WASHINGTON — The U.S. Army’s division-scale European exercise coming in 2020 will tell the service whether it has its European ready-to-go weapons stocks right when it comes to inventory, quantity and positioning throughout the continent.
Defender Europe is set to be the third-largest military exercise on the continent since the Cold War and will test the Army’s ability to deliver a force from the United States to operational areas throughout Europe from Germany to Poland to the Baltic states and other Eastern European nations as well as Nordic countries and even Georgia.
“We will closely assess two aspects of [Army pre-positioned stock] during Defender: The efficiency of our issue and turn-in processes and whether troops have the right equipment with the right combat enablers for their mission and theater," Gen. Gus Perna, Army Materiel Command chief, told Defense News in written responses to questions.
The Army spent the last several years trying to predict and establish the right size and balance of capabilities and position when it comes to Army pre-positioned stock, or APS, in Europe.
The exercise will “validate our ability to draw, employ and turn in full unit, configured-for-combat [APS],” Perna said. “For the past three years, we have been focused on adding combat enablers such as communications, surveillance and weapons systems on our APS sets to ensure they are ready for the fight as soon as troops draw them.”
Part of the exercise will test the Army’s ability to mobilize and move troops rapidly into position in Europe, simulating a response to a crisis where time is of the essence.
“We do not want troops spending time working on their equipment before they can move to the fight; we need to provide them the capability to arrive, do a status check to ensure everything works and move to the frontlines within 72 hours,” Perna said.
“We have worked hard on improving APS configuration,” the officer added. “This exercise will show us what work remains.”
Defender 2020 will also challenge the entire logistics and supply chain.
“Overall, the exercise is all about seeing ourselves and understanding where we have gaps,” Perna said. “We have made great progress in supply availability, but we expect this exercise to stretch the supply chain and provide an indication of where we must focus efforts.”
During Defender, the Army Materiel Command, or AMC, enterprise will exercise how it moves soldiers and equipment from “installations to the foxhole,” Perna said.
With that, the service has developed a facilities infrastructure investment plan across all its installations. Perna expects the exercise will stress the Army’s power projection infrastructure, and reveal structures and facilities that may need to be prioritized or moved down on the list.
At installations, AMC is assessing if the Army’s training ranges, motor pools, supply support activities, and other infrastructure and processes can keep up and are modernized to take on a challenge like Defender, according to Perna.
AMC is also analyzing the state of its infrastructure and processes at its logistics readiness centers, railheads, airfields and ports — which will be critical to the Army’s strategic readiness that will be put to the test during the exercise, Perna said.
“Defender Pacific will have added challenges due to the sheer difference in timing and distances, as well as terrain,” Perna said. “We will have to move troops and equipment much farther than in the European theater, which means it will take more time to get there.”
That means, for logisticians and maintainers, predicting requirements much further out, he added.
Additionally, communications will be a challenge with a 14-hour time difference. “The exercise will put to the test our 24-hour operations center and support systems,” he said.
The Pacific also requires different weapon systems and combat enablers in its APS. And unique to the Pacific will be a chance to test the Army’s sealift capabilities as opposed to the rails and roads in Europe.
Jen Judson is the land warfare reporter for Defense News. She has covered defense in the Washington area for 10 years. She was previously a reporter at Politico and Inside Defense. She won the National Press Club's best analytical reporting award in 2014 and was named the Defense Media Awards' best young defense journalist in 2018.