The US and NATO’s ability to deter Russia is at risk, commander says

The effectiveness of the U.S. and its NATO allies to act as deterrents against Russia is at risk because of shortfalls in capability, said Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, commander of U.S. Army Europe.

There is a pressing need for NATO allies to share intelligence, but many products available to enable that aren’t suitable, Hodges told an audience at a panel Tuesday at the Association of the U.S. Army Annual Meeting & Exposition.

“I have been walking the halls here and looking at exhibits and seeing the incredible products the defense industry produces, but I continue to be disappointed because everything is made for U.S. forces only ... and that‘s not how we’re going to fight,” Hodges said. “We’ve got to continue to put the demand on industry, but also get the policies right to allow us to share information and intelligence.”

Without that, the U.S. can’t do digital force missions with its allies, and the NATO countries are impaired in communicating with each other in a secure mode.

“We are taking great risk at our ability to be an effective deterrent, he said.

He emphasized the important of interoperability within NATO countries, and said the U.S. cannot act effectively alone in the region.

“We don’t do anything by ourselves partly because we don’t have the capacity,” Hodges “There is a need for interoperability. We are much more effective and stronger when we have our partners.”

Another factor necessary for deterrence is speed, he said.

The U.S. has to be as fast or faster than Russian forces, he said. U.S. forces have about seven days to get forces to the eastern side of the NATO region, given conditions and EU road laws.

“Speed of assembly is critical,” Hodges said, in case of impending conflict.

The U.S. presence in Europe is enhanced by the rotational heel-to-toe presence of brigade combat teams such as the 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, out of Fort Carson, Colorado, with its approximately 4,000 soldiers that deployed last winter in support of Operation Atlantic Resolve.

The Russians’ huge military exercise in September, called Zapad, meaning “west,” conducted near the Baltics, was a “great example of the Russians‘ attempt to create a false narrative,” Hodges said. The Russians said they had fewer troops, fewer than 13,000, than they apparently had deployed.

There were three main takeaways after Zapad, Hodges said. Within NATO was the best intelligence sharing ever seen, and “all kinds of walls came down, he said. Second was confidence in the Enhanced Forward Presence battle group concept, with battle groups fielded in less than a year.

The third, he said. was “nobody believes anything the Russians say anymore. Everyone knows there were more than 12,700 troops.”

That lack of clarity creates anxiety, he said, and makes people worried about what the exercise is about.

A member of the audience asked if there are enough U.S. troops in Europe to act effectively.

“There are response plans ... readiness forces ready to go, corps standing by right now, ready to go,” said Lt. Gen. Darryl Williams, commander of Alllied Land Command, NATO.