WASHINGTON — Congress wants a detailed assessment from the Pentagon on whether to expand military presence in the Baltic states and what is needed to do so, according to the recently released conference report for the fiscal 2020 defense policy bill.
NATO and the U.S. military have already drastically bolstered their presence in Eastern Europe following Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014. Such efforts have included deploying NATO rapid response forces, embedding units under the command of Baltic states’ forces, building up arsenals of equipment, deploying a heel-to-toe rotational U.S. armored brigade combat team and combat aviation brigade, and conducting increasingly complex exercises.
The deployment of the enhanced forward presence, or EFP, battalions in the Baltics have significantly reduced the risk of military conflict in the region, defense leaders there have said, but a need to further bolster defense against Russia using American troops continues to be at the top of the list to strengthen security in the region.
According to the conference report for the yet-to-be passed FY20 National Defense Authorization Act, Congress expects the Pentagon to produce a comprehensive report one year following enactment on the military requirements for the three Baltic states.
The House passed the NDAA on Dec. 11, while the Senate is expected to vote Dec. 12.
The Pentagon and the State Department are required to jointly produce the report that lays out an assessment of past and present efforts to improve the Baltic countries’ national defense capabilities and “the manner in which to achieve such improvements, including future resource requirements and recommendations,” the legislation stated.
The analysis should include an account of activities to increase rotational and forward presence, improve capabilities, and enhance posture and the ability for the U.S. and NATO to rapidly respond.
Specifically, the report should address efforts to improve air defense systems and modern air-surveillance capabilities as well as counter-drone capabilities. A stronger air defense is a top priority for the Baltic states when considering the possibility of going up against Russian capability.
Lawmakers also want to see a rundown of how to improve command-and-control capabilities through better, secure and hardened technology as well as capacity and coordination. In addition, the report is expected to include means to improve intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities, and ways to enhance maritime domain awareness as well as cybersecurity and electronic warfare capabilities.
Infrastructure and logistics improvement is another key area for assessment, “particularly transport of military supplies and equipment,” the report read. Movement of equipment across the Baltics is a challenge, but that’s expected to improve as the countries work to update rail lines to non-Soviet gauge systems, for example.
While the U.S. and NATO have made headway in improving regionally pre-positioned stock, the report should account for investments made to ammunition stocks and storage.
The report is expected to contain information on bilateral and multilateral training and exercises as well as how the U.S. and its NATO allies share costs to reduce the financial burden of supporting the region.
Congress also wants to receive a report in an unclassified form — but it can include a classified annex — one year after enactment of the NDAA, according to the legislation. The unclassified version should provide recommendations resulting from the assessment and possible resource requirements needed to achieve objectives, including potential host country contributions.
The report should also contain any recommendations to expand joint training between NATO, the U.S. and the Baltic countries.
Lastly, the report should contain a description of what funds are used to provide assistance and what might still be needed, as well as how those funds might be obtained.
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.