Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, commander of U.S. Army Europe, has been keeping his eye on the eastern horizon of his domain, well aware that NATO’s current military footprint throughout much of the region wouldn’t be enough to subdue a Russian advance if war were ever to actually break out. Last month, as Russia and Belarus conducted massive military war games that approximated the very war Hodges hopes to avoid, he told the media that he believed the only way to actually stop a Russian incursion would be to improve the speed in which NATO could respond to the threat, which requires an increase in technological interoperability.
Hodges is continuing to encourage the U.S. military and its allies in Europe to push for more technologies and procedures that improve cooperation across all the militaries that would be involved in preventing another military annexation, like the one that took place in Crimea in 2014, from occurring. According to him, 2017 was a “year of implementation,” which included “initiating rotational armored brigade combat teams and combat aviation brigades, emplacing Army preposition stocks, and standing up an enhanced forward-presence battle group in Poland.”
With those pieces in place, however, the focus now must be on improving the combat capabilities and defensive posture of the forces NATO has at its disposal. In order to do that, Hodges explained, there are three areas of improvement that need to be prioritized.
The first is access to tactical FM radios at the company and battalion level to increase communications. These radios, according to the General, must be hardened to operate effectively inside “real nasty” cyber or electronic warfare environments, like those that could be expected in the Baltics if war were to break out.
The second, per Hodges’ statement, is the adoption of communications and intelligence sharing technologies that produce a truly common Common Operating Picture. Currently, the different platforms employed by different nations can result in the information being presented differently to different commanders, which can affect overall strategy and timeliness. Hodges recommends sharing technology like Blue-force tracking to remedy this.
The third is working to redirect digital resources quickly and accurately as some are lost to cyber-attack. The example the general provided involved using radar to guide the direction of fire. If one radar array is lost, nearby arrays from allied nations should be able to seamlessly compensate for the damage.
“If you can’t do that in a very short amount of time, then you’re never going to be able to strike back at who’s shooting at you,” Hodges said.
In closing, Hodges made one more request of the Defense Department in order to ensure the ability to counter a Russian attack: transitioning away from rotational air support and establishing a permanent Army Aviation element in Europe.
“Rotational aviation is expensive, and I worry that at some point the Army [will say] ‘I can’t keep this up.’ If [European Reassurance Initiative] money dries up or we get less of it, it becomes more difficult for the Army to fund,” he said.
Image courtesy of the U.S. Army