Death from Above in the 1983 REFORGER Exercise
Missed in the furor over the attacks on Mariupol are recent US troop deployments in Eastern Europe. What was once an area of the world slated for continual withdrawals, Russian aggression has resulted in the recommitment of massive US shows of force in the region.
How much of a show of force?
That's the former Soviet Union, and those are US troops parading in armored IFVs.
More interesting are US plans to preposition heavy material in the region. That's a huge shift. As part of the Global Pivot, US policy-makers had withdrawn most of our tanks and material from the European theater.
Now we're moving closer to the Bad Guys.
This doesn't sound like much. A couple hundred vehicles that close to Russia? Put this into the grand scheme of "logistics." A perrenial obsession of military planners ever since half of France's army never showed up to the Franco-Prussian War, good logistics dictate how quickly you can mobilize and supply soldiers for general offensives. It's the part that many historical generals overlooked and ended up paying the price for it.
Russia is a slow-moving bear and smarting from its numerous losses. Even now, Russian front-line forces in Ukraine are stuck pulling on equipment all the way from Siberia, as current forces are unable to field more than a few hundred men at a time. Putin has been amassing several field armies on the Ukrainean border for some time, a testament to how damn slow they move.
In contrast, the US has experience with flying in soldiers to man pre-positioned equipment. During the Cold War, the US ran annual exercises called REFORGER. These were some of the largest military movements post WWII and moved thousands of soldiers every day through the Civil Air Reserve Fleet. The soldiers would then land, pick up their tanks already fueled and loaded, and drive off to fight Warsaw Pact forces.
What this means is local superiority in forces, anywhere we want, which gives us time for a general mobilization. That's a lot better than the prior situation, which essentially left the entire Eastern defense up to Poland.
But this is more a worry for me than a comfort. This is nothing but a short-term fix, because, over the course of the next few decades, we can't count on a permanent US presence in the region. Already we had significantly drawn our German forces, and the Brits aren't there anymore either. We were fatigued, ready to leave, and looking towards our exposed Pacific allies.
That situation will only grow worse. Europe needs to start looking out for its own defense.
Only, there were no British, French, or German troops in that show of force. There are no plans to preposition Spanish or Italian troops in Romania. Hell, Europe can't even get its own budget in order. Many of the Southern tier economies still have unemployment rates well into the double-digits.
Over the long-term, the only real answer here is actual European unity. The kind that brings tanks and troops East, if the Eastern European allies need them. The worry is that as US troops draw-down, our European allies will remain complacent, continue to miss defense budget targets, run out of bombs attacking Third-World countries, and let the Alliance fall piece-meal to Russian aggression.
Note: This does not mean we should go fight Russia over Ukraine. Given the ZAPAD exercises, that certainly means a nuclear confrontation with Russia. It also does not mean we should give Ukraine weapons. If Ukrainean Kornets can knock out Israeli Merkavas, then Ukraine does not need Javelin missiles.
It's a Twilight Struggle, more than a call to arms.