Military Mobility Appendix 4: Western Balkans

Combined Italian and Croatian boarding team approach British Royal Navy vessel HMS Echo during a boarding exercise on Operation Sea Guardian.
Combined Italian and Croatian boarding team approach British Royal Navy vessel HMS Echo during a boarding exercise on Operation Sea Guardian.

March 3, 2021

Europe’s Soft Underbelly

Legality and legitimacy of movement in a pre-crisis situation is as important and complex as speed of movement and the ability to move. In the specific circumstances of this scenario, a number of allies could well insist on a new legal mandate, most likely a U.N. Security Council mandate. However, NATO is unlikely to secure such a mandate because of the veto power wielded by Russia and China. This scenario highlighted the complexity of military mobility in those parts of Europe where nations are not members of either the EU or NATO and where there is strong Russian influence. The importance of making trade-offs between weight of force and mobility during the phases of movement again became apparent. The sheer complexity of military mobility in such regions was also highlighted with many moving parts; sending nations, transiting nations, host nations, NATO, EU, and other international organizations, as well as a host of civilian and military actors within nations. Effective deployed coordination is thus vital, not least because a firm knowledge of infrastructure along lines of ingress and egress is a key driver of strategic and operational planning. Responsibility for movement during the phases of deployment into and across the region would need to be better defined.

Dealing with Legal/Diplomatic Standards

Legal and legitimate mobility: The Western Balkans raises a host of issues concerning the legality and legitimacy of movement. Take Kosovo as an example. It is not in NATO, so Article 5 collective defense does not apply. NATO reinforcement could still take place as a non-Article 5 Crisis Response Operation and for Bosnia-Herzegovina (BiH) through reinforcement of the existing EUFOR operation. However, in a pre-crisis situation, NATO would also need to demonstrate that any reinforcement of its forces in the region would be covered by the United Nations mandate authorizing KFOR (UNSCR 1244) and the operational plan (OPLAN) would need to reflect that. In the specific circumstances of this scenario, a number of allies could well insist on a new legal mandate, most likely a U.N. Security Council mandate. However, NATO is unlikely to secure such a mandate because of the veto power wielded by Russia and China.

Form 302: In keeping with several of the other scenarios, the need for a standardized Form 302 to be used by both the European Union (EU) and NATO was also proposed as essential for the seamless transit of equipment and materiel across borders in the region, even if a state is not a member of either institution. In such cases, arrangements would need to be negotiated prior to any such contingency. A critical need identified by the working group was to promote awareness of such instruments amongst customs officers at borders across the region.

Photo: Joint Light Tactical Vehicles in Montenegro. Credit: Oshkosh Corporation

Photo: Joint Light Tactical Vehicles in Montenegro. Credit: Oshkosh Defense

The need for bespoke diplomacy: Ideally, at the national level a whole-of-government approach should be fostered built on shared best practice between EU member states and NATO allies, with a specific point of contact identified for each nation or region tasked with coordinating all relevant civilian and military operators and actors. However, in this scenario, several critical partner states were members of neither the EU nor NATO. Moreover, it was envisaged that some nations would not have a seat at every, nor indeed any, table (Bosnia-Herzegovina/Serbia/Kosovo). Given the tensions in the region, a bespoke and continuous diplomatic effort would be needed. This would not be dissimilar to that required to maintain access for NATO forces and resources in Afghanistan through Pakistan.

Standardized doctrine: All EU and NATO standards relevant to command and control, mobility, and transportation should be reviewed and harmonized. Such an effort should be based on “NATO Standard Allied Joint Publication (AJP) — 4.4 Allied Joint Movement and Transportation Doctrine” on command and control, roles, and responsibilities, and “NATO Standard AJP-3 Allied Joint Doctrine for the Conduct of Operations.” Any review should also include parallel documents from the EU, which are not publicly available.

