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Calling “Team Yankee”: Why the U.S. Needs Heavy Armor Back in Europe
“Now if those upcoming U.S. Russian talks should breakdown for any reasons [Pentagon] officials here warn Russia could still launch an invasion without warning and admit that the U.S. and Ukraine would be powerless to stop it.” -NBC news Pentagon correspondent Jim Miklaszewski, 28 March 2014
Things have certainly changed since the end of the Cold War. In 1987 Harold Coyle, a serving Armor officer at the time, published “Team Yankee,” the New York Times bestseller about a U.S. Army armor company that fights in a Soviet invasion of Western Europe. The story was fiction, but plausible fiction and the fact that the U.S. Army had 214,000 troops, 2 Corps, 4 divisions and thousands of tanks, armored personnel carriers and artillery in what was then West Germany gave “Team Yankee” a scary realism. “Team Yankee” was an M1 Abrams Tank and M2 Bradley Fighting Vehicle company/team mix common in U.S Army Europe’s (USAREUR) combat arms formations at the time and prevalent in today’s combined arms battalions. Unfortunately, this capability has been eliminated from USAREUR’s combined arms repertoire, creating capability gaps for European Command (EUCOM). These were capabilities that were taken for granted not so long ago. When Russia occupied the Crimean peninsula by force, EUCOM and NATO did nothing, partly because they had limited options with the current force structure. USAREUR’s armor, as well as its field artillery and mission command had atrophied in light of worldwide events, budget cuts and force structure decisions. This article will examine how USAREUR came to its present “powerless” state and what can be done about it in regards to deterring and or countering Russian military aggression.
When the Berlin Wall came down in late 1989 the Soviet Union collapsed shortly afterward and the Warsaw Pact fell apart. The great armored battles with Warsaw Pact forces that were planned for by the U.S. Army still occurred, not with the Soviets but with Iraqi forces in Operation Desert Storm. “Peace dividends” ensued along with peace operations and low-intensity conflicts like those in the Balkans and Somalia. In 1993, then Secretary of Defense Les Aspin denied a heavy armor request from U.S. field commanders in Somalia fearing it would send the wrong message in the conduct of what was supposed to primarily be a humanitarian operation. Heavy armor, particularly tanks, seemed to becoming passé. Unable to call upon their own heavy armor in the Battle of Mogadishu, field commanders had to request armor support from United Nations forces, exacerbating a deadly delay in the rescue of trapped U.S. forces. In 2001 Operation Enduring Freedom was initiated in Afghanistan, followed shortly thereafter by Operation Iraqi Freedom. Counterinsurgency (COIN) and Stability operations ensued where heavy armor and massed artillery fires fell out of favor and practical utilization in such operations. USAREUR shrunk some more. In 2012 the last two Armored Brigade Combat Teams (ABCTs), the 170th and 172nd, were inactivated. In March of 2013, the last U.S. tank left Germany, ending a nearly 70 year history of their presence in Western Europe. “Team Yankee” seemed to have become an anachronism in light of COIN operations in Central Command. “Team Yankee”, as the Army knew it in Europe, is fiction now more than ever. The Department of Defense and the U.S. Army must reconsider assigning heavy armored forces back in EUCOM and get back into the deterrent business with Russia as it had done so well during the Cold War.
“I looked the man [Putin] in the eye. I found him to be very straight forward and trustworthy and we had a very good dialogue. I was able to get a sense of his soul.” -Former President George W. Bush, 2001
When Russia decided to annex Crimea in March the U.S. and NATO could do virtually nothing militarily. The only U.S. Army land power remaining in EUCOM is 2 BCTs. NATO’s Rapid Response Force (NRF), already burdened by a high OPTEMPO from operations in Afghanistan and European austerity, did nothing. The U.S, along with NATO, could only resort to diplomatic, information and economic instruments of power to protest Russia’s occupation of Crimea. After fourteen years of war, billions spent on nation building, our nation in debt and thousands of casualties it’s no surprise that the U.S. is not so willing and able to engage Russia in a force on force slugfest imagined in “Team Yankee.” Nor should it be any surprise that the NATO did nothing either. Putin, like a shark smelling blood in the water, saw an opportunity to take a bite out of Europe for himself with virtual impunity. It was too easy. The annexation of Crimea should not have been a surprise to NATO.
