Publication: Survival: Global Politics and Strategy
21 March 2016
A quietly important element of NATO’s Readiness Action Plan (RAP), agreed at the 2014 Wales Summit, is the Alliance’s need ‘to reinforce its eastern Allies through preparation of national infrastructure, such as airfields and ports’. Put simply, without the necessary infrastructure, including transportation networks and hubs, and energy supply lines, it will be difficult for NATO to preposition or sustain military units and ensure that the Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (or VJTF, also known as the ‘spearhead force’) is able to deploy within a few days. Yet the Alliance has limited collective financial means to modernise Europe’s defence transportation and supply links. The European Union, with its range of financial mechanisms, might be able to help.
The need for modernisation
The RAP and spearhead force presuppose that the Alliance is able to move key military units across Europe rapidly, coherently, efficiently and sustainably. Defence infrastructure will be the lifeblood of NATO’s ability to respond to any further Russian aggression in Europe. Yet the task of moving numerous troops, heavy armoured vehicles and tanks from west to east in a short space of time should not be taken lightly. The VJTF aims to deploy approximately 5,000 troops within two to three days, with up to five battalions supported by air, maritime and special forces. Each C-17 Globemaster III transporter plane can carry a total payload of around 77 tonnes. This means each flight can load either 102 paratroopers with equipment; one M1 Abrams tank (weighing around 54–61 tonnes depending on the variant); three M1126 Stryker infantry carrier vehicles (each weighing around 16 tonnes); or five M1117 armoured security vehicles (each weighing around 13 tonnes). The C-17 can land on shorter runways and is more manoeuvrable than heavier aircraft (for example the C-5), but it costs an estimated $12,000 per hour to fly. One assessment has it that US European Command ‘spent almost $30 million airlifting troops and equipment for 17 war games in 2012’.