At the NATO summit in Warsaw last July, the Alliance decided to create an Enhanced Forward Presence (EFP) on its eastern flank, in order to reassure members in that area facing a fresh threat from Russia and to strengthen its deterrent posture in light of the new strategic situation created by Moscow’s annexation of Crimea and the conflict in Donbass. The EFP is a tailored structure based on two command hubs: the Multinational Division Southeast in Bucharest, Romania, and the Multinational Northeast Corps in Szczecin, Poland. The first, achieving its Initial Operating Capability (IOC) during the Warsaw summit, operates under the operational control of Joint Forces Command (JFC) Naples and is able to provide C2 for Article 5 military operations as a divisional command in the south-eastern area. It should reach the Full Operating Capability (FOC) next year.
The Multinational Northeast Corps was created in 1997 as a low readiness tri-national command by Poland, Denmark and Germany. In February 2015 the three nations decided to increase the command’s readiness level to high, enabling it to manage and coordinate high-intensity military operations on NATO’s northeastern flank. The command is subordinate to JFC Brunssum; it reached FOC during Exercise “Brilliant Capability 2016.”
The EFP operating component on the ground consists of four strong battlegroups, to be deployed in Poland and the Baltic states. In addition to these units, Romania announced its intention during the Warsaw summit to create a multinational brigade in order to provide an additional “Tailored Forward Presence” for the Black Sea Region. Poland and Bulgaria both decided to join this force, based in Craiova, which will be managed by the Multinational Division Southeast and is expected to reach IOC in April 2017 ahead of FOC around the end of 2018.
Immediately following the agreement in Warsaw, NATO took action aimed at having the relevant battlegroups in place by summer 2017. The process was accelerated at the end of 2016 and pushed on further still from January this year. Today the four battle groups are a reality. Their task, as the JFC Brunssum Commander, Gen. Salvatore Farina, told Monch during a recent visit to NATO, is, “to reassure and support local forces. These units are deployed far from the Russian border at training areas, where they can train with local counterparts, and they represent a force package neither too big nor too small, but proportioned,” and able to provide the right deterrent power. At the same time the EFP can provide an immediate response element in case of an attack before the Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (VJTF) can deploy in-theatre. As Gen. Farina strongly underlines, such a move was purely defensive under a posture in which “nothing is conceded to escalation and provocation.”
It is worth recalling that the VJTF represents the main component of the new 40,000-strong Enhanced NATO Response Force (ENRF) and includes one brigade as the core force with appropriate air, naval and special forces assets. The first elements of the VJTF – essentially the command post and one manoeuvre battalion – can be projected to theatre within 48 hours, while the whole VJTF can be present in just five days. Command of the VJTF is provided by a framework nation on a one-year rotational base: in 2016 it was Spain – this year it is the UK, to be followed by Italy in 2018. The other two components of the ENRF are the Initial Follow-On Forces Group (IFFG) – a 26,000-strong force able to deploy to theatre in 45 days following the VJTF – and the Response Forces Pool (RFP) – a larger force package allowing NATO to retain a broad spectrum of military capabilities to address crisis evolution.
Returning to the battlegroups, they are configured as mechanised infantry units with armoured components, air defence sections and mortar support. Each battlegroup has a framework nation and participating countries which provide units deploying through six-month rotations. They operate in partnership with local forces assisting them and training with them. For example, the German lead battlegroup in Lithuania works side by side with the Lithuanian Army ‘Iron Wolf’ mechanised infantry brigade.
First to deploy was the German-led battlegroup, activated at Rukla on 7 February, and swiftly followed by contingents from Belgium, Luxembourg, and Norway: France and Croatia will join it in 2018. It has an armoured core while Norway has made a mechanised company available. The US-led battle group in Poland is expected to be officially inaugurated on 13 April, including forces from Romania (providing an air defene battery) and the UK. The third battlegroup to be activated will be the UK-led one in Estonia, with a core component of 800 British soldiers with CHALLENGER 2 MBTs and WARRIOR tracked IFVs, as well as a strong French contingent of 300 soldiers including an armoured company with LECLERC MBTs. Finally, the Canadian-led battlegroup will be deployed and activated by the end of July and will include forces form Italy, Albania, Poland, Slovenia and Spain. Therefore, on current plans, all battlegroups will be fully up and running by the end of July.