Force Changes in Europe to Preserve Strategic Edge

STUTTGART, Ger­many , May 7, 2012 — With major force changes to unfold across Europe, includ­ing a draw­down of about 7,000 U.S. forces there, U.S. Euro­pean Com­mand remains com­mit­ted to its mis­sion of ensur­ing a ready force pre­pared to respond if called upon, offi­cials said.

Force restruc­tur­ing in Europe will pre­serve the U.S. strate­gic edge, U.S. Euro­pean Com­mand offi­cials said. Here, sol­diers from the 173rd Air­borne Brigade Com­bat Team, to be con­sol­i­dat­ed in Vicen­za, Italy, under the new plan, radio in a call for fire dur­ing train­ing at the Joint Multi­na­tion­al Readi­ness Cen­ter in Hoen­fels, Ger­many, Oct. 5, 2011. U.S. Army pho­to by Pfc. Jor­dan Fuller
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About 80,000 mil­i­tary forces based in Europe remain the command’s No. 1 tool – both for main­tain­ing U.S. influ­ence across the the­ater and, when called upon, for pro­ject­ing pow­er with­in and beyond it, Navy Adm. James G. Stavridis, the Eucom com­man­der, told Con­gress in March. They rep­re­sent “a vis­i­ble and incon­testable man­i­fes­ta­tion of U.S. com­mit­ment to the region” as they engage with region­al allies and part­ners to ensure their mutu­al readi­ness and abil­i­ty to work togeth­er, he said.

Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s strate­gic guid­ance that looks out over the next 10 years calls for reduc­ing the U.S. pres­ence in Europe by about 15 per­cent, to 68,000 troops. The plan, which affects U.S. Euro­pean Com­mand and its Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps com­po­nents, calls for inac­ti­vat­ing:

  • The 170th and 172nd Infantry brigades, two of the four brigade com­bat teams in Europe, by fis­cal 2014;
  • The Air Force’s 81st Fight­er Squadron with its A‑10 air­craft at Spang­dahlem Air Base, Ger­many, dur­ing fis­cal year 2013;
  • The 603rd Air Con­trol Squadron at Aviano Air Base, Italy, in fis­cal year 2013; and
  • 5th Corps Head­quar­ters in Wies­baden, Ger­many, to become the new home of U.S. Army Europe head­quar­ters, now in Hei­del­berg, Ger­many.

In addi­tion, U.S. Army Europe will cut about 2,500 sol­diers assigned to enabling units over the next five years.

But, as Eucom offi­cials are quick to note, the strate­gic guid­ance isn’t all about cuts.

In addi­tion to pre­serv­ing two heavy brigades – the 173rd Air­borne Brigade Com­bat Team to be con­sol­i­dat­ed in Vicen­za, Italy, and 2nd Stryk­er Cav­al­ry Reg­i­ment at Vilseck, Ger­many — it pro­pos­es addi­tions that enhance capa­bil­i­ty. These include:

  • A rota­tion­al U.S.-based heavy brigade com­bat team to sup­port the NATO Response Force;
  • A bat­tal­ion-size ele­ment from the rota­tion­al brigade to par­tic­i­pate in joint exer­cis­es and oper­a­tions;
  • Four bal­lis­tic mis­sile defense-capa­ble destroy­ers to be home-port­ed in Rota, Spain;
  • A squadron of new V‑22 air­craft to be based in Europe to sup­port spe­cial oper­a­tions;
  • A small avi­a­tion detach­ment to be stood up in Poland to sup­port rota­tion­al deploy­ments of F‑16 and C‑130 units as they pro­mote inter­op­er­abil­i­ty with Pol­ish air forces;
  • A ground-based radar in Turkey; and
  • More Spe­cial Forces units sta­tioned in Ger­many.

Look­ing at this big-pic­ture plan that he worked on with Defense Sec­re­tary Leon E. Panet­ta and Chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mar­tin E. Dempsey, Stavridis said he’s sat­is­fied it pos­tures Eucom for what’s ahead.

“I think we are adjust­ing our force appro­pri­ate­ly to sup­port this new strat­e­gy,” he said. “We will con­tin­ue to have an impor­tant and endur­ing mis­sion in the Euro­pean the­ater for many years to come.”

Navy Vice Adm. Charles Mar­toglio, Stavridis’ for­mer chief of staff and now deputy com­man­der, said it all boils down to hav­ing what’s need­ed to accom­plish the mis­sion in the most effi­cient and effec­tive man­ner.

