In January 2017, the US Army began heel-to-toe deployments of heavy brigade combat teams (BCT) to Europe, in addition to creating an additional heavy armored BCT in the US.  These BCTs are for conventional conflicts, so these changes are something that we should immediately notice. The 3rd Armored BCT is currently deployed across Europe as a part of the European Reassurance Initiative.  This is something we’ve covered this year in our premium intelligence products, but two recent pieces of information demonstrates that the US military is preparing for a potential war with Russia.

First, there’s the end of Saber Guardian, which I initially covered in the 21 July Executive Intelligence Summary:

Now as far as Saber Guardian is concerned (see this week’s NATO-Russia SITREP), NATO is doing two things. The first is that it’s demonstrating its resolve and capabilities to fight Russia across Europe. This is the official story; everyone sees this. The second and probably more important objective for NATO is to prepare these smaller nations to carry out irregular warfare in the event of a Russian invasion. NATO currently isn’t strong enough to stop a large scale Russian invasion into Europe — say, into Estonia or Latvia — so the presence of NATO military personnel trained in fomenting insurgency and carrying out sabotage operations is the next best option. What’s been under-reported is that a strong contingent of US Army Special Forces are involved in Saber Guardian and are actively working with and training partner units to conduct stay-behind operations if or when Russia invades. As best I can tell, NATO powerhouses like the US, UK, Germany, and France would commit to the conventional fight (tanks and planes), leaving these smaller nations to carry out insurgency against a Russian occupation force. NATO is focused on building an irregular force capability to counter Putin’s hybrid war, which involves more unconventional tactics than conventional.

An important part of warfare is convincing your enemy that his objectives are unattainable or are too costly to pursue. NATO’s objective here is to deter Russia from another Ukraine incident, and to prepare for a worst case scenario. That being said, a Russian invasion of anywhere is a worst case scenario. That may seem unlikely right now, but Putin’s greatest limiting factor in achieving his objectives are low oil prices. For the better part of a year, I’ve described how low oil prices and sanctions are crippling the Russian economy; how Putin has drained off strategic monetary reserves to keep his government afloat and been forced to make domestic budget cuts to keep his military modernization programs in place. Russia is not in a good place right now, but they aren’t going anywhere, either. Once oil prices rebound, Putin will have an expanded playbook against NATO, and there’s a high likelihood that tensions will escalate even further. If Putin does nothing in the face of NATO expansion and preparation for war, then he risks domestic instability carried out by Western intelligence organizations and may ultimately be deposed. If he chooses not to seek re-election next year, then his [successor] will be faced with the same scenario. Therefore, Putin’s only option is to convince NATO that their objectives are too costly to pursue. How he does that is anyone’s guess, but there are some possibilities. He could inflame the migrant crisis to threaten civil wars in Europe by convincing nationalist, right wing political parties to overthrow their globalist liberal governments. He could continue carrying out inform and influence operations to have pro-Russian leaders elected in NATO nations, thus peeling back NATO one nation at a time. He could also drive a wedge among NATO partners, causing internecine disputes and reducing cooperation among NATO member nations. To some degree, he’s probably doing all three. Fracturing NATO is how Putin wins, and those are the indicators we will keep an eye on.

The second indicator, which has been positive for all this year, is that the US Army continues to increase leathality among its units in Europe.  We’ve seen a lot of activity at the Rapid Capabilities Office delivering commercial-off-the-shelf equipment to combat units in Europe, as a work around to the usual Army acquisition process.  That’s been anchored by plans to upgrade weapons systems of the 2nd Cavalry Regiment’s Stryker vehicles.  Strykers will soon be equipped with 30mm cannons and Remote Weapon Station-Javelins, giving 2SCR the ability to punch through the armor of BMPs, Russian infantry fighting vehicles which are expected to play a significant role in a land war in Europe.

During the recent Saber Junction exercise, US Army leaders noted that Polish units outfitted with the 30mm cannons “killed BMPs pretty effectively.”  Poland is sitting in the front seat of the US military’s plans for Europe, and the former Warsaw Pact nation was recently being described as the “center of gravity.”  If the US Army chooses to station a new permanent military unit in Europe — especially another heavy BCT — expect that to be in Poland.

Further analysis and future indicators will appear in the Executive Intelligence Summary, where we track conflict indicators at the strategic and national levels.  Next week, we’ll be moving to a brand new website so we can better track and disseminate our intelligence reports.  If you’d like to stay ahead of the knowledge curve and receive our weekly intelligence summaries and daily intelligence reporting, become a Forward Observer subscriber.