US European Command Facilities
By June 2015 the United States was poised to station battle tanks, infantry fighting vehicles and other heavy weapons for as many as 5,000 American troops in several Baltic and Eastern European countries. This is the most prominent of a series of moves by Washington and NATO to deter possible Russian aggression in Europe following Russia's occupation and mostly unrecognized annexation of Ukraine's Crimea.
The prepositioned stocks of equipment would be minor compared to what Russia could mobilize against its neighbors, but could send a signal of US commitment. A company's worth of equipment -- enough for about 150 soldiers -- would be stored in each of the three Baltic nations: Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia. Enough for a company or possibly a battalion -- about 750 soldiers -- would be located in Poland, Romania, Bulgaria, and possibly Hungary.
During the Cold War, USAREUR had 213,000 personnel with 64 brigade equivalents, while EUCOM as a whole had about 340,000 troops in Europe. By the end of 2007, total troop levels had fallen to about 95,000, including 55,000 Army soldiers. This structure equates to a Total Army population of 199,000 (of which 180K are in Germany, 8K Italy, 6K BENELUX, 5K elsewhere). USAREUR has also reduced its installations and square footage to less than one third of what they were in 1989, retaining about two hundred installations in five countries. As an agent of change in the Army, USAREUR is examining future force structures to align with the Chief of Staff of the Army's new Vision Statement.
In June 2004 the Pentagon proposed moving two divisions -- 1st Armored Division and 1st Infantry Division -- from Germany, replacing them a brigade equipped with Stryker light armored vehicles. The US would transfer its troops from bases in Germany to other countries, including Turkey and some in Eastern Europe, such as Bulgaria, Romania and Poland. But the US cannot establish a chain that would extend to the Caucasus -- the idea of basing troops in Georgia was dropped. The F-16 fighters of the 52nd Fighter Wing may be moved from Spangdahlem, Germany, to Incirlik, Turkey. Some F-15 fighters may be moved from Britain, along with the handful of F-15 fighters deployed in Iceland.
Bulgaria, Poland and Romania are the New Europe. These countries were being considered for new American bases, probably small installations with rotating troops. These bases would be capable of quickly striking targets in the Middle East or Central Asia, which are closer to here than is Western Europe. During the invasion of Iraq, refueling aircraft were based at Bulgaria's Sarajevo airfield, and the US military also used the Bulgarian port of Burgas, the Romanian port Constanta and the Romanian military airfield of Mihail Kogalniceanu. Future US plans include ex-Warsaw Pact training ranges and other bases in Poland and Hungary. American and British troops have been conducting exercises on the Drawsko Pomorskiy and Wedrzyn training areas since 1996. Use of the Krzesiny airbase outside Poznan, Poland, is also anticipated. In January 2004 Poland's Defense Minister Jerzy Szmajdzinski announced that Poland had begun negotiations on hosting US military bases on its territory. The Taszar airbase in Hungary is a possible candidate for increased US presence, since it has supported US operations beginning with the US entry into Bosnia in 1995.
Changing the "footprint" of U.S. forces in the European Command's area of operations goes hand-in-hand with NATO transformation, said Marine Gen. James Jones, the alliance's supreme allied commander, on 10 October 2003. Jones, who also heads U.S. European Command, said the alliance's center of gravity is in Europe, but the center of activity "is clearly shifting." Speaking at a Pentagon press conference, Jones said the alliance is expanding in Eastern and Central Europe. What's more, the "geostrategic center of interest for the alliance" is in the greater Middle East, he noted.
In addition, Jones said threats are emerging from the southern region of the U.S. European Command -- the southern rim of the Mediterranean and sub-Saharan Africa. There are "large, ungoverned areas which are potential havens for the terrorists of the world and the future merchants of all kinds of things that we're trying to do battle with."
Strategic forward presence is the heart of any change in the footprint. But this requires a far different force from the one present in Europe today. "The cornerstone of anything that we do, any proposal that has been made, is trying to take the forces that we have and make them strategically more agile," Jones said.
Troops may not be at long-established bases. Rather, they may deploy to forward operating bases for a certain amount of time. "But the point of any type of readjustment of our forces is to create more strategic effect," he said.
This does not mean that all American troops will leave Germany or other established bases in Europe. He said that an installation like Ramstein Air Base, Germany, is irreplaceable. "It is inconceivable to me, and anyone else, that you would close Ramstein and move it 500 kilometers to the east and rebuild it," Jones said. "That's simply not going to happen."
Jones said the world is a smaller place. "We have an opportunity to establish a strategic presence, operational presence if required, much quicker than ever before. And therefore, the basing modalities can reasonably be expected to be examined to make sure that we're doing it right in the future," he said.
American troop strength in Europe dropped from its the 112,000 in 2003 to around 50,000 by around 2010. American forces went from two full divisions in Germany and a brigade combat team in Italy to a brigade combat team in Germany, another in Italy and up to one more rotating among forward-operating sites.
American forces in Europe were in three types of bases.
- The first are main operating bases, installations like Ramstein Air Base, Germany, and U.S. Naval Station Rota, Spain. These bases will remain hubs and have American forces assigned to them.
- The second are called forward-operating sites. These bases are "light-switch operations" -- meaning all troops arriving have to do is turn the lights on and operations can proceed. Examples of these bases are Camp Bondsteel in Kosovo, Camp Eagle in Bosnia, and Incirlik Air Base in Turkey. There will also be forward-operating sites in Morocco, Tunisia, Bulgaria and Romania. Essentially, the US knows what is there, and knows what to bring when we come," Jones said. "We can go from a zero presence to an operating base very quickly."
- The third type of bases are called a cooperative security sites. These could be as small as a fueling agreement or as complicated as a few American contractors ensuring facilities are ready for U.S. troops to operate. These will be an inventory of geographical locations that if the US needed them, it will be pre-agreed with host nations that the US can have access to these bases. The key to the new footprint is an effective pre-positioning program.
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