Russia’s invasion of Georgia in August 2008 should have been a call to action for NATO and the U.S. as it hinted at things to come under Putin’s leadership. The Georgian-Russian conflict was initiated by ethnic Georgian and Ossetian/Russian tensions in the Georgian regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Russia invaded with an effective combined arms joint force, conquering the disputed territories in Georgia and then some within 5 days. The Georgians, with their five Infantry Brigades, put up the best fight they could as one would expect from a small, third rate military in a conventional fight with Russia. One Georgian infantry brigade fighting in Iraq was hastily redeployed by U.S. Air Force transports back to Georgia to fight the Russian invasion. This would be the only military assistance from the U.S. during the battle. A ceasefire was eventually reached but Russia had already achieved independence of what are now known as the breakaway republics of South Ossetia and Abkhazia and brought them into Russia’s sphere of influence. While the U.S. and other NATO members had heavy armor units in Europe during the Georgian invasion, no allied military force of any kind would come to counter the Russian attack. The U.S. was bogged down in Iraq and Afghanistan as was Europe’s own premier military forces. For NATO, this was an ironic turn of events. Instead of defending Western Europe’s backyard from Russian incursion as it was originally chartered to do, it was fighting Islamic insurgents in Central Asia. The U.S. Army officers who had trained on the Georgia-Armenia-Azerbaijan-Turkey (GAAT) scenario at the Command and General Staff College would not deploy to that region as well. Without strong U.S. leadership, NATO’s response to such an incursion will in all probability be tepid, weak and ineffective.
NATO, with U.S. leadership, is the only organization in Europe that can effectively deter and check such Russian aggression. NATO’s primary military resource for this is the NRF. The NRF was established in October 2003 and as stated on the NATO website, “is comprised of three parts: a command and control element from the NATO Command Structure; the Immediate Response Force, a joint force of around 13,000 high-readiness troops provided by Allies; and a Response Forces Pool, which can supplement the Immediate Response Force when necessary. The Immediate Response Force has: a brigade-sized land component based on three Battle Groups and their supporting elements; a maritime component based on the Standing NATO Maritime Group (SNMG) and the Standing NATO Mine Countermeasures Group (SNMCMG); a combat air and air-support component; Special Operations Forces; and a chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) defense task force.” In order to beef up the NRF, NATO must expedite membership for Georgia, Ukraine and other European nations at risk of invasion or intimidation by Russia in order to increase membership in the NRF. Ukraine, a NATO partner nation, has already in 2010 and is the first NATO partner nation to do so. USAREUR is a key contributor to the NRF but its commitment is only a fraction of its former self. The U.S. will have to lead NATO in any forceful engagement with Russia. NATO’s lack of action is scary and alarming. Hopefully the U.S, through EUCOM, is taking appropriate action with Europe and NATO leaders. However, the U.S. Army commitment to Europe must change its posture and structure to facilitate an effective military strategy against the Russians. While USAREUR’s fact sheet states that, “U.S. Army Europe is America's strategic forward enabler with unparalleled capability to prevent conflict, shape the environment and, if necessary, win decisively” there are glaring capabilities gaps in USAREUR’s force structure that are at odds with this statement.
