Challenges and Opportunities for European Theater Mobility

Oct 13, 2020 | DTJ Online, Surface Force Projection Conference

RADM Peter G. Stamatopoulos, USN, former Director of Logistics, US European Command (EUCOM), presented Challenges and Opportunities for European Theater Mobility at the Surface Force Projection Conference Virtual Meeting on July 30, 2020.

The conference was presented by the National Defense Transportation Association (NDTA) and Christopher Newport University’s Center for American Studies (CNU CAS), in collaboration with the Military Surface Deployment and Distribution Command (SDDC), the US Department of Transportation’s Maritime Administration (MARAD), and the American Association of Port Authorities (AAPA). The theme of this year’s conference was Enabling Dynamic Force Employment Through Global Port Readiness.

What separates the United States is its ability to force project anytime, anywhere across the globe. The United States Army Forces Command (FORSCOM) and SDDC, along with the entire US Transportation Command enterprise, provide that vast capability. While many consider EUCOM a mainly ground-oriented fight, that is only part of the picture. “In 21st-century warfare, it takes a complete and whole joint force to be able to meet the challenges that we have here, so although a ground fight in Europe is very very important so is the maritime domain to effectuate that, the air domain, and now of course more complicated domains such as space, cyber, and the likes of EMEW [Electromagnetic/Electronic Warfare] so it’s really challenging us.”

Europe is America’s number one trading partner, and both enjoy massive economies. COVID-19 has created a contested environment. It has provided insight into what happens when an environment becomes contested and the effects on commerce. Europe is also closely tied to the US due to our shared history fighting on the European continent during World Wars I and II. Following WWII, the US also made considerable investments in Europe through the Marshall Plan. America has a lot invested in Europe, and the continent is vital to the US.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) has published its first military strategy in six decades, a massive accomplishment for the organization. The document closely mirrors the US National Defense Strategy and provides a complete view of Europe. NATO and the Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE) have also created a concept for the defense and deterrence of the Euro-Atlantic area. “Another huge win for NATO because it really now starts to focus those allies into that 360-degree view of Europe and the adversaries and threats that it is subject to,” said Stamatopoulos.

He added that threats include those that can be seen, those that are largely unseen (i.e., cyber and space), and economical. In terms of threats, NATO is looking at publicly acknowledging that Russia is an adversary. In addition, the member countries recognize the risk of violent extremist organizations that come primarily from Africa and Northern Africa, and within Europe.

As it has for 70 years, NATO remains strong. It is the most significant peace generating alliance in the world, and it is in the best interest of the US for that to continue. Article five of the NATO treaty calls for collective defense. This means that if one nation is attacked and article five is evoked, all countries will muster their support to push back and quell the adversary that is threatening or that has perpetrated an incursion onto one of the allied nations. This is an incredibly important element of the organization and a big part of its success. However, it takes a lot of momentum and politics to be able to get all 30 nations aligned with one another to evoke article five. Because of the deliberate process in NATO and the time it can take to respond, the opportunity to deter an aggressive action from happening or to respond to aggressive actions may be lost.

“When we look at the European theater, in my view, it’s really about trying to stop an adversary from making an incursion, stop World War Six from starting before it even kicks off,” said Stamatopoulos. “To do that, we’ve got to be able to present a credible deterrence and a credible defense.” That credible deterrence and defense is a function of the ability to rapidly deploy and position forces across the continent, to dissuade adversaries. This theater mobility has five main elements: Infrastructure; command, control, and coordination; access to ports, rail, and barges; US organic capability; and commercial capacity. These elements would prove critical should another major war occur in Europe—such a scenario is the largest force flow projection in DOD.

Infrastructure includes seaports, airports, airfields, Ground Lines of Communication (GLOC), railroads, barges, staging bases, naval bases, and fuel infrastructure. Infrastructure in Europe is good with quite a few options for seaports, which the US is continually exercising to demonstrate its ability to deploy. There are many airfield options, as well as extensive GLOCs.

Due to the size of a potential force flow deployment should one ever become necessary, a lot of commercial shipping activity to support DOD. During COVID-19, the European GLOCs started to get stressed out. Ports also experienced some stress concerning longshoremen, workers, and things of that nature. Some slowdowns occurred, but no full stops. “But through our commercial shippers, we could still get goods and services across Europe in a matter of days,” said Stamatopoulos.

Drivers from commercial ground shippers even provided DOD with timely and accurate information on issues like route delays and closed border crossings during COVID-19. Their actions supported continued operations and sustainment of forces that still had to operate during the pandemic, as well as the care and feeding of US Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines, and their families dependent upon defense commissaries and exchanges. Stamatopoulos commented that it was “just a phenomenal logistic effort that was done by our commercial partners that were out there.”

In the case of war or other contingency, access to move freely across the continent would be critical. That is one of the drivers behind a new Joint Support Enabling Command (JSEC) that was recently established by NATO and SHAPE. “It is a three-star command, led by a German three-star officer, that is now responsible for helping both NATO and US forces as they arrive on the continent to be able to move across the continent,” explained Stamatopoulos. Though the JSEC is new, there are high hopes for its ability to provide access when necessary, and it is expected to become a key player in military movement control.

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