ANSBACH, Germany — After participating in their first DEFENDER-Europe exercise last year, U.S. Army Fifth Corps was tasked with providing command and control of the theater-wide military exercise, DEFENDER-Europe 22.
DEFENDER-Europe is an annual large-scale U.S. Army-led, multinational, joint exercise designed to build readiness, enhance interoperability, and strengthen relationships between U.S., NATO Allies, and partner militaries. Approximately 3,450 U.S. and 5,200 multi-national service members from 11 nations—Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, Netherlands, Poland, Slovakia, Sweden, and the United Kingdom—conducted nearly-simultaneous operations across nine countries in the European theater.
"DEFENDER-Europe and its accompanying and linked exercises explicitly demonstrate our commitment to European security and to maintaining interoperability with our NATO Allies and partners," said Gen. Christopher Cavoli, U.S. Army Europe and Africa, commanding general. "Through exercises like this, we are prepared to defend every inch of NATO territory with a strong, combat-credible force to ensure we stay stronger together in the face of any aggression.”
Throughout the exercise, V Corps demonstrated its ability to rapidly aggregate U.S.-based combat power in Eastern Europe, increase the lethality of the NATO alliance through long-distance fires, build unit readiness in a complex joint, multinational environment, and leverage host nation capabilities to increase the command’s operational reach.
Preparations for DEFENDER-Europe 22 began in March with the arrival of 20,000 pieces of equipment from the U.S. to ports located in Denmark, Greece, Latvia, Lithuania, and Netherlands as part of the U.S. pre-planned exercise deployment to Europe.
In early May, U.S. Army forces under V Corps began to draw Army Prepositioned Stocks (APS) from sites in Belgium, Germany, and the Netherlands; and began to move to various training areas via convoy, rail, line haul, or barge.
“Army Prepositioned Stocks are a critical part of the Army's global power projection capability. The utilization of APS within the U.S. Army Europe and Africa command area of responsibility enables us to effectively set the theater for units like V Corps. APS allows us to significantly reduce a deployment timeline, improve deterrence posture, and rapidly generate combat power for contingency operations,” said Maj. Gen. James Smith, commanding general of the 21st Theater Sustainment Command.
This year’s DEFENDER-Europe exercise consisted of a long range movement including two wet gap crossings near Deblin and Nowogród, Poland which were command and controlled by 1st Infantry Division. The 169th Field Artillery Brigade had oversight of a multinational live-fire exercise near Drawski Promorskie, Poland and a high mobility artillery rocket system (HIMARS) live fire exercise in Saaremaa, Estonia that concluded with a HIMARS Rapid Infiltration joint exercise into Bornholm, Denmark.
The long range movement and wet gap crossings reinforce the U.S. Army’s ability to rapidly deploy across the complex European terrain while emphasizing the importance of V Corp’s forward presence in building combat power along NATO’s eastern flank. The movement began early May with 1st Battalion, 66th Armor Regiment, 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, moving from Zagan to Deblin, Poland, where they conducted their first wet gap crossing through a float bridge that was launched by the 74th Multi-Role Bridge Company. The movement continued on from Deblin, Poland to Nowogród, Poland where they conducted the second wet gap crossing.
“This river crossing is one of the marquee events during DEFENDER-Europe 22. In my estimation, it is the most complex tactical operation that a unit must execute,” said Lt. Gen. John Kolasheski, U.S. Army V Corps commanding general, during an interview with Armed Forces Network, May 18. “This is where it all comes together, where all of the months of preparation pay off. Today, what we saw is a Polish Brigade with multiple allied nations and partners execute a river crossing along three different axes and it went off without a hitch. So yes, this exercise is very significant and you can visibly see the success of our NATO Allies when we work together.”
Following their last wet gap crossing into Nowogrod, Poland, 1-66th Armor Battalion continued their long-range movement to Pabrade, Lithuania.
The large-scale movement of troops and equipment for these exercises involve extensive support from each of the host nations, demonstrating the importance of Ally and partner investment in European military readiness and defense.
On May 17, 1st Battalion, 68th Armor Regiment participated in a multinational live-fire exercise that enhanced interoperability among NATO Allies and partners, and increased readiness by integrating land and air components with defense capabilities.
The threat scenarios involved various military aircraft with a live flyover to more effectively prepare and maintain cohesion during any joint, multinational conflict in U.S. Army Europe and Africa's area of responsibility.
On May 23, 1st Battalion, 14th Field Artillery Regiment fired M142 HIMARS multiple launch rocket systems on notional naval targets north of the Undva peninsula in Saaremaa, Estonia. Undva was also the location for target practice by a U.S. A-10 subsonic attack aircraft.
Following the live fire exercise in Estonia, 1-14th Field Artillery Battalion, conducted a HI-RAIN exercise into Bornholm, Denmark, in order to successfully mobilize, transport, and rapidly employ a M142 HIMARS from one location to another on May 24. Simultaneously, a U.S. Marine Corps Air Naval Gunfire Liaison Company and U.S. Air Force A-10s were conducting Joint Terminal Air Controller training events that were command and controlled by the 169th Field Artillery Brigade.
“DEFENDER-Europe 22 has been a remarkable exercise and has given us an opportunity to work shoulder-to-shoulder with Allies and partners from across all of Europe,” said Kolasheski. “It has been a critical exercise with our Allies and partner nations in demonstrating alliance readiness, interoperability, and capability especially given the situation in Ukraine.”
Along with these three major exercises command and controlled by 1st Infantry Division and 169th Field Artillery Brigade, DEFENDER-Europe 22 also encompasses several linked and associated exercises. Linked exercises share coordinated mission command, mutual sustainment, and common mission partner environment. Exercises linked to DEFENDER-Europe 22 included Flaming Thunder, Slovak Shield, and Summer Shield.
Flaming Thunder is a Lithuanian-led live-fire exercise held mid-May that focused on fires and interoperability of artillery systems. The training involved over 1,200 troops from nine NATO countries, including U.S., Canada, Croatia, Latvia, Poland, Lithuania, the Netherlands, France, and Germany.
Slovak Shield is a Slovakian-led exercise focused on land operations. The exercise involved more than 1,200 soldiers from Slovakia, Hungary, and the U.S. The exercise also served as a training opportunity for the multinational NATO battlegroup that has been stationed in Slovakia for more than a month. The exercise devoted to a command and staff exercise to train commanders, staff, and units in the planning and conducting of joint operations in an international environment.
Summer Shield is a Latvian-led field training exercise focused on land operations. The exercise was also a test for the combat support specialists of a Latvian brigade. The soldiers primarily performed tactical tasks preceded by the process of planning and coordinating combat support elements both within the multinational NATO battlegroup in Latvia and the Latvian Mechanized Brigade.
All U.S. Army Europe and Africa exercises and training events are designed to build readiness, which is the capability of its forces to conduct a full range of military operations to defeat all of their adversaries regardless of the threats they pose. The four elements of readiness are manning, training, equipping, and leader development. V Corps will continue to coordinate all U.S. Army Europe and Africa exercise programs with its Allies and partners to enhance combat capabilities, promote interoperability, and sustain strategic access. V Corps remains resolute and transparent in its goals of deterring conflict.