By Kristina Wong - 01/10/15 08:34 AM EST
The Army plans to send a brigade of tanks and fighting vehicles into Europe by the end of this year, according to the top Army commander in the region.
More than 150 tanks and fighting vehicles will go to Germany and other countries in Europe as part of the Army’s plan to bolster its presence on the continent.
“By the end of 2015, we will have an entire heavy brigade combat team of equipment — that’s enough tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles, self-propelled Howitzers, engineer vehicles, on and on, for three battalions and a reconnaissance squadron plus all the enablers,” Lt. Gen Frederick "Ben" Hodges, Commander of U.S. Army Europe, told The Hill.
The move is also meant to reassure European allies worried about Russia, which has tanks positioned on the eastern border of Ukraine.
The U.S. isn’t moving permanent troops to Europe to go along with the equipment. Troops will instead rotate through the continent.
About 3,000 additional soldiers would be deployed between March and the fall. The U.S. now has roughly 67,000 troops based in Europe.
“I anticipate that almost the entire 1st Brigade of 3rd Division will come over in March, so you’re looking at probably over 3,000 soldiers that would be part of a brigade combat team like that,” Hodges said.
It’s all part of the Army’s Regionally Aligned Forces (RAF) plan to maintain a presence in the region, but at the same time save on costs of permanently basing forces there.
Hodges said the Army will present recommendations to European Command by the end of January of where exactly to place the equipment.
Putting tanks and hardware back into Europe is a reversal of sorts: Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond Odierno announced in June 2013 that the Army was cutting two heavy brigade combat teams from Europe.
When Russia invaded Crimea in March, there was not a single Army tank in Europe.
Two brigades remain in Europe — the 173rd Airborne Brigade in Vicenza, Italy, and the 2nd Stryker Brigade in Vilseck, Germany.
Hodges said Odierno conceived of the plan before the Russian invasion in order to maintain an Army presence in Europe given the drawdown in Afghanistan.
“Gen. Odierno’s concept was what gave us the opportunity on a really, really short time span to be able to get heavy forces over into the Baltics and Poland at a time where we needed that for assurance purposes as part of Operation Atlantic Resolve,” Hodges said.
“Back in the spring, we had paratroopers show up there in no time,” he said. “The strategic effect of just one company of American paratroopers walking off an airplane into Estonia, where you had the president and prime minister out there in tears, everybody waving American flags, that was a powerful effect.”
Luke Coffey, the Margaret Thatcher fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation, said the plan was an attempt to “try to right a wrong” of cutting brigades, but argued that rotating the troops was not enough to deter Moscow from further aggressive moves.
“It’s not the same,” said Coffey, a former soldier. “It looks great on social media and has limited strategic impact, but little tactical value.”
Hodges said the Army does not have the need for four brigades in Europe.
“Surely I would love to have more forces that were here, but in terms of what we need, and what we can afford as an Army, two is about the right number here,” he said.