DEFENDER Europe 20

Responding to journalists in a press briefing, Brigadier General Sean Bernabe, Deputy Chief of Staff, U.S. Army Europe, gave more details about DEFENDER Europe 20, the largest deployment of U.S.-based forces to Europe for an exercise in the last 25 years.

“The exercise Defender-Europe 20 is a Headquarters, Department of the Army-directed, U.S. Army Europe-led exercise designed to build strategic readiness for the United States Army. Defender-Europe 20 will bring 20,000 U.S. Army soldiers with their assigned equipment from the United States to Europe, and then move those soldiers to training areas throughout Europe to participate in other, smaller exercises. These other exercises have names you may recognize – for example, exercise Swift Response, the annual exercise featuring multinational parachute operations across Europe; or exercise Saber Strike, the biannual exercise featuring ground maneuver in Poland and the Baltic states; exercise Allied Spirit, focused on interoperability at the brigade level and below between allies and partners; or exercise Dynamic Front, the annual exercise designed to improve interoperability between allied and partner artillery units. Of course, once these smaller exercises are complete, Defender-Europe 20 will redeploy those 20,000 U.S. forces back to the United States to prepare for their next mission.” said Brigadier General Bernabe in his opening remarks.

DEFENDER-Europe 20 is the deployment of a division-size combat-credible force from the United States to Europe, the drawing of equipment and the movement of personnel and equipment across the theater to various training areas.

Poland, the epicenter of the activities

The country that will be the epicenter of the activities will be Poland, with some of the smaller, linked exercises taking part there in the spring of 2020. One of those will be Allied Spirit, with a wet gap crossing at the Drawsko Pomorskie Training Area in northwestern Poland. A multinational division-size exercise led by the United States Army 1st Cavalry Division will see the 12th Mech. from Poland acting as the assault force for the river crossing, and the 9th Mech. also from Poland, serving as the opposition force, providing a tough, realistic enemy force to practice against. There will also be participating in the exercise a multinational bridge company featuring German and British bridging capabilities, and then several enablers, to include fixed-wing and rotary-wing support from allies such as the Czech Republic and the United States.

Another exercise in Poland will be Saber Strike, near the Suwalki gap, that will see rotational armored brigade combat team forces, currently in the country, practicing moving from Poland into Lithuania.

‘Germany will see the transit of convoys’

Another country that will play an important part in DEFENDER Europe 20 is Germany. According to Brigadier General Bernabe, there will be in about the neighborhood of 8,000 soldiers, in the Grafenwoehr area, primarily participating in the command post exercise known as the Joint Warfighting Assessment.

But the live training will happen in the Bergen-Hohne Training Area in northern Germany. There will be the 116th Armored Brigade Combat Team, which is a National Guard armored brigade combat team out of the U.S. state of Idaho. They will draw prepositioned equipment and they will execute live-fire training up to and including combined company live-fire exercises.

Other than those two events, Germany will see the transit of convoys moving from the seaports to the training areas in Poland or in the Baltic states, and will likely see the arrival of forces into airports and then the movement of those forces by ground convoy or by bus to those training areas.  

The logistics

While still working on the transit plan from the seaports to the training areas, the Brigadier General Bernabe did provide some details: “we have four main avenues moving from those ports to the various training areas in Germany and Poland. We are coordinating those with the local authorities and, in fact, we’ll very much appreciate the assistance that the local authorities will provide in escorting wheeled convoys, for example, across those routes and then especially through the most congested parts of those routes. One key note, I think, is that we’re planning those movements for nighttime to minimize the friction that those movements could cause for normal civilian traffic. Of course, there’ll be several rail lines that we’ll use to move heavy equipment from ports to training areas […]. We are currently coordinating and will continue to coordinate with all the host nation transportation authorities to make sure that we have a smooth movement of all those forces across the continent.”

One of the objectives of DEFENCE Europe 20 is to build the U.S. Army Europe’s ability to receive forces, move them across Europe, and employ them in exercises. That also includes the assigned equipment of the 20,000 forces deployed from the U.S. There is one exception, the 116th Armored Brigade Combat Team of the Idaho Army National Guard. This armored brigade combat team will draw equipment from the Army prepositions stocks here in Europe. This means that they will draw M1 tanks and M2 Bradley Fighting Vehicles and Paladin howitzers from U.S. Army stockages in Europe, that being a training objective for Defender-Europe 20.

Other brigades, like the 2nd Brigade of the 3rd Infantry Division coming from Fort Stewart, Georgia, will deploy its own organic equipment. It will put its tanks and its Bradley Fighting Vehicles and its howitzers on a ship in Savannah, and move that across the Atlantic by ship to be offloaded at Bremerhaven, Germany.

Some equipment will come by military airlifts, like high-end communication equipment, or contracted air, like personnel, that will land in an airport in close proximity to the seaport so that those soldiers can then marry up with their heavy equipment and then continue to move that equipment across the continent.

Most of the logistic support will be provided by the United States Army Europe, with part of the 20,000 forces coming from the continental United States being logistics units. To that will be added the support of the European allies and partners that will deploy some of their sustainment capacity.  The sustainment will be a multinational effort that’ll be commanded and controlled by the 21st Theater Sustainment Command, which is at U.S. Army Europe Headquarters under the command of a two-star U.S. general.

The importance of Defender Europe 2020

Talking about the importance of the exercise, Brigadier General Bernabe stated: “it’s about building strategic readiness. For the last several years, the U.S. Army in particular has focused on building tactical readiness, and frankly, we’ve done a lot of great work on improving the tactical readiness of our forces throughout the Army in all three components: the regular Army, the National Guard, and the Reserves. And we’ve realized that now is the time to focus once again on strategic readiness, building that strategic readiness – the ability to project those ready tactical units across distance to a point of need. And again, that’s the primary purpose of exercise Defender-Europe 20 is to practice projecting 20,000 forces from the United States to Europe. And then, of course, I think it’s important that we validate the infrastructure in Europe, our procedures and policies in Europe, to be able to move those forces quickly, efficiently, expeditiously to a point of need on the continent.

So yes, I think it’s – it is very important for those reasons, and as always, every time we train here in Europe, we’re building our interoperability as an alliance, and we’ll have a chance to do that, to build that interoperability, at the theater level as we practice moving those forces across the continent, and then also at the tactical level as we practice river crossings, as we practice multinational airborne operations, as we practice maneuvering forces in the – through the Suwalki gap and in the Baltic states.”

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