Eucom Exercises Adapt to Operational, Fiscal Environment
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
STUTTGART, Germany , May. 9, 2012 Budget tightening won’t mean an end to U.S. European Command’s robust exercise program, but it could bring big changes to the program that keeps U.S. and allied forces at the top of their game, Eucom officials here said.
An F-16 Fighting Falcon from the 480th Fighter Squadron takes off from Konya, Turkey, during Exercise Anatolian Falcon 2012, March 12, 2012. U.S. and Turkish air forces exercise air interdiction, attack, air superiority, defense suppression, airlift, air refueling and reconnaissance capabilities. U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Benjamin Wilson
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
In fact, as operations wind down in Afghanistan, Navy Vice Adm. Charles Martoglio, Eucom’s deputy commander, told American Forces Press Service he expects an increase in U.S. exercises with NATO allies and other partners.
U.S. participation dropped measurably over the past decade because forces were tied up in real-world events in the Middle East, he said. But as those forces return, he said, the exercise program will become key to maintaining their combat edge and the interoperability developed working on the ground, in the air and at sea.
“We do not want to lose this muscle that we have built with our partners,” agreed Navy Rear Adm. Mark Montgomery, Eucom’s deputy director of plans, policy and strategy.
Building on those hard-earned skills will be critical to sustaining NATO into the future, Martoglio said. “So we have to look toward ensuring interoperability of those forces and routinely training together so that if we have to conduct high-end operations, we have the ability to work together from a technical perspective, and the skills to work together from a training perspective,” he said.
Throughout its history, Eucom has aligned its exercise program to changing geopolitical conditions and challenges, said Marine Corps Col. Edward Bligh, chief of the command’s joint training, readiness and exercise division.
During the Cold War, exercises focused on a land battle in the Fulda Gap. After the Berlin Wall fell, they shifted toward building partnerships with new Eastern European democracies.
Then, after the 9/11 terror attacks, exercise planners moved into high gear to prepare U.S. and coalition forces for deployments to Afghanistan and Iraq.
“The people who fight with us downrange are coming from our [combatant command area of responsibility],” Bligh said. “So to ensure they are capable and ready to go, our exercise program has been highly focused on International Security Assistance Force preparation.”
Now, as Eucom continues to support that training mission, Bligh and his fellow planners are looking toward the next challenge. “How can we sustain that partnership capacity and build on it and go to that next tier, whatever that may be?” he said.
It’s a question being asked within the context of looming budget cuts that will have a direct impact on the exercise program.
The simple answer would be to eliminate or scale back some of the command’s 20-plus annual exercises. But Bligh said he sees another trend: more targeted engagements focused on specific capabilities and partners and directly in line with contingency plans.
That, he said, means basing scenarios not just on current threats, but also on emerging ones ranging from ballistic missiles to cyber-attacks.
Bligh also projected that some exercises will be combined, he said. This year, for example, Austere Challenge, an annual senior-level decision-making exercise, is being combined with Juniper Cobra, a combined air defense exercise between the United States and Israel.
Although doing so is a significant challenge for exercise planners -- who must build enough into the scenarios to keep all players engaged at both the tactical and strategic levels -- it stands to reduce costs and streamline planning efforts, the colonel explained.
Bligh said he also anticipates more regionally focused exercises and increased engagement with Turkey, Poland, Russia and Israel, nations specifically identified in the command’s theater engagement plan.
The recent Anatolian Falcon 2012 exercise between U.S. and Turkish air forces, for example, was designed to test the two countries’ military interoperability as they conducted a variety of air missions.
A new exercise for fiscal 2013, Saber Guardian, will bring together about 150 U.S. Army Europe soldiers and their Romanian counterparts as part of a broader effort to build partnerships in the Black Sea region.
Although the United States traditionally has sponsored exercises and invited other allies and partners to participate, Bligh said, U.S. forces will increasingly participate in other countries’ exercises. This year, for example, U.S. Army Europe plans to send troops to a land-forces exercise hosted by Poland. As that program matures, Bligh envisions that U.S. Air Forces Europe also could participate.
“We are attending another nation’s exercise at a fraction of the cost of us hosting our own,” he said.
In another promising development, more partner nations are beginning to exercise together, independent of the United States. Bulgaria, for example, now hosts its own regional energy security exercise, Energy Flame, for its Balkan neighbors, using simulation capabilities the United States spent the past 10 to 15 years helping the Bulgarians build.
“They run it and do the whole show,” Bligh said. “Not only do they have the capability to run a very sophisticated exercise out of their own simulation center, but they have graduated to a degree that they are able to share that capability in constructive ways with their Balkan neighbors. So that, to us, is a real success story.”
Although sustaining partner-nation capacity will remain a command priority, Air Force Lt. Col. Phil Everitte, Eucom’s exercise branch chief, said he expects the exercise program to also put increasing emphasis on putting contingency plans to practice.
“Since money is tight, we want to do things more smartly,” he said. “That means being more focused on contingencies – basically our wartime tasking and our core missions. So we are trying to lead our program in that direction.”