Exercise Anakonda 16 in Poland was not only an opportunity for American forces to train and work with soldiers from several other nations, but it also provided a stage for the United States to show its commitment — as well as its military might — to allies and adversaries alike.
On June 11, Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, the commanding general of U.S. Army Europe, which is headquartered in Wiesbaden, Germany, visited soldiers from 1st Battalion, 41st Field Artillery Regiment, 3rd Infantry Division Artillery in Drawsko Pomorskie, Poland, while they prepared for a section-certification exercise with their M109A6 Paladin self-propelled howitzers.
Eight thousand American soldiers, including from 1ABCT, were in Poland to participate in Anakonda 16.
“Well, I specifically came out to see 1st Battalion, 41st Field Artillery because this is the only U.S. self-propelled armored … artillery battalion in Europe,” Hodges said. “That’s part of what the Army calls a regionally allocated force.
“So this brigade combat team, now, this is their third time rotating over for a few months into Europe, part of the U.S. effort to assure allies and provide deterrence against possible Russian aggression,” he added.
For Anakonda 16, 1-41 Field Artillery Regiment had 18 guns and more than 400 soldiers participating, said Lt. Col. Mike Owens, the commander of 1st Battalion, 41st Field Artillery Regiment.
“The Paladin is a 155 mm self-propelled howitzer that is direct support to 1st Brigade Combat Team,” he said. “We can shoot a variety of munitions, to include high explosives, smoke and illumination.”
The terrain in Drawsko Pomorskie is ideal for the Paladin howitzer. The gun is unique because during a fire mission, it can move from a hidden location, aim and shoot, and then move again to its next target, according to Owens.
“It’s essential for us because it’s more survivable,” Hodges said. “We need all the different types of artillery, but having the Paladins here allows them to make what they would call a survivability move immediately after firing.”
Over the last 12 years, while the U.S. got involved in Afghanistan and Iraq, Russia improved its capabilities, including in electronic warfare, drones and its ability to intercept threats, he said.
“Their counterfire radar, it has continued to progress dramatically while we were in a completely different kind of fight,” he said.
Hodges said that if 1-41 Field Artillery were to fire a few artillery rounds and then did not move from that position, Russia would be capable of returning fire “before his rounds even hit the ground. They have that level of capability.”
The capability of the Paladin to move “is critical” according to Hodges. He also mentioned the need to practice how to conduct counterfire in the field, not just in the classroom.
“This battalion has a unique capability that I need very much,” said Hodges about 1-41 Field Artillery. “It’s essential to our ability to provide an effective deterrent force.”
When asked if Anakonda 16 was a way to show America’s allies its capabilities and commitment to them, Hodges said, “Deterrence is all about having capability, demonstrating capability and demonstrating the will to use a capability.”
“I think if there ever is a crisis in Europe, we’re probably going to have about three days unambiguous warning,” he added. “So our ability to rapidly identify what is happening, to get a quick political decision to move, and then the ability of soldiers and units to converge into a place to prevent a crisis from growing into something else — that’s what deterrence is all about.”
Hodges added that other allies, including the United Kingdom and Germany, are now stepping up as well.
Before the NATO Warsaw Summit earlier this month, Anakonda 16 also allowed the United States to demonstrate its commitment to Europe.
“Well, nothing says commitment by the United States like having soldiers and heavy equipment on the ground over here,” Hodges said.
“And I think our president, our secretary (of the Army), and the chief of staff of the Army have made it very clear the U.S. Army is going to be here, whether it’s assigned forces like we have or rotational forces that will come over,” he added.
During the NATO Warsaw Summit, the U.S. agreed, along with three other countries, to send soldiers into Eastern European countries to deter Russian aggression in the region, according to media reports.
Hodges said that having the 1st ABCT soldiers in Europe, away from their families, is “a commitment by the United States.”
“But because of that, I have seen over the last year and a half a significant increase in commitment by the rest of our allies,” he added.
The United States’ most reliable allies come from Europe as well as Canada and Australia, Hodges said.
One of the most important thing Hodges wanted to see happen at the Warsaw Summit was “a clear demonstration of the unity of the alliance.”
“I am sure Russia’s No. 1 objective is to see NATO start to come apart, the countries be gnawing on each other,” he said.
“And for sure, there’s more than one threat that’s faces the 28 nations … so coming out of Warsaw having all 28 nations unified, confirming that commitment of collective security, is important,” Hodges said.
When asked if sending rotational brigades to Europe is sustainable, instead of standing up a new permanent brigade, Hodges said it was sustainable but not flexible.
“Clearly the Army is not big enough,” he said. “I mean we have nine armor brigades in the whole Army. We have three full-time commitments — Europe, Middle East and Korea — and, of course, you know it takes three brigades to make one. One’s there, one’s just left there and one’s getting ready to go.
“So minimum, nine armored brigade combat teams, which means there’s no flexibility,” he added.
Hodges said he does not see another brigade moving back to Europe unless the size of the Army increased.
Using rotational forces is “expensive. We’re using ERI, that’s the European Reassurance Initiative money, to pay for it,” Hodges said. “So it’s not even in the base budget, its contingency funding. It’s a terrible way to do business. All of that needs to be in the base budget so that it’s used — so that we can plan.”
“Right now, I mean, it’s like you’re hoping you’ll get your allowance, except it’s over $3 billion,” he added.
1st ABCT should complete this third rotation to Europe by this fall.