Speed of reinforcement: The roles played by NATO’s Joint Support and Enabling Command (JSEC) and the Standing Logistics Joint Support Group (SJLSG) to maximize the speed of reinforcement will be critical. JSEC provides a network for all involved nations to use during a crisis but needs clearance from Albania and Kosovo before it can act. NATO’s SJLSG provides contingency planning for the NATO Response Force (NRF), including the Allied Coordination Centre, and acts to deconflict and coordinate actions based on a commander’s required date for a multinational joint plan. To ensure deconflicted strategic movement, SJLSG could identify available infrastructure through the existing capability catalogue. SJLSG also coordinates strategic movement (multinational deployment plan) and advisers for strategic support and movement.

JSEC, SJLSG, and host nations: Responsibility between JSEC, SJLSG, and national movement plans could be further aligned by using the model provided by Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE) tabletop exercises (TTX) to ease pressure on host nations. JSEC is in close contact with host nations and prepares the battlefield, as well as provides force protection and damage control for the rear area. It is also responsible for all areas that are militarily necessary to support the joint operational area or the “rear area” in the Western Balkans. The SJLSG is considered responsible from the “rear area” to the objective (Kosovo in the case of this scenario), while the host nation is responsible for delineating responsibility between SJLSG and national movement. Detailed responsibilities were better defined at SHAPE at a TTX in November 2020 at which the involved commanders were present.

Three phases of deployment: Responsibility for movement during the three phases of deployment into and across the region should be better defined. From home to the ports of embarkation, including border-crossing procedures, is the responsibility of the sending nation. In the strategic phase of deployment (port of embarkation, POE, to port of disembarkation, POD) the nations play a significant coordinating role, but the strategic military commander and the Allied Movement Co-ordination Center (AMCC) or equivalent EU movement coordination center (the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Mobility and Transport, DG MOVE) has the responsibility to coordinate, deconflict, and prioritize the movement of forces. In the operational phase of deployment in theater (from POD to the final destination (FD), the Joint Force Commands (JFC) for NATO and the force exporters for the EU are responsible for deployment. Nations are responsible for executing the plans afforded them by the operational-level headquarters, must provide transportation, and conduct execution of movement of forces in accordance with the plan.

Managing Infrastructure Requirements and Standards

Use of the Danube: This scenario also explored the potential of the Danube River as a corridor for military mobility but went more deeply into associated risks. For example, the required draft for a barge carrying M1A2 Abrams tanks or Stryker armored vehicles is 2.5 meters, which is deeper than much of the river itself. This constraint could be addressed by limiting the loads where draft is lower or ensuring the entire Danube is dredged to 2.5 meters. Other constraints include different and differing regulations in NATO and EU countries, and between Schengen and non-Schengen countries on the river, limited port capacity for the accommodation of ro-ro (tank-carrying roll-on, roll-off) ships, relatively poor connections to road and rail infrastructure from river ports, and the sheer distance from the Danube to Kosovo, especially if Serbia is not supportive of an operation. In the case of the latter, movements would need to take place either from a Bulgarian port through North Macedonia, or from Hungary to Kosovo. If Serbia cooperated, offloading could take place in Belgrade and then proceed via rail and road to Kosovo. The use of the Danube as an alternative approach would only work via the Port of Pančevo near Belgrade.

The EU plan for the Western Balkans: The EU Economic and Investment Plan for the Western Balkans does to an extent address rail, road, river, and IT improvements across the region. And, while it does not mention military mobility, it could be adapted to support dual-use projects of which there are several. “Flagship Programs” which address, inter alia, road, rail, and river improvements, improved connections to the coastal regions (including a rail link to the Port of Durrës, the one currently used and most likely to be used in any such scenario), as well as improvements to digital infrastructure. If funded, such programs would need careful review, assessment, and ultimately appraisal by the EU Military Committee (EUMC) to meet military mobility requirements, or at least include an assessment of the key trade-offs that would need to be made. The SHAPE Capability Catalogue Team, in conjunction with both JSEC and SJLSG, could also help address these issues.

Assess rail capacity: A comprehensive assessment needs to be undertaken of the capacity of the Western Balkan rail network as an enabler of military mobility. Bridges, tunnels, and other infrastructure are old across the Balkan rail network, much of it built by the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and as such suffer from significant limitations, most notably height-weight capacity of tunnels and road overpasses, which would impact the expeditious movement of military forces in a contingency operation. There is a particular problem when transporting armored vehicles via rail or road in the mountains. A comprehensive assessment of the capacity of the communications, energy, and transportation infrastructure in the Western Balkans for mobility is also needed.

