Defender exercises strengthen southeastern Europe’s deterrence with Russia

·7 min read

CAPU MIDIA TRAINING AREA, Romania — American and Romanian officers wearing corresponding green and blue camouflage uniforms stood atop an observation deck at the Capu Midia training area in Romania on Wednesday with a common objective that interrupted their conversations throughout the sunny afternoon on the Black Sea coast.

Silence ensued each time a PA announced a hostile target was engaged. All eyes focused on the most modern missile-defense systems positioned on the beach below. Breaths were held before an explosive thrust launched a missile.

America’s premier long-range missile defense system, Patriot, fired the rockets at targets alongside the short-range, Humvee-mounted Avenger system and Romania’s Hawk missiles, fired from medium-range SA-6 and SA-8 systems. Romania joined NATO in 2004, making it one of the alliance’s newest members. Its responsibility to defend the southeast flank of NATO along the Black Sea requires training and practice, according to commanders on both sides. Romania has already stepped up with monetary investment, committing 2% of its GDP for the last five years to defense spending and becoming the first Eastern European country to acquire the Patriot.

“What was great in the lead-up to the live-fire today was that members of the 74th Air Defense Regimen, Romania were working side by side with our soldiers,” U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Greg Brady, commanding general for the 10th Army Air Missile Defense Command for U.S. Army Europe and Africa, told the Washington Examiner after the Saber Guardian exercise.

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“Romania is one of the newest countries to receive the Patriot Battery, first in Eastern Europe,” he said.

America’s most advanced air defense weapon is helping allies across the continent protect against air threats, including cruise missiles and tactical ballistic missiles. But just having the right weapons and soldier training does not mean they can operate effectively if called to “fight tonight.”

A Patriot missile fires at the Capa Midia Training Area in Romania, part of Defender Europe 21 exercises to enhance interoperability and strengthen NATO partners in southeast Europe on the Black Sea. Photo by Abraham Mahshie/ Washington Examiner

“It takes some time to build up, to establish an integrated air missile defense operation,” Brady said.

The Patriot produces a powerful explosion behind its launch tube at ignition, driving the missile into the air with a shrill as it maneuvers toward its target and leaving a thick white smoke trail. American and Romanian soldiers rarely have the opportunity to launch this weapon, let alone see it in action.

“This was the first time I saw the Patriot launch, and I was mesmerized by it,” said Adelina Minea, 30, chief of logistics for Romania’s 1st Hawk Battery.

“It was on intuition,” she said of the integration of the Romanian and American forces during the exercise. “We all know what we have to do, even if he was American, even if I am in the Air Force and they are in the terrestrial forces, we will know what we had to do.”

The NATO alliance is meant to defend its members against any threat. However, Russia’s recent saber-rattling has provoked the most concern in this region. In 2014, Russia invaded and seized part of Ukraine, the first redrawing of the European map in 50 years.

Since then, Russia has further militarized the Black Sea region with a modernized Navy, air incursions, and hybrid warfare against NATO members and partners. The activity has only served to underscore that the smallest and newest members, often those nearest to Russia, must do more.

“It’s in our blood,” Minea added. “It’s something we have to do, not need to do.”

U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Greg Brady, commanding general for the 10th Army Air Missile Defense Command for U.S. Army Europe and Africa, speaks to Romanian Air Force 1st Lt. Adelina Minea and Ohio Army National Guard Brigade commander, Col. James McAndless following the Saber Guardian exercises at the Capu Midia Training Area in Romania June 8, 2021. Photo by Abraham Mahshie/ Washington Examiner

The two days of missile defense exercises in Romania were part of a series of exercises called Defender Europe 21 that involved 28,000 allied troops from 26 nations at more than 30 training areas in the Balkans and Black Sea region of southeastern Europe.

The goal of the United States was proving it could quickly deploy land forces across vast distances involved logistical challenges in this lesser-developed region of the continent, where communism held back development for decades.

“It's not easy,” Romanian Defense Secretary Nicolae Ciuca admitted to the Washington Examiner at a meeting in Bucharest. “It's very complex and a very comprehensive, I would say, activity.”

In March, Russia built up 100,000 soldiers on the eastern border of Ukraine, saying weeks later the event was a military exercise. Although the Defender exercises are planned years in advance, Russia often calls any U.S. or NATO exercise a threat.

“Everything we do, of course, is not to provoke or to antagonize Russia,” Ciuca said. “But everything we did, everything we will do in the future, is to show that NATO is a very strong alliance, very united.”

For the American soldiers, firing weapons and testing their capabilities in Romania also helped improve U.S. readiness.

“Our equipment is not perfect,” said Army Capt. Sang Wong Kim, commander of one of the Avenger batteries that participated in the exercise, when asked about misfires and missed targets. “What is important is the training that we get out of this and the hands-on training that we received actually firing some missiles. Not every soldier gets the opportunity to actually have trigger time.”

Kim also said the Romanian range permitted U.S. soldiers to operate two Avenger systems side by side as they would in a real-world battle, something soldiers cannot practice back in the U.S. due to range safety restrictions.

A Patriot Missile Long-Range Air-Defence System as viewed through binoculars at the Capu Midia Training Area in Romania prepares to fire as part of Saber Guardian missile defense exercises between the U.S. and Romania June 8, 2021. Photo by Abraham Mahshie/ Washington Examiner

“They allowed us to do the two .50 cals on the same firing position, which is a very cool experience,” he said. “That's how we would actually conduct a fight, we would suppress, and then they would reload, suppress and reload.”

The heat produced by the .50 caliber machine guns at Capu Midia ignited dry grass nearby. With flames beginning to form and smoke billowing, Army soldiers evaluated the threat, deemed their operation safe, and continued firing until the airborne target was destroyed.

Col. Jim McCandless, brigade commander for the 174th Air Defense Artillery Brigade of the Ohio National Guard, acknowledged the Army has lost missile-defense personnel in recent years. Expected Defense Department repositioning of some forces to the Indo-Pacific region could further dilute the forces available in Europe to deter Russia.

“This is how we expand the NATO enterprise,” he said. “When you look at each country, some of them have very old legacy systems. Some of them have Soviet systems that are not capable of being interoperable with our current systems.”

Several commanders emphasized the importance of continued engagement to bring all NATO partners up to the same level.

“The U.S. and/or just NATO doesn't have the capacity to do this alone,” McCandless said.

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“I have learned a lot from the Americans,” said Minea, the Romanian lieutenant, who spent six months training at Fort Bliss.

Asked how Romania can strengthen its deterrence posture with Russia, she said, “We need more training.”

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Tags: News, National Security, Department of Defense, Pentagon, Army, Russia, Europe, Black Sea, Romania

Original Author: Abraham Mahshie

Original Location: Defender exercises strengthen southeastern Europe’s deterrence with Russia