Wolters: US “Competitive Advantage in Europe is Eroding”

Air Force Gen. Tod Wolters, President Donald Trump's nominee to next lead US European Command, testifies before the Senate Armed Services Committee on April 2, 2019, in Washington, D.C. DVIDS screenshot.

The US does not have a comfortable advantage over Russia in Europe, but that could change if budgets continue to increase and the US bolsters the size of its forces and influence in theater, the nominee to take over US European Command said Tuesday.

Gen. Tod Wolters, currently the commander of US Air Forces in Europe-Air Forces Africa, told lawmakers on Tuesday the US “competitive advantage is eroding” in Europe as Russia has spread into Ukraine and conducted cyber operations aimed at the US and allied nations. However, recent budget increases have led to an “improvement in readiness,” and if that continues by “the mid-20s we will be in a place where we are comfortable with our competitive advantage,” he said at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing.

These readiness improvements include more deployments of US Air Force and Army personnel and equipment to allied nations such as Poland, more exercises with partner forces, and the prepositioning of US materiel under programs such as the US European Deterrence Initiative. While EDI is taking a cut in the Fiscal 2020 budget proposal, these moves already have increased the readiness of the US presence and will continue.

NATO recently announced it will help build a new facility to store US materiel in Poland, and that country is now hosting a USAF MQ-9 detachment and rotations of US Army brigade combat teams and combat aviation brigades, Wolters said. The US and Poland are in discussions to further increase the US presence with an investment of about $2.2 billion. This amount of funding could possibly bring in a new presence, such as an aviation detachment, an aerial port, or a remotely piloted aircraft mission control element, Wolters said, though he didn’t provide a decision timeline.

Cyber is one area of the US military mission in Europe that needs improvement, Wolters noted. EUCOM currently has 81 empty cyber billets, which eventually will be filled with support from US Cyber Command as well as the individual services, Wolters said.

Additionally, NATO is working to stand up a cyber command center, which is expected to be operational by 2023. This center will be focused on conducting its own cyber offensive, while also protecting allies from attack. Wolters, who would also become NATO Supreme Allied Commander if confirmed, said this project is on track. However, he acknowledged it is a challenge to get policies aligned across all member nations so they can work together and “deliver the best security disposition for our cyber networks.”