Military Mobility Project Appendix 2: Suwałki Corridor

Photo: Joint river crossing exercise. Credit: U.S. Army Europe.
Photo: Joint river crossing exercise. Credit: U.S. Army Europe.

March 3, 2021

NATO’s Achilles’ Heel

Security of mobility was a central theme in this high-end scenario on NATO’s eastern flank. Procedures for the military’s use of infrastructure have not been updated since the Cold War. Such modernization will be critical during an emergency to avoid the dangerous slowing of military mobility as it transitions from disembarkation at port to multimode transport systems. This scenario highlighted the vital need to test coordination and deconfliction of processes under duress and beyond the usual planning timelines. For example, it is well-established that in peacetime, allied forces can be moved into Bremerhaven and projected into Poland. But what about during an emergency?

Dealing with Legal/Diplomatic Standards

Rapid responsiveness: Key mobility stakeholders, who are vital to military mobility in a high-end emergency such as played out by this scenario, will need to be identified early in the planning process.  Close working relationships will be particularly important in transit nations between national and local governments, relevant industries, those responsible for the management of critical infrastructure and organizations, and between sending and transit nations through the reconciliation of border-crossing procedures by both the European Union (EU) and NATO.  Authorization procedures must also be resilient to the sudden changes any emergency tends to generate. For example, the importance to rapid mobility of robust administrative systems cannot be overstated. Potential errors in cargo lists and the order of arrival of shipping could lead to significant delays. The importance of effective and robust regulatory regimes will also be vital. In peacetime, industry and civilian activities and regulations that compete with military requirements can cause friction. As soon as a crisis is formally declared as such friction should be brought to an end by the necessary political and statutory instruments. The critical need will be to declare a crisis early which, in turn, will require the indicators and decision-making capacity for such a judgment to be made. Thereafter, national coordination centers would promote the seamless mobility of forces and resources. There is already a process to formally recognize a crisis — the NATO crisis response system. As soon as the Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR) has been authorized by the North Atlantic Council (NAC), Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE) issues an activation order to all participating nations and commands, initiating the deployment of NATO forces.

Photo: US Army truck drives onto amphibious rig on the river Neman in Lithuania during US-led exercise Saber Strike 18 taking place across the Baltics and Poland. It involves around 18,000 troops from 19 NATO Allies and partners. The exercise is aimed at building readiness in an integrated training environment. Credit: NATO

Photo: US Army truck drives onto amphibious rig on the river Neman in Lithuania during US-led exercise Saber Strike 18 taking place across the Baltics and Poland. It involves around 18,000 troops from 19 NATO Allies and partners. The exercise is aimed at building readiness in an integrated training environment. Credit: NATO

Determining Chains of Command and Communication

Mobility coordination triad: The actual process of military mobility rests on a triad of “legs” or phases that provide the framework for future coordinating architectures. The national leg concerns the home base and port of embarkation (POE), and requires national-level coordination.  The strategic leg takes place between the POE and the port (or point) of disembarkation (POD) and requires effective transnational coordination. The operational leg takes place between the POD and the final destination (FD).  During the strategic leg, SACEUR, through the Standing Joint Logistics Support Group (SJLSG) and the Allied Movement Coordination Centre (AMCC), plans, prioritizes, coordinates, and deconflicts.  During the operational leg, the Joint Force Command (JFC) plans and executes reception, staging, and onward movement (RSOM) in coordination with the host nation and nations responsible for national planning and provision of transportation and movement.

