One of the largest U.S.-Army led military exercises in decades, Defender Europe 21, has kicked off and will run until June with 28,000 total troops from 26 nations taking part.
This year's exercise involves 26 nations, including the U.S., and around 28,000 multinational forces all focused on building operational readiness and interoperability between NATO allies and partners, the United States Department of Defense (Pentagon) announced.
"It's defensive in nature, focused on deterring aggression, while preparing our forces to respond to crisis and conduct large-scale combat operations if necessary," Pentagon Press Secretary John F. Kirby said during a briefing on Monday.
Transparency of the exercises
Kirby asserted that another key attribute of Defender Europe 21 is the transparency surrounding what it is all about, who will participate, what is meant to be accomplished.
The official said that openly discussing the Defender Europe 21 exercise and why U.S., NATO partners and other European allies are gathering troops is an important facet of the operation. Other nations have not been so clear or forthright about their own amassing of troops, he said.
"I'm going to continually talk about what we're doing — it's called transparency — it's a wonderful thing," he said "And we're not getting that out of Moscow and we haven't. So that's a big difference right there. It's a defensive exercise and you will be able to hear us talk about it and communicate to you and to the world what we're doing and why."
Russia's intentions were not clear
In past weeks, Russia had amassed more than 100,000 troops on the Russian side of its border with Ukraine — alarming the Ukrainians and allies. In recent days, those troops have started to pull back, but many still remain.
"There's still quite a few, I mean there's still a lot of forces arrayed against, or aligned along the border with Ukraine and in occupied Crimea," Kirby said. "And it's still never been completely clear what the intentions were."
The Defender Europe
The exercise is the deployment of a division-size force from the United States to Europe, pulling equipment from Army prepositioned stocks, then moving personnel and equipment across the theater to multiple training areas.
Last year’s exercise was planned to be the largest NATO exercise in Europe in 25 years but had to be scaled back due to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. Even so, U.S. and allied forces managed to conduct some of the planned drills and joint exercises.
This year’s wider-ranging exercise will include COVID restrictions and monitoring but will span the Balkans and the Black Sea region and use key ground and maritime routes that bridge Europe, Asia and Africa, according to a U.S. Army Europe and Africa statement.
Swift Response and Immediate Response exercises
The Defender Europe 21 exercise will also include several smaller "linked" exercises, Kirby said. Those include Swift Response, which involves airborne operations in Estonia, Bulgaria and Romania; Immediate Response, which involves more than 5,000 troops from eight nations conducting live-fire training in 12 different countries; Saber Guardian, which includes more than 13,000 service members doing live-fire training as well as air and missile defense operations; and a command post exercise with 2,000 personnel exercising the ability of a headquarters to command multinational land forces.
"The Defender Europe exercise is going to conclude in June, but not before demonstrating joint force readiness, lethality and interoperability, reinforcing the U.S. commitment to our allies and partners, and providing an outstanding opportunity to highlight the superb job our men and women are doing every day and in the region — the Balkan and Black Sea regions in particular, and throughout Europe and the Africa area of operations," Kirby said.