19 July 2019

US-Poland Agreement to Pre-position US forces at NATO’s eastern border

Monitorul Apărării şi Securităţii

NATO continues to play a vital role in maintaining collective security in Europe, but is not the only supranational body in the region. At the time the Berlin Wall fell, NATO had 16 members. Now there are 29 countries with this status. Additionally, the Alliance has several partner states. NATO’s extension also has implications on its doctrine, interoperability, equipment and interior logistic and communication lines. Especially for states which decisively contribute to common capabilities, such as the United States. In these conditions, the US is pre-positioning some armed elements on European territory, in order to reduce reaction times in case of a conflict, but also to ensure logistic and operational support.

Image source: Mediafax

Why is a pre-positioning needed?

If during the 70s and 80s US Army units had to be prepared to move approximately 350 km from their locations until they reached the border between East and West Germany, currently they would have to cover more than 2,800 kms from their garrisons until their reach NATO’s north-eastern flank, at the Baltic Sea shore, or until they reach of the south-eastern flank of the Black Sea.

NATO’s extension also has implications on the conditions in which military actions are carried out, with the climate varying from Mediterranean summers to Scandinavian winters. Military planners, but also units which are effectively on the move must take different terrains into consideration, from the Alps and the Carpathians to the lowlands in Germany and Poland and hills in the Baltic region, densely covered in forests and rich in lakes.

In this context, US forces create their strategic advantage by anticipating crises and unforeseen situations, but also by pre-positioning some elements of its forces.

The new agreement between the US and Poland does not resume to supplementing US troops stationed in the country with 1,000 soldiers, which would add to the 4,500 already deployed in states situated at NATO’s eastern border. The agreement sets the logistical basis for rapidly deploying an armoured division with 12,000-20,000 men in the case of a sudden crisis situation or for major military drills. Such a drill will take place next year (“Defender 2020). “Defender 2020”, the biggest drill in the past 25 years, is planned by the US Army Forces Command, will be led by the USAREUR (US Army Europe) command and aims to verify US capacity to rapidly deploy a division on European territory, introduce it into an operation and support it logistically and operationally. The US Army Forces secretary stated that Defender 2020 is a small-scale version of the Reforger-type drills during the Cold War.

What does the agreement with Poland bring?

The agreement between the US and Poland stipulates the creation on Poland’s territory of a logistical and administrative infrastructure, meant to serve as a bridgehead for additional forces and means which would arrive from the US in case of a conflict. There are seven major elements which the US promises to establish permanently in Poland, at the expense of the Polish state:

  • a forward division command – this command will establish relations with the Polish side, will hold formation courses, will establish logistical supply lines and other elements necessary to run and control the division. It has not yet been decided if this command will be completely operational, or if it will be able to carry out military actions only after their ranks are completed;
  • a regional support group, similar to those established in Kuwait and Qatar, which handles the movement of personnel entering or exiting the componence of American troops deployed in the area. This structure is named RSOI (Reception, Staging, Onward movement & Integration);
  • an airport which, in emergency situations, will be capable to pick up a high number of soldiers, military equipment, materials and other elements necessary for military actions in a very short time;
  • a special operations structure. Although, lately, these forces were used in anti-terrorism operations in Iraq or Afghanistan, special forces are traditionally used for recon and executing mission deep behind enemy lines, either on land, sea or in the air;
  • an unmanned aircraft squadron (MQ-9 Reaper0, which will carry out ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance & Reconnaissance) missions;
  • infrastructure necessary to support an armoured brigade, an aircraft brigade and a support battalion;
  • an instruction centre. The only Joint Multinational Readiness Centre in Europe is currently situated in Grafenwoehr, Germany

The Ensemble “Picture”

An armoured division contains the following: two armoured brigades, one attack aircraft brigade, one attack unit, transport helicopters and a support battalion.

Corroborating data regarding the troop elements which will be placed on Poland’s territory, we can see that we will have a division with all its troop elements: a division command in Poland, an armoured brigade (tanks) in Poland (which will change periodically), an armoured brigade (tanks) positioned in multiple locations throughout Europe (APS – Army Prepositioned Stock), a Stryker brigade based in Germany and an airborne infantry brigade in Italy.

The armoured units (tanks) would be the strike force, the Stryker brigade in Germany would be used for defending the flanks and recon missions, and the Italy brigade for military actions in urban, forest or low-accessibility areas. Fighting and transport helicopters would support terrestrial units with fire, logistics, but also to execute a vertical manoeuvre. Poland’s support battalion would complete the picture of the US pre-positioned division in Europe.

The US-Poland agreement does not affect the NATO-Russia Founding Act, from 1997. Specifically, the US is avoiding and will avoid assuming the establishment of “permanent bases” on European territory, using rotational forces or the host-states assuming the troops. Neither does this new division command violate the 1997 Act, as it is considered below the level of an Army corps.

It is very possible that not all the troops will be pre-positioned until the beginning of the “Defender 2020” drill, but these recent evolutions prove a higher US involvement within NATO to ensure security on European territory.

Another very important element considered by the American side for this process regards train and road infrastructure. Roads, bridges and railways are, for the most part, very old in the former Warsaw Pact states, and their construction was made using Russian technical data. Even if we only take into account the weight difference between Russian Cold Wat tanks and the American M1 Abrams, with its most advanced M1A2 SEPv3, we can see that a substantial effort is necessary to consolidate and remake road communications networks. Additionally, the logistical bases were constructed after the Russian minimalist mode, which is not up to American supply standards.

There is a lot to do, both on the American and the Polish side, before Poland is prepared to receive American troops, but this phenomenon also happened with West Germany during the Cold War. Because, as was previously written in the Defence & Security Monitor, “security has costs”.

Translated by Ionut Preda