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Pentagon Officials Defend European Reassurance Initiative

Capitol HIll

Pentagon officials on Wednesday assured members of Congress that the United Kingdom is still a strong ally to U.S. and NATO, despite its recent decision to leave the European Union.

"We have a very close relationship ... with the United Kingdom," Rachel Ellehuus, principal director of Europe and NATO Policy for the Office of the Secretary of Defense, told members of the House Armed Services Committee's Oversight and Investigation Subcommittee.

In the wake of its recent Brexit vote, the U.K. has reinforced its commitment to a number of important initiatives, Ellehuus said.

U.K. officials "have publicly committed at the Farnborough airshow" to purchase nine P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft and 50 AH-64E Apache attack helicopters, she said.

In addition to the U.S., the U.K., Germany and Canada have agreed to station four battalions on Europe's eastern flank to bolster efforts to deter Russian aggression, Ellehuus said.

Pentagon officials testified at the July 13 hearing to brief lawmakers on the European Reassurance Initiative.

Quadrupling funding

The president's budget request for FY 2017 includes a quadrupling in ERI funding over 2016 levels to approximately $3.42 billion. In 2017, the ERI will expand the scope of 28 joint and multinational exercises, which annually train over 18,000 U.S. personnel alongside 45,000 NATO allies and Partnership for Peace personnel across 40 countries.

Subcommittee chairman Vicky Hartzler, R-Missouri, said she was concerned about Russian anti-armor threats to U.S. ground combat vehicles.

Many in the Army, including Gen. H.R. McMaster, the commander of the Army Capabilities and Integration Center and deputy commanding general of U.S. Army Futures at Army Training and Doctrine Command, have stated that "our ground combat vehicles are losing their qualitative edge over our adversaries," she said.

"With Russia demonstrating the capability to field advanced anti-tank weapons and thermobaric warheads, our armored vehicles and service members will be vulnerable in a fight."

Hartzler, a self-proclaimed advocate of Active Protection System technology, wanted to know the U.S. European Command is working with the Army to address these threats "sooner rather than later, especially if the APS solution already exists."

Air Force Maj. Gen. David Allvin, the J-5 of EUCOM, told lawmakers that the U.S. military has learned "what combat might look like if God forbid it did happen, through some of our contingency planning and wargaming."

EUCOM has alerted the Defense Department of several capability gaps that U.S. forces have in countering Russian adversaries, Allvin said.

Allvin added that "I would say that this particular one has not elevated above others."

Risk of miscalculations

Rep. Beto O'Rourke, D-Texas, expressed his worry that the recent escalation for forces to counter Russian aggression will increase the risk of miscalculations that could lead to an unintended war.

"I would view continued escalation to be a failure," he said. "Nothing that I can think of condones Russia's behavior in the areas we have talked about, but there is a logic to it, and I can understand them responding to the growth of NATO.

"Also want to ensure we are thinking through adding $3.4 billion to the fire, bringing more forces in and potentially setting us on a trajectory where we will be obligated as things continue to escalate, to bring more forces and more dollars into play thereby provoking additional responses that may not be wise."

Rep. Austin Scott, R-Georgia, said that it is clear to him the ERI has caused Russian President Vladimir Putin to think twice about mounting aggressive military moves similar to his decision to send Russian troops into Eastern Ukraine.

Putin "clearly would not have stopped in Ukraine, in my opinion, had the United States not shown the resolve, had our NATO allies not shown the resolve that they did to stop him."

-- Matthew Cox can be reached at matthew.cox@military.com.

Related Topics

Matthew Cox NATO Europe Congress Headlines United Kingdom

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