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On opposite sides of Europe, US troops are practicing new ways to get to battle

  • During exercises in Europe this spring, US forces worked on new ways to get equipment and supplies troops in the field.
  • Those new approaches are part of a broader effort to improve NATO’s ability to reinforce and resupply units across Europe.
  • The efforts reflect NATO’s increased focus on mobility amid heightened tensions with Russia.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

In recent weeks, US troops on opposite sides of Europe have used new ways to get equipment and supplies to troops in forward locations, reflecting NATO’s increased focus on mobility amid heightened tensions with Russia.

This month, US Army logisticians and transporters unloaded 300 pieces of equipment belonging to the Army National Guard’s 81st Stryker Brigade Combat Team at the port of Esbjerg in Denmark.

The gear was to be transported by rail and road to the roughly 800 soldiers who recently arrived in Poland to join the NATO Enhanced Forward Presence battlegroup that has operated there since late 2017.

“This is the first time the US Army has worked with the Danish armed forces at the Esbjerg port to execute an operation of this kind,” an Army press release said, adding that “expanding” the number of European seaports that can support Army deployments was “a key objective.”

US military cargo ship USNS Bob Hope

USNS Bob Hope off the coast of Durres, Albania, before the theater opening exercise for Defender-Europe 21, April 26, 2021.

US Army/Staff Sgt. Elizabeth O. Bryson


That gear arrived in Esbjerg a month after US soldiers and sailors unloaded gear and fuel in Durres, Albania to kick off the Defender-Europe 21 exercises.

Rather than offloading directly in Durres’ port, US personnel conducted a joint logistics over-the-shore operation, unloading vehicles and other heavy equipment from USNS Bob Hope, a US Military Sealift Command cargo ship, onto smaller vessels for transport to shore.

JLOTS operations allow US sealift vessels to load and unload personnel and equipment in what the Army described as “severe environments, damaged ports, or over a bare beach” using smaller ships.

The JLOTS operation included a bulk fuel transfer over-the-shore, in which 20,000 gallons of petroleum was pumped from a ship in the Adriatic Sea to a supply point on “an unimproved beach” in Durres for distribution to units in the field.

US military vehicles in port at Durres Albania

US military vehicles in port at Durres, Albania, await deployment to troops for Defender-Europe 21, May 1, 2021.

US Army/Staff Sgt. Elizabeth O. Bryson


The JLOTS operation at Durres was the first in Europe since World War II, the Army said, and the bulk fuel transfer was the first of its kind in 30 years.

Defender-Europe and its counterpart in the Pacific are “great exercises” for US Transportation Command, which oversees Military Sealift Command, Army Gen. Stephen Lyons, head of Transportation Command, said at a recent Hudson Institute event.

The “most important part” of Defender-Europe was to reinforce US European Command’s “imperatives of deterrence, of assurance to our allies and partners, and again … demonstrating our ability to project power at our time and place of choosing,” Lyons added.

‘Shoot, move, and communicate’

US Army armor tanks Antwerp Belgium Europe

US Army combat vehicles being unloaded in Antwerp, Belgium, May 20, 2018.

US Army/Sgt. Christopher Case


Since Russia’s 2014 seizure of Crimea, NATO has put renewed focus on its ability to move forces and supplies into and around Europe.

The alliance has sought to regain capabilities it let wane after the Cold War and to prepare to face a more capable adversary that could challenge or deny its movements in a conflict.

NATO expanded from 16 members in 1991 to 30 in 2021, incorporating countries where infrastructure, such as railways and roads, didn’t match that of Western Europe or couldn’t support the tanks and other heavy equipment used by the alliance’s militaries.

Administrative obstacles, such as customs and transportation regulations, also hindered cross-border movement.

NATO internal report in 2017 said its ability to rapidly deploy throughout Europe had “atrophied since the end of the Cold War.”

US Army German Abrams tank flag

A German civilian greets US vehicles conducting a tactical road march in Germany, April 23, 2018.

US Army photo by Spc. Dustin D. Biven


European countries are working to ease those administrative roadblocks and to improve their infrastructure.

NATO has also established two new commands to support logistical operations — one in Norfolk, Virginia, to oversee transatlantic reinforcement and one in Ulm, Germany, to manage movement in Europe.

US Air Force Gen. Tod Wolters, NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander Europe and head of US European Command, told Insider at an event in December 2019 that the alliance was “dedicating tremendous energy to this very issue.”

To support that effort, the US military has returned to ports that it hasn’t used in decades to conduct operations like that in Esbjerg.

The US Navy has also refocused on reinforcement, simulating its first “opposed transit” of the Atlantic since the 1980s in 2020 and building on it with another exercise this spring.

Navy Vella Gulf Benavidez cargo ship convoy

US Navy guided-missile cruiser USS Vella Gulf leads MV Resolve, center, and USNS Benavidez during a convoy exercise in the Atlantic Ocean, February 28, 2020.

US Navy/MCS 3rd Class Andrew Waters


New prepositioned stocks for the Army and the Air Force’s new deployable airbase system also allow US troops arriving in Europe to “immediately hit the deck running” and “shoot, move, and communicate with success against any potential foe,” Wolters said at an Atlantic Council event this week.

“We take logistics very, very seriously. We’re improving our ability to increase our posture once we get the forces where they need to be,” Wolters added, responding to a question from Insider.

Exercises since 2016, including Defender-Europe 21, continue to improve that logistical capability, which Wolters said was essential to warfare.

“It’s just as important to be lethal in air, land, sea, space, and cyber as it is to be lethal in logistics,” Wolters said.

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