An EU-NATO host nation database: The host nation is the key player in the region. NATO has established a common EU-NATO Host Nation Support (HNS) database to reinforce NATO’s HNS information for the planning of deployments (SHAPE J4 has a dedicated cell for this). The EU does not have access to such a capability. Given that the EU’s goal is to maintain the network with the support of nations across the region, access to a database of regional infrastructure information would be vital for the planning process.

Improve route planning:  Improved route planning could be achieved by employing capability catalogues with automated updates and status reports. Such capability catalogues are also intended to act as geolocation repositories, which are critical to effective route planning and require the fusing of automated updates and real-time information on route status. Commercial technology could assist this process. For example, commercial trucks are equipped with specialized navigation systems with inbuilt sensors that measure height and weight and automatically guide the vehicle onto routes with the necessary clearances. A similar system could be established to ease military mobility when the load class of the heaviest vehicle dictates the route. To that end, NATO and the EU should assess the possibility of synthesizing the many disparate military and commercial tools available so that consistent and secure route planning via rail/road/river is made possible. SHAPE’s capability catalogue could then be further expanded to include telecom/IT, energy, and health information and fused with commercial systems developed by industry partners and information about civilian-owned infrastructure.

TEN-T and military mobility: The European Commission’s Trans-European Transport Network (TEN-T) corridor system should be examined to test its suitability as an enabler of strategic mobility into the Western Balkans region. The most relevant corridor for this scenario is the Eastern Mediterranean corridor, which extends north from Thessaloniki into Central Europe. The EU has already agreed on its strategy for the Western Balkans and the six initiatives designed to upgrade infrastructure therein. Consequently, there is some €1 billion set aside for connectivity projects and technical assistance across Europe for which states in the Western Balkans can compete.

Port options: The scenario also considered the viability of port options for enhanced mobility. The Port of Bar in Montenegro has significant limitations to unload and stage large equipment. Therefore, industry highly favors the use of the Port of Durrës. Substantial military experience has also been gained over the past 20 years in the use of the land route from Durrës to Kosovo (although that particular road has quite a few bridges and tunnels limiting military movement which should be studied further). The Port of Durrës also enjoys a much larger berthing capacity than the Port of Bar for the unloading of multiple vessels simultaneously and is also more modern. While the Port of Thessaloniki has excellent capacity with good links to road and rail options, its ownership is vulnerable to Russian influence. This could be an issue depending on the nature of any given crisis response operation. An alternative could be the Port of Alexandroupolis.

Plan for a heavier future: Military mobility demands a constant trade-off to be made between the weight of a force and mobility. Mobility challenges would be eased if the weight of future main battle tanks (MBTs) and armored vehicles could be reduced, although the nature of the threat suggests the opposite is likely to occur with more armor required given the experience of counterinsurgency operations over the last three decades. Any such trade-offs may require more thinking about pre-positioning equipment at certain hub locations in Eastern Europe, or even for European forces. The likely greater weight of new military equipment should thus be factored into infrastructure assessments. In Europe, 90% of highways, 75% of national roads, and 40% of bridges are able to carry vehicles with the maximum military load classification (MLC) 50 for a tracked vehicle, but such vehicles can only weigh up to 45.4 tons on bridges while a maximum weight of 52.6 tons is permitted for wheeled vehicles.

Bridging catalogue: Past experience should be tested against current planning as infrastructure deteriorates. What was possible in the past may not be so in the future. A capability catalogue should thus be created of all industry-standard bridging equipment. This catalogue should also be designed to assess the current status of bridges in each host nation, critically the route from Durrës to three destinations in Kosovo. Routes and their deficiencies would need to be fully surveyed so that commercial solutions, military options, or even the construction of new bridges might be explored.

