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Defender Exercise will see largest deployment of US-based soldiers to Europe in 25 years

Photo: Photo: Sgt. Thomas Mort


Army leaders in Europe have revealed details of a massive exercise that will send 20,000 US soldiers to the continent next spring for training across 10 countries.

Lt. Gen. Christopher Cavoli, second from right, commander of US Army Europe, speaks during a panel discussion at the Association of the US Army Annual Meeting and Exposition in Washington, DC. Photo: Sean Kimmons

Defender-Europe 20 is slated to be the largest deployment of US-based soldiers for an exercise to Europe in 25 years.

Defender-Europe actually links several exercises in the region, such as Allied Spirit, Swift Response and a Joint Warfighting Assessment. It is expected to include a total of 37,000 participants and 20,000 pieces of equipment shipped from the US, as well as 13,000 pieces drawn from pre-positioned stocks.

It kicks off a new Defender series of exercises, which will be conducted in the Pacific on alternate years, to rehearse large movements to both regions. The exercises aim to operationalise the National Defense Strategy, which asserts Russia and China as near-peer adversaries.

“We are starting it with a bang,” said Lt. Gen. Christopher Cavoli, commander of US Army Europe.

Soldiers aboard M1A2 Abram Tanks from 1st Squadron, 4th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division start to move out, as part of an Initial Ready Task Force (IRTF) exercise, at Johanna Range, Poland. Photo: Sgt. Thomas Mort

After the last US tanks left Germany in 2013 as part of a drawdown, the army began nine-month rotations of brigade combat teams to bolster its presence and practice rapidly deploying units to Europe. It also built up pre-positioned stocks on the continent to equip incoming units.

In March, an emergency deployment readiness exercise sent an armoured unit of over 1,500 soldiers from Fort Hood, Texas, to Europe. In less than two days, the unit was able to fall in on pre-positioned stocks and travel to Poland for a live-fire exercise, Cavoli said.

“We’ve been practicing this strategy of power projection for about three to four years now into Europe,” he said. “Now it’s time to practice it at scale.”

Defender 20 plans to have US soldiers from five divisions – 1st Cavalry, 82nd Airborne, 1st Armored, 1st Infantry and 3rd Infantry – as well as 11 National Guard states and seven Army Reserve units.

The exercise will consist of five phases, cover 4,000 kilometers of convoy routes and rely on 10 European countries to host the activities.

Allies and partners will also get the opportunity to train alongside US soldiers.

“Defender really helps us enhance relationships,” said Lt. Gen. J.T. Thomson, commander of Allied Land Command, which oversees NATO land forces.

More than half of NATO’s member states, he said, will play a role in the exercise.

“When you look at our adversaries, they do not enjoy the advantages we have and the power of synergy that comes from good, trusted friends,” said Thomson.

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