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Policy Chief Outlines Changes to U.S. Defense Postures in Germany, European Theater

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The Defense Department continues to prioritize implementation of the National Defense Strategy, including building a more lethal force and strengthening alliances, DOD's acting undersecretary of defense for policy told the House Armed Services Committee.

Dr. James Anderson testified on Wednesday before the committee about proposed changes to U.S. defense postures in Germany and the European theater.

"One important initiative to advance the NDS and to ensure a focus on these priorities is the ongoing comprehensive review of all combatant commands as part of the U.S. European Command review," he noted.


A goal is to develop options for posturing base forces to compete more effectively and respond to contingencies both within Europe and globally, he said.

To that end, the acting undersecretary said Defense Secretary Dr. Mark T. Esper's five core principles will guide those options by:

  • Enhancing deterrence of Russia;
  • Strengthening NATO;
  • Reassuring allies for improving U.S. strategic flexibility and Eucom's operational flexibility; and
  • Taking care of service members and their families.

Anderson said Esper announced in July an update on the status of the U.S. European Command's force posture review following a decision by the White House to limit the number of assigned, active-duty service members in Germany to 25,000 and the DOD's concept to reposition some U.S. forces within Europe and the U.S. to be better situated for great-power competition.

Four people stand atop an amphibious vehicle as it emerges from muddy waters.
Defender Europe
Staff officers from NATO’s Allied Rapid Reaction Corps visit British Royal Engineers in Minden, Germany, to learn about amphibious engineering ahead of the corps’ participation in Exercise Defender Europe 20, Feb. 26, 2020. The troops from the British Army’s 23 Amphibious Engineer Squadron will play a key role during the massive U.S.-led exercise where they will come under the command of the multinational NATO corps. The staff officers witnessed the royal engineers rehearse “wide wet gap” crossing drills on their M3 amphibious rigs at their German base on the Weser River in northwest Germany.
Photo By: Courtesy of British Army Sgt. Alistair Laidlaw
VIRIN: 200226-O-AB123-0033

The review, he noted, yielded a concept for nearly 12,000 military service members to be restationed from Germany, with almost 5,600 restationed in other NATO countries, and about 6,400 returning to the United States. 

"The realignment concept includes consolidating headquarters to strengthen operational agility, repositioning some forces in the United States to focus on readiness, and to prepare for rotational deployments and deploying rotational forces to the Black Sea region, NATO's southeastern flank, to improve deterrence," Anderson said.

The acting undersecretary outlined the concept's four pillars:

  • The consolidation of various U.S. headquarters in Europe outside Germany, including in some cases co-locating headquarters at the same locations as their NATO counterparts in Belgium and Italy. That would help strengthen NATO and improve operational efficiency and readiness with more than 2,000 service members in these headquarters. 
  • The nearly 4,500 members of the 2nd Cavalry Regiment would return to the United States, as other Stryker units begin rotations further east in the Black Sea region, giving DOD the more enduring presence to enhance deterrence and reassure allies along NATO's Southeastern flank. 
  • Some 2,500 airmen based in the United Kingdom, who are responsible for aerial refueling and special operations and who had been scheduled to rebase to Germany, would remain in the U.K., ensuring the uninterrupted readiness and responsiveness of those units.
  • A fighter squadron and elements of a fighter wing would be repositioned to Italy, moving them closer to the Black Sea region and rendering them more capable to conduct dynamic force employment and rotational deployments to NATO's Southeastern flank. 

"This concept to reposition our forces in Europe constitutes a major strategic shift, wholly aligned with the NDS and consistent with other adjustments the [United States] has previously made with NATO," Anderson said.

The view of a road and trees from inside a military vehicle.
Fighting Vehicle
A photograph shows the view from the troop commanders’ hatch of an M2 Bradley infantry fighting vehicle assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 67th Armored Regiment, 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team. The photo was taken during the Combined Arms Live Fire Training Exercise at Grafenwoehr Training Area, Germany, Sept. 3, 2020. U.S. Army Europe ensures the consistent availability of combat-credible Army forces in support of U.S. allies and partners and the stability and security of Europe. To do so, U.S. personnel and equipment must remain at a high level of readiness.
Photo By: Army Sgt. Thomas Stubblefield
VIRIN: 200903-A-AK662-975

"Over NATO's 71-year history, the size, composition and disposition of U.S. forces in Europe has changed many times. As our planning for the current realignment matures, we will be sure to communicate frequently with Congress and with our NATO allies to maintain visibility and foster cooperation," he said.

As DOD continues to put the NDS in place, the efforts at enhancing its European posture beyond the Eucom combatant command review have shown recent successes, the undersecretary said, including the signing of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement with Poland in August, which will enable an increased, enduring U.S. rotational presence in that country of about 1,000 U.S. military personnel. 

A soldier wearing camouflage gear sits on the ground in a field to aim his weapon.
British Soldier
British soldiers assigned to the Legion Troop, C Squadron, also known as the Light Dragoons, conduct a reconnaissance exercise during NATO's enhanced Forward Presence Battle Group-Poland mission in Bemowo Piskie, Poland, May 6, 2020. NATO’s enhanced Forward Presence consists of four battalion-sized battle groups deploying on a persistent rotational basis to Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland to demonstrate the alliance’s determination and ability to act as one in response to any aggression against its members.
Photo By: Army Staff Sgt. Timothy Hamlin
VIRIN: 200506-A-LY216-1002C

These elements are in addition to the 4,500 U.S. military service members already on rotation in Poland and include infrastructure and logistical support provided by Poland, he said. 

"Our continued efforts to streamline operations across Europe — including through modernized and new agreements with NATO allies, especially on the Eastern flank — directly support our NDS principles by improving operational flexibility and enhancing deterrence," Anderson told the committee. "The department is confident that these continuing efforts will help us adapt the force and optimize our force posture in Europe as we seek to deter malign actors." 

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