Streamlined border crossings: It would be useful to create a streamlined process to better facilitate cross-border movement and eliminate parallel procedures. There are existing memoranda of understanding (MOUs) and transit agreements (TAs) in place to help improve cross-border missions, but more needs to be done. Authority for crossing borders should be standardized so that forces can move without having to overcome several and repeated legal and regulatory obstacles. Military mobility would also be greatly helped if the areas of responsibility of both NATO and the EU with regard to military mobility procedures were harmonized, such as establishing equal response time for permissions to move. For example, the EU is trying to agree those military movements that could be eligible for annual approval, i.e., military movements that do not affect civilian activities and do not require repeated approval. This initiative could establish the basis for a harmonized approach. Another could include easing the discrepancies that exist between the time it takes to obtain cross‐border movement permission for military forces (military personnel, materiel, and assets) through the EU (up to five working days) and NATO (up to three working days). At the very least, the EU and NATO should seek to harmonize their respective data and provide annual, overarching approvals wherever possible.

Form 302: Another measure that might be considered is the adoption of a common regulatory process by both NATO and the EU.  For example, the EU is developing Form 302 which is also NATO-compatible. Form 302 implies the end goal of a uniform approach by the two institutions for the transit of the same military items. The EU version is designed to accelerate cross-border movement via a movement identification number (MIN), which identifies the country of origin, the destination, whether the shipment includes EU or non-EU goods, and whether it is a NATO or EU activity or other. To facilitate harmonization further it would also be useful to establish a direct link between NATO’s Joint Support and Enabling Command (JSEC) and the European Defense Agency (EDA).

Determining Chains of Command and Communication

Mobility coordination triad: The actual process of military mobility rests on a triad of “legs” or phases that provide the framework for future coordinating architectures. The national leg concerns the home base and port of embarkation (POE), and requires national-level coordination.  The strategic leg takes place between the POE and the port (or point) of disembarkation (POD) and requires effective transnational coordination. The operational leg takes place between the POD and the final destination (FD).  During the strategic leg, SACEUR, through the Standing Joint Logistics Support Group (SJLSG) and the Allied Movement Coordination Centre (AMCC), plans, prioritizes, coordinates, and deconflicts.  During the operational leg, the Joint Force Command (JFC) plans and executes reception, staging, and onward movement (RSOM) in coordination with the host nation and nations responsible for national planning and provision of transportation and movement.

Streamlined border crossings: It would be useful to create a streamlined process to better facilitate cross-border movement and eliminate parallel procedures. There are existing memoranda of understanding (MOUs) and transit agreements (TAs) in place to help improve cross-border missions, but more needs to be done. Authority for crossing borders should be standardized so that forces can move without having to overcome several and repeated legal and regulatory obstacles. Military mobility would also be greatly helped if the areas of responsibility of both NATO and the EU with regard to military mobility procedures were harmonized, such as establishing equal response time for permissions to move. For example, the EU is trying to agree those military movements that could be eligible for annual approval, i.e., military movements that do not affect civilian activities and do not require repeated approval. This initiative could establish the basis for a harmonized approach. Another could include easing the discrepancies that exist between the time it takes to obtain cross‐border movement permission for military forces (military personnel, materiel, and assets) through the EU (up to five working days) and NATO (up to three working days). At the very least, the EU and NATO should seek to harmonize their respective data and provide annual, overarching approvals wherever possible.

Form 302: Another measure that might be considered is the adoption of a common regulatory process by both NATO and the EU.  For example, the EU is developing Form 302 which is also NATO-compatible. Form 302 implies the end goal of a uniform approach by the two institutions for the transit of the same military items. The EU version is designed to accelerate cross-border movement via a movement identification number (MIN), which identifies the country of origin, the destination, whether the shipment includes EU or non-EU goods, and whether it is a NATO or EU activity or other. To facilitate harmonization further it would also be useful to establish a direct link between NATO’s Joint Support and Enabling Command (JSEC) and the European Defense Agency (EDA).

