The Weekly Wire: For Your Situational Awareness 6.21.19

 In Weekly Wire

US Borrows From Cold War Playbook to Reinforce NATO’s Eastern Flank

Hamilton Cook, Research Associate

The US and Poland continue to deepen their defense ties amidst a new pact that would begin to establish the groundwork to reinforce NATO’s Eastern Flank by taking several pages from its Cold War playbook. These moves are meant to boost US defense investment in Eastern Europe in the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2014.

One of the critical shortfalls for NATO forces in the region has historically been an underinvestment in basing and infrastructure (which was required by NATO-Russia treaties in the 1990s), and the resulting difficulties of rapidly deploying major US forces to the region in a crisis.

Thus, this deal sees a significant investment in the logistics and C2 enterprise to allow for more US forces to be deployed to the region, and will also reestablish a modern, smaller version of the famed REFORGER (Return of Forces to Germany) exercises of the Cold War, where the US would annually practice the rapid deployment of armored divisions to West Germany to prepare against a Soviet invasion.

This will be led by a new Divisional Headquarters (Forward) that will be established in Poland to prepare and manage operations in the region and provide a dedicated division command instead of sequestering them under the 7th Training Command.

They will be aided by significant investment in infrastructure and logistical support through the establishment of an area support group similar to those in Kuwait and Qatar; an aerial port of debarkation; and sufficient infrastructure to support a full division, including at least one armored brigade, a combat aviation brigade, and sustainment forces.

The command would also be supported by a dedicated special operations capability, an MQ-9 Reaper squadron, and the establishment of a new Combat Training Center. According to the agreement, the US will establish these capabilities and Poland will support the new infrastructure and capabilities at their own expense.

These agreements are reminiscent of some of the US infrastructure established in Germany during the Cold War and still used by operational forces today. Then, the combat forces, supporting units, and headquarters were provided by a reinforced brigade of the 2nd Armored Division (classified as the 2nd Armored Division (Forward)).

Meanwhile, area support group and aerial port of debarkation will likely be familiar to anyone who has visited the Ramstein Air Base, as will the only non-US Combat Training Center in Grafenwoehr. There is also a battalion of Green Berets (1st Bn. 10th SFG) in Stuttgart and ISR assets at Geilenkirchen (E-3s instead of MQ-9s).

As a result, there will likely be political forces at play as Germany and Poland clash over the potential economic ramifications of whether this is an augmentation of US forces in Europe or a shift away from major US bases in Germany, and within the US security establishment as groups debate the effects and survivability of positioning additional forces in Eastern Europe.

The other obvious Cold War similarity is the new Defender 2020 wargames. Clearly modeled after the historic REFORGER exercises, this exercise will be designed to test the Army’s ability to rapidly deploy a division to Europe.

In contrast to rotational forces self-deploying with their equipment to Europe or the stockpiles available for operations throughout Iraq and Afghanistan, the REFORGER-style exercises see US-based forces flown to Europe where they are equipped from Army Prepositioned Stocks.

Soldiers are then required to deploy to the area of operations with that equipment, whether it be via rail, ship, or road. US Army Under-Secretary Ryan McCarthy has noted that, while this will be a particular test of US forces, it will also be a test of Polish infrastructure, which was optimized for older, lighter Soviet-era equipment, and US logistical capability to deal with differences in road construction, rail gauges, and bridge capacities.


Acting US Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan has withdrawn his nomination for Secretary of Defense and plans to resign his position on Friday, June 21.

The move comes as multiple sources revealed that his nomination was delayed by an ongoing background investigation that seemed to center around previously undisclosed domestic violence disputes within the Shanahan family, an Inspector General investigation into potential bias toward his previous employer Boeing, and whether he had ceded too much power to National Security Advisor John Bolton.

Shanahan will be succeeded in his position as Acting Secretary by current Army Secretary, and former Raytheon executive, Mark Esper.


During the Paris Air Show, Saab announced it would include two GlobalEye Airborne Early Warning and Control (AEW&C) aircraft as part of its Gripen E/F bid for Finland’s HX fighter program.

Saab had previously submitted its bid for the HX program in January 2019, though it only revealed at the Paris Air Show that the bid included two AEW&C aircraft. Saab is offering 64 fighters for the multi-billion dollar program consisting of 52 single-seat Gripen Es and 12 double-seat Gripen Fs, and is competing against

  • Boeing’s F/A-18E/F Super Hornet,
  • Dassault’s Rafale,
  • Lockheed Martin’s F-35, and the Eurofighter Typhoon.

In February 2019, the US government approved the offer of the EA-18 Growler to Finland as part of Boeing’s bid, with Saab and Boeing being the only known companies offering SIGINT-based aircraft in addition to fighter jets. Under the HX program, Finland is looking to replace its aging fleet of F/A-18 Hornets worth up to $13 billion and will make a final decision in 2021.


Also during the Paris Air Show, French Defense Minister Florence Parly made announcements on two French special mission aircraft programs, one to replace two C-160G electronic warfare aircraft, and another to replace 13 Falcon 50 and Falcon 200 maritime surveillance aircraft.

The C-160G replacement will be three Dassault Falcon 8Xs with deliveries expected between 2025-2027. France’s maritime surveillance aircraft will be replaced with seven modified Dassault Falcon 2000LXS.

An option for six additional aircraft is possible by 2025, at which point the first three Falcon 2000LXS will have been delivered to the French Navy. The new Falcon 2000s will be designated Albatross by the French service.

To be clear, this is separate from the Franco-German Maritime Airborne Warfare System program, which aims to replace Germany’s P-3s and France’s Atlantique 2s.


Industry press reported on June 15 that the Indian Navy has found defects in INS Khanderi, the second of six Scorpene (Kalvari-class) submarines. Khanderi, scheduled to be commissioned in 2019, will be delayed at least a year while India’s Magazon Dock and French shipbuilder Naval Group address technical problems. The Navy reportedly detected over 35 defects with the boat, including some that increased engine and propeller noise emissions. The news represents another setback for the Kalvari-class program and the country’s maritime defense industrial base. The first boat was delivered in 2017, five years after it was originally slated to be commissioned.


On June 17, the Philippine Department of National Defense announced an invitation to bid on its planned procurement of two amphibious land platform/dock ships. The Philippine government has set a budget of approximately $108 million for the purchase and expects the ships to be delivered within three years. The government also specified that at least one of the ships will need to be built locally. The ships themselves are expected to be integrated with the Philippines’ multi-purpose attack craft, as well as maritime rotorcraft. This purchase is part of the Philippines’ Second Horizon modernization plan, which is the second of three sets of defense modernization the country is undertaking to more effectively counter threats ranging from Chinese influence to internal insurgencies.

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