Posts by bernardcornwell

This blog is written by expert in Geopolitics and Security from Royal Holloway, University of London, one of the leading centres of geopolitical research in the UK. This will be a site for us to share the results of our research, and a place for us to comment on latest global events. We welcome your feedback on any of our stories.

Thousands of troops to take part in largest US-led exercise in Europe since the Cold War, EUCOM says

STUTTGART, Germany — The U.S. Army will deploy a division headquarters, three tank brigades and thousands of other troops to Europe early next year to take part in what will be the largest American-led military exercise on the Continent in 25 years, U.S. European Command said Monday.

Defender Europe-20, which will resemble the massive “Reforger” drills held during the Cold War era, will involve 37,000 troops, including about 20,000 American soldiers. Equipment will begin arriving in Europe in February and the exercises will be held in April and May.

Military drills will take place in 10 different nations, but the main action will happen in Germany and Poland, EUCOM said.

“Readiness is not only about having the right forces and capabilities in place throughout the theater, it’s about exercising our ability to quickly receive and integrate forces with our own and those of our allies and partners,” Lt. Gen. Christopher Cavoli, U.S. Army Europe commanding general, said in a statement. “This ability is critical in projecting force at a moment’s notice.”

During the Cold War, massive exercises, which focused on getting large numbers of troops to Europe quickly, were an essential part of preparing for a potential war with the Soviet Union. Known as Reforger, or Return of Forces to Germany exercises, the drills were a military staple that made the logistics of combat second nature for troops deployed to Europe.

But the skills needed for such large force movements slowly faded as the risk of large-scale conflict in Europe diminished after the collapse of the Soviet Union. While American military concerns have shifted to wars in the Middle East during the past two decades, Russia’s 2014 intervention in Ukraine forced the Pentagon to refocus on defending Europe and how to get American troops across an ocean in a crisis.

“A lot of those skills that the units are going to practice, loading up to go to another theater, have atrophied,” said Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Kramer, who is in charge of EUCOM exercise programs. With Defender, “You’ll have the better part of a heavy division move all their equipment and all their people, which is tremendous at the tactical level.”

Defender Europe-20 will be the culmination of a five-year push by EUCOM to reinvent itself, transforming from an organization focused on peacetime relationship building to one able to command in a conflict. As part of that effort, EUCOM has sought to make its exercises more complicated and realistic.

It will also be the largest piece of EUCOM’s 2020 war game series, with 10 major drills included across northern Europe.

“At a strategic level, we are showing resolve to any adversaries,” Kramer said.

The Army will send a fires brigade and a sustainment brigade, along with three heavy brigades and a division headquarters to Europe for the exercise. Elements from the U.S. Air Force and Marine Corps will also participate, along with troops from 18 other countries, EUCOM said.

The exercise will involve 14 air and sea ports in eight European countries: Belgium, Estonia, Georgia, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, Netherlands and Poland. Expanding military access to European ports has been a focal point for the Army’s logisticians in recent years. Soldiers will come from four U.S. Army divisions and three corps along with numerous Guard and Reserve units, EUCOM said.

“Conducting tough, realistic training alongside our allies and partners in Europe” is needed to effectively fight together and “deter potential threats,” Cavoli said.

Defender 20 and linked activities will cost about $340 million, EUCOM said.

“It’s probably the biggest thing since Reforger,” Kramer said. “It’s a lot of moving pieces.”

Thousands of troops to take part in largest US-led exercise in Europe since the Cold War, EUCOM says

The U.S. Army will deploy a division headquarters, three tank brigades and thousands of other troops to Europe early next year to take part in what will be the largest American-led military exercise on the Continent in 25 years, U.S. European Command said Monday.

Defender Europe-20, which will resemble the massive “Reforger” drills held during the Cold War era, will involve 37,000 troops, including about 20,000 American soldiers. Equipment will begin arriving in Europe in February and the exercises will be held in April and May.

Military drills will take place in 10 different nations, but the main action will happen in Germany and Poland, EUCOM said.

“Readiness is not only about having the right forces and capabilities in place throughout the theater, it’s about exercising our ability to quickly receive and integrate forces with our own and those of our allies and partners,” Lt. Gen. Christopher Cavoli, U.S. Army Europe commanding general, said in a statement. “This ability is critical in projecting force at a moment’s notice.”

