One of the largest U.S.-Army led military exercises in decades has kicked off and will run until June, with 28,000 total troops from 27 nations taking part. Defender Europe 2021 will include “nearly simultaneous operations across more than 30 training areas” in a dozen countries.

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.

“While we are closely monitoring the COVID situation, we’ve proven we have the capability to train safely despite the pandemic. No matter what, our nations count on our forces being ready to defend the peace,” said Gen. Christopher Cavoli, U.S. Army Europe and Africa commanding general.

The multi-faceted, months-long exercise provides the United States and allies a showcase event for crisis response, Cavoli said.

The U.S. Air Force and Navy will see an increased role in this previously largely Army affair. Planners are incorporating “new or high-end capabilities,” which include air and missile defense assets, capabilities from the Army’s Security Force Assistance Brigades and V Corps, which was recently reactivated.

Of the 28,000 total participants, an estimated 2,100 are coming from the Army National Guard and another 800 from the Army Reserve.

Equipment and personnel begin flowing this month from the United States to Europe. Next month units will draw from prepositioned stocks of gear in the Netherlands, Italy and Germany.

Defender Europe 21 acts as an overarching, umbrella-like operation that includes several exercises that run from early May to June, including:

  • Swift Response — in early May, includes airborne operations in Estonia, Bulgaria and Romania with more than 7,000 troops from 11 countries.
  • Immediate Response — mid-May to early June, has more than 5,000 troops from eight countries in 31 training areas in a dozen countries running live-fire training and a joint over-the-shore logistics operation.
  • Command Post Exercise — in June, will see 2,000 troops running a headquarters commanding multinational land forces in joint and combined training environments, all while running real-world operations in 14 countries on two continents, sharing mission command, mutual sustainment and mission partner environment.

There are two large-scale training events also running under Defender-Europe 21 this year:

  • African Lion — mid-May to mid-June, is the U.S. Africa Command annual training event using 5,000 troops from 24 nations primarily in Morocco, running large-scale live fire, medical readiness, air, maritime and forward command post training exercises.
  • Steadfast Defender — mid-May to early June, are new NATO exercises working transatlantic reinforcement, demonstrating NATO’s rapid full-scale threat response capabilities.

Todd South has written about crime, courts, government and the military for multiple publications since 2004 and was named a 2014 Pulitzer finalist for a co-written project on witness intimidation. Todd is a Marine veteran of the Iraq War.

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