COLOGNE, Germany – NATO officials are putting together the largest alliance construction project in recent memory to realize a storage site for American combat vehicles in Poland.
The depot is meant to stash U.S. warfighting equipment in the eastern European nation in case a confrontation with nearby Russia becomes a possibility. Pentagon officials consider the future facility in Powidz, western-central Poland, part of a global network of hardware stashes meant to serve as faraway armories for U.S. soldiers when there is fighting to be done.
Construction of the site is slated to begin this summer, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told the Wall Street Journal in an interview earlier this month. The decision to build the depot was made by the alliance some years ago, predating Poland’s formal “Fort Trump” proposal, an attempt to flatter U.S. President Donald Trump into deploying a permanent American troop presence in the former Soviet Bloc country.
Former U.S. Army Europe head Ben Hodges is on record in 2017 envisaging the Powidz air base as a hub for American forces on NATO's eastern front. The Army Corps of Engineers published an industry solicitation in 2018 requesting tree-cutting services for 38 hectares, or 71 football fields, around the base.
Clocking in at $260 million, the funding mechanism for the Powidz site is noteworthy. The money comes from the so called NATO Security Investment Program, or NSIP, to which all 29 alliance members contribute according to a key tied to their gross domestic product. As the wealthiest contributor, Washington's share is capped at somewhere between 20 and 25 percent of a given project.
U.S. defense sources cautioned that the Powidz storage site should not be taken to mean that the Trump administration is considering any kind of permanent troop footprint in Poland. For now, Washington is simply treating the facility as one of five sites across Europe capable of scrambling together the equipment to make up an armored division when needed.
NATO officials said the Powidz site is an outlier in a NATO program that normally funds infrastructure upgrades anywhere between a few hundred thousand dollars and several tens of millions. Another expensive upgrade down the road financed through NSIP will target the refurbishment of the alliance's operational headquarters in Mons, Belgium. Smaller projects in the pipeline target facilities in the Baltic nations and Turkey, for example, officials said.
The Trump administration requested $144 million for the NSIP program for fiscal year 2020, compared to a $171 million request for 2019.
“NATO heads of state and governments have acknowledged that the North Atlantic Alliance is at a defining moment for the security of our nations and populations and that the Alliance was ready to respond swiftly and firmly to the new security challenges,” defense officials wrote in the FY-20 budget request. “Russia’s aggressive actions have fundamentally challenged our vision of a Europe whole, free, and at peace.”
Meanwhile, there are a few planned Powidz investments that could be sacrificed to pay for President Trump’s border wall with Mexico – an ironic twist of fate for a government in Warsaw eager to please Washington. Among them are a bulk fuel storage facility, worth $21 million, and a “rail extension and railhead” project budgeted at $14 million, according to a Defense Department fact sheet. Those expenditures run under the heading of the European Deterrence Initiative, or EDI, and it’s unclear to what extent they are connected to the NATO storage site.
Any overseas construction projects not put under contract by October could become bill payers for the controversial barrier aimed at curbing illegal immigration from Mexico, according to the Pentagon.
Sebastian Sprenger is associate editor for Europe at Defense News, reporting on the state of the defense market in the region, and on U.S.-Europe cooperation and multi-national investments in defense and global security. Previously he served as managing editor for Defense News. He is based in Cologne, Germany.