During the Cold War, massive exercises, which focused on getting large numbers of troops to Europe quickly, were an essential part of preparing for a potential war with the Soviet Union. Known as Reforger, or Return of Forces to Germany exercises, the drills were a military staple that made the logistics of combat second nature for troops deployed to Europe.

But the skills needed for such large force movements slowly faded as the risk of large-scale conflict in Europe diminished after the collapse of the Soviet Union. While American military concerns have shifted to wars in the Middle East during the past two decades, Russia’s 2014 intervention in Ukraine forced the Pentagon to refocus on defending Europe and how to get American troops across an ocean in a crisis.

“A lot of those skills that the units are going to practice, loading up to go to another theater, have atrophied,” said Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Kramer, who is in charge of EUCOM exercise programs. With Defender, “You’ll have the better part of a heavy division move all their equipment and all their people, which is tremendous at the tactical level.”

Defender Europe-20 will be the culmination of a five-year push by EUCOM to reinvent itself, transforming from an organization focused on peacetime relationship building to one able to command in a conflict. As part of that effort, EUCOM has sought to make its exercises more complicated and realistic.

It will also be the largest piece of EUCOM’s 2020 war game series, with 10 major drills included across northern Europe.

“At a strategic level, we are showing resolve to any adversaries,” Kramer said.

The Army will send a fires brigade and a sustainment brigade, along with three heavy brigades and a division headquarters to Europe for the exercise. Elements from the U.S. Air Force and Marine Corps will also participate, along with troops from 18 other countries, EUCOM said.

The exercise will involve 14 air and sea ports in eight European countries: Belgium, Estonia, Georgia, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, Netherlands and Poland. Expanding military access to European ports has been a focal point for the Army’s logisticians in recent years. Soldiers will come from four U.S. Army divisions and three corps along with numerous Guard and Reserve units, EUCOM said.

“Conducting tough, realistic training alongside our allies and partners in Europe” is needed to effectively fight together and “deter potential threats,” Cavoli said.

Defender 20 and linked activities will cost about $340 million, EUCOM said.

“It’s probably the biggest thing since Reforger,” Kramer said. “It’s a lot of moving pieces.”

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Union Shield 2019: Russian and Belarusian army units worked as a team

The Belarusian-Russian tactical army exercise Union Shield 2019 demonstrated the ability of Belarusian and Russian army units to smoothly work as a team. Belarusian Defense Minister Andrei Ravkov made the statement in response to questions asked by members of the Council of the Republic of the National Assembly of Belarus on 2 October, BelTA has learned.

Training goals of the regional military group have been achieved in full, Andrei Ravkov noted. “This exercise demonstrated that we can work, accomplish tasks, and understand each other in full at this level. We know our tasks,” he stressed. The weapons and hardware the two armies use are fully compatible for carrying out joint missions, he added. Nearly all the troops have returned from the Russian Federation to Belarus.

“The last two trains are being unloaded in Minsk and Borisov now. The troops will be in their permanent stations by the end of the day,” the defense minister said. Speaking about the Belarusian-Russian strategic army exercise Zapad 2021, Andrei Ravkov said plans are being made in line with instructions given by the two heads of state. “It is too early to talk about how it will be done because scrupulous organizational work has to be done ahead of any major army exercise. We have yet to do it,” the defense minister noted. In the Council of the Republic the defense minister presented a protocol on amending the Belarus-Russia military cooperation agreement of 19 December 1997. The senators ratified it.

The Belarusian-Russian army exercise Union Shield 2019 took place on 13-19 September. Some 12,000 military personnel, up to 950 units of military hardware, up to 70 aircraft and helicopters took part in the exercise. OSCE member states were notified about it in line with the 2011 Vienna Document on Confidence- and Security-Building Measures. The Belarusian army was represented by over 4,000 military personnel, more than 30 tanks, 80 armored fighting vehicles, about 50 multiple-launch rocket systems, artillery, and mortar units as well as some 15 aircraft and helicopters.