The recent inactivation of the 2 ABCTs in Germany leaves only the 2nd Cavalry Regiment (Stryker), the 173rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), and the 12th Combat Aviation Brigade as the only significant U.S. Army combat power stationed in EUCOM. While they are considered forward based units designed to rapidly deploy to regional trouble spots, the USAREUR force structure, by design, primarily facilitates only humanitarian aid/disaster response, theater security cooperation and strategic air defense. As a lightly armored fighting force it is best suited to fight against 3rd rate militaries and irregular adversaries. As a part of a deterrent strategy against regional power with a large modern Army, like Russia, the force structure is woefully inadequate. It lacks the heavy armor and heavy artillery needed to be an effective forward based combined arms force that can hold its own battle space until reinforcements arrive. However, deterrence is not stated in either EUCOM’s or USAREUR’s mission statements and it probably was marginalized or willfully ignored by the U.S. and NATO due to the collapse of the Soviet Unit and the possible assumptions that the Russians were “one of us” when Russia adopted a democratic, free market system that later turned into a corrupt oligarchy. The current USAREUR force structure, though rapidly deployable, is too light, enough so to get itself into serious trouble if it were committed to fight with a Russian armored force.
Stationing an airborne infantry brigade instead of an armored brigade in EUCOM is the first problem. USAREUR does not need an airborne infantry brigade. The Airborne’s relevance in unified land operations has been rendered nearly obsolete since the advent of rotary wing air assault equipment and doctrine developed after World War 2. The Army’s airborne capability has been marginalized so much that Ft. Bragg stood up its own air assault school in 2013. Additionally, increased anti-access, aerial denial (A2AD) capabilities make large scale airborne assaults a fool hardy and nearly suicidal endeavor now more than ever. The 11th Aviation Regiment’s failed deep attack at the battle of Najaf, Iraq is testimony to how vulnerable low and slow flying aircraft of any type can be in an air assault of any kind. The unsophisticated Iraqi air defense involved observation posts/listening posts, cell phones, city light signals and Iraqi’s firing their machine guns straight up into the night sky. Lightly armed paratroopers floating down to the ground in such a crossfire are even more helpless until they land. Even then, airborne units that cannot be rapidly reinforced by armored formations or have significant organic anti-tank capabilities have a high risk of being decimated once making contact with a tough and determined enemy, especially enemy forces with heavy armor. The allied airborne drop conducted in Operation Market Garden during World War 2 illustrates what happens when paratroopers are dropped behind enemy lines and encounter equivalently trained and motivated forces with armor and also have limited, vulnerable supply routes required for them to conduct a link up with friendly forces.
The Stryker Brigade Combat Team (SBCT), as a medium armored force, is a significant step up in capability from an airborne brigade, but a Stryker is still no substitute for an Abrams tank. The Stryker Mobile Gun System’s 105 mm cannon is primarily designed to provide fire support to infantry and destroy lightly armored threats. However, its anti-tank capability is only good up to the T-62 tank. The Stryker Anti-Tank Guided Missile Vehicle with its TOW missiles and the Mortar Carrier variants with ten 120mm mortars per battalion can also provide some anti-tank capability. The primary component of the SBCT , of course, is the Infantry Carrier Vehicle (ICV), but it is nothing more than a lightly armored taxi with a .50 caliber machine gun mounted on it. Against a combined arms Russian assault with T-90 tanks, artillery and close air support, the Stryker ICV is a rolling coffin for 11 troops. The absence of more firepower on the Stryker ICV, like the Marine Corps 25mm chain gun on their LAV-25’s, which uses the same Stryker chassis, is conspicuous but not surprising since the Army probably valued carrying a 9 man squad instead of trading troop space for heavier firepower. The LAV-25 can only carry a six man squad. Used as Cavalry, the Stryker works well for reconnaissance, screening, security and irregular threats and the Army is looking at testing out a Kongsberg’s 30mm cannon on a Stryker company to boost its firepower. Still, it’s not a tank.
