EUCOM Commander Calls for Larger Force to Deter Russia

Citizens greet Battle Group Poland as a tactical vehicle convoy crosses into Poland March 26, 2017. U.S. Army 2nd Squadron, 2nd Cavalry Regiment, and other nations are deployed as part of NATO's Enhanced Forward Presence. Sgt. 1st Class Patricia Deal/Army
Citizens greet Battle Group Poland as a tactical vehicle convoy crosses into Poland March 26, 2017. U.S. Army 2nd Squadron, 2nd Cavalry Regiment, and other nations are deployed as part of NATO's Enhanced Forward Presence. Sgt. 1st Class Patricia Deal/Army

The commander of U.S military forces in Europe told lawmakers Tuesday that he needs a larger combat force, including an armored division and increased naval power, to deter Russian military forces on the continent.

"We need a greater force there, I think, potentially in the land component," said Gen. Curtis M. Scaparrotti, commander of U.S. European Command, testifying before the House Armed Service Committee.

The general said he needs the "enablers of an armored division -- a fires brigade, an engineer brigade, air defense -- those kinds of systems in the numbers that I need there."

Currently, the Army has one armored brigade combat team on a continuous rotation to Europe to bolster the Stryker and airborne infantry brigades stationed there permanently.

"I am suggesting an additional division because ... I need armored and mechanized brigades," Scaparrotti said.

"The reason a division is so important is at that level you can then have the command and control, communications capability to integrate the different domains in the way we fight. And that division brings the enablers like appropriate artillery, engineers, air defense, etc. that fill out a proper defense."

Scaparrotti said he could also use an "additional naval component on rotation through Europe to deter specifically with respect to anti-submarine warfare," an area Russia continues to modernize.

"It would be wonderful to have a carrier support group with amphibious forces, more than I have now," he said.

In addition to modernizing conventional ground, naval and air forces, Russia is refining the capability of its nuclear arsenal, Scaparrotti said.

"One of the things that you see that is disturbing is the fact that they are using similar weapon systems that can either be conventional or nuclear, which then makes it difficult for us to clearly understand what they have employed," he said.

"And secondly, within their doctrine, they have made the statement openly again that they see a use for nuclear tactical capabilities within what we would consider a conventional conflict, which is very alarming."

Rep. Mike Turner, a Republican from Ohio, asked Scaparrotti if he believes forward stationing an armored unit on a permanent basis rather than rotational would be helpful in deterring Russia.

Though that is a U.S. Army decision, "I would prefer to have an enduring armored force in Europe," Scaparrotti said.

"I would prefer to have an enduring one; then the force becomes accustomed to the environment. It forms relationships with our allies and they become well known over the period of time in the several years our service members are stationed there," Scaparrotti said.

The one upside of the rotational force is "much more of our force structure then becomes familiar with the environment, the people, the challenges ... that's the benefit to it," he said.

Aside from armor, Scaparrotti said he needs greater intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets.

"To deter properly, I have to be able to have a good baseline of Russia in particular, so that I know when things change so I can posture my forces properly," he said.

Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, a Democrat from Hawaii, wanted to know why Russia did not come up as a threat during the 2014 Quadrennial Defense Review.

"I don't recall in that QDR or in the QDR before that … there was a major concern about Russia," Hanabusa said. "The philosophy was more along the lines of we thought we could kind of bring them around; they would become an ally.

"Then it seems like something occurred and, all of the sudden, they are viewed by some as our greatest threat, so can you explain to me, general, how we go from thinking that maybe they will even become part of NATO and all of the sudden we've got to protect NATO?"

Scaparrotti said the "real trigger" was Russia's 2014 annexation of Crimea.

"The occupation of Ukraine, for instance, was an act that clearly set out that we have Russia as a competitor that is willing and did break international law," he said.

"And I think what you see in their activities today often is pushing whenever they can against the international norms. They still occupy Ukraine and Georgia with troops without invitation."

Russia has also been behind cyber-attacks that are "criminal in some cases," such as the attack on the Ukranian power grid and attempts to impact elections in the United States, France and Germany, Scaparrotti said.

"So I think if you look their actions, it tells us that we have a nation here that we need to be very sober about," he said. "We don't seek conflict with them; deterrence in fact has its mission to prevent conflict of war. But at this point, Russia has not been very responsive to the international community."

-- Matthew Cox can be reached at

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