According to Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, commander of U.S. Army Europe, the United States and its allies in NATO may not be able to effectively counter a Russian incursion into Eastern Europe due to capability shortfalls between members of the alliance.
In order to effectively deter Russian aggression in the region, Hodges contends, the United States and its allies must be able to respond “as fast or faster” than the Russian forces advance. A treaty between the United States and Russia bars the U.S. from permanently stationing troops along their border, but the treaty itself isn’t the limiting factor.
“We don’t do anything by ourselves partly because we don’t have the capacity,” Hodges said. “There is a need for interoperability. We are much more effective and stronger when we have our partners.”
That need for high levels of combat interoperability between military units from a number of different nations was highlighted in September, as Russian and Belarusian forces conducted large-scale military drills that approximated a war with NATO in the Baltic region, arguably the area of Europe most susceptible to Russian advances.
“Speed of assembly is critical,” Hodges said about how NATO could counter a real Russian invasion. He explained that, given the current conditions throughout the EU and general road laws, it would take about seven days for a sizeable NATO force to get to the Eastern side of NATO controlled territory if they were needed to engage a Russian advance. Although a number of combat units from a variety of nations have been stood up along Europe’s eastern border in recent years, these units would likely not provide the manpower needed to hold the Russians at bay, and would only be effective in delaying their advance until reinforcements could arrive.
Hodges went on to explain that the technology already exists to streamline a NATO response to a Russian offensive, but that most of it remains limited in terms of which allied nations are authorized to purchase or incorporate the gear.
“I have been walking the halls here and looking at exhibits and seeing the incredible products the defense industry produces, but I continue to be disappointed because everything is made for U.S. forces only … and that‘s not how we’re going to fight,” Hodges said. “We’ve got to continue to put the demand on industry, but also get the policies right to allow us to share information and intelligence.”
Hodges believes that September’s Russian war games helped to shine a light on the need for better communications between international combat teams, as well as the need for rapid intelligence sharing and digital compatibility between the equipment each nation employs. According to him, policies need to be relaxed regarding the sharing of the latest in warfare technologies, so the combined NATO force can operate effectively on the same page.
“We are taking great risk at our ability to be an effective deterrent,” he said of the current status quo.
Image courtesy of the Associated Press