“A battery of field artillery is worth a thousand muskets.” - General William Tecumseh Sherman
Absent from USAREUR’s structure is a fires brigade. A 2008 White Paper on field artillery to the Chief of Staff of the Army postulated that, “USAREUR may require its own fires brigade, just as it requires its own CAB.” While the two BCTs there have organic field artillery battalions with a mix of M119 (105mm) and M777 (155mm) howitzers, their fire support capability cannot provide the deep fires required for suppression of enemy air defenses (SEAD) that USAREURs CAB would require for deep attacks or the reinforcing massed fires needed to destroy, neutralize or suppress advancing Russian armored formations. To remedy this gap the Army should first replace all remaining 105mm howitzers in its structure with the more capable 155mm howitzer in EUCOM as well as the entire Army. This will standardize cannon artillery shells to one munitions size in the Army, simplify logistics and give all cannon battalions the optimal explosive artillery munition, not only for USAEUR, but the Army overall and the U.S. joint artillery force as well since the Marine Corps only utilizes the M777 howitzer.
Second, the Army needs to activate or transfer a fires brigade headquarters with both multiple launch rocket system (MLRS) and the C-130 transportable high-mobility artillery rocket system (HIMARS) battalions. The absence of a forward based fires brigade in EUCOM also leaves the forward based 12th CAB virtually defenseless and useless in a conflict with Russia or any enemy with a A2AD capability so why have a CAB there at all? As Iraq showed us, it doesn’t take much to create a significant air defense against an aerial attack. The fires brigade should also be forward based as close to the Russian border as possible, ideally Poland, Romania or another border nation with Ukraine. The stationing of a rocket/missile capable fires brigade as far east as possible utilizing both MLRS and HIMARS battalions gives the U.S. the capability to deter Russian advances west, support deep attacks and provides rapid, flexible inter-theater and intra-theater artillery employment options.
“But what if the American Army has to fight somebody in the future beyond insurgents laying IEDs and small arms ambushes that is usually handled effectively by infantry platoons? What if a heavy Brigade Combat Team in Iraq was told to pick up and head east and do a movement to contact into a threatening country? Could we do it?” – COL Gian Gentile
The lack of heavy armor formations in the USAREUR force structure is the largest glaring gap that needs to be addressed. The decision to remove all heavy armor units from Europe seems questionable at best, especially in light of Russia’s 2008 invasion into Georgia and USAREURs Immediate Ready Task Force that deployed in support of the 173rd Airborne Brigade’s assault into Northern Iraq in 2003. To mitigate this gap the Army created the European Activity Set as part of Army Preposition Stock 3 and it designated the 1st Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division stationed at Ft. Hood, TX as a Regionally Aligned Force to Europe. It’s a high risk strategy. The European Activity Set has only enough armor to equip a combined arms battalion of M1-A1 Abrams and M2 Bradley Fighting Vehicles. This armor strategy only works as part of a tiered, progressive build up of forces to respond to a threat but fails as a deterrent strategy and completely eliminates the option to rapidly deploy trained and ready heavy armor forces from a forward base in Europe.
“Whoever is first in the field and awaits the coming of the enemy will be fresh for the fight; whoever is second in the field and has to hasten to battle will arrive exhausted.” - Sun Tzu
The Army needs trained and ready heavy armor forces in EUCOM. There are two possible options within the realm of feasibility that should be considered by the Army. It can transfer a ABCT to Europe, preferably stationed further East in Poland or Romania or it can convert the 173rd IBCT(A) and 2nd CR(S) into identical but hybrid brigade combat teams with heavy armor. These hybrid brigade combat teams would each have two combined arms battalions, one light infantry (air assault) battalion, and one Reconnaissance, Surveillance and Target Acquisition (RSTA) Stryker equipped squadron. The hybrid BCTs would eliminate the impractical airborne capability with a more practical air assault capability, retain a rapid deployable medium armored capability that will also act as cavalry scouts for the hybrid BCT, and give back the much needed armored punch the USAREUR needs to deter and counter a Russian attack.
