Stars and Stripes magazine: Heavy military equipment has limitations in Baltic terrain

“Where there are moose there are swamps, and for tanks deployed by US Army Europe, that’s no good,” the magazine writes.

As reported, US Lieutenant General Ben Hodges, the Commanding General of US Army Europe, led a delegation from US Army Europe in the 21st Theater Sustainment Command Terrain Walk across Germany, Latvia, and Poland at the beginning of September.

During a three-day trek through key logistical hubs across Germany, Latvia and Poland, US Army Europe leaders looked for ways to accelerate the movement of weaponry and supplies in a region that has only recently become a strategic priority.

With a sizable Russian force just across the border, the United States was thinking heavy equipment, “but heavy has some limitations in this terrain,” said US Army Europe’s Colonel Jeffrey French.

More light-weight attack vehicles such as Strykers could be in order, he said.

“When it comes to deterrence, speed matters,” said Hodges. “If the alliance can demonstrate it has the capability, it can deter and prevent Russia from grabbing a piece of Lithuania, grabbing a piece of Latvia.”

In Estonia, drive off road, and tanks are liable to sink into the swamps favoured by the country’s large moose population, US Army engineers explained. Bog land, limited highway networks throughout the Baltics and a shortage of rail cars strong enough to carry US tanks also pose obstacles.

“I am not sure of their propensity for lending us rail cars in a time of need,” said Lieutenant Colonel Steven Dowgielewicz, Commander of the 39th Transportation Battalion of the US Army Europe.

While rail is a primary mode for moving heavy equipment around Europe, difficulties emerge as cargo moves into the Baltics, where the rail system still functions on Russian-style gauges. That means offloading onto different cargo trains, which require special transport cars.

Another issue is Russia’s continued presence along Latvia and Lithuania’s rail system, which Moscow uses to resupply its forces in Kaliningrad.

The US Army Europe also lacks the kind of mobile bridging capability in Europe that would enable a unit to manoeuvre heavy vehicles across Europe’s many rivers. Some allies possess such capabilities, but for now the US Army Europe does not, notes “Stars and Stripes”.

The US Army’s 21st Theater Sustainment Command, which is in charge of all army logistics in Europe, is working to spread its logistical “web” to ensure troops have freedom of movement. That means more ports, river barges and air cargo hubs need to be brought into supply routes.

Finding additional ways to pre-position more equipment, ammunition and vehicles will be crucial, commanders said.

Other challenges include reducing wait times for diplomatic clearances to move ammunition across borders, something NATO political leaders are now looking at.

For example, the United States is required to give the German government four weeks’ notice before moving military equipment through areas that were once part of East Germany. Hodges said he learned of that arcane rule only recently.

“You have to go through eastern Germany to get to Poland,” said Hodges.

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