GRAFENWÖHR, Germany — As Autumn settles into the remote villages of this farming region, a rare site is expected among the fallow fields.
For the first time in more than two decades, American armored vehicles will travel across farmland as part of a massive force-on-force exercise that stretches between major Army training areas. Dubbed “Saber Junction” and expected to involve more than 6,000 soldiers from the U.S. and other NATO nations, the exercise harkens back to a Cold War era of training when civilian land sometimes played a role.
Army trainers say they’re reintroducing skills left behind during a decade of wars in the Middle East and emphasized in new Army doctrine. One is combined arms maneuver, a kind of high-intensity conflict typically not seen in operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“The combined arms maneuver is more or less known as how we used to do business in the Army before the operations of the last 10 years,” said Maj. Wes Wilhite, chief of plans for the Joint Multinational Readiness Center in Hohenfels.
At the center of the exercise, which begins in earnest Saturday, is the 2nd Cavalry Regiment and its eight-wheeled Stryker armored fighting vehicle. The regiment will be pitted against a training opposition force armed with mock aviation and armor assets, including a platoon of German Leopard tanks.
Command-and-control on the battalion and brigade level, versus the squad and platoon emphasis of recent years, is a focus, said Wilhite.
The terrain is broad, stretching from Grafenwöhr roughly 50 miles south to the Hohenfels Training Area, and it will likely include civilian fields.
The exercise is the first since a 1989 “Reforger” exercise to employ off-post land known as “Maneuver Rights Areas,” or MRA. Largely comprising fallow farmland, the area used for Saber Junction measures roughly 24 miles by 36 miles, Wilhite said.
He said trainers coordinated with German officials months before the exercise, and will follow noise restrictions after dark.
“We’ve tried to script engagements around that without giving 2CR too much of the story,” he said.
Hans-Martin Schertl, mayor of Vilseck, the town closest to the regiment’s post of Rose Barracks, said U.S. Army Europe has a mechanism to reimburse farm owners for damaged property, something confirmed by an Army official.
Schertl remembered similar exercises from the past, perhaps every three to five years. He said he expects trainers not to be especially disruptive this time, moving through the area by night or as residents work.
“I think only a few people really will see the training exercise,” he said.
The exercise picks up from last year’s Full Spectrum Training Environment, a kind of inaugural high-intensity exercise after years of counterinsurgency training rotations. The 2CR will “relieve” the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, the unit trained in the FSTE, and the overarching narrative, modeled on the Caucasus, will be the same.
During the next two weeks, trainers will simulate a spectrum of so-called hybrid threats, varying from a mobile state army to paramilitary, insurgent and even criminal activity.
The lower-intensity threats bring in the operational concept of wide-area security, another core competency on which 2CR is being trained.
Army training centers in the U.S. have recently hosted similar exercises. The Europe exercise, scheduled to enter high gear on the 13th, focuses on the brigade level and involves participants from 12 European nations and observers from seven others.
The exercise is the capstone to months of training by the 2CR, some of it on off-post land to the east of Grafenwöhr.
“It’s something we’ve only done here one time before, so I think that’s what makes it unique from some of the standard (mission rehearsal exercises) we’ve done before,” Wilhite said.