingency missions” — as most defense officials have dubbed them — but long-term realities, Donnelly argued.
He pointed to the difficulties Air Force pilots had reaching the war zone during the 1999 Kosovo campaign and to more recent problems, such as the Austrian government’s refusal to allow transit rights to U.S. ground and air forces to get to the war in Iraq. “The dense web of casernes and bases in central Germany that served so well during the Cold War is now a handicap to newer missions,” Donnelly said.
“We would better account for these new strategic realities if we regarded our forces abroad as the 21st-century version of the cavalry of the Old West, providing reconnaissance and security for the settlers as they move into potentially hostile territory. Like the cavalry, these units must be mobile and self-sufficient. They must be able to shape their situation, receive larger reinforcements and pass the battle on to them. And they need a network of frontier forts and posts from which to operate.”
That’s exactly what Gen. James L. Jones has in mind.
Fast and fluid
Since taking over the U.S. European Command four months ago, Jones has been making the case for a massive reorganization, and reorientation, of his more than 100,000 troops.
“We need to reassess how we deploy and assign forces to our theater,” Jones wrote in his 2003 U.S. European Command Posture Statement, filed with the Joint Chiefs of Staff on May 5.
“We need to have forces that are joint, agile, flexible, sustainable and highly mobile,” he wrote. “The combination of permanent and rotational forces deployed for six months, accompanied by an expeditionary component construct, is better suited to meet the demands of our fluid, complex and multi-faceted security environment.”
No problem, says Air Force Gen. Gregory Martin, commander of U.S Air Forces in Europe. Although Martin told Stars and Stripes that six-month rotations could hamper his ability to keep airmen in uniform, he said he can immediately start positioning some of his forces into Eastern Europe.
In fact, he has three units he’s looking to move into Eastern Europe in the near future. They include:
• Delta Squadron, a contingent of up to 12 Reserve C-130 cargo planes currently based at Ramstein Air Base, Germany.• U-2 spy planes traditionally rotated through Mildenhall, England.• RC-135 Rivet Joint surveillance aircraft, also based at Mildenhall.
“Our intention is to do that, and we’re looking at bases that will accept us and allow that to happen,” Martin said.
In fact, he said, Sarafovo airfield on Bulgaria’s Black Sea coast is a prime candidate. It was used as a pit stop and KC-135 refueler base for aircraft on their way into Iraq. And the Bulgarians have offered up vast tracts of land along the airfield, near the resort city of Burgas, for military development, Martin said.
Another good option, he said, is Romania’s Mihail Kogalniceanu military airfield, which also is near the Black Sea. The airport, near the city of Constanta, has served as a home to the California-based 129th Rescue Squadron and the 37th Airlift Squadron from Ramstein, along with providing a logistics way station for hundreds of aircraft on their way into the Middle East since forces first began building up for the war with Iraq.
Moving into these bases, or others like them, could begin “within the next several months to two years,” Martin said.
“The same time I do that I can start a rotation policy on the forces that are in theater — as well as some of the [Air Force National] Guard units that come over regularly — into those bases we’re interested in,” Martin said.
In addition to Bulgaria, Martin lists Poland, Hungary and Slovakia as potential hosts.
For example, among the dozens of former Warsaw Pact airfields available are Poland’s air bases in Powidz and Krzesiny, which are being upgraded for a major NATO exercise in September.
“Those are places we could operate,” Martin said.
Noting that Krzesiny has been tabbed as the home for Poland’s new fleet of 42 U.S.-built F-16C/D multirole fighters, Martin added, “There’s going to be a need for interoperability training.”
The obvious candidates for that training are Martin’s four squadrons of F-16s, which are split evenly between Aviano Air Base, Italy, and Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany.
Need for transition
“The problems of Balkans operations and Middle East deployments have bedeviled U.S. Army Europe, diminishing their unit cohesion and combat effectiveness since the mid-1990s,” said Donnelly in his congressional testimony.
In fact, the majority of Europe-based units that actually saw combat in Iraq were those that participated in the exercises in Poland late last year, including the V Corps headquarters, its Apache units and the paratroopers of the 173rd Airborne Brigade.
The 1st Infantry Division, with a brigade still in Kosovo, was largely relegated to managing logistics duties in Turkey, which then refused to allow U.S. combat forces into the country. The 1st Armored Divison units in Germany, which finished peacekeeping duties in Kosovo last year, were held in reserve, beginning their deployment to Iraq after Saddam Hussein’s regime was pronounced killed in action.
Even those units that did move out were forced to funnel gear and equipment to ports in northern Europe for shipment because neutral nations Austria and Switzerland refused to permit overland transit through their countries, thus adding weeks to deployment timelines.
Such problems underscore the need for the Army to transition at least part of its heavy, transportation-intensive combat forces to the more “medium-weight” Stryker brigades now being developed, Donnelly said.
The new rapid deployment brigades trade tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles for all-wheeled, more lightly armored fighting forces equipped with some of the latest digital technology.
“Relocating Army units to Eastern or Southeastern Europe would increase the desirability of such changes,” Donnelly testified. “That is not to say that there is no further need for heavy ground combat forces in Europe, simply that the premium on slug-it-out armored power should be balanced against the demand for mobility.“
Still, at least some Germany-based forces have advantages.
“Right now the East has wilderness areas that we could go to and roll around in, and that would be great,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Lady, the former USAREUR top enlisted adviser.
And even though the training restrictions at Grafenwöhr and Hohenfels “are frustrating,” he said, “there’s nothing out there that matches the level of vigorous realistic training that we get at those two training centers.”
In recent years the Army has spent millions of dollars upgrading the facilities. Improved live-fire gunnery ranges and high-tech instrumentation allow troops and commanders to watch computer-driven replays of war games for detailed after-action lesson learning.
“You simply can’t get that anywhere else in Europe,” Lady said.
Building similar ranges in Bulgaria or Romania is being discussed, he said, “but it would be incredibly expensive.”
Transforming EUCOM: Series index
Part 1: Mapping out the future of EUCOM
Part 2: The opportunities in Eastern Europe
Part 3: Zeroing in on the African continent
Part 4: Consolidate and back to the States