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European Command Exercise Program Aims to Deter Russia

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Trained and ready troops are a cornerstone of American deterrence, and U.S. European Command is participating in exercises through the summer and fall to ensure American forces are lethal and ready for any mission they are given.

Eucom's joint exercise program looks to improve American interoperability with NATO allies and other partners and provide deterrence to Russia, officials said in a telephone interview.

Last year, about 20,000 U.S. service members participated in 13 major Eucom exercises. The numbers are about the same this year, officials said.  

Deterrence comes from having a capability and the will to use it, said Air Force Col. Mike Moeding, who works in the command's exercises and assessments staff. The capability comes from resources and readiness. Exercises are key to developing the readiness that makes the deterrent effect of troops real.

Marines speed across water on a boat with snow capped mountains in background.
Platinum Ren
Marines conduct fast-assault craft drills with Norwegian troops during Platinum Ren at Fort Trondenes in Harstad, Norway, May 8, 2019. The exercise strengthens the partnership between the U.S. and Norway as service members train together on mission-essential tasks in harsh operating environments.
Photo By: Marine Corps Sgt. Tayler Schwamb
VIRIN: 190509-M-VB761-456Y

American units in Europe participate in a wide range of exercises. Moeding said this allows American and allied forces to develop interoperable capabilities, as well as develop new capabilities through experimentation using of new systems, tactics or procedures.

The exercise program is designed, to an extent, to be transparent, he said, which allows Russian leaders to see what American and allied forces are capable of.

"One of the things we talk about is predictability," Moeding said. "Keeping that in the exercise program is important, because if we continue to show our capabilities, our readiness — our posture — creates the deterrent effect."

Russia is trying to become the preeminent power in Eurasia, U.S. defense officials have said. Their actions in Georgia, their illegal annexation of Crimea and their troops in the Donbass region of Ukraine are worrisome to the nations of Europe and the United States. Eucom "needs to counter the malign influence in the competition space" from Russia, Moeding said.

A Marine Corps fighter jet sits on the tarmac.
Runway Hornet
A Marine Corps F/A-18 Hornet prepares for takeoff during Exercise Bold Quest 19.1 at Rovaniemi Air Base, Finland, May 15, 2019. The Corps’ participation in Bold Quest 19.1 ensures close-air support interoperability and enables it to globally deploy its forces alongside European allies and partners.
Photo By: Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Cody Rowe
VIRIN: 190515-M-MT228-0404E

All parties would like Russia to change its behavior, he said. "We are going to continue to work to develop those type of operations, activities and investments that help Russia see their behavior is unwanted and needs to change," the colonel said.

The will to use a capability is a political decision, said Army Col. Thomas Lafleur, Eucom’s deputy director for Russia strategic initiatives. "The military … is ready and prepared to execute the missions that our leaders tell us to perform," he said. "Our job … is to show and display that preparedness and readiness."

Doing so will help ensure a state like Russia does not make a miscalculation, he said.

Eucom's exercise program is focused into a five-year campaign, divided into northern and southern regions. The northern campaign focuses on the Baltic Sea and the southern on the Adriatic and Black Sea regions.

A ship passes through open water.
Mount Whitney
The USS Mount Whitney transits the Mediterranean Sea, April 15, 2019. Mount Whitney, forward-deployed to Gaeta, Italy, operates with a combined crew of Navy sailors and Military Sealift Command civil service mariners.
Photo By: Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Drew Verbis
VIRIN: 190415-N-AS200-006E

Almost every exercise the command engages in has international participation. "Interoperability is key," Moeding said. "The Russian perspective is if they can destroy the NATO alliance effectively from within, without a force-on-force situation, that is best for them. Creating that interoperability, that readiness for our multilateral allies and partners to show the cohesiveness of the alliance is key to our exercise program."

The exercise program can bridge political differences.

Turkey is the second-largest nation in the NATO alliance. Last year, it announced plans to buy Russian S-400 anti-aircraft systems. U.S. officials have said that the S-400 is incompatible with the F-35, jeopardizing Turkey's planned purchase of 100 F-35 Lightning II joint strike fighters.

Despite these issues, "there is still that 70-year allied relationship between us and the Turks and it spans across all domains for operations, exercises, cooperation and defense," said Army Col. Ron Franklin, a Eucom division chief.

"I think it is a very 'thick' network," he said, "the military pillar is still strong."

Armored vehicles sit in the hold of a ship.
Stryker Hold
Army Strykers wait to be unloaded during port operations in Alexandroupoli, Greece, May 21, 2019, in support of a series of U.S. Army Europe summer exercises including Saber Guardian and Decisive Strike.
Photo By: Army Sgt. Benjamin Northcutt
VIRIN: 190521-A-MQ814-521F

"When we talked about some of the things we're developing through exercises, one of those things is freedom of movement," said Army Col. Walt Richter, a regional division chief in Eucom.

"Since NATO has grown and we look towards its eastern flank, we're working to increase freedom of movement across those countries," he said. "By working with those countries, we're increasing our interoperability with those allies, ensuring that we have the systems in place to allow freedom of movement and to allow those allies to work closer together in support of NATO's collective defense."

Through the end of September, Eucom will itself host six exercises, while its component commands will host more than 20 exercises. The exercises will take place in Bulgaria, Croatia, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Romania, Slovenia and Ukraine.

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