Foreign Policy Research Institute A Nation Must Think Before it Acts When Less Is More: The Transformation of American Expeditionary Land Power in Europe

When Less Is More: The Transformation of American Expeditionary Land Power in Europe

In August 2004 President George W. Bush announced a long overdue shift in the U.S. global force posture to deal with the realities of the post-9/11 world. [1] The re-deployment of a brigade from the 2nd Infantry Division from South Korea to Iraq showed just how radically conditions have changed. Future plans for U.S. forces in Europe allude to similar sweeping alterations. Change, however, need not be feared. The elapsed time since last August’s announcement shows that much creative thinking has been given to leveraging forces and assets in the European Command (EUCOM) area of responsibility (AOR) — and beyond — in order to create capabilities greater than the sum of the parts. Transforming how our land power deploys, trains, and works with coalition and friendly nations should provide increased U.S. and allied capabilities and also strengthen our collective regional interests.


Stretching from the fjords and northern isles of Norway to the Cape of Good Hope and from the Azores to the Russian Far East, EUCOM encompasses an immense geographic space. Fully 92 countries and territories are within its purview — 49 in Europe, 42 in Africa, and 1 (Israel) in Southwest Asia. While the Cold War commitments of the United States necessitated a substantial presence of U.S. troops on the continent, the post-Cold War period pointed toward the expeditionary environment that confronts our foreign and defense policy. The United States Army Europe (USAREUR) provided a sizeable contribution, in the form of the 7th Corps, to Operation Desert Storm and also provided forces for the follow-on Operation Provide Comfort in northern Iraq. Throughout the 1990s European-based forces regularly deployed to the Balkans and Africa as well as to the Middle East. More recently, Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom have also ensured that USAREUR would continue to act in effect like “FORSCOM forward.” (Forces Command is the U.S. Army command in the continental United States that manages units so that they may be apportioned out to Combatant Commanders as the international operational environment dictates.)

Just because forces in Europe have been in high demand, however, does not mean that they are the right kind of forces. Much of the rationale behind the Global Posture Review is to re-balance the force structure in Europe and Asia to provide for the right types of capabilities forward while allowing forces from the United States to surge to where they are needed. USAREUR by 2008, under this planning, will have three brigade combat teams (BCTs); down from the current five maneuver-brigade force structure. An airborne infantry BCT will remain in Vicenza, Italy, a Stryker BCT will be in Bavaria (with the possibility of another BCT in Germany), and a rotational BCT will deploy in and out of various East European locations. These BCTs — which replace divisions as the main organizational building blocks — will be more self-contained and modular than their predecessors and the rotational nature of the unit set for Eastern Europe means that there will always be at least one fully-capable brigade ready to deploy. [2] Other units such as brigades of aviation, military police, engineers, and military intelligence along with other supporting elements will also remain in Germany. In addition, joint task force-capable command and control elements will be present in Germany, Italy, and Eastern Europe, respectively. Pre-positioned stocks of heavy equipment will also be stationed throughout Europe for use in the EUCOM and Central Command (CENTCOM) areas of responsibility. The power projection infrastructure of Aviano air base, the Nurnberg airport, and air and port facilities in locations such as Bulgaria and Romania should allow for the rapid deployment of useful capabilities from the aforementioned units and the other services. Similarly, special operations forces and sea-based Marine Corps units will greatly contribute to a more useful — and useable — land power force.

Of course, one might ask whether this transformation should happen now, at the height of the war on terrorism. Will the added stress be too much on top of war rotations and force modernization? The simple answer is yes, this transformation should happen. As selected portions of the Army undergo organizational changes, the best case for European units is to synchronize their modularity conversion along with the redeployment of troops from Iraq and Afghanistan back to Europe and finally, for those affected (to include dependents), back to the United States. This will not be simple, nor pain free, but if the overall modularity plan is to work then the sooner it is started across the force, the more self-contained rotational units will be available to handle operational requirements.


