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DEFENDER-Europe 21 Activities Begin This Month

Library image of US Army Bradley IFV and Abrams MBT during the closing phase of DEFENDER-Europe 20 [©Bob Morrison]

US Army-led DEFENDER-Europe 21 training activities with participants from 26 other countries are set to begin this month and last until June.


Press Release,Wiesbaden, 15 March 2021: – DEFENDER-Europe 21 activities begin this month across Europe and continue through June.

DEFENDER-Europe is an annual large-scale US Army Europe and Africa-led, multinational, joint exercise designed to build strategic and operational readiness and interoperability between US, NATO allies and partners. Building on the success of last year’s exercise, DEFENDER-Europe 21 includes a greater number of NATO ally and partner nations conducting activities over a wider area than what was planned for in 2020. More than 30,000 multinational forces from 27 nations will conduct nearly simultaneous operations across more than 30 training areas in a dozen countries.

“While we are closely monitoring the COVID situation, we’ve proven we have the capability to train safely despite the pandemic. No matter what, our nations count on our forces being ready to defend the peace,” said Gen. Christopher Cavoli, US Army Europe and Africa commanding general. “DEFENDER-Europe 21 provides us the best opportunity to hone our abilities alongside our allies and partners in the strategically important Balkans and Black Sea region so that collectively, we are ready to respond to any crisis that may arise.”

Library image of US Paratroopers deployed on SWIFT RESPONSE 2017 [©Bob Morrison]

This year, DEFENDER-Europe 21 will also include significant involvement of the US Air Force and US Navy. The exercise will utilise key ground and maritime routes bridging Europe, Asia and Africa. The exercise will incorporate new or high-end capabilities including air and missile defence assets, as well as assets from the US Army Security Force Assistance Brigades and the recently reactivated V Corps.

“DEFENDER-Europe 21 is a critical exercise that will provide V Corps with another great opportunity to build readiness in our march towards full operational capability, and promote interoperability as we work alongside allies and partners,” said Lt. Gen. John Kolasheski, V Corps commanding general. “We are looking forward to this chance to work closely with US Army Europe and Africa and demonstrate US resolve and commitment to Europe.”

In March, equipment and personnel begin moving from the United States. In April, participating units will draw Army Prepositioned Stock from sites in Germany, Italy and the Netherlands. The bulk of training activities will occur in May and the exercise will conclude in June with the redeployment of US-based forces and equipment.

Library image of US Army air defence team deployed to Romania on SABER GUARDIAN 19 [©Bob Morrison]

DEFENDER-Europe 21 will encompass several linked exercises, to include:

  • SWIFT RESPONSE (early to mid-May) – will include airborne operations in Estonia, Bulgaria and Romania involving more than 7,000 troops from 11 countries.
  • IMMEDIATE RESPONSE (mid-May through early-June) – more than 5,000 troops from 8 countries will spread out across 31 training areas in 12 different countries to conduct live fire training. A Joint Logistics Over-the-Shore operation will also occur.
  • SABER GUARDIAN (mid-May through early-June) – more than 13,000 service members from 19 countries will conduct live fire and air and missile defense operations, plus a large scale medical evacuation.
  • Command Post Exercise (June) – approximately 2,000 personnel will exercise the headquarters’ ability to command multinational land forces in a joint and combined training environment while maintaining real-world operations across 104 countries on two continents.

Linked exercises share coordinated mission command, mutual sustainment and a mission partner environment.

M109A6 Paladins of the Utah Army National Guard staging through Agadir in Morocco for AFRICAN LION 20 [US Army: Maj. Cain Claxton]

DEFENDER-Europe 21 will also be associated with two key training events:

  • AFRICAN LION (mid-May through mid-June) – the US Africa Command premier annual training event in which nearly 5,000 military personnel from approximately 24 nations will train on medical readiness, perform large-scale live-fire exercises and conduct air, maritime and forward command post training exercises. Activities will occur primarily in Morocco.
  • STEADFAST DEFENDER (mid-May through early-June) – a new series of NATO exercises focused on the transatlantic reinforcement of Europe and demonstrates NATO’s ability to respond rapidly to the full spectrum of threats. Exercises activities will occur.

Associated exercises are not directly linked to DEFENDER-Europe 21, but share many of the same participants and/or assets, and occur in the same time frame.

The large-scale movement of troops and equipment for these exercises involve extensive support from each of the host nations, demonstrating the importance of ally and partner investment in European military readiness and defence.

M1Abrams tank taken from US Army Prepositioned Stocks in Germany and deployed to Poland on DEFENDER-Europe 2020 [©Bob Morrison]

A strict COVID prevention and mitigation strategy implemented by US and participating nations will be critical to the execution of DEFENDER-Europe 21. Accordingly, US-based Soldiers will conduct pre-deployment COVID testing, quarantine in Europe upon arrival and conduct another COVID test before travelling throughout the continent.

DEFENDER-Europe 21 is evidence of the ironclad US commitment to NATO, is a prime example of our collective capabilities, and demonstrates that NATO allies and partners stand stronger together.


Editor’s Comment: The ground covered by this near simultaneous linked exercise series – ranging from Estonia in the north to Greece in the south and Holland in the west to Romania in the east – not to mention the COVID-related travel restictions between now and mid-June, mean we will not be able to provide as much firsthand coverage as we might have liked. However we will do our very best to report on as much as is feasible.

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