CAPU MIDIA, Romania — Short-range air defense is starting to build up again in Europe roughly a year after the U.S. Army Europe Command commander began beating the drum for the capability.
Much of what is showing up on the battlefield at training exercises in Europe are old systems and the U.S. Army is taking Avenger systems with Stinger missiles resident within its reserve forces to enhance the capability in the region.
U.S. Army Europe Command commander, Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, acknowledged the U.S. and it allies have stepped up to rapidly fill the SHORAD gap in Europe, but more has to be done to further develop both kinetic and non-kinetic responses for a variety of air threats like drones, rockets, artillery, missiles and fixed- and rotary-wing aircraft.
And tactics, techniques and procedures need to be ironed out to decide when to use a gun, a missile or another solution to take out a threat.
“I believe that we are going to need more capacity than we thought we did in the future if we ever got into a fight with a peer adversary like the Russian Federation,” Hodges said.
If the U.S. had to go up against a peer adversary it would mean needing the capability to take out the enemy’s air- and ground-based assets in order to gain freedom of maneuver in both domains.
The Russian military has shown its capability over the past several years to use air assets like small drones to pinpoint the location of Ukrainian forces and then call in artillery and rockets to attack those coordinates, for instance.
“Units are learning to deal with this kind of threat with improved camouflage, dispersion, avoid being found, which is an important skill. There is a discipline and training part to it or local solutions with their own weapons systems to knock down little quadcopters, for example,” Hodges said.
In the near term, the Army is sending in a rotational armored brigade combat team – the second nine-month rotation of a heavy brigade to Europe – with a National Guard Avenger battery attached to it.
Hodges cautioned he did not know how long he could count on an Avenger battery rotating in with the ABCTs to Europe “because frankly there’s not that many in the Army and they have other missions too.”
Allies are also providing SHORAD capability for an Enhanced Forward Presence battle group in Poland.
NATO’s EFP consists of a set of four forward-deployed units to Eastern Europe to deter Russian aggression in the region following its illegal annexation of Crimea. The battle groups are positioned in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland.
Poland’s EFP battle group consists of the 2nd Squadron of the 2nd Cavalry Regiment, which has a British company with Romanian Oerlikon GDF 35 mm automatic twin-barrel guns for SHORAD.
The SHORAD build-up is already noticeable in Eastern Europe.
At Saber Guardian, a U.S.-led exercise in Romania, Bulgaria and Hungary, a collection of SHORAD systems sat on the shores of the Black Sea at Capu Midia, Romania, and for several days fired at small fixed-wing target drones over the ocean.
The mix included U.S-owned Avengers firing Stinger missiles as well as a dismounted systems equipped to fire Stingers. The Romanians brought Hawk air defense systems, SA-6 “Gainful” surface-to-air missile systems and German-manufactured Gepard mobile air-defense systems.
The key to SHORAD and missile defense is to have a layered approach, according U.S. Army Europe’s deputy commanding general, Maj. Gen. Timothy McGuire, where perhaps Gepards hand off to Avengers that can hand off to Hawks while the Patriot Air-and-Missile Defense System and Aegis Ashore, for instance, provide another layer of missile defense.
While you don’t need all of the systems out there tied together, what is needed is a layering of short-, mid- and long-range air defense systems, McGuire told Defense News, adding “bringing back short-range air defense to the maneuver formations is one of those imperatives.”
Additionally, Avengers will be placed in Army Prepositioned Stocks that are stored at a high-level of readiness to be used in a crisis, he noted.
The first Avenger battery will help to develop tactics, techniques and procedures for having SHORAD capability in the maneuver force, a skill that hasn’t been exercised in a long time, according to McGuire.
The Avenger unit that deploys in February will be one of the battalions out of the South Carolina National Guard’s 263rd Army Air and Missile Defense Command. These battalions are also used to protect the National Capitol Region, according to the U.S Army Europe’s chief of air and missile defense Col. Brian Adams.
A lot of aspects of the deployment are going to be different than what an Avenger battalion is used to as well as an armored BCT.
“It’s really to train the brigade commander on how to employ a system that he hasn’t had in 15 years,” Maj. Gen. Glenn Bramhall, the 263rd’s commander, said at Capu Midia.
And “for the last 14 years we have been doing defense of D.C. and so when you do the defense of D.C. you don’t put on this [tactical gear and camouflage], you are standing on top of a building, and it’s very static,” Bramhall said.
“Skills soldiers have learned over the years have really diminished,” he said, “and so we are looking forward to getting back into the field environment learning field craft and how to survive out in the woods, which we haven’t done in years. How do we work back in maneuvers, how do we do river crossings, how do we do wide area security, how do we do combined arms maneuver, they don’t know.”
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.