How many of y’all remember the days of old Army in Europe and the big training exercises in Grafenwoehr, Hohenfels, Vilseck and Wildflecken? I’ll never forget the cold — and I mean doggone wet cold. I was in the Airborne Battalion in Vicenza, Italy, and our large training exercises were in Germany — even in the winter months. The “tread heads” of the heavy Army referred to us as “crunchies,” and I used to envy those rascals in their nice warm Abrams tanks, Bradley fighting vehicles and self-propelled howitzers. You all remember the firepower of the U.S. Army in Europe; since we were prepared for the Soviet threat, everyone knew their general defense plan mission, centered on a penetration of the Fulda Gap. Well, the world changed — or at least we thought it had.
Now, those of you who know my strategic posture vision for our military understand I don’t advocate for the massive force we’d forward deployed. We do need to project power — a credible deterrent force. And in the absence of such, the despots, theocrats, autocrats and dictators will always seek opportunities — as is the case with Vladimir Putin in Crimea and Ukraine. Our response on the ground hasn’t been very strong; matter of fact, a recent report is somewhat disturbing.
As reported at Breaking Defense.com:
Amidst rising anxieties over Russia, one of the last US combat units still based in Germany, the 2d Cavalry Regiment, has asked for bigger guns. The House Armed Services Committee is already setting aside money for the urgent upgrade, which the Army staff officially approved yesterday in a memo obtained by Breaking Defense.
In brief, the 2nd Cavalry wants 81 of its eight-wheel Stryker infantry carrier vehicles fitted with 30 millimeter automatic cannon. 30 mm is more than twice the caliber of the 12.7 mm machineguns those Strykers currently mount. It’s actually a bigger weapon than the notoriously destructive 25 mm chaingun on the much heavier M2 Bradley infantry carrier.
Adding a 30 mm weapon won’t make Strykers into tanks: An M1 Abrams’ main gun is a whopping 120 mm. But there are physical limits on what a 20-30 ton wheeled vehicle can accommodate. The Army spent years trying to fit a 105 mm cannon on a Stryker chassis, the Mobile Gun System (MGS). By contrast, 30 mm is a manageable size that would give the Strykers significant killing power against other light armored vehicles, such as Russian BMPs.
See for yourself the Stryker’s monstrously powerful 30 mm cannon in the video at the top.
During Operation Desert Shield/Storm, we learned that the 25 mm chain gun on the M2 Bradley could take out the venerable T-72 tank.
But here’s the kicker, ladies and gents, why do you think Putin decided to launch this offensive operation? There are only two combat brigade units remaining in Europe — one is the 2d Cavalry Regiment and the other is the 173d Airborne Brigade, back in my old stomping grounds of Vicenza, Italy. And here we are in Europe without a credible deterrent heavy armored force — with an undergunned weapon system, which must now undergo an emergency refit with a more powerful main gun system, the 30 mm cannon.
This is where strategic vision is lacking. What secretary of defense made the decision to not leave at least a battalion of Abrams tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles? The end strength of these two units remaining is less than 8,000. Yes, that’s our remaining combat power in Europe. Times have changed, but not for everyone — and Putin’s Russia has seized this opportunity.
One of the exercises I was honored to participate in during my tour of duty with the First Infantry Division out of Fort Riley was the 1988 REFORGER (Return of Forces to Germany) exercise. This was a deployment of follow-on forces into Europe to test our strategic deployment capacity and ability to fall in on pre-staged equipment in various German warehouses. If we still had that capacity, I’d feel better about our force posture. And perhaps one of the security arrangements we should seek is for power projection equipment in eastern Europe to stand as a deterrent to Russian aggression. This is why we need a complete geographic force lay down and also a review of unit capability — so we don’t require another emergency refit, such as with the 2d Cavalry Regiment. And let’s be honest, we are NATO folks.
As Breaking Defense writes of the current situation:
The 2nd Cavalry wants the weapons because it’s the Army’s frontline force in Europe. There are only two US combat brigades still based on the continent, the 2nd Cav in Vilseck, Germany and the 173rd Airborne in Vicenza, Italy, a light infantry formation with very few vehicles of any kind and nothing as heavy as a Stryker. The Army has no heavy tank forces permanently stationed in Europe anymore, which the House Armed Services Committee has decried as “short-sighted.”
Since Russia seized Crimea, both the 2nd Cavalry and the 173rd Airborne have deployed to the Baltic States to deter aggression and reassure those small, exposed NATO allies. (The 173rd has even trained some Ukrainian forces). Just a month ago, a 60-Stryker task force of the 2nd Cavalry conducted a 1.100 mile trek “Dragoon Ride” back from the Baltics to Germany by way of Poland and the Czech Republic. The maneuver showed off the Stryker vehicles’ impressive mobility: As wheeled vehicles, they do better on long road marches than tracked tanks, although their performance is worse off-road. But clearly the Army thought they were lacking in lethality — and that’s what this upgrade is intended to correct.
The short-sightedness we’re displaying with our military preparedness is disconcerting — yet enticing and emboldening to our enemies. It’s rather nostalgic to recall the massive Army of Europe. It’s sad to consider what it’s become today. If a member of Congress from your district or state sits on the House or Senate Armed Services Committee and you have a son assigned to the 2d Cavalry Regiment, let them know you’re not very pleased that your son was deployed into harm’s way undergunned. Heck, why not just issue out Bazookas.
And know, that I were to ever become Secretary of Defense, your sons and daughters would NEVER be deployed into a combat situation outgunned — that just ain’t the American way. And having been in combat myself, there’s no way I’d subject our troops to such. Who gives a damn about impressive mobility on roads, unless you need to reverse your vehicle to avoid heavier enemy fire.