U.S. officials are significantly reducing the size and scope of the long-awaited Defender 2020 exercise intended to test the Army’s ability to move a division-sized force from U.S. seaports to European training grounds this spring.
The exercise included 20,000 soldiers who were meant to conduct training across 10 European countries. Several linked exercises — Dynamic Front, Joint Warfighting Assessment, Saber Strike and Swift Response — will no longer be conducted, Army Europe officials said Monday.
Approximately 6,000 soldiers had already deployed from the United States to Europe since January, including a division headquarters and an armored brigade combat team.
“We anticipate the armored brigade combat team already deployed to Europe will conduct gunnery and other combined training events with Allies as part of a modified Allied Spirit exercise," Army officials said in a statement. "Forces already deployed to Europe for other linked exercises will return to the United States.”
The exercise is being curtailed due to the outbreak of the novel form of coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, which has made its way through Europe. As of Friday, all movement of personnel and equipment from the United States to Europe were suspended.
Equipment for the exercise already started to arrive at ports like Bremerhaven, Germany, earlier this winter, as part of the opening salvo of the largest deployment of soldiers from mainland United States to Europe in a quarter century.
Defender 2020 drew parallels to the Cold War-era REFORGER exercise in Europe, which simulated a NATO deployment to West Germany in the event of a conflict with the Soviet Union. This year’s exercise was planned to simulate a fictional near-peer competitor in a post-Article V environment set in the year 2028.
The Army still plans to conduct another division-sized exercise in the Indo-Pacific region in fiscal year 2021.
Kyle Rempfer is an editor and reporter who has covered combat operations, criminal cases, foreign military assistance and training accidents. Before entering journalism, Kyle served in U.S. Air Force Special Tactics and deployed in 2014 to Paktika Province, Afghanistan, and Baghdad, Iraq.