Existing projects should also be reviewed: For example, a careful military review of the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation’s Export/Import Bank joint project with Serbia should be undertaken to identify lessons. The main aim is the construction of a “peace highway” between Niš and Pristina via Merdare. From a military mobility perspective, this route could provide a much more direct link from Belgrade via the E75 and an improved E80. Bridges and tunnels on that route should also be reviewed to test their current limitations for military equipment and the resulting requirements fed into the plan.

Build on the KFOR experience: KFOR is a long-standing NATO deployment. Indeed, the Alliance has operated in the region for over 20 years and there is likely to be little that NATO, the EU, or US European Command (EUCOM) does not know about this region and its infrastructure (if, of course, coordination and information sharing is permitted). However, infrastructure wears out and what may have been possible 20 years ago may not be possible now if maintenance or improvements have not been carried out.

Photo: A US Army Bradley fighting vehicle crosses a Polish floating bridge at Zły Łęg lake during Exercise Allied Spirit. Part of DEFENDER-Europe 20 Plus, Allied Spirit brings together more than 6,000 Polish and US Army troops for combat and mobility drills. Credit: NATO

Photo: A US Army Bradley fighting vehicle crosses a Polish floating bridge at Zły Łęg lake during Exercise Allied Spirit. Part of DEFENDER-Europe 20 Plus, Allied Spirit brings together more than 6,000 Polish and US Army troops for combat and mobility drills. Credit: NATO

Determining Chains of Command and Communication

Better coordination of command and control: Continued and deepened coordination and collaboration between EU and NATO command and control structures is vital.  Use of the same or similar procedures and structures would help maintain a clear but linked delineation of responsibilities in the region. The NATO STANAG ASP-6 on Allied Joint Doctrine for Communications and Information System (CIS) (2017) could be a useful starting point for the practical and pragmatic strengthening of a strategic partnership. While EU command and control (C2) concepts are classified, there are no major differences between the C2 structures or standards across either the Alliance or the Union.

Anticipating Risks to Security

Counter Chinese influence:  Potential risks resulting from increased Chinese influence and investment in infrastructure and IT in the region need to be mitigated. For example, Chinese companies are actively influencing Serbian TV networks, creating security risks, and undermining civil liberties by using debt to leverage state behavior. Russian activity in Serbia is also increasing and has a long history. While NATO and EU influence may be perceived to be in decline, as recently as 2016 there were 125 military-military interactions between NATO and Serbia versus only four with Russia. Efforts by the United States in September 2020 to increase its investment in the Western Balkans (specifically targeting Serbia and Kosovo) should be built on.

Assess all communications networks in region: There is a critical need to assess all aspects of in-region communications. Any such assessment must include available bandwidth for command and control of transiting forces, sustainment, and communications infrastructure security. An established policy would require managing spectrum allocation. NATO could manage such a spectrum through the appropriate STANAGs, but the local capabilities in the region are not part of NATO and rely on different standards and systems.

Vulnerable cable infrastructure: Most telecom cable infrastructure into and in-theater date back to the 1990s and is outdated. This includes the primary cable that runs from Greece to Albania and Croatia. The degree of protection given to these networks is unknown and will require further investigation given their vulnerability to sabotage in light of the critical services they continue to provide. There are also overland fiber optic cables that are being laid along major road and rail rights of way that could also be vulnerable. Emerging and Disruptive Technologies (E&DT) will enable the targeting of hitherto hard-to-reach infrastructure, such as undersea cables. The region is particularly vulnerable to such attacks as cables under the Adriatic are old and terrestrial cables are of poor quality and degrade the communications network. The consequences could be profound for military mobility in the region, even if the goal is simply to slow movement and sow chaos.

Unexploded ordnance: The implications of unexploded ordnance for mobility must also be considered. There are mines and other devices across the Western Balkans left over from the conflicts of the 1990s. This could make it particularly dangerous for convoys transiting off-road or stopping and camping. KFOR and EUFOR will again have the best knowledge of this issue, but it is unlikely they are aware of all locations germane to this scenario. There are also mines in the Sava River which could present complications.

Scenario 4: Western Balkans

Scenario 4-01




Focşani Gate