The 2nd Infantry Division’s two BCTs in South Korea had a similar hybrid force structure before they were converted to their current structure and one of them was stationed back in the continental United States. Heavy armor forces, as a RAND study noted, also facilitate scalability within the overall force structure. You can take armor crewman and mechanized infantrymen out of their tanks and IFV’s, train them as light infantry and deploy them to COIN environments like Afghanistan and Iraq as the Army has done for the last 10 years. Some may argue they may not be as proficient as regular light troops, but this concept was done with the 172nd and 170th BCTs before they inactivated. Light troops, like paratroopers, cannot scale up to fight in tanks and conduct armored warfare so easily. In regards to rapid deployment and forward basing the current design of light and medium armored formations in EUCOM and ABCTs based in CONUS seems to defy conventional wisdom. Why does the Army base light infantry and medium armored units in EUCOM when they are the speediest formations to deploy and it already has 18th Airborne Corps standing by to rapidly deploy as part of the Global Response Force? It makes much more sense to forward base armored units in EUCOM since they are the slowest units to deploy. It also puts heavy armor units closer to CENTCOM and AFRICOM should they be urgently needed.
The Army also needs to transfer a division headquarters to EUCOM. USAREUR needs an intermediate command and control headquarters to provide effective mission command for the current BCTs and any future combined arms structure assigned to it. This headquarters would also provide a ready regional Joint Task Force headquarters for contingencies and crisis action response. The lack of a division headquarters with two BCTs and a combat aviation brigade already in Europe is also perplexing but could be remedied by reassigning one of the existing ten division headquarters. One way to do this is to reorganize the 2nd Infantry Division into forward and main headquarters elements, splitting mission command and their General Officers between the Ft. Lewis, WA divisional units and S. Korea divisional units. I Corps is currently structured and stationed in this fashion. The 7th Infantry Division would transfer its flag to EUCOM and convert a MTOE structure. The other option is to convert USAREUR headquarters into a Corps headquarters. The USAREUR CG and the Corps headquarters would be dual hatted as the corps Commanding General and the USARUUER Command General.
“In pure [cyberwar] capability, our biggest enemy is Russia, followed closely by China.” -Richard Clarke, author, “Cyberwar”
USAREUR should plan heavily for cyber electromagnetic activities (CEMA) and warfare with Russia. As defined in the Army’s Field Manual, FM 3-38; Cyber Electromagnetic Activities, “ … are activities leveraged to seize, retain, and exploit an advantage over adversaries and enemies in both cyberspace and the electromagnetic spectrum, while simultaneously denying and degrading adversary and enemy use of the same and protecting the mission command system . CEMA consist of cyberspace operations (CO), electronic warfare (EW), and spectrum management operations (SMO).” Combat units fighting Russian forces should expect GPS, LandWarNet, Blue Force trackers, digital fire control systems, etc, to be either degraded or inoperable. Imagine a time before the digital age, before the internet and wireless devices, and how the
Army trained in those times. This is how any military units engaging Russian forces need to train to mitigate cyber electromagnetic degradation or losses to any systems vulnerable to such attacks; USAREUR should be prepared to fight the Russians as we fought our enemies in Desert Storm, Vietnam or even World War II. USAREUR units should still focus on shooting, moving, and hopefully communicating, but as they did these tasks twenty years ago or more. All rolling stock and other equipment that supports the war fighter in EUCOM should go through electromagnetic hardening to help ensure their performance is not degraded in any kind of cyber or electromagnetic attack. During the conduct of the occupation of Crimea it was reported that the Russians resorted to using couriers to communicate between their subordinate units and their higher headquarters, effectively hiding their actions from U.S. signals intelligence. It was a smart move and the U.S. should take note of this procedure. The Russians should not be underestimated in their CEM capabilities. They launched limited cyber attacks in the Georgian and Crimean campaigns and are suspects in the Agent.btz malware attack in 2008 where an unknown intruder hacked into Department of Defense classified networks and had access to them for several months until they were discovered. This attack, also known as America’s “electronic Pearl Harbor” , had such an impact on national security that it lead to the creation of U.S. Cyber Command.
“Fool Me Once, Shame On You. Fool Me Twice, Shame On Me.”
