How the US military could mobilize if Russia invaded Ukraine

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American paratroopers disembarking in the Baltic countries, army cavalry and artillerymen coming from Germany and an armored brigade massing its forces.

These are some of the steps the U.S. European Command could take to bolster NATO’s eastern flank if Russia invades Ukraine, analysts said.

There will also be pressure on NATO to activate its little-used rapid reaction spear force, a unit created in response to Russia’s 2014 intervention in Ukraine, to show allied unity.

“This (NATO) force was built for this kind of crisis,” said John R. Deni, European security expert at the US Army War College. “It is a representative force of many allies. So not using it now, frankly, risks undermining NATO solidarity.”

While it is uncertain whether Russian President Vladimir Putin will launch another invasion of Ukraine, what has become clear is that there will be an Allied military response of some form in the territory of Ukraine. NATO if an attack occurs.

US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, speaking on Tuesday after a meeting between Putin and his American counterpart, Joe Biden, said the United States was ready to fortify its NATO allies on the eastern flank.

“What additional capacities can we provide to ensure that they feel strong and confident in their own sovereignty and territorial integrity? Sullivan said.

He did not say what the additional capabilities are, but said they are “on the table in these countries if Russia moves to Ukraine more decisively.”

The question now is what kinds of military maneuvers might come into play if the US-led NATO alliance were to bolster defenses in Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, Poland and Romania.

Retired General Philip Breedlove, who commanded EUCOM and served as NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander from 2013 to 2016, said the alliance is now better positioned to respond to a crisis qu ‘it was not in 2014, when Moscow suddenly annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula.

“At the end of the day, we made some good changes in NATO and we need to continue to finish what we started,” said Breedlove.

He declined to offer a prescription on exactly how US and Allied forces should be mobilized in the event of another invasion of Ukraine. But he said “a change in readiness is needed.”

EUCOM’s initial response to Russia’s 2014 intervention in Ukraine offers an indication of what it could do for a second time, including strengthening air policing in the Baltic states with F-16s from the United States. air force and parachuting soldiers of the 173rd Airborne Brigade in Poland and the Baltic States.

The rapid mobilization was aimed at reassuring the allies and deterring Russian aggression.

The subsequent high-profile road convoys of the 2nd Cavalry Regiment, based in Vilseck, Germany, were also part of the Army’s response at the time.

Deni said similar steps should be expected if the allies are to respond again. But unlike the case of seven years ago, the US military is no longer in decline on the continent, giving EUCOM more forces to choose from.

“Granted, we didn’t have everything we needed (in 2014),” Breedlove said. “Fortunately, since those days our forces have only increased in Europe, so that’s a good thing.”

For example, in 2014 there were no more army tanks in Europe. The last of the Army’s M-1 Abrams main battle tanks left Germany exactly one year before Russia’s annexation of Crimea.

From now on, a rotating American armored brigade is positioned in Europe all year round.

EUCOM could also choose to mass armored forces, which are often scattered along the eastern flank, in the Baltic states if it wanted to fortify defenses in a reinsurance move, Deni said.

In addition, the military added aviation capabilities and brought in new artillery units, based in Germany, which could be sent to the Baltic States and Poland for insurance missions.

A new multi-domain task force at US military headquarters for Europe and Africa, launched in September, could also be factored into plans for strengthening in the east, Deni said.

The unit is intended to link unconventional combat capabilities into the electronic realm.

One area of ​​uncertainty is what NATO member states will be prepared to do. The alliance already has four multinational battle groups in the Baltic States and Poland that have been formed to deter Russian aggression.

These units would likely be on heightened alert in the event of an attack on Ukraine.

NATO’s 5,000-man spearhead force, officially known as the Very High Readiness Joint Task Force, could also be activated.

Calling on this unity, which is made up of forces from allied countries, would demonstrate the unity of the alliance.

“It will all be based on a request from the allies. If we see them going to NATO and asking for help and not getting it in a timely manner, I think we will see the United States acting bilaterally.” , said Deni. “I feel like (the Baltic States and Poland) want more American boots on the pitch, period. I strongly suspect that the desire will grow, not decrease.”

However, it is not clear whether all allies would be on board, analysts said.

“The main problem seems to be that once again some NATO allies have a different perception of the threat to Russia and a reluctance to stand up to Putin,” said Jorge Benitez, expert of NATO in the Atlantic Council think tank in Washington.

In Ukraine itself, US National Guard troops and special operations teams are stationed on a training mission. They are positioned far from the ongoing conflict with Russian-backed separatists in the east of the country.

And there is no indication that the Pentagon wants to add coaches. Such a move could be seen as escalation by Russia.

But on Tuesday, Sullivan said Washington was ready to provide additional defensive materiel to the Ukrainians beyond the $ 2.5 billion in security assistance provided since 2014.

The United States provided anti-tank javelins, armed patrol boats, counter-artillery radars, and unmanned aerial systems.

“We have an ongoing pipeline that is providing various forms of defensive assistance to Ukraine,” Sullivan said. “Whether this pipeline needs additional supplements as we move forward will depend on changing circumstances. “

This story originally appeared on Stars and Stripes.

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