US to station armored brigade in Eastern Europe from 2017 - Pentagon

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The United States plans to step up its troop presence in Eastern Europe in response to «an aggressive Russia», with continuous rotations of an additional armored brigade beginning in early 2017, the U.S. military said Wednesday.

The rotations will bring the U.S. Army's presence in Europe to three fully manned combat brigades, the U.S. European Command said.

«This Army implementation plan continues to demonstrate our strong and balanced approach to reassuring our NATO allies and partners in the wake of an aggressive Russia in Eastern Europe and elsewhere,» Gen. Philip Breedlove, the top U.S. commander in Europe, said in a statement.

«Our allies and partners will see more capability. They will see a more frequent presence of an armored brigade with more modernized equipment in their countries,» he added.

The new proposal would remove the prepositioned equipment, send it to be refurbished, and allow the U.S. forces to bring more robust, modern equipment in with them when they deploy. There are about 4,500 soldiers in an armored brigade, along with dozens of heavy vehicles, tanks and other equipment.

Officials have said the Army would also send additional communications equipment to Europe so that headquarters units could have the radios, computers and other equipment needed to work with the brigades.

U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter last month unveiled the Pentagon's proposed budget for next year, which includes 3.4 billion U.S. dollars - quadruple last year's amount - for operations in Europe.

The cash will fund the so-called European Reassurance Initiative that aims to deter Russia from carrying out additional land grabs after its 2014 annexation of the Crimean Peninsula.

«These efforts demonstrate strong alliances and partnerships backed by demonstrated capability, capacity and readiness to deter aggression,» Pentagon spokeswoman Laura Seal said on Wednesday.

«We have been clear that we will defend our interests, our allies, and the principles of international order in Europe.»

Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, commander of U.S. Army Europe, said in December the service will work to establish most of its maintenance sites for equipment caches in six East European countries by the end of 2016.

Maintenance sites for what the Army is calling European Activity Sets in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania and Bulgaria will be completed by the end of 2016, ideally by September, Hodges said.

Hodges said the equipment for the heavy brigade combat team now consists of about 1,300 vehicles to include about 235 to 250 tanks, Bradleys and Paladin Howitzers.

The Pentagon's beefed-up European presence means U.S. forces will increase military exercises with ally nations and train with new equipment such as tanks and artillery pieces.

The U.S. military has about 62,000 permanently assigned service members in Europe.