EUCOM Commander Downplays 'Bleak' Report of Russian Military Strength

Russian soldiers march during the Victory Day military parade marking 71 years after the victory in WWII in Red Square in Moscow, Russia, Monday, May 9, 2016. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko) | By Matthew Cox

The commander of U.S. Forces in Europe had to defend his strategy Thursday amid congressional concerns over a new study that paints a "bleak" picture of Russian ground units overwhelming NATO forces on the continent.

Sen. James Inhofe, R-Oklahoma, said he is worried about a March 7 Rand Corp. report claiming that superior numbers of Russian troops and tanks on Europe's eastern flank could reach the capitals of Estonia and Latvia in 60 hours.

"The Rand report paints a pretty bleak picture and warns that NATO could be overwhelmed by superior Russian firepower in a war in Eastern Europe," Inhofe said, asking Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, commander of United States European Command, if he agreed with that statement.

Scaparrotti disagreed, pointing to the buildup of forces under the European Deterrence Initiative.

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The Pentagon has deployed rotational forces in Europe, including an Army armored brigade combat team and a combat aviation brigade. It has also "implemented a framework battalion task force for NATO's presence in Poland," Scaparrotti said.

Also under the EDI, the Pentagon plans to beef up its prepositioned stocks in Europe so combat units will have modernized brigade sets of equipment, Lt. Gen. John Murray, deputy chief of staff for Army G8, said in a speech Tuesday.

"Our plan now is to fill out not one but two ABCTs of what we call prepositioned stocks in Europe with the most modern M1 tanks, Bradleys, AMPVs and JLTVs," Murray said.

Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., also questioned Scaparrotti about the Rand report.

"There are plausible scenarios where the United States could lose a war with Russia," said Wicker, who wanted to know where the report is "missing the mark" and "where you think they are accurate."

Scaparrotti said he didn't have "any argument from the basis of the report and the threat we have, particularly in the eastern borders, which is what [the report] is focused on."

"With respect to the Rand report, we have worked with Rand on this. In fact, it was 2014 or 2015 when the base report was done," he said.

"That report was also a basis from which we developed our war planning in EUCOM and, since 2014, we have come a good ways both in planning and with the posture of our forces there," Scaparrotti said.

"We have re-postured forces since the Rand study was done ... and we would fight this differently than Rand fought it," he added.

Scaparrotti did concede that there are "elements of the report that are still true today."

"I don't have all the forces I need in Europe today, and we have got to continue to invest and establish the posture that is required," he said.

Scaparrotti added, "It's difficult to give you the number of troops," but the proposed $2 billion increase to EDI in the fiscal 2019 budget would allow for the rotation of "additional forces, particularly enablers that I need."

Wicker wanted to know what EUCOM learned from the Russian military exercises known as "Zepad," conducted in late 2017.

"I was not shocked by anything I saw," Scaparrotti said. "For the most part, what Zepad did is reinforce what we believed was their direction in terms of their doctrine, their training, their modernization. They focused on command and control, from strategic to tactical, and we saw that throughout the exercise.

"They focused on both conventional and nuclear, which we expected; they focused on both offense and defensive operations; and they incorporated what I would call 'a whole-of-society approach;' they mobilized their people in some aspect," he said.

Scaparrotti added, "It helps us posture our force and train our force and also the development of our plans, obviously, so we take that very seriously. We watch it very closely, and we had a focused effort to do so."

-- Matthew Cox can be reached at