WASHINGTON — The top US Army commander in Europe said the service will work to establish most of its maintenance sites for equipment caches — built up to respond to Russia’s continuing incursion into Ukraine — by the end of next year.
Maintenance sites for what the Army is calling European Activity Sets in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania and Bulgaria will be completed by the end of 2016, ideally by September, Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, commander of US Army Europe, said Wednesday at the Pentagon.
Three sites in Lithuania, Romania and Bulgaria are now complete because those contracts were quickly finalized, Hodges said. When the 1st Brigade, 3rd Division wraps up its rotation in Europe, the equipment it's using will be left at those facilities for the next unit to use.
As the plan stands, the next heavy brigade will arrive in April, draw out the equipment and train on it. The equipment will be transferred to newer maintenance sites in Poland, Estonia and Latvia when that unit's rotation is finished.
Hodges added that he believes one last maintenance site will be constructed in Hungary in 2017 as well.
Activity sets are separate sets of equipment outside of prepositioned stocks that are placed around the world to support regionally aligned forces and tailored to meet combatant commanders' needs in specific regions.
Hodges said the equipment for the heavy brigade combat team now consists of about 1,300 vehicles to include about 235 to 250 tanks, Bradleys and Paladin Howitzers.
Gen. Dennis Via, commander of Army Materiel Command, told Defense News in October at the Association of the US Army’s annual conference that additional activity sets are needed in Europe.
The initial guidance for the activity set in Europe was to build an armored battalion set of equipment, which the Army set up in about 18 months, according to Via. The Army built it without knowing it would be used quickly after Russia annexed Crimea. The service then deployed equipment and started training with France, Latvia and Germany.
Following that deployment, the Army was directed to build a brigade combat team with more than 1,200 items and was expected to reach up to full mission capability by the end of the fall, Via noted, upon which the brigade would start a nine-month rotations.
The activity sets will be reset in theater at maintenance facilities now being built.
While Hodges did not indicate any future plans to increase the number of activity sets in Europe, he said he offered the Army National Guard the opportunity to put its equipment in Europe. Such equipment could also be stored at the maintenance sites or in Germany, Hodges added. The commander also noted that he didn’t anticipate any further maintenance sites being built beyond the ones he’d already listed.
The commander also noted that he is always considering adding more equipment to Army's prepositioned stocks, which are different from activity sets and established for deterrence. “We are looking at places for that too but I don’t have a formal decision on that,” Hodges said.
Hodges also addressed the situation in Ukraine detailing that there have been “several hundred” ceasefire violations on the western border of Russia and Ukraine.
About 400 American soldiers continue to train Ukrainian soldiers. Starting at the end of last month, they began to focus on training Ukrainian Ministry of Defence troops. The plan is to train five Ukrainian MOD battalions at the Joint Multinational Training Group-Ukraine site.
The US also most recently delivered two Q-36 Firefinder radars to Ukraine in November to add to other equipment already supplied such as lightweight counter-mortar radars, body armor and medical supplies, according to Hodges.