Russia’s 2019 Military Drills

The Russian military exercises Tsentr (Center) and Union Shield were the largest combat readiness tests of the Russian army this year. The goal of each was to check the state of cooperation with other countries. The almost simultaneous exercises confirmed that the Russian armed forces are able to operate in two strategic directions (fronts). The exercises demonstrate the country’s growing conventional military potential and that will be a greater challenge for NATO, perceived in Russia as the main opponent. 

For all of 2019, Russia had planned about 4,000 drills of its armed forces—exercises of various sizes and kinds. The largest ones are traditionally held at the end of the summer training season, and this year it was Tsentr in the Central Military District (MD) and Union Shield in the Western MD. Compared to similar exercises in 2015 (manoeuvres in individual MDs take place every four years), more soldiers were included. Moreover, during the duration of the drills, the Russian armed forces also conducted exercises in the Arctic. The similarity of the schemes, activities, and scenarios of Tsentr 2019 and Zapad 2017 show that the Russian military considers as its biggest threat to be a strong quasi-state with significant financial resources and capable of destabilising the country or Russia’s close neighbourhood.

Tsentr 2019. The exercises took place on 16–21 September and according to the Russian Ministry of Defence, 128,000 troops, mainly from the Southern and Eastern MDs, 20,000 equipment units, including 600 aircraft and helicopters or drones, and 15 ships were involved. During the drills, S-300 and S-400 (NATO: SA-21 Growler) antiballistic missile systems and Iskander (SS-26 Stone) ballistic missile systems were employed. Tsentr 2019 was attended by soldiers from countries of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO)—China (which had the largest contingent of 1,600 troops), India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan are also part of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO). 

The exercise scenario assumed that a terrorist Islamist state was emerging in southeastern Russia. It had attacked neighbouring countries using, among others, ballistic and manoeuvring missiles. The concept resembled the fight against Islamic State in Syria. However, unlike in the Syrian operation, the Russian armed forces used a land component on a large scale. Moreover, the landing of a tactical unit (regiment) level with equipment was also practised. Thus, the Russians tried to combine anti-terrorist activities with the possibility of conducting operations against a specific country.

The manoeuvres took place on eight training grounds in Russia including three in the European part of the country. On the latter fields, according to official data, 12,950 soldiers, 250 tanks, and 450 combat vehicles were involved. Thanks to this trick, Russia avoided the requirement to invite observers, thus limiting access to information about the exercises to its own or intelligence sources. Article 47.4 of the Vienna Document on Confidence and Security-Building Measures stipulates that exercises in which more than 13,000 troops or 300 tanks or 500 combat vehicles are subject to mandatory observation. The Tsentr 2019 manoeuvres also took place on training grounds in CSTO countries (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan), which substituted this organisation’s regular exercises.

Western MD Exercise. On 1–9 August, Ocean Shield 2019 was carried out in the Baltic Sea with 10,000 troops, 69 ships, including security units and cutters, and 58 aircraft. Their scale and character (and declarations by the Russian military and politicians) show how important this region is for Russia, which is still treated as its window to the world and a sea trade route to Europe, as well as an area of rivalry with NATO. 

However, this year’s largest manoeuvres in the Western MD were joint exercises with Russia and Belarus called Union Shield, which took place on 13-19 September on the Mulino training grounds in Russia (Nizhny Novgorod region). They were attended by 8,000 troops from Russia and 4,000 from Belarus, again slightly below the limits of the Vienna Document. During these drills, about 950 units of military equipment were used, including 230 tanks, 240 artillery systems, and 70 aircraft. 

According to the scenario, the armed forces of the two countries had to deal with illegal armed formations attacking the territory of the Union State of Belarus and Russia as well as with hybrid threats. They also tested maintaining communication under conditions of radio-electronic attack. The main aim of the exercise was to check the possibility of using the Regional Group of Forces of Belarus and Russia to provide military security and protect the borders of the Union State. Armoured and mechanised troops, landing forces, special operations forces, and combat security units took part in the activities. Moreover, the manoeuvres confirmed the almost complete integration of hardware and the unification of the command system of the armies of both countries. Preparations for Union Shield began at least in March and the exercises were the culmination of a two-year training period for the Regional Group of Russian and Belarusian Forces.

