War Exercise Despite Pandemic (III)

The US Army Europe and the Bundeswehr prepare for the major Defender Europe 21 large-scale exercise - targeting Russia.

BERLIN/WASHINGTON (Own report) - NATO countries are preparing for a second major "Defender Europe" exercise. Opening activities are scheduled for May. Last year's Defender Europe 20 would have been, in its originally planned version, the largest exercise under US command since the end of the Cold War. Defender Europe is conceived as a series of annual exercises to maintain and expand Europe's new level of militarization. Defender Europe 21 - also targeting Russia - is planned on a comparable scale as last year's exercise, however, with a different regional focus - the Black Sea rather than the Baltic region. Germany is also involved, on the one hand, directly participating with its own soldiers and on the other with logistical support. Last year, civilian infrastructure had also been placed at the disposal of NATO troops. In addition to the Defender Europe exercises against Russia, the United States is planning a series of Defender Pacific exercises targeting China.

Defender Europe 20

Defender Europe 20 had been initially planned to be the largest war exercise of NATO troops in Europe since the end of the Cold War. Around 20,000 US soldiers were to be relocated across the Atlantic to join US units already stationed in Europe, as well as, alliance and partner troops in the US-led exercise of an interdisciplinary conflict simulation. A total of 37,000 soldiers from 16 NATO and two partner countries were to participate. In essence, the objective was to familiarize the military with a variety of transfer routes from the USA through Europe to the Russian border. In addition, numerous war exercises were to be conducted in various countries from the Baltic to the Black Sea in a simulated "battlefield network." For its planning, the military alliance resorts to the kinds of exercises it has regularly been carrying out in the region for years.[1]

With German Participation

The US-led exercise had just begun in early 2020, when the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic foiled the military's plans and prevented them from fully carrying out the exercise. Whereas civilian life was massively restricted in large parts of the world due to the pandemic, Defender Europe 20 was scaled down, but not completely halted. When, in March 2020, the decision had been taken to reduce the size of the maneuver, nearly 6,000 US soldiers had already arrived in Europe. Before transporting them back across the Atlantic, they conducted a few exercises in spite of the pandemic. (german-foreign-policy.com reported.[2]) The Bundeswehr officially halted exercise activities in Germany in mid-March due to the pandemic. Germany had not only placed its military infrastructure at the disposal of Defender Europe 20, but to a large extent its civilian infrastructure as well. (german-foreign-policy.com reported. [3]) The commanding general of the US Army Europe, General Christopher Cavoli, also stated in an interview that - within the framework of the so-called Host Nation Support - the German ministry of defense had subsequently covered the share of the costs of the exercise that the US armed forces normally would have had to assume.[4]

Defender Europe 21

In the summer of last year, leading US military officials announced that Defender Europe 21 was already in planning and should be carried out from spring to the summer of 2021.[5] That announcement is now being confirmed. According to the German government, the maneuver is scheduled for between May 1 and June 14, 2021 - with around 31,000 military personnel, including 430 from the Bundeswehr. This year fewer German troops will be participating than last year, because the regional focus of the maneuvers will not be the Baltic Sea region, but rather in the south, at the Black Sea. According to General Cavoli, the particular emphasis of the maneuver will be on the cooperation with Bulgaria and Rumania.[6] According to the German government, in spite of their distance from the region of focus, the Bundeswehr, as was also the case last year, will assume logistical responsibilities for the relocation of the multinational units through Germany and other countries on the continent. Altogether, Berlin has currently earmarked €2.9 million for these maneuvers.

Defender Pacific

As was confirmed by the German government, the US-led Defender Europe Exercises were conceived as annually recurring maneuvers. In even years, the geographic focus of the exercise series will be "in the north, and, in uneven years, in the south of NATO's alliance territory."[7] In addition, last year, the United States initiated a series of maneuvers under the name, "Defender Pacific," aimed at exercising the deployment of troops against China. Defender Pacific 21 will focus on the southwest Pacific, according to US military sources. That vast area is comprised of numerous small islands and island chains and extends to Australia. During World War II, the Southwest Pacific area under allied command also included a large portion of the Southeast Asian islands including the Philippines and parts of Indonesia and Malaysia - as well as the South China Sea.[8] The German government has announced that the Bundeswehr will not be participating. Nevertheless, a German warship is scheduled to make a training cruise this year through the South China Sea on its way to Japan.[9]

"Pointing Eastward"

Last February US Gen. Cavoli, who is in charge of the Defender Europe exercises explained, "We prepare so that we are ready to fight and win."[10] According to Cavoli, a primary aspect of those war preparations is military mobility in Europe. The Defender Europe exercise series were introduced to discover weaknesses in the infrastructure and to overcome political and regulatory obstacles. Cavoli mentions the "informal partnership" that the US Army Europe has with the EU, which provides enormous financing to enhance military mobility. The US Army catalogs the current European infrastructure and checks it out throughout the exercise, and then informs NATO of the improvements that need to be made. NATO then transmits the US wishes to the EU, and "helps the EU direct their infrastructure funding to dual-use." And the US military "has a say" in the military aspects of the EU's infrastructure measures. The challenge lies in the fact "that when NATO expanded, it expanded into territory that had previously been on the other side of the fence and its military infrastructure was designed for Warsaw Pact equipment and it was all pointing westward and we need infrastructure designed for western equipment that's pointing eastward" for the new cold war, whose borders between the blocks have been relocated right up to the Russian borders.[11]


[1], [2] See also Kriegsübung trotz Pandemie.

[3] See also Testmobilmachung gen Osten (II).

[4] AUSA's Noon Report - Gen. Christopher Cavoli - U.S. Army Europe and Africa. youtube.com 03.02.2021.

[5] DEFENDER-Europe 21 Planning Underway. ausa.org 15.07.2020.

[6] Antwort auf die Schriftliche Frage der Bundestagsabgeordneten Heike Hänsel. Deutscher Bundestag, Drucksache 19/25900, 15.01.2021.

[7] AUSA's Noon Report - Gen. Christopher Cavoli - U.S. Army Europe and Africa. youtube.com 03.02.2021.

[8] Sydney J. Freedberg Jr.: Facing Cuts, Army Chief Touts Pacific Role. breakingdefense.com 19.01.2021.

[9] See also Die neue deutsche Kanonenbootpolitik.

[10], [11] AUSA's Noon Report - Gen. Christopher Cavoli - U.S. Army Europe and Africa. youtube.com 03.02.2021.