The US Army is gearing up for a potential fight with Russia, and it just put a crucial defensive weapon back in Europe permanently

US Army Stinger missile Avenger air defense system

  • The Pentagon has been shifting its focus to preparations for a potential clash with a peer or near-peer adversary like Russia.
  • Amid heightened tensions with Russia, the US Army in Europe has made a number of changes to how it operates.
  • The most recent change was the return of an air-defense unit stationed on the continent permanently.

The US Army in Europe has made a number of changes in recent months as part of a broader effort by the Pentagon to prepare for a potential fight against an adversary with advanced military capabilities, like Russia or China.

The latest move came on November 28, when the Army activated the 5th Battalion, 4th Air Defense Artillery Regiment in a ceremony at Shipton Barracks in Ansbach, near the city of Nuremberg in southern Germany.

The battalion has a long history, serving in artillery and anti-aircraft artillery roles in the War of 1812, the Civil War, World War II, and the Vietnam War. It was deactivated in the late 1990s, as the US military drew from the Cold War.

US Army ceremony air defense artillery regiment

Its return brings new and important short-range air-defense, or SHORAD, capabilities, according to Col. David Shank, the head of 10th Army Air and Missile Defense Command, of which the new unit is part.

„Not only is this a great day for United States Army Europe and the growth of lethal capability here. It is a tremendous step forward for the Air Defense Enterprise,“ Shank said at the ceremony.

Read more: As Russia stokes tensions with Ukraine, it’s trying to gain a military edge over NATO elsewhere in Europe

The battalion will be composed of five battery-level units equipped with FIM-92 Stinger missiles, according to Stars and Stripes.

Three of those batteries will be certified before the end of the summer, Shank said, adding that battalion personnel would also „build and sustain a strong Army family-support program, and become the subject-matter experts in Europe for short-range air-defense to not just the Army but our allies.“

Those troops „will have a hard road in from of them,“ Shank said.

US Army Stinger missile Avenger air defense system

Air Defense Artillery units were for a long time embedded in Army divisions, but the service started divesting itself of those units in the early 2000s, as military planners believed the Air Force could maintain air superiority and mitigate threats posed by enemy aircraft.

But in 2016, after finding a gap in its SHORAD capabilities, the Army started trying to address the shortfall.

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In January, for the first time in 15 years, the US Army in Europe began training with Stinger missiles, a light anti-aircraft weapon that can be fired from shoulder- and vehicle-mounted launchers.

Lightweight, short-range anti-aircraft missiles are mainly meant to defend against ground-attack aircraft, especially helicopters, that target infantry and armored vehicles. Unmanned aerial vehicles — used by both sides in the conflict between Russia and Ukraine — are also a source concern.

Army Stinger missile Avenger air defense system RIMPAC

US Army Europe has been relying on Avengers and Stinger missiles from Army National Guard units rotating through the continent as part of Operation Atlantic Resolve, which began in 2014 as a way to reassure allies in Europe of the US commitment to their defense.

Guard units rotating through Europe have been training with the Stinger for months, but the 5th Battalion, 4th Air Defense Artillery Regiment will be the only one stationed in Europe that fields the Avenger, a short-range air-defense system that can be mounted on a Humvee and fires Stinger missiles.

The Army has also been pulling Avenger systems that had been mothballed in order to supply active units until a new weapon system is available, according to Defense News, which said earlier this year that Army Material Command was overhauling Avengers that had been sitting in a Pennsylvania field waiting to be scrapped.

US Army Korea Avenger missile Humvee

The Army has also fast-tracked its Interim Short Range Air Defense program to provide air- and missile-defense for Stryker and Armored Brigade Combat Teams in Europe.

The Army plans to develop IM-SHORAD around the Stryker, equipping the vehicle with an unmanned turret developed by defense firm Leonardo DRS that includes Stinger and Hellfire missiles and an automatic 30 mm cannon, as well as the M230 chain gun and a 7.62 mm coaxial machine gun. It will also be equipped with electronic-warfare and radar systems.

Final prototypes of that package are expected in the final quarter of 2019, according to Defense News, with the Army aiming to have the first battery by the fourth quarter of 2020.

US Army Avenger air defense

The activation of the 5th Battalion, 4th Air Defense Artillery Regiment is part of a broader troop increase the Army announced earlier this year, saying that the increase in forces stationed in Europe permanently would come from activating new units rather than relocating them from elsewhere.

The new units would bring 1,500 soldiers and their families back to Europe. (Some 300,000 US troops were stationed on the continent during the Cold War, but that number has dwindled to about 30,000 now.)

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In addition to the short-range air-defense battalion and supporting units at Ansbach, the new units will include a field-artillery brigade headquarters and two multiple-launch rocket system battalions and supporting units in Grafenwoehr Training Area, and other supporting units at Hohenfels Training area and the garrison in Baumholder.

The activations were to began this year and should be finished by September 2020, the Army said in a statement.

„The addition of these forces increases US Army readiness in Europe and ensures we are better able to respond to any crisis,“ the Army said.

SEE ALSO: ‚A fighting war with the main enemy‘: How the CIA used Stinger missiles to land a mortal blow to the Soviets in Afghanistan 32 years ago

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Source: Business insider

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