General finds innovative ways to upgrade U.S. forces in Europe

HEIDELBERG, Germany (Washington Post) – If the U.S. military suddenly received an order to seize an airfield in Iraq, the closest available airborne troops would come from the Southern European Task Force, based in Vicenza, Italy. It could have troops in the air within 18 hours.

The closest armored and mechanized units, the 1st Armored Division in Weisbaden, Germany, could follow quickly behind, deploying M1 Abrams tanks and M2 Bradley fighting vehicles positioned for rapid airlift at a newly built depot adjacent to Ramstein Air Base.

A corps-level command-and-control center consisting of satellite communications equipment and hundreds of computers, slimmed down and packaged to fit on C130 transport planes, could also be deployed within days.

Such forces hardly fit the stereotype of the slow, heavy, hard-to-move Army amassed in Europe during the Cold War to fend off invading forces from the Soviet Union.

The new, faster moving units are part of what Gen. Montgomery Meigs refers to as “little ‘t’ transformation,” a process designed to keep the Army’s Cold War-era force as agile, high-tech and relevant as possible until the future Army, the “objective force,” is fielded – sometime this decade, or later.

Meigs, commander of U.S. Army forces in Europe, goes out of his way to note that he isn’t competing with “big ‘T’ transformation,” Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric Shinseki’s multibillion-dollar plan to change the Army from an industrial-age force to one grounded in the information age.

While Shinseki’s vision is highly dependent on new technology, embodied by a weapon called the “Future Combat System” that’s still so futuristic it can scarcely be defined, Meigs’s “little ‘t’ transformation” shows what can be accomplished on the margins without spending billions on new weapons.