The message communicated by the act of 2 Russian invasions within six years on Western Europe’s borders should now be clear to the U.S. If the Army does not make any of the aforementioned force structure changes to complete an effective combined arms force stationed on the European continent that is capable of deterring and countering a Russian threat, then the existence of USAREUR in its current form begs the question, “so what?” EUCOM and all of its subordinate commands needs to do more than Phase 0 operations or conduct humanitarian aid. There is again a deterrent mission in EUCOM’s back yard that needs to be filled. It’s safe to say that the Army should not plan for an invasion of China or troll about the Pacific with large formations in an expeditionary manner like the Marine Corps. Let’s face it, the “Pacific Pivot” is wishful thinking in a world where all combatant commands need equal or greater focus to some degree or another and Pacific Command (PACOM) already enjoys more peace then most combatant commands do. We cannot say the same for EUCOM, CENTCOM or AFRICOM. The Pacific, like it or not, is suited primarily for Navy and Marine Corps operations and the recent Typhoon relief efforts in the Philippines’ clearly illustrates this dynamic. Europe is primarily an Army and Air Force domain and the U.S. must provide effective capability and capacity for its ground combat forces in Europe if USAREUR is to be truly relevant in regards to a resurgent Russia. Since we have limited resources and cannot tell the future, U.S. strategy has to be more akin to “whack a mole” where one watches the entire landscape and is ready to slug the first trouble spot that occurs as fast as possible without having to wait for the sledgehammer to arrive in your hand before the threat has passed. The U.S. generally knows where all those trouble spots are that may require a sledgehammer (heavy armor) so it makes sense to keep the heavy armor capability there that is ready for action in the appropriate combatant commands.
“We want Russia to be a partner but that is now self-evidently not possible under Vladimir Putin’s leadership. He has thrown down a gauntlet that is not limited to Crimea or even Ukraine. The aggressive, arrogant actions of Vladimir Putin require from Western leaders strategic thinking, bold leadership and steely resolve-now.” -Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, March 2014
As the Army faces force cuts of 420,000 to 450,000, it must make tough but wise choices on what it can accomplish with limited resources. When critics ask why we need a large army with tanks, world events like those in the Ukraine answer the question: It is better to have and not need than to need and not have. There is still “fat” in the Army and it needs to be cut out ruthlessly to capture efficiencies in order to produce a force with more “teeth” and less “tail.” “Empire building” in the Army for only the sake of doing so must be eliminated if it does not support the capabilities the Army and the nation need to deter potential adversaries like Russia. Cutting this fat and eliminating empire building will enable a more robust USAREUR and a more relevant Army overall. The recommendations made above reassign forces from other Army Service Component Commands and are within the realm of feasibility. In times of austerity, the Department of Defense must divide its resources and conquer its requirements by using the Navy to check Chinese hegemony in the Pacific waterways while the Army resurrects a complete and composite combine arms capability in Europe. The threat of mutually assured destruction (MAD) by nuclear weapons or a huge clobbering by twenty NATO armored divisions during the Cold War deterred Soviet aggression and kept the peace in Europe for fifty years. An intruder looking to rob a house will probably pass by one that has someone standing on the porch holding a gun. Likewise, when the Russian tanks are staring down the barrel of NATO tanks in a crisis, as they did at Checkpoint Charlie in the Cold War, the message will probably be received as it was in the past and peace, along with European territorial integrity, will be kept. It’s an instinctive reaction that is part of the human need to live and survive with little pain and suffering and it supports the deterrent theory on its basic level. The theory of a strong military to deter would be aggressors is as old as George Washington who stated, “To be prepared for war is one of the most effective means of preserving the peace,” If not, at least USAREUR will be ready to respond in hours or a few days, rather than weeks or months, with a scalable and capable combined arms force that can deter or hold its own in a regional conflict as well as buy time until reinforcements arrive.
The views in this article are the author’s and do not represent those of the United States Government or the Department of Defense.