WASHINGTON — Meeting the 2 percent NATO defense spending target isn't just about allies bringing tanks and artillery to the table, U.S. Army Europe Commander Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, said Tuesday.
The U.S. has often said NATO countries should step up to the plate and spend 2 percent of its GDP on defense and the rhetoric heated up when President Donald Trump, on the campaign trail, criticized allies for not paying their share.
Hodges agreed that allies should spend more on defense, but it's not the typical weapons or equipment that is needed. "I'm not looking for more German tank battalions or more British artillery battalions. Countries are doing that," he said, adding, "but ways that they can contribute to the alliance, improve infrastructure, improve freedom of movement and help provide ammunition."
The U.S. Army and its NATO and Eastern European allies have been working to deter Russia from advancing beyond its illegal annexation of Crimea for several years. Russia continues to wage hybrid warfare in Ukraine and intelligence and information wars elsewhere in the region, keeping Baltic States and other European nations on high alert.
The U.S. Army now has a nine-month heel-to-toe rotational armored brigade combat team in Europe, which will soon have an Avenger short-range air defense battery with each ABCT that rotates into the combatant command. An additional rotational combat aviation brigade is scheduled for nine-month heel-to-toe rotations as well.
NATO is also nearly complete deploying multinational battalions to Poland, Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania, another contribution to deterring Russia.
With units and troops from the U.S. Army and its allies spread over huge swaths of territory, Hodges said its far more important for allies to contribute in ways that enhance freedom of movement across borders and large territories by providing heavy equipment transport and other transportation, guaranteeing rail access and improving rail heads in order to be able to move a brigade by rail in 48 hours.
Hodges noted the U.S. Army's heavy equipment transport vehicles used to carry M1 tanks exceed weight requirements based on European road laws and it is having to lease 18 vehicles.
"Somebody should be paying for that. I shouldn’t be paying for 18 British HETs," Hodges said.
Allies could also buy fuel and ammunition and provide storage sites, he added.
Hodges noted that NATO will be funding the fifth Army Prepositioned Stock (APS) site in Povitz, Poland, which is scheduled to be completed by 2021 and will round out equipment storage for a full armored division in Europe.
Beyond immediate deterrence, Hodges noted the U.S. Army and its allies have to be prepared to fight a peer adversary now and into the future and that means developing capability rapidly that will allow them to go up against countries like Russia.
The Army never invested in long-range fires, for instance, Hodges said, because it knew it could rely heavily on the U.S. Air Force. But that won’t be the case when going up against a country like Russia during a lengthy land operation in the future.
"I always wondered why we don’t have these Walmart rocket launchers the way the Russians do that are not necessarily precise, but can put up a lot of stuff real fast and I think it’s probably because we have the world’s greatest air force," Hodges said. "But with a peer adversary that has got what appears to be almost unlimited air defense capabilities, I think we’ve got a challenge there, so we’ve got to figure out how to get long-range precision first that will improve our deterrence."
Jen Judson is an award-winning journalist covering land warfare for Defense News. She has also worked for Politico and Inside Defense. She holds a Master of Science in journalism from Boston University and a Bachelor of Arts from Kenyon College.