In connection with the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as taking into account the instructions of the US Secretary of Defense, the American command in Europe announced a change in the course of the Defender-Europe 20 exercise. The events have been adjusted, the number of participants from the USA has been significantly reduced. The exercises related to Defender-Europe 20 such as Dynamic Front, Joint Warfighting Assessment, Saber Strike and Swift Response will not be conducted at all. The battle group of the armored brigade, already deployed in Europe, will conduct joint activities with the allies as part of the modified Allied Spirit exercise.
Apparently, the decision was made in a short time. As back as 9 March, United States Command noted that Defender-Europe 20 was "picking up steam" and invited the press to attend a media event on 14 March at the port of Vlissingen in the Netherlands, where tracked and wheeled vehicles and other equipment of the 2nd brigade combat group of the 1st armored division arrived from mainland America "to continue the largest deployment of American troops in Europe".
According to the original plan, out of 37 thousand participants in the exercise, more than 20 thousand were to arrive in Western Europe from the United States with their weapons, military and special equipment, material and vehicles, and then head east. Personnel and equipment arrived in Europe by ships and aircraft, using 14 seaports and airports in the Netherlands, Belgium, France and Germany, and then by rail and road were sent to training grounds designated for the exercise in Poland and the Baltic countries.
Since January, the American army managed to transport about 6,000 troops, several thousand units of vehicles and various equipment to Europe. The movement of personnel and weapons from several ports to training areas (ranges) in Germany and Poland has been completed. Since 13 March, all movements of troops and equipment from the United States to Europe have ceased.
Thus, the largest military exercise in the last 25 years, which had received wide informational resonance since last fall, was practically disrupted. The set goals were not achieved: the ability of the United States to quickly move and deploy significant military forces in Europe to support other NATO countries and respond to crisis situations remained in doubt, the ability of the army command to coordinate with allies and partners the movement of military echelons and military road convoys by rail on motorways has not been adequately studied.
It cannot be ruled out that in the near future a decision will be made to finally abandon the further conduct of Defender-Europe 20. For example, the US African Command has already announced that the multinational exercise "African Lion", which was to be held in Morocco, will be canceled "for protection from the spread of COVID-19".
From the humanitarian point of view and taking into account the WHO recommendations, the decision is undoubtedly the right one. The life and health of servicemen in peacetime are the main values for the army of any state. However, in this case, the US Armed Forces lost strategically. And the point here is far from image losses — "a swing for a ruble, a blow for a penny". Everything is much more serious.
An army must remain an army in any situation. Military exercises are conducted in conditions as close as possible to combat ones. They, in fact, simulate direct hostilities, and the troops work as they would in a real war. And in a war there can be surprises. For example, the use of bacteriological (biological) weapons by the enemy. And in these conditions it is necessary to continue to fight, to fulfill the assigned task.
To ensure the combat capability of troops in such a situation, each combat formation and military unit has special units designed to protect against radiation, chemical and biological weapons. And each soldier has the necessary protective equipment and is trained to perform his or her functional duties in them. There are also medical units and military doctors, including sanitary ones, who monitor the observance of the necessary sanitary and epidemiological rules by military personnel.
However, in this case, this system did not work. And COVID-19, although it is very dangerous and unpredictable, still cannot be compared with a real bacteriological weapon. It is possible that in this way the US ground forces inadvertently exposed one of their most vulnerable spots, providing potential adversaries with a new direction for developing strategic containment of the States.
However, this is not news for specialists. Back in 2016, experts from the National Commission on the Development of the US Ground Forces expressed concern about the progress of modernizing the army. Speaking about the shortcomings of the ground forces, the experts drew attention to the state of the radiation, chemical and biological defense troops. And in August 2019, the National Defense magazine noted that most of the capabilities of the CBRN weapons available in the US Army were conceived almost ten years ago and are unlikely to "be able to withstand and confront the emerging threats of the future". It is also important that for more than three decades, not a single major exercise related to the imitation of the use of weapons of mass destruction has been conducted in the United States.
And this time, the US Armed Forces gave up the chance to test themselves for strength. There was another way — it was possible to exclude contacts with the local population, organize a number of quarantine measures in the troops, conduct some of the stages of associated exercises using protective equipment, others with a reduced composition, and transfer others to the category of command-staff exercises and trainings. As they say, à la guerre comme à la guerre. It was important to complete all the assigned tasks, and then the US army would look decent.
And the best thing is to change the goals of the teachings to peaceful ones. Europe really needs protection today. And several thousand organized and trained military personnel could bring real benefits to their allies — cordoning off quarantine areas and setting up checkpoints, disinfecting facilities, providing vehicles for transporting goods and evacuating citizens, delivering food and drinking water to settlements, setting up field hospitals and the placement of sick persons there. In this case, the US Army would go down in history as the real defender of Europe in 2020.
And at the same time, under the same conditions in the Republic of Belarus, a comprehensive check of the combat and mobilization readiness of formations and military units of the Armed Forces is underway. Measures are being taken to transfer troops to the highest degrees of combat readiness, personnel are called up from the reserve, military units perform combat training tasks at training ranges, and the territorial defense system is being tested. The Belarusian military is ready to carry out tasks as intended in any situation. After all, they learn to fight on their native land.