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US Army howitzers stopped in Germany point to NATO logistics problems

US Army M109 Paladin self-propelled howitzer artillery Europe
Army soldiers guide M109A6 Paladin howitzers during a direct-fire
exercise at the 7th Army Training Command’s Grafenwoehr Training
Area, Germany, September 12, 2017.

Army/Staff Sgt. Ange Desinor

  • US Army vehicles were stopped by German police near the
    border with Poland.
  • The vehicles were being improperly transported by a
    contractor and had to wait until other means of transport
    arrived to continue.
  • The hold-up underscores the bureaucratic and logistical
    hurdles that the US and NATO face when operating in

A convoy of six US Army M109 Paladin self-propelled howitzers
traveling from Poland to military exercises in southern Germany
was stopped by German border police on Wednesday because the
Polish contractors transporting them had violated several
transportation rules.

The Paladins, from the 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team of the 1st
Infantry Division, were in route to a multinational military
exercise in Bavaria, which starts Monday, but the howitzers were
too wide and too heavy for the
vehicles the Polish contractors transporting them were using.

The contractors also did not have the right paperwork for
transporting six heavy Paladins, US Army Europe said. Their
driving time also exceeded regulations, which only allow such vehicles to
use German roads between 9 p.m. and 5 a.m. to reduce disruptions
to traffic.

The Paladins, tracked vehicles with 155 mm howizters, were stuck
at a roadside rest stop in Germany as of Thursday, waiting to be
transferred on to approved vehicles, US Army Europe told Stars and Stripes. The
convoy was not transporting ammunition for the howizters, and
escorts from the US Army were with them at all times.

“The transportation change necessitated additional escorts from
the unit who are currently expected to arrive Friday and, upon
their arrival, movement will continue on to Hohenfels Training
Area in Germany,” US Army Europe said on Thursday.

It’s not clear why the company hired by the US Army did not have
the right equipment or documentation, nor is it clear whether the
Army will continue to use that company. A US Army spokesperson
told Task and Purpose that the
incident was under review.

The challenges of moving around Europe

US Army Abrams tanks Germany port
Abrams tanks and other military vehicles are unloaded from the
ship ARC Resolve at the port in Bremerhaven, Germany, January 6,

US Army/Staff Sgt. Micah

While the movement of the Paladins was part of routine exercises,
the bureaucratic complications that held them up does underscore
logistical challenges that the US Army and other NATO members
face when operating in Europe, which could hinder them when
responding to a crisis or during mobilization efforts.

The US Army doesn’t have enough heavy transport
vehicles that comply with European road standards and often has
to use contractors to move equipment on highways. NATO also faces
shortages of low-loader
semi-trailers for tanks, train cars for heavy equipment, and
modern bridges that can support heavy vehicles.

US and NATO forces moving around the continent often get delayed
by various customs rules that must be obeyed as they move between
countries. Weeks of preparations are necessary to address
bureaucratic details if NATO wants to move troops or equipment
from Stuttgart in Germany through Poland to Latvia, for example.

US troops military Germany Poland NATO Russia
soldiers in Zagan, Poland, as part of a NATO deployment, January
12, 2017.

Janicki/Agencja Gazeta

NATO’s “ability to logistically support rapid reinforcement
in the much-expanded territory covering SACEUR’s (Supreme Allied
Commander Europe) area of operation has been atrophied since the
end of the Cold War,” according to an NATO internal
report seen by Der Spiegel in late 2017.

Such barriers could complicate any mobilization NATO needed
to carry out during peacetime.

While restrictions on movement between countries could, in
theory, be lifted in the event of war, it’s not clear that would
actually happen, according to senior US military

“Even if a war were to break out, that wouldn’t mean that
the rules would be lifted,” US Army Gen. Steven Shapiro, head of
logistics for the US Army in Europe, told Der Spiegel in

“Anybody that thinks, ‘Don’t worry, we’ll be able to drive
anywhere’ — not true,” retired US Army Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges
said late last year, when he
was head of the US Army in Europe.

“Anybody who thinks you’ll be able to fly anywhere at night — not
true,” Hodges said. “Everything we do prior to declaration of
[NATO’s collective-defense provision] is going to be done in
peacetime conditions.”

New commands are coming

nato training exercise war games
watch NATO’s “Steadfast Jazz” military exercise at the military
area in Drawsko Pomorskie, northern Poland, November 7,


But the military alliance is working to address those
shortcomings. In November, NATO members agreed to form two new
military commands — one to oversee logistics in Europe and
another to safeguard Atlantic sea lanes — in what would be the
bloc’s largest expansion in decades.

“This is vital for our transatlantic alliance,” NATO
Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said at the time. “It is about
how to move forces across the Atlantic and how to move forces
across Europe.”

The plan has broad support from NATO members, though costs
will not be discussed until later this year.

Germany is eager to host the logistics command, according to some diplomats.
The country is strategically located in Europe, which would
facilitate the rapid movement of troops and equipment in the
event of a conflict.

Germany already hosts thousands of US troops and their
equipment, and while no final decisions have been made, Berlin’s
interest in the new command was backed by Hodges before his
retirement in December.

“I can’t imagine any other country being better suited than
Germany to take on that responsibility, from a geographical
standpoint, a capability standpoint,” he said in late November.

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