Some very important news is kept out of spotlight and undeservedly so. Bits of information pieced together indicate that very quietly the North Atlantic alliance is gearing up for large-scale combat operations. War preparations are not limited to weapon systems deployments and troop movements that hit headlines. No combat can be waged without logistics.
The US Army official website informs that the US European Command (EUCOM) Logistics Directorate (ECJ4), other EUCOM directorates, NATO allies and partners, and the Joint Logistics Enterprise (JLEnt) are effecting an unprecedented security transformation. They are transitioning from being focused on assurance through engagement to being a warfighting command postured for deterrence and defense. Throughout fiscal year 2017, 28 joint and multinational exercises in 40 European countries, the buildup of four NATO Enhanced Forward Presence (EFP) multinational battlegroups in the Baltics, and overlapping deployments of rotating armored brigade combat teams and combat aviation brigades will test, validate, and offer proof of principle for these infrastructure and organic capability investments.
NATO Exercise Saber Guardian 17, a US Army Europe-led, multinational exercise, took place in Bulgaria, Hungary, and Romania on July 11 – 20, 2017 with 25,000 troops and forces from 24 countries. The event demonstrated the increased scope and complexity of war games. The drills were conducted against the background of this year's rotational deployment of more than 4,500 troops in the Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, as well as Poland. 2nd Cavalry Regiment soldiers are already operating as a deterrent force roughly 100 miles from Poland’s border with the Russian military enclave of Kaliningrad.
Citing the lessons learned from the training event, US Army Lieutenant General Ben Hodges, commander of US Army Europe, emphasized in an interview the importance of NATO logistics. According to him, progress is evident but much remained to be done to ease the movement of military equipment and forces across Europe in the event of a real crisis, and Germany could play a crucial role. Hodges noted that Berlin could ensure guaranteed rail access as part of its bid to boost military spending from around 1.2 percent of gross domestic product to the 2 percent NATO target.
The military leader underscored the importance of creating a military free transit zone modeled on the 1996 Schengen agreement to allow free forces movements across the borders of European NATO members.
Meanwhile, construction works are in full swing to enable Poland to host combat-ready stocks at the 33rd Air Base, operated by the Polish Air Force. Powidz, a village with a population of 1,000, is to become a strategically important NATO hub for the Baltics and all of Northern Europe. The plans include the delivery of more than a brigade’s worth of military vehicles, equipment, artillery and personnel. In April, Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges described it as the «center of the center of gravity».
Over the next two years, $70 million will be spent on 77 military infrastructure and improvement projects for both US Army and US Air Force operations. An additional $200 million in NATO funds will be spent for the US Army Corps of Engineers to construct a new storage site and warehouse facility in Powidz. Poland’s increasing importance is the result of a combination of factors, Hodges said, including geography and existing hubs, such as the NATO Enhanced Forward Presence unit in the country’s northeast. «Any contingency we have to deal with, we’ll almost certainly have to come through Poland», he noted.
US European Command Chief Gen. Curtis M. Scaparrotti is planning for an expanded military presence in Europe to eventually include a full US Army division. If that happens, even on a rotational basis, the Army would likely need more facilities for basing forces.
In May, US Army Europe announced that it had established a new tactical headquarters in Poznan, Poland. The goal is to enhance the mission command of US rotational forces and units assigned to US Army Europe conducting operations where no significant military presence had been previously maintained.
So, Poland is in focus of the infrastructure efforts but the plans go much further. The Estonian town of Tapa, which sits at an important railway junction, is located less than 150km (93 miles) from the Russian border. It has recently become the base for a NATO battle group, in accordance with the Enhanced Forward Presence concept approved at the Warsaw summit in 2016. It envisions multi-national battle groups deployed in each of the three Baltic States and another in Poland.
General Sir Nicholas Patrick «Nick» Carter, the head of the British Army as Chief of the General Staff, said «We would very much like to test the land line of communication from our mounting bases in Germany, forward into the Baltics, and we would absolutely like to test what it would be like bringing in reinforcing capabilities – the signature equipment that are appropriate to show how you would reinforce and to understand what would happen».
In 2016, Poland and the Baltic States reached an agreement to link Poland, Finland and the Baltic States with the unified Trans-European Transport Network (NRA) that will be crucial to the defense of the Baltic States. A continuous rail link named «Rail Baltica» from Tallinn to Warsaw (Poland), via Kaunas (Lithuania) and Riga (Latvia) will lead to significant logistical implications for the NATO.
Thomas Durell Young, a program manager at Naval Postgraduate School, Monterey, California, and a staff consultant at the RAND Corporation, has recently published a book, titled Anatomy of Post-Communist European Defense Institutions. He believes that the «new» members of the alliance – Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic, the three Baltics States, Bulgaria, Romania, Slovakia, and some of the republics that emerged out of Yugoslavia – need to radically transform their «ineffectual legacy logistics organizations« with the help of «old» members of the alliance. Professor Young emphasizes the importance of reform as a potential war with Russia would «almost certainly» start in Central or Eastern Europe.
The rapid creation of logistics infrastructure and some other factors, such as militarization of the Scandinavian Peninsula, fit into a bigger picture of NATO war preparations in East Europe and the Baltics. These are not steps of defensive nature. The goal is to acquire the ability to move substantial forces to the areas close to Russia’s borders gearing up for offensive operations in an armed conflict.