“Ensur­ing that we have the right capa­bil­i­ties at the right lev­el of readi­ness in the right places to match the secu­ri­ty envi­ron­ment that we see emerg­ing is one of the big respon­si­bil­i­ties of U.S. Euro­pean Com­mand,” he said.

Navy Rear Adm. Mark Mont­gomery, Eucom’s deputy direc­tor for plans, pol­i­cy and strat­e­gy, said the capa­bil­i­ty that will reside with­in the com­mand fol­low­ing these force changes is so strik­ing that he shuns using the term “draw­down” to describe it.

“We’ve decid­ed to strate­gi­cal­ly rebal­ance our forces,” he said. “What that means is we have increased our forces in the bal­lis­tic mis­sile area. We’ve increased our forces in the mar­itime domain. We’ve increased our Spe­cial Forces here in Europe, and we have reduced our forces who do gen­er­al-pur­pose ground fight­ing.”

Mont­gomery not­ed that for the past decade, two of Eucom’s four brigades have been in a con­tin­u­al process of prepar­ing for, deploy­ing or reset­ting after deploy­ments to Iraq or Afghanistan. “So of four brigades, you would have about two brigades” to be avail­able for oth­er mis­sions, he said.

“And that is what we are going to end up with in 2016,” he said. “We are going to have two brigades that are unique­ly skilled and will look like many of our Euro­pean part­ners’ units: an air­borne brigade and a Stryk­er brigade.”

The result, he said, will be “the right num­ber to get at the mis­sion we are going to be assigned in 2016,” he said. “So in my mind, this is a strate­gic rebal­anc­ing and not a reduc­tion or some kind of move away from Europe. In no way, shape or form do I see that.”

Stavridis told Con­gress the new rota­tion­al brigade com­bat team in Europe will go a long way to mit­i­gate the loss of two per­ma­nent ones. “Instead of being a sta­t­ic BCT essen­tial­ly parked in Ger­many, this would be a BCT that could rotate its bat­tal­ions one time into East­ern Europe, one time into the Balka­ns, one time into the Baltics, as well as oth­er places that U.S. Euro­pean Com­mand might be asked to oper­ate,” he said.

In addi­tion, he said the four ships to be home-port­ed in Spain will bring mul­ti­ple capa­bil­i­ties to the the­ater. In addi­tion to bal­lis­tic mis­sile defense, they will be able to sup­port anti-sub­ma­rine and anti-sur­face ship oper­a­tions, to gath­er intel­li­gence or to deploy the high­ly sophis­ti­cat­ed air­craft attached to them.

“So the capa­bil­i­ty that you bring for­ward into this the­ater is, frankly, pro­found,” he said. “For every ship that is for­ward-deployed, it’s real­ly the equiv­a­lent of the effort of three or four ships back in the Unit­ed States because of the tran­sit time.”

In real­i­ty, the reduc­tions tak­ing place are part of a process that’s been ongo­ing for the past 20 years, Stavridis explained dur­ing an inter­view with the Pen­ta­gon Chan­nel and Amer­i­can Forces Press Ser­vice. He not­ed that dur­ing the Cold War, the Unit­ed States had almost 400,000 forces in Europe, oper­at­ing at some 1,200 bases and focused on the War­saw Pact threat.

With that force already down by 75 per­cent, Stavridis called the addi­tion­al 15 per­cent reduc­tions planned man­age­able and appro­pri­ate when viewed through the new glob­al con­text. “That’s a pret­ty rea­son­able and sen­si­ble reduc­tion, giv­en the reduced threat,” he said.

Although the new strate­gic guid­ance focus­es pre­dom­i­nant­ly on chal­lenges in the Asia-Pacif­ic region and the Mid­dle East, Stavridis said there’s no ques­tion that the strate­gic part­ner­ships with­in the Euro­pean the­ater will play promi­nent­ly in its suc­cess.

“Let’s face it: Our most endur­ing pool of part­ners exists in the Euro­pean the­ater,” he said. Most notable are the 28 NATO mem­bers that col­lec­tive­ly have 3 mil­lion men and women under arms, 24,000 air­craft and some 800 ships.

“This is an alliance of enor­mous resource, and it rep­re­sents those that stand with us today in Afghanistan, in the Balka­ns, in the Libyan oper­a­tion, in [coun­ter­pira­cy],” he said. “So these strate­gic, endur­ing part­ner­ships in Europe are going to under­pin the strate­gic focus on chal­lenges in Asia and in the Mid­dle East.”

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)