Europe is rapidly moving towards the European Defense Union, which should be ready by 2025. Last week, the European Commission announced a special action plan aimed at improving military mobility in Europe. As the EC notes it is currently impossible to rapidly move troops and military equipment from one country to another.
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Europe has pondered the issues last year, when a special report revealed critical problems and outlined a basic plan to improve military mobility.
During the Estonian presidency over the EU Council an assessment of eight countries of the North Sea and Baltics was conducted. It established that most of the transport network, including rail, road and bridges are ill-suited for carrying heavy military equipment.
Now, the European countries must assess their ability to match not only civilian but also military needs.
“This also applies to us, because NATO forces are deployed in Latvia … The question is how to improve their mobility. It is necessary to identify potential weak spots and draw up a plan of action, either by ourselves or with support of the European Union”, deputy head of the European Commission in Latvia, Andris Kuznieks says.
“We don’t need to reach far for an example. Before we introduced the Rail Baltica project, it was impossible to send military cargo by rail from, for example, Germany to Lithuania or Latvia because of the different railway gauge width between western Europe and ours. It would be necessary to offload armored vehicles from one train to another, wasting precious time. A lot of the road bridges also wouldn’t be able to support movement of tanks.”
The European Commission wants to solve not only current problems but also prevent future ones: For example, when constructing a new bridge it’s height and load bearing capacity must also meet military usage standards. As professor and director of the Institute for Transport Engineering Ainars Paeglitis says, there currently isn’t such a standard.
“We need to know the exact loads. For example, if it’s less than 80 tons, most of the bridges will be able to withstand them, if more, we would have to create new bridges. But most of the bridges are already in bad condition and we don’t have enough money to fix them”, professor Paeglitis adds.
The “military mobility” plan also provides for simplification of customs procedures for transportation of military personnel and equipment inside the EU. As the former commander of the Latvian National Armed Forces, Raimonds Graube notes, it is necessary to formalize the interaction between military and civilian subjects.
“We’re talking about how to mobilize the national economy. This is not an issue for most countries, but we are still solving it. It’s extremely important for us to economize. For example, we don’t need to buy excavators to solve a crisis as these 50 excavators are already in the country – in hands of private and state companies. We need to develop rules to compensate the usage of these vehicles if we need to commandeer them. Commandeer, not take away”, Graube adds.
Baltic countries were among the first to draw the attention of the European Union to the problems of military mobility, says head of parliamentary defense commission and a member of the National Security Council of Latvia, Ainars Latkovskis.
“Last year, Latvia already changed its laws so that in the case of a military crisis, armed forces of NATO and other EU countries could transport military equipment and loaded weaponry across our borders. Of course we already have a special operational plan for the defense of Latvia. It’s classified, naturally, but we all know who the probable enemy is. All our military plans revolve around military conflict with a single country,” Latkovskis adds.
When speaking about the areas warranting increased scrutiny, he mentions the Polish-Lithuanian border specifically.
“The main problem we face is the Suwalki gap, which is the border between Lithuania and Poland on the one hand, and Kaliningrad and Belarus on the other. This is a serious problem for us – how to transfer NATO military forces, which roads to use. Right now we have forces of 6 NATO countries based in Adazi, and they also have to choose the roads they use carefully. So we’re aware of these problems and ready to solve them with other countries” he concludes.
By the middle of the year, the European countries will have to finish their assessment of infrastructure conformity within military standards, report on easing the customs procedures by the end of it, and implement the first part of the military mobility plan by the next.