U.S. Air Forces Europe has taken delivery of its largest shipment of ordnance in 20 years over the past month in yet another sign that the Pentagon’s rearming of the continent is continuing under the Trump administration.
The Pentagon has also moved additional troops and equipment back into Europe after years of drawing forces down. Meanwhile, NATO allies as well as non-members like Finland, are also renewing efforts of their own to rearm and prepare.
As American ordnance arrived at Ramstein Air Base in Germany, NATO allies engaged in a rearmament program described as “ambitious.” In fact, it may even be more so than the U.S. buildup, as it will allow NATO members to better project power while giving a boost to smaller, less wealthy members as well.
Belgium, Denmark, and Austria — the latter not a NATO member — received $20 million worth of air-to-ground precision-guided ordnance overt the past month in what is seen as the first installment of “an ambitious joint ownership program involving eleven NATO countries — along with increasingly de facto ally Finland — aimed at pooling resources to buy advanced munitions and share them on a need-to-have basis,” Breaking Defense reported, adding:
Both NATO officials and analysts say the acquisition plan is sanding the rough edges off decades of slow-moving and regulation-heavy procurement, which made it extremely difficult for allies to share munitions that most NATO members used. The result was some countries were forced to destroy aging stocks of bombs while others struggled to afford new shipments.
The ‘shareable’ idea was born in 2011 when some NATO members literally ran out of bombs during the shortlived air campaign in Libya to assist rebels in ousting the regime led by Muammar Gaddafi. It picked steam when Russia invaded Crimean and began assisting rebels in Ukraine in 2014.
Analysis: Red tape has been the biggest impediments to getting NATO members the weapons they need to defend themselves, so the sharing program primarily aims to cut through the regulatory burdens that made it more difficult to transfer ordnance in an emergency. Libya wasn’t an ’emergency’ or even a crisis for the alliance, but it exposed a huge shortcoming among some member countries that a competent enemy like Russia would have exposed to deadly effect.
The idea is to “make our stockpiles more shareable,” a NATO official told Breaking Defense. “So if I have a bunch of munitions that are going to expire and yours are brand new, you can use some of mine that I would otherwise have to expend money to demilitarize.” And then, a few years down the road, “you can give me some of yours and we’ll call it even.”
In addition to curtailing regulations that made it more difficult to share ordnance, NATO countries are also engaging in more — and larger — military exercises, such as Trident Juncture taking place in Norway this month involving some 50,000 troops, hundreds of aircraft, and dozens of warships.
Sixteen NATO members — Belgium, Denmark, Estonia, Germany, France, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Montenegro, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, and Spain — have agreed to share munitions. And seven — Belgium, France, Italy, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, and Spain — signed an agreement earlier this year to buy surface-to-air missiles, surface-to-surface missiles, and torpedoes, where they will be stored in a single location.
The Trump administration has prodded NATO to ‘get in the game’ and beef up its ability to defend the European continent in the face of Russian aggression, but the actual efforts to do so pre-date President Trump. In any event, these preparations were necessary because the only thing that will prevent Vladimir Putin from moving against, say, a Baltic country in his bid to revitalize portions of the former Soviet Union, is a robust, fully-armed, and capable NATO.