In the Deployment Zone

BERLIN/VILNIUS/RUKLA | | litauen

BERLIN/VILNIUS/RUKLA (Own report) - One year after the first deployment of German troops in Lithuania, the Bundeswehr has begun its third troop rotation. Within the framework of NATO's anti-Russia troop concentration in the Baltic region and Poland, the 292nd light infantry battalion from the town of Donaueschingen will take command of the multinational battle group in Rukla. The Bundeswehr is simultaneously enhancing its bilateral cooperation with Lithuania's armed forces, which are increasingly replacing old US-produced weaponry with German arms. They are buying the German Fuchs armored transport vehicles, worth 385 million euros - the country's most expensive procurement so far. This is one of the reasons why the Lithuanian military budget has skyrocketed 2.5 times its 2014 volume. The cooperation with Germany has been supplemented by the creation of a paramilitary force, being instructed by the Lithuanian army in Afghan insurgent combat techniques.

Rotation in Rukla

One year after their initial deployment in Lithuania, German troops have begun their third rotation. Last week, troops from the 292nd light infantry battalion, from the town of Donaueschingen, began loading their Boxer armored transport vehicles and several material containers onto the trains of the Deutsche Bahn, for transport to Lithuania's military base in Rukla. The first contingent of soldiers from the unit has already departed for the base. They will be relieving the nearly 450 soldiers of the 371st Mechanized Infantry Battalion from Marienberg (Saxony), who, since August of last year, have been stationed in Rukla, where the Bundeswehr is commanding the multinational battle group. Together with three other battle groups in Estonia, Latvia and Poland, they form NATO's so-called enhanced Forward Presence (eFP) in the Baltics - an important component of the western war alliance's measures openly directed against Russia.[1] Notably, the battle group is holding joint war exercises with the Lithuanian "Iron Wolf" Brigade, also stationed in Rukla. Germany seeks to enhance a network of troops throughout Europe, that it is promoting within the frameworks of NATO and the EU.[2]

Military Budget: Nearly Tripled

Parallel to its cooperation within NATO's enhanced Forward Presence (eFP), the Lithuanian armed forces have begun to intensify their cooperation with the Bundeswehr and Germany's arms industry. This is one of the reasons why the Lithuanian military budget has skyrocketed from €322 million, in 2014, to this year's €873 million. Vilnius is also using these funds to expand its armed forces. Between 2014 and 2016, the military grew by 25% and the number of personnel should reach 19,740 this year. This was made possible by the reintroduction of Lithuanian conscription. Funds were also used to establish two national battle groups, which can be deployed within 24 hours to react to so-called hybrid threats, below conventional war escalation levels. Lithuania has also more than doubled the surface of its military training grounds in Pabradė and Gariūnai. The Bundeswehr also uses these for its combat exercises.[3]

German Weapons

Vilnius has also begun to massively upgrade its armed forces by largely reverting to German weaponry. In August 2016, it ordered 88 Boxer armored transport vehicles from the Rheinmetall arms manufacturer in Düsseldorf. Worth €385.6 million, this is Lithuania's largest weapons purchase ever. The first two armored transport vehicles were delivered in December 2017. They will serve to train Lithuanian military personnel. Vilnius is also buying 21 tank howitzer 2000s from Bundeswehr stocks, which - like the Boxer - will successively replace US produced models. The Lithuanian army is also buying from the Bundeswehr 168 M-577 command post vehicles - US models produced by Rheinmetall in Kassel - and has ordered 340 Daimler military Unimog vehicles worth US $60 million. The German G36 assault rifle is the Lithuanian army's standard weapon. The purchase of German weaponry has been supplemented with intensified cooperation with the Bundeswehr, which is training Lithuanian soldiers to operate the tank howitzer 2000s and Boxers.

Afghan Insurgency Techniques

In addition to enhancing cooperation with the Bundeswehr and upgrading its military with German weaponry, Lithuania - like the other Baltic countries and Poland - is setting up paramilitary units for possible combat against Russia. According to reports, the ranks of the Lithuanian Riflemen's Union (Lietuvos šaulių sąjunga) have increased by nearly 50% to more than 10,000 members, nearly half of them minors.[4] The Union is profoundly nationalist oriented, runs paramilitary sport training grounds and provides military training to its members. Adult members are allowed to purchase semi-automatic rifles.[5] The Riflemen's Union holds joint military exercises regularly with the Lithuanian army, wherein it would be integrated, in the case of war. Among the various combat techniques the army is teaching the paramilitary union include insurgency methods picked up during their deployments as part of the NATO coalition to Afghanistan.[6]

Military Transit Area

Whereas Lithuania is becoming more and more militarized - also with Bundeswehr help - Germany and Poland are increasingly being transformed into military transit areas. Last year, a US Brigade - which continuously holds military exercises in six Eastern and Southeastern European countries - was transferred across Germany to Poland,[7] before the Bundeswehr began transporting its troops and material, for the first time, to Rukla. The second Bundeswehr transport was made in July, the second US transport - the US brigade, active in Eastern Europe, is rotating as well - in September.[8] The third German troop rotation, currently in progress, will be followed by a third US troop rotation in late spring or early summer, just before the fourth German troop rotation (July 2018). According to the Bundeswehr, extensive military transports of this magnitude have not been carried out for 20 years and much of it must be relearned.[9] In view of the intensity of the troop movements, the German armed forces will soon be able to organize large-scale troop redeployments at high speed and at any time - at least going eastward.

 

[1] See also Vormarsch nach Osten.

[2] See also Unter deutschem Kommando and Der Start der Militärunion.

[3] Starker Partner: Litauen reformiert seine Streitkräfte. bmvg.de 29.01.2018.

[4] Elizabeth Zerofsky: Everyman's War. harpers.org October 2017.

[5] Jonathan Brown: Baltic minutemen fight Russian foe. politico.eu 06.12.2016.

[6] Elizabeth Zerofsky: Everyman's War. harpers.org October 2017.

[7] See also Vom Frontstaat zur Transitzone.

[8] See also Vom Frontstaat zur Transitzone (II).

[9] Alexander Fröhlich: US-Soldaten fahren durch Brandenburg. tagesspiegel.de 05.01.2018.