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Pentagon’s European Defense Effort Comes Under Increased Oversight
The Defense Department’s inspector general will be closely monitoring how the Pentagon spends funds to shore up NATO allies under the European Reassurance Initiative.
With a high political profile and substantial funding, the ERI is a “new and important oversight area for the DoD IG,” Defense Department Inspector General spokeswoman Bridget Serchak told National Defense in a statement.
The ERI budget is poised to quadruple to $3.4 billion in fiscal year 2017, up from $789 million in 2016. The IG office plans to begin a formal assessment of the program immediately, according to an April 27 memorandum by Kenneth Moorefield, deputy inspector general for special plans and operations.
The IG review will span ERI efforts in six “Operation Atlantic Resolve” countries: Poland, Bulgaria, Romania, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. It will examine U.S. military participation in training exercises and whether projects deliver promised outcomes such as improved combat readiness of European forces and greater interoperability. Investigators also will propose metrics to gauge progress.
President Obama first announced the launch of the ERI in June 2014. It was funded in fiscal year 2015 as a one-year $1 billion emergency response to Russian aggression. Top U.S. military leaders, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter and other senior administration officials hailed the president’s decision to boost the program in the 2017 Pentagon’s budget request and expand U.S. military presence in Europe after decades of steady withdrawal and a growing threat posed by Russia to NATO countries.
“We're strengthening our deterrence posture in Europe by investing $3.4 billion for the European Reassurance Initiative,” Carter said April 27 during a Senate Appropriations defense subcommittee hearing. “We're challenging our NATO partners and working with them to develop what I call a new playbook for NATO.”
“Yes, we have quadrupled our request for the ERI,” Carter added. “We hope we get favorable consideration of that. We think it's necessary. What is it going to pay for? It pays for more presence on a rotational basis of U.S. forces, ground forces, air forces and naval forces in theater — with a particular attention to the Baltic states that are very much exposed on that flank of NATO.” ERI also funds weapons such as heavy armaments, tanks, armored personnel carriers and artillery.
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., has praised the ERI as a “positive first step to re-establishing deterrence in Europe.” But he warned that the program may not succeed without greater financial and troop commitments from European allies.
U.S. Army Europe announced last month it will begin receiving continuous troop rotations of U.S.-based armored brigade combat teams to the European theater in February 2017, expanding the total Army presence in Europe to three fully staffed brigades. The Army is storing "static" equipment, known as Army prepositioned stocks in Europe.
The armored brigades will be on nine-month rotations from the United States and will bring their own equipment to conduct exercises across Atlantic Resolve countries.
By the end of 2017, the plan is to have a continuous presence of three fully equipped Army brigade combat teams — one armored, one airborne, one Stryker — and one prepositioned set of combat-ready equipment to support another armored brigade. In addition the Army will deploy division-level logistics support units in Europe.