Activities in the North and South. In parallel to the activities carried out in the Central MD and Western MD, large-scale exercises were also carried out in the Southern MD and in the north of Russia. In the Southern MD at the turn of August to September, more than 8,000 troops took part in activities on 12 training grounds, including in Crimea. During the drills, 2,500 units, including 30 aircraft, 60 helicopters, more than 100 tanks, and ships from the Black Sea Fleet and Caspian Flotilla, were used. The goal was to check the ability of individual types of forces to cooperate in defence of Russia’s southern border.  During Tsentr and Union Shield, 2,000 troops of the Northern Fleet practised, among other things, intelligence activities and precise artillery fire using drones (about 400 units of equipment were used, including aviation and tanks) in Murmansk Oblast. At the same time, in the Barents Sea, Northern Fleet ships practised artillery fire and fighting submarines.

Conclusions. Although in its largest exercise this year, the Russian military did not test new solutions or weaponry, carrying out such large-scale manoeuvres year after year shows that the reform of the Russian armed forces is progressing. It reveals that Russia is checking the readiness of its armed forces to participate in a full-scale conventional armed conflict, which was one of the goals of the reform.  This year’s exercises show that the army’s potential has increased significantly and it has the mobilisation capabilities and sufficient armament to redirect its focus to any place in the country. This indicates that the Russian armed forces are capable of conducting simultaneous military operations of various types in at least two strategic directions. Thus, in case of a conventional confrontation, Russia will not be forced to quickly escalate to the nuclear level. However, it may strive for horizontal escalation, which means that Russia’s growing conventional combat capabilities will be a growing challenge for NATO members and their partners, which should be included in the Alliance’s defence planning. Russia has also proved that despite the involvement of significant military groups in other parts of the country, it has sufficient capacity to protect its interests in the Arctic, which also is of strategic importance to NATO and its members. 

The manoeuvres have once again shown that the Russian command attaches significant importance to media disinformation and propaganda, which accompanied the drills. It is treated as part of an information war directed at both the international community and internal needs (among which, one of the most important elements is unifying public opinion). The exercises gave another opportunity to explore the possibility of cooperation with other countries— Belarus in the western strategic direction and members of the CSTO and the SCO in the southeast. The participation of the SCO countries, including for the first time two countries in conflict—India (one of the largest recipients of Russian weaponry) and Pakistan (for which this is a new element of its foreign policy)— shows that for China and Russia, this organisation may cease to play a role as only an economic and political cooperation forum. By organising the exercises with other countries and continuing extensive cooperation with China, Russia also wanted to prove that it has partners that can provide military support and is not internationally isolated. 

Exercise Union Shield 2019 successfully finished

A muster of troops in the Russian army exercise area Mulino finished the Belarusian-Russian tactical army exercise Union Shield 2019 on 19 September, the press service of the Belarusian Defense Ministry told.

Belarusian Defense Minister, Lieutenant-General Andrei Ravkov told media: “The joint tactical exercise has drawn to its logical close. Our military personnel will get back to the home country very soon.” Summing up results of the exercise, he noted that it was not the only combat training event, including an event held together with the Russian army. However, it is a major exercise, this is why it is the main one this year.

According to the source, the Belarusian army units had to carry out virtually all missions at night. The moral and psychological state of participants of the exercise helped them do their jobs. Proper accommodations and amenities were available so that nothing could distract them from the main mission. The exercise has accomplished its tasks, Andrei Ravkov noted. The system to train armed forces in Belarus and Russia is designed to make sure the armies are constantly ready to carry out missions required to protect the Union State of Belarus and Russia and the two countries against an enemy. The army units are now getting ready to get back to Belarus.

A large-scale parade of military hardware took place on 19 September. The military personnel, who excelled during the exercise, were awarded. The muster of the troops ended with a festive concert of Russian and Belarusian army musicians. The Belarusian-Russian army exercise Union Shield 2019 began in the Mulino exercise area in Russia’s Nizhny Novgorod Oblast on 13 September. Some 12,000 military personnel, up to 950 units of military hardware, up to 70 aircraft and helicopters took part in the exercise. OSCE member states have been notified about it in line with the 2011 Vienna Document on Confidence- and Security-Building Measures. The Belarusian army was represented by over 4,000 military personnel, more than 30 tanks, 80 armored fighting vehicles, about 50 MLRS, artillery, and mortar units as well as aircraft and helicopters.