As James Kitfield pointed out in his magisterial book Prodigal Soldiers, tough, realistic, world-class training enabled the U.S. military to develop the high quality force that emerged after the “hollow force” period of the mid- to late-1970s. [3] Training sites and courses such at the National Training Center, Joint Readiness Training Center, Twenty-Nine Palms, Red Flag, and Top Gun allowed our Soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines to hone the requisite combat — and increasingly non-combat — skills necessary for mission accomplishment. USAREUR has done the same. The Combat Maneuver Training Center at Hohenfels allows a maneuver brigade to exercise its forces in airborne, air assault, mechanized, urban, and even subterranean operations — four tunnel complexes have been built in the training area. Up the road, Grafenwoehr provides highly advanced range-fire facilities for tanks, artillery, attack helicopters, and jet aircraft. It also provides networked command and control training facilities that allow for the exercising of staffs for the likely eventualities of the contemporary operating environment — to include realistic training in working with the press. Technological advances and investment has also allowed these training capabilities to deploy forward to places such as Poland and Romania. This capability is revolutionary because instead of having to transport an entire unit to a remote spot the trainers can now go to, or with, a unit and train in myriad locations without a severe drop-off in training quality.

As NATO moves forward towards its goal of establishing a 21,000 personnel Response Force by October 2006, these training facilities should be leveraged to help hone other alliance niche capabilities such as special operations forces, peacekeeping units, and aviation formations. Furthermore, as the operational tempo allows, serious consideration should be given to resurrecting an exercise like the old “Return of Forces to Germany” (REFORGER). Such an exercise, rotated to different NATO member nations, perhaps with invitations to Partnership for Peace countries, would help to develop deeper ties across the alliance and could possibly help to lessen the impact of the technological disparities between the United States and other member states by developing more tactical interoperability — or, at least, operational familiarity. Increasing such linkages should lend a hand in providing more troops and capabilities which should help to reduce the strain of the current operations tempo, but also, and no less important, should be of assistance on the diplomatic front.

Access and Allies

Theater security cooperation ties together both the deployment and training sections as discussed above. The Department of Defense defines security cooperation as: “All Department of Defense interactions with foreign defense establishments to build defense relationships that promote specific US security interests, develop allied and friendly military capabilities for self-defense and multinational operations, and provide US forces with peacetime and contingency access to a host nation.” [4] The size, make-up, and location of the EUCOM AOR make this cooperation critical for the conduct of the war on terror and beyond by promoting security and deterring aggression.

For example, special operations forces and Marines have been busy working with friendly militaries in places such as Georgia and the Sahel region of Africa. Such training is vital because not only does it help to increase friendly capabilities helpful to the global war on terrorism, but it also provides our servicemen and women excellent training opportunities. For instance, it helps to hone our troops instructional skills and build rapport with foreign governments and troops. Such rapport and inter-cultural skills are essential in the contemporary and foreseeable international operating environment. This can also pay high dividends in providing information on terrorist organizations, developing useful tactics, techniques, and procedures, and by giving the U.S. a human face abroad. Done well, and properly, such training serves as an economy of force measure and has a force multiplier effect by building greater indigenous capabilities that should eventually reduce the necessity of a large U.S. presence.

Such cooperation will also help in developing myriad forward operating sites, cooperative security locations, preposition sites, and en route infrastructure bases. [5] These facilities are more austere and less visible than traditional basing arrangements and will allow increased U.S. strategic agility to prosecute the war on terrorism, build security relations, and respond to humanitarian disasters, etc. Civic works projects near such locations also help to build good will with host nation populaces. As the Sahel and sub-Saharan regions of Africa become more attractive to radical jihadi groups such as Al Qaeda and its offshoots or fellow travelers, multiple access points will become increasingly important. The role of Djibouti in the CENTCOM AOR is a useful example of how valuable such locations — in that case a forward operating site — can be.


While much has been made about the impact of dropping the U.S. troop presence in Europe from 100,000 personnel to approximately 40,000, such a shift is the right thing to do and should increase future U.S. capabilities both within EUCOM and in support of CENTCOM or other combatant commands. The current U.S. operational tempo and overseas commitments do not make a sizable force structure presence in Europe advantageous. Furthermore, the international security environment suggests the need for more expeditionary operations and more agile formations. [6] Last, and most critical, increasing the training and security relationships with our allies, friends, and acquaintances in the region should foster regional security and cooperation. This, in turn, should reduce the “footprint” of the American military presence to more sustainable and effective levels. In other words, less will be more.


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