ATLANTA (Army News Service, May 2, 2016) -- Army aviation in Europe is down to just one combat aviation brigade, the 12th CAB, minus a portion of its headquarters, along with a company of UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters and a battalion of AH-64 Apache helicopters, said Maj. Gen. William K. Gayler.

Gayler was deputy commander of U.S. Army Europe less than a month ago, when he became commander of the U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence and Fort Rucker, Alabama. He spoke at the Army Aviation Association of America-sponsored 2016 Army Aviation Mission Solution Summit here, April 29 and 30.

Brig. Gen. Frank W. Tate, deputy chief of staff for operations, Multinational Corps Northeast, NATO, pointed out that Europe is several times larger than Afghanistan and it's even much larger than the Europe of the Cold War era -- minus the Warsaw Pact countries. Back then, USAREUR had four combat aviation brigades.

Now, USAREUR finds itself doing much more in Europe, with much less aviation capacity.

"Using Army aviation in Europe is amazing," Gayler said, pointing out that there are elements in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Bulgaria, Germany and, episodically, they're in and out of Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary and other countries. "They're busy all the time."

But that lack of capacity is "a great concern," he said. Operating simultaneously in multiple countries with small military and aviation presence is a "great risk."

At any one time, the senior U.S. Army commander in a country might be a captain. "That's pretty impressive," Gayler said, but it's a great concern that he said kept him up at night worrying, and, he kept in touch with those junior leaders a lot to ensure they were all right.

In short, Gayler said there's more work to be done in Europe today than there are airframes available to do it.

Tate, who is headquartered in Poland, said Army aviation will play a big role in the soon-to-kickoff Operation Anaconda in Poland, which will involve about 25,000 Soldiers.

He said Army aviation will get a boost when in fiscal year 2017, a CAB in the U.S. will do a nine-month rotation in Europe to supplement the reduced 12th CAB there now.

RUSSIAN AGGRESSION

Army aviators in Europe cannot rely on ruling the air like they did in Iraq and Afghanistan, Gayler said. They face a peer adversary in Europe.

Gayler pointed out that Russia has upped its air defense with layered capabilities of anti-access, anti-denial, surface-to-surface and surface-to-air systems.

"Why are they doing this?" he asked. He concluded that the Russians want to dominate the region, and that presents challenges. "We've got to be able to be more lethal when we get there."

Tate noted recent Russian fly-bys of U.S. ships in the Baltic, as well as meddling in Ukraine, Georgia and other areas. He said he thinks he understands what the Russian leader is up to.

"Putin sees the European Union and NATO as existential threats to Russia's existence," Tate said.

In response, Russia is executing the same containment strategy the U.S. used in the Cold War to prevent the domino effect of countries falling out of its sphere of influence, he said.

U.S. RESPONSE

The U.S. response, Tate said, is to reassure allies that the U.S. will defend NATO countries and to show resolve in the face of Russian aggression; that will deter them from meddling in the treaty countries.

Tate said he thinks Putin doesn't want war with NATO or the U.S., but if he sees an opportunity to destabilize the alliance, he could make that play, so it's important to show absolute resolve.