WASHINGTON (Army News Service, May 13, 2016) -- U.S. Army Europe has lost its ability to deal effectively with the unlikely but possible threat of a conventional Russian military invasion, said Air Force Lt. Col. Lendy "Alamo" Renegar.
Six students from the U.S. Army War College, including Renegar, spoke at a Pentagon briefing May 12, where they discussed this and other conclusions they've drawn from extensive research and travel through Europe, including meeting with U.S. and NATO staff, as well as the Army staff here.
Their research culminated in a paper entitled "Strategic Landpower and a Resurgent Russia: An Operational Approach to Deterrence," which will be available sometime next month from the U.S. Army Strategic Studies Institute website.
Renegar said USAREUR has just one Stryker and one airborne battalion in Europe. It has no armor unit there. The 2005 Overseas Basing Commission, he said, had warned against removing armor completely from Europe, but that's exactly what the Army did.
"We as a team believe that the strategic calculus in Europe has changed," he said, referring to the aggressive posturing by Russia, along with its occupation of Ukraine and its incursions into Georgia.
"With the amount of mechanized forces that Russia has, we feel the Army needs to return an armored brigade combat team back to Europe," he said. "This will provide deterrence and provide the combatant commander a menu of options to respond and will help provide assurance to allies."
While the focus has been on the hybrid threat from Russia -- using its economic and political influence and fighting with proxy forces -- little attention has been paid to a conventional attack by them on NATO, he said.
Eighty-five percent of the Ukrainians killed in the last few years of fighting were lost due to Russian artillery. "It's a high-intensity battlefield, not just hybrid warfare," Renegar said.
A recent RAND Corporation study posited that Russia could occupy by force two of the three NATO Baltic states within 36 to 60 hours, he said.
ROTATING UNITS BAD IDEA
The Army's idea of regionally aligned forces seems like a good idea, but it's not when it comes to defending Europe, Renegar said.
"Units regionally aligned to Europe are sometimes sent on crisis response missions elsewhere, which wastes time, money and training," he said.
"We recommend getting back to the traditional assigning and allocating of forces for combatant commanders, so [they have] forces when needed," Renegar said.
Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, the USAREUR commander, is doing a good job with the thin forces he has, but a permanent and substantial presence is what's really needed, he said.
Another recommendation made by the students, Renegar said, is to return an assigned joint task force-type headquarters to Europe.
"This will give the Army the ability to have a warfighting headquarters if it needed it," he said.
Army Col. Patrick J. Ellis said Russia could unsettle bordering NATO countries by conducting "snap" exercises on their borders, so called because they are both unannounced and conducted with great speed. If such exercises were held over and over again, it would have a disruptive effect and cause "Putin fatigue" among NATO allies, he said.
Even more likely than snap exercises would by hybrid threats from Russia, he added, meaning using proxy forces and political or economic leverage to cause dissention within NATO.
Ellis said that while it's good that dozens of exercises are conducted in Europe annually with NATO allies, what's really needed are massive exercises. He said Anaconda 2016, set to take place in Poland next month, is a start.
And, those big exercises need to be run by NATO, not just by the U.S., he said. "It would be better if they ran them. That would have a deterrent effect on Russia."
Another suggestion Ellis made is that NATO relook at its process for repositioning forces in NATO and sorting out how nations pay for unit movements as they cross borders and transit the Baltic Sea.
An effective multinational logistics effort is also needed so troops from all countries get the right gear they need, when they need it.
Army Lt. Col. Antonio M. Paz said the information war will certainly play a part in any destructive effort by Russia to fracture the alliance.
Information works two ways, he said. Correct information can reassure allies and show resolve to the Russian audience so they don't miscalculate. Misinformation has the opposite effect.
An interesting model to follow, he said, is the State Department's recently stood up Global Engagement Center, designed to undermine Islamic State propaganda by countering its disinformation.
More robust efforts by public affairs officers and psychological operations officers, specially trained to counter misinformation, would also help, Paz added.
SOURCE OF RUSSIAN MISCHIEF
Marine Lt. Col. Jay Vaughan said that to understand Russia, one needs to understand its president, Vladimir Putin.
Vaughan said he did an extensive psychological profile on Putin, following him back through his earlier career in the Soviet Union and viewing his actions through the lens of Russian history and culture and how that frames his foreign policy.
The conclusion, he said, is that Putin considers himself a Chekist -- a member of the former Soviet state security organization and a name now used for a philosophical stance.
Chekists identify themselves as "protectors of the state and shepherds of the herd," he said.
That ties in to what he's been doing, Vaughan said. He's been very concerned with dissident, uprisings and opposition made possible by democracy. "He's taken measures to suppress that," as in Georgia, Ukraine and within his own country. He also controls the flow of information to his own people via the media.
Putin wants to return Russia to the perceived glory of the Soviet era, he said. He distrusts NATO and the West and wants to modernize his military and test the boundaries with NATO.
"He will do whatever he can to vilify NATO and discredit it and make it appear weak and try to splinter it so he can influence a new security arrangement led by Russia," he added.
While all of this sounds dire, no one wants Russia to collapse, he said. That would create secondary problems. Diplomacy and better relations should be pursued, while keeping sanctions in place and strengthening NATO.