Exercise Defender-Europe 20: Enablement and resilience in action

This US-led multinational exercise is the biggest test of NATO Allies’ ability to support large-scale movement of forces across the Atlantic and mainland Europe in recent years. Diverse civilian and military actors have worked closely together to enable the unimpeded deployment of forces by air, sea, road and rail. Lessons learned will further strengthen Allied readiness and resilience in a challenging security environment.

By G. Thomas, P. Williams, Y. Dyakova

Between January and March 2020, US Army Europe deployed approximately 6,000 military personnel from the United States to Europe. It moved some 9,000 vehicles and pieces of equipment, many from prepositioned stock locations in Europe, and around 3,000 pieces of equipment across the Atlantic.

To give an idea, this is the third-largest military exercise in Europe since the Cold War. In coordination with Allies and partners, US Army Europe also moved soldiers and equipment from multiple European ports and airports to training areas in Germany and Poland.

Due to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020, US Army Europe took a prudent decision to modify Exercise Defender-Europe 20 in size and scope to protect forces and local populations. Despite its adaptation, the exercise continues and is providing the United States, its Allies and NATO many valuable lessons on the movement of forces and equipment across the Atlantic and within Europe.

Reforging the past?

When considering the significance of Defender-Europe 20 to NATO, it is important for context to understand how we operated during the Cold War. Back then, we were particularly good at rapidly moving large numbers of troops and their equipment. To prove that NATO’s strategy and concepts worked, and to maintain visibility, Allied forces regularly exercised reinforcement.

They knew the exact locations of their deployment positions, which pre-positioned stocks and equipment were available, how their echeloned support systems would function, and what support their host nations would provide for them based on clear strategic, operational and tactical level arrangements.

Cold War exercises, such as the REFORGER (Return of Forces to Germany) series, were designed to get a force into one country, with NATO being postured to defend a well-known location against a well-known adversary. Some 30 years after the last REFORGER, the new security environment is more unpredictable, and so our planning has had to become more flexible and immediately responsive.

Defender-Europe 20’s mission to train the ability to move large number of troops and equipment across the Atlantic and across Europe is important to the Alliance because it tests essential procedures and skillsets while demonstrating unified purpose.

Exercising the largest deployment in decades of US and Allied forces, Defender-Europe 20 is demonstrating the durability of the trans-Atlantic bond, but also incentivising NATO Allies to regenerate institutional knowledge, supported by robust logistic capacity. READ MORE HERE