US and NATO partners use exercise to better protect waters where Russia operates

U.S. divers used underwater drones to find and clear simulated mines and submerged explosives in a NATO exercise that seeks to boost security in the Baltic Sea area, where Russia has grown more active. Eighteen countries, 40 vessels and 3,000 personnel are participating in this year’s two-week Northern Coasts exercise in the Danish straits, which link the Baltic Sea and the North Sea.

“The Baltic Sea is of vital importance for the Alliance and is bordered by six NATO countries,” NATO spokeswoman Oana Lungescu said in a statement. “Unfortunately, the security environment in the region has deteriorated after Russia’s illegal annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea and its continuing military-build-up.”

Northern Coasts, which runs until Thursday, is not only a show of force to potential adversaries, but also provides troops with tactical training, NATO officials said in a statement.

In this year’s exercise scenario, a fictitious country made territorial claims over islands in the Baltic Sea and used naval forces to threaten freedom of navigation.

Allies and partner nations countered the simulated threat through a coordinated effort that included maritime surveillance, naval combat, air-defense, anti-submarine warfare and mine clearance.

Sailors used underwater drones to detect, identify and take images of threats, and then cleared simulated mines and improvised explosives from the shore and the water, the Navy said.

Unmanned submersibles, such as the torpedo-like Remote Environmental Measuring Unit, or REMUS-100, help cut the time divers have to spend in dangerous waters, reducing the risk of loss of life, it said.

Mine warfare continues to be waged throughout the world, and nations work together in exercises like Northern Coasts to practice neutralizing these underwater threats so commanders know where to direct landing forces, the Navy said.

Two U.S. units — Explosive Ordnance Disposal Mobile Unit 8 from Rota, Spain, and Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit 2 based in Virginia Beach, Va. — worked alongside allies in the mine-clearance exercises.

As Russia grows more assertive, it has become increasingly important for the U.S. and its allies and partners to combine forces to safeguard the Baltic region, Adm. James Foggo, head of Naval Forces Europe and Africa, has said.

“We must commit and invest in a robust and capable naval presence to maintain regional stability,” Foggo wrote Friday in an Atlantic Council newsletter. “Not doing so could be far more costly.”



Belarus positively evaluates the first stage of the exercise “Union Shield-2019”

Oleg Belokonev, Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Belarus, positively assessed the results of the first stage of the joint Russian-Belarusian military exercise “Union Shield-2019”, the Belarus’ Ministry of Defence reported on Monday on its website.

“The first stage of the joint operational exercise of the armed Forces of the Republic of Belarus and the Russian Federation “Union Shield-2019 ” was completed at the Mulino training ground. The governing bodies showed a high ability to manage subordinate units in the course of fulfilling their mission in difficult conditions,” the statement emphasizes.

Chief of the General Staff, Belarusian First Deputy Defense Minister Oleg Belokonev, who is in charge of overseeing the exercise, said: “Today we’ve started the second stage of the exercise, which will focus on practical actions, on the implementation of the decisions and steps we made during the first stage. The army units will have to practice defensive action in assigned positions, continue stabilizing the situation, organizing interaction, support, and logistics. Command and control units will continue giving orders to subordinate units in a complicated environment. I believe the main goal of the event will be reached. We will get some practice of working together with the Armed Forces of Russia to ensure the military security of the Union State of Belarus and Russia.”

Belokonev also said that “military units fairly confidently carried out a set of measures to search, block, destroy illegal armed groups and sabotage and reconnaissance groups, to stabilize the situation in the designated areas of responsibility.”

Joint exercise of the armed forces of the two countries takes place at the Mulino training ground in the Nizhny Novgorod region. The Union Shield-2019 drills are set to involve a total of 12,000 troops and 950 pieces of military equipment, including combat vehicles, aircraft and helicopters. OSCE member states have been notified about it in line with the 2011 Vienna Document on Confidence- and Security-Building Measures. The Belarusian army is represented by over 4,000 military personnel, more than 30 tanks, 80 armored fighting vehicles, about 50 MLRS, artillery, and mortar units as well as aircraft and helicopters.