WASHINGTON — With an eye toward Russia's ability to mass troops quickly, the US plans to demonstrate its own ability to move manpower and heavy vehicles as soldiers begin a 1,100-mile convoy through six countries en route to their home station in Vilseck, Germany.
"It's helped us further develop our understanding of freedom of movement in Eastern Europe," said Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, the Army's most senior commander in Europe, in an interview with Defense News and Army Times reporters and editors.
The "Dragoon Ride" will take 3rd Squadron, 2nd Cavalry Regiment, troops from training locations in Estonia, Lithuania and Poland and convoy them through Latvia and the Czech Republic to Vilseck.
"This is what the US Army does, we can move a lot of capability a long distance," Hodges said. "I've been watching the Russian exercises ... what I cared about is they can get 30,000 people and 1,000 tanks in a place really fast. Damn, that was impressive."
"The quality and sophistication of their electronic warfare is eye watering," Hodges said of the Russian military.
Washington's European Reassurance Initiative, unveiled last month, includes stepped-up rotations and multilateral exercises, enhancing prepositioned stocks of equipment, and military aid to NATO and non-NATO allies. The aid includes the improvement of railheads among Eastern European allies, Hodges said.
As yet, it is unclear where the equipment's permanent home will be.
Hodges proposed to NATO commander Gen. Philip Breedlove that the equipment either all be stationed in Germany or be split into "clusters" distributed around the region. One such cluster would be shared across the Baltics, another by Poland and Hungary, a third Romania and Bulgaria, and the last, Germany.
"Wherever it winds up being, it will be a mix of different kinds of [funding to build the facilities]," Hodges said. "Some countries will be able to help pay it, but they all want it."
The ongoing US Army Europe-led land force assurance training mission, Operation Atlantic Resolve, is expanding from Poland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, to Romania and Bulgaria and Georgia at the end of April. US officials are interested in Hungary and the Czech Republic.
For the Georgian exercises, Hodges said, the US is going to feature Bradleys that will travel across the Black Sea into Georgia.
Though it lacks the range to pinpoint the origin of long-range Russian artillery and rockets, Ukraine forces have learned to repair the radar in the field and use it effectively, according to Hodges. "They love it," he said.
Joe Gould is senior Pentagon reporter for Defense News, covering the intersection of national security policy, politics and the defense industry.