December 14th, 2016 09:48 EST
Developing Military Capabilities in the Heart of Europe
Military capabilities matter more than just numbers.
U.S. commanders around the world want to get away from a discussion of numbers of troops, and talk about capabilities.
But developing the military capabilities is a long-term process and requires the correct doctrine, the best equipment and right training. A Marine engages his target during the Day Shot event as part of the European Best Sniper Squad Competition at the 7th Army Training Command`s Grafenwoehr training area in Germany, October 2016. Army photo by Spc. Sara Stalvey
The U.S. military is the best in the world today. The hard-won lessons from 15 years of war have been learned for the counterinsurgency fight, but the combined arms and joint skills needed for a fight against a near-peer adversary have atrophied. The U.S. military requires these full-spectrum capabilities, because with them lies full-spectrum deterrence.
Nowhere is that full-spectrum need more acute than in Europe. Russia has invested significant money in its military and its actions betray its intent. Russia threatens Georgia and has annexed Crimea. It continues to threaten Ukraine.
Russia`s actions are seen as a threat to the eastern flank of NATO, with the front-line states -- Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, Romania and Bulgaria -- particularly worried.
The United States is absolutely committed to the defense of NATO, and that means having full-spectrum capabilities not only within U.S. forces, but with NATO and partner nations as well.
The 7th Army Training Command in Grafenwoehr, Germany, is one of those places where capabilities are built.
Russia`s illegal annexation of Crimea in February 2014 changed the face of Europe, and was a wake-up call about Russian intentions.
This carried over into the military domain. "It has changed the way things are happening, it`s changed the partnership and the way allies are working together, and we have walked into a very unique time as we are on the cusp of not only training our forces, but the alliance" at Grafenwoehr, said Army Brig. Gen. Tony Aguto, the commander of 7th Army Training Command.
Since the end of World War II, U.S. forces have used the German training areas at Grafenwoehr, Hohenfels and Vilseck. "That all still happens," Aguto said. "But now it happens with a NATO flavor."
Since 2014, every exercise done at the ranges -- be they firing exercises at Grafenwoehr or maneuvers at Hohenfels -- are with other NATO nations or partner nations. There are 28 nations in NATO and they need to act together to counter any threats. This means the nations` militaries must be able to operate as one. NATO`s experiences in Afghanistan certainly helped this interoperability, but it is now being carried into a new realm of warfare.
"In many cases, the best [exercises] are when a Latvian or Pole or Estonian commands a U.S. battalion, and we have those at least twice a year," Aguto said.
All of the NATO partners come here wanting to learn and they are motivated, the general said. "There are always gaps, whether it is technology or training, but by the time they finish a rotation or a training event, most of those gaps have been closed and they walk away not only with a better trained force, but a list of requirements they need to work on or technology they need to invest in, as do we," he said.
Last summer, a total of 45,000 service members used the command`s training facilities. Aguto expects at least the same amount this coming year. The base was a major training area for U.S. Army Europe, back when there were 350,000 Americans in West Germany, alone. The base can handle it, the general said.
But the training is more complicated and more interwoven and more international than ever before. In addition, elements of the training are tied together via the Internet. "The Joint Multinational Simulation Center is here, which allows us to connect training between Graf and Hohenfels, and also connect to a higher headquarters," Aguto said.
One recent example, he said, shows the complicated this can get. A Lithuanian brigade was operating at the training area. With the brigade in Germany were Czech, Romanian, Belgian, American and Polish units. All of these were linked to another brigade training in Lithuania. That unit has British units attached. And all of these were under command of a California National Guard division.
The quality of training has improved significantly, and the command is making full use of simulations in combination with its live-fire ranges, Aguto said.
The command is not limited to Graf and Hohenfels. The command is also responsible for training Ukrainian soldiers in the western part of that country and -- with the Marines -- training Georgian soldiers.
And the command is a learning organization, the general said. It takes in everything learned from Russian information operations, electronic warfare, artillery and "those lessons learned come back into the system and get fed right back into the training environment," Aguto said.
Next year will be another busy year for the command. In July, U.S. Army Europe is sponsoring Exercise Saber Guardian. While still in the planning stages, the exercise will test continent-wide response. In February 2017, Exercise Dynamic Front II begins. That exercise will highlight fires systems and test the ability of several nations` militaries to work together. Nearly 1,300 troops from nine countries will train together under the command of the 82nd Airborne Division`s division artillery.
(Follow Jim Garamone on Twitter: @GaramoneDoDNews)
Photo Credit: Wikipedia