Russia has said it will greatly increase its fighting capability along its border with NATO countries — including the deployment of tactical ballistic missiles — if the U.S. follows through with its plan to store tanks, artillery and other equipment at forward staging areas in Poland, Romania, Bulgaria and the Baltic States.
In total, about 1,200 pieces of U.S. military equipment would be stored in the aforementioned NATO countries, along with 5,000 soldiers, under a plan being mulled by the Pentagon. This includes around 250 Abrams main battle tanks.
Considering the geographical scale of the area in which these fighting vehicles would be dispersed, this plan really represents a small amount of hardware and personnel, which will mainly be used for ongoing training with local forces. Forward deploying equipment on a permanent bases represents much less of a logistical headache, and is far cheaper, than having to convoy it through Europe every time training and exercises are supposed to occur in the region. This is especially true if the U.S. aims at continuing the nearly endless cycle of military training and war games that have occurred in Eastern Europe since shortly after Russia invaded Crimea last year.
Regardless of the strategic insignificance of this plan, Russia has come out firmly stating that it is against any sort of permanent storage of American hardware inside of bordering ex-Soviet states. According to the Kremlin, if the U.S. goes through with such a plan, Russia will start massing arms on its border as well. This includes stationing Iskander tactical ballistic missiles in the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad. From there, these missiles could reach all of Poland and the majority of the Baltic countries of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia.
Meanwhile, at the Paris Air Show, U.S. Air Force Secretary Deborah James discussed with reporters what threats she sees as being the most worrisome in the future:
“I would say the biggest threat on my mind is what’s happening with Russia and the activities of Russia, and indeed that’s a big part of why I’m here in Europe and having those discussions... It’s extremely worrisome on what’s going on in the Ukraine. We’ve seen the type of warfare, which someone dubbed it hybrid warfare, which is somewhat new. So I would put that at the top of my list.”
When pushed as to whether or not America’s most advanced fighter would be making its way to Europe any time soon as as part of Operation Atlantic Resolve.
“I could easily see the day, though I couldn’t tell you the day exactly when the F-22, for example, rotates in is a possibility. I don’t see why that couldn’t happen in the future.”
The U.S. has already sent the world’s only stealth bomber to Europe, why not send the world’s only operational stealth fighter?
Although, the Raptor does have certain limitations as to its ability to integrate itself with disparate aircraft from other NATO air arms, the feel-good, cross-training centric “We’re all in this together” mentality that has been the focus of recent so-called “security packages” sent to the region, should not distract from the fact that the F-22 is plenty deadly when working all by itself.
Eventually, international training and goodwill interactions on a military level will lose their luster and validity to a certain degree as Operation Atlantic Resolve wears on. If Russia is really the threat to NATO that it high-ups like James would have you believe, then deterrence and persistence of that deterrence is what matters most. Otherwise, Russia could just wait the U.S. out until they go home before acting in any belligerent manner.
As such, the U.S. is going to have to make a decision as to what exactly its policy is toward Russia in regards to its NATO allies in Europe. Are we going to have a presence in Eastern Europe permanently or is this just a short term dog and pony show? Are we going to arm our NATO allies or are we going to provide the presence needed to ensure some sort of viable deterrent in the region? Or are we going to do nothing substantial in the long-term at all?
These are tough decisions, and quite frankly depressing decisions to have to make, but ones that need to be made sooner than later nonetheless.
Contact the author at Tyler@jalopnik.com.