The United States is not at war with Russia, but the Army is set to receive an infusion of wartime funding to beef up its presence and upgrade its equipment in Europe to bolster NATO and deter Moscow from aggression eastward.
The Pentagon recently announced $3.4 billion to pay for an expansion of the European Reassurance Initiative. Nearly all of that–$2.8 billion–-will be deposited in the Army’s overseas contingency operations (OCO) account for use in Europe.
The Army’s OCO request for fiscal 2017 rose to $23 billion from $21 billion in the current fiscal year, almost entirely because of planned activities to counter Russia on the continent, said Army Budget Director Maj. Gen. Thomas Horlander.
Included is the constant presence of an armored brigade combat team (ABCT) in Europe. About 34,000 soldiers are currently stationed on the continent. At any given time there will be a Stryker brigade, an infantry brigade and an armored brigade in Europe without a gap between deployments, said Maj. Gen. Walter Piatt, deputy commanding general of Army Europe and Seventh Army in Germany.
“This continuation is going to allow us to put a heel-to-toe armored brigade combat team…without a gap,” Piatt said. “When we pulled it out of Europe, we committed to a NATO response force, we would bring it over periodically for exercises. Now we’re coming back and we’re upping the commitment.”
A brigade’s worth of equipment will be prepositioned in Europe in addition to the European activity set of vehicles and equipment the Army has distributed throughout the continent, mainly along NATO’s eastern flank.
“It’s a step toward deterrence,” Piatt said. “It’s not equating to just one brigade. We need to have division headquarters enablers. We need to have the fires. We need the capability that you would have to present that deterrence against a conventional threat.”
Army OCO spending in Europe increased by a factor of five, from $509 million in the current fiscal year to $2.8 billion in the fiscal 2017 request. Preparations for conflict in Europe would account for more than one 10th of the Army’s $25 billion wartime funding account.
The Army more than doubled funding for its presence in Europe from $320 million in the current fiscal year to $727 million. Funding for building partnership capacity on the continent has risen from $3 million in fiscal 2015 to $50 million in the fiscal 2017 request.
Funding for exercises also jumped nearly $30 million from the current fiscal year to $89 million.
Within the Army’s overall OCO funding request is $2.5 billion for research, development and acquisition, which covers replacements for vehicles lost in combat in Afghanistan, ammunition replenishment and upgrades for the equipment the Army plans to preposition in Europe.
At least $74 million of that will go toward engineering change proposals for the Stryker wheeled vehicle. The upgrades are aimed at increasing the vehicle’s maneuverability and firepower, said Maj. Gen. L. Neil Thurgood, deputy for acquisition and systems management for the assistant secretary of the Army for acquisition, logistics and technology.
Enhancements planned to prepositioned stocks are not major capability upgrades like the addition of a double-V hull to Strykers. The funding is meant to enhance specific subcomponents and capabilities of the vehicles in the context of a potential fight in Europe.
“Sometimes we only focus on the big end item: a tank or a helicopter. But there are a lot of enablers that also have to be modernized with it,” Thurgood said. “All those enablers sometimes get lost in the weeds of these big sweeping things we are doing with our modernization.”
The current focus is on equipping the Stryker with a 30mm cannon, but will also include upgrades to the vehicle’s command-and-control system, maneuverability and possibly the addition of an active protection system, Thurgood said.
“The Stryker has been a great success story for the Army and a great effort and a great combat multiplier and enabler for our soldiers,” he said. “We have learned over the last 14 years in a progression from the original procurement of a flat-bottom [vehicle] and the lessons learned there to the double-V hull and the lessons learned there. The next iteration of that is to bring some additional lethality to the Stryker vehicle.”