Managing Infrastructure Requirements and Standards

The Suwałki bottleneck: The scenario considered the infrastructure requirements needed to move forces through the Suwałki Corridor through which there are only two roads with limited tonnage capacity and one railway line. The corridor is a main EU thoroughfare for civilian traffic but lacks staging areas to house a significant force package without interference with civilian traffic. It is also too narrow for the deployment of long military convoys. To prevent a dangerous bottleneck the specific forces and materiel needed by each force unit (e.g., heavy brigade/wheeled brigade, etc.) would need to be determined well in advance and then assigned to the most suitable method and route for onward transportation. In such circumstances, it is probably more important to identify such requirements prior to any movement than suggest improvements to the infrastructure itself, although that is also needed. There is a critical need for more detailed standing defense plans, which have atrophied markedly since the end of the Cold War.

Defender 20: Although Exercise Defender 20 was in part canceled due to Covid-19, it does provide sufficient data to form the basis for a renewed effort to quantify what is needed for military mobility in such a high-end scenario in areas such as the required quantity and capability of railway wagons and trucks (both heavy and light) so that critical gaps can be identified. Critical infrastructure, such as airports, rail facilities, ports, fuel storage areas, as well as hubs for theater logistic bases, are regularly surveyed to assess whether they meet NATO requirements in close coordination with respective host nations. This data can already be accessed through several allied capability documents. However, the situation could be improved if NATO’s Logistics Functional Area Services (LOGFAS) was able to be continually updated with real-time data, including highlighting temporary restrictions.

Alternative routes and dual use: Consideration must also be given to alternative routes to the Suwałki Corridor to avoid the main arteries, which are obvious targets, and increase dispersal. This could include disembarkation at Poland’s Szczecin/Świnoujście sea/river ports or through the use of the Kędzierzyn-Koźle connectivity hub, which used to be the second-largest in Europe. Specific military mobility gaps could also be assessed by comparing military requirements with the capabilities identified in the European Commission-led work on the Trans-European Transport Network (TEN-T) as not all possible routes have been fully assessed. Such an approach would promote more extensive dual civil-military use, which will be vital to future military mobility. By identifying dual-use infrastructure within the framework of TEN-T a case could be made for improved funding from the EU. Hitherto, the EU has only funded dual-use commercial infrastructure. Interestingly, the EU has reportedly identified the existence of a 93% overlap of the geographic scope of commercial and military transport infrastructure requirements.

Renovating Soviet infrastructure: An examination should also be undertaken to see if it would be possible to revitalize some Soviet-era transportation and storage infrastructure in Poland. Some of it has not been in use for more than 30 years. However, if renovated, such capabilities could be used to facilitate future deployments. Railway junctions, seaports, and river ports between Greater Poland and Silesia could also be used as rear areas in the Szczecin and Kędzierzyn-Koźle area.

Supply chain and flexible logistic nodes: A critical assessment is also needed along the entirety of the supply chain both for needed capabilities and the manifold vulnerabilities from which they suffer, particularly when forces rely upon civilian fuel supplies. Fuel storage capacity, as well as the capabilities needed to move fuel, are limited. One approach might be to create flexible infrastructure with storage based on need with locations rendered flexible thus enabling far easier movement. During the Cold War, when all essential supplies were mobile, divisions were expected to be able to fight for seven days before resupply. What is really needed is the development of flexible logistical nodes for maintenance, recovery, storage, food, etc. This would ensure supplies are in the right spot at the right time and in the right amount. The current centralized approach to storage makes supply and resupply highly vulnerable. In the absence of bespoke flexible solutions, the use of hybrid civil-military solutions could also offer some way forward. However, they would need to be worked up through exercises such as Trident Juncture.

“Civilian” battle space management policy: The supply chain challenge highlights the growing importance of civilian assets in almost all aspects of military mobility. Indeed, without recourse to such assets, it is increasingly hard to speak of a battle space management policy as such. Civilian traffic has a particularly important role in bringing forces to any given area. Experience of past conflicts demonstrates that in any crisis area civilian traffic management will also be crucial.

Civil preparedness: Effective military mobility will also rely on improved civil preparedness and resilience. While there has been some progress in the cybersecurity domain with EU regulations identifying critical sectors and infrastructure that need hardening, as well as new “incident response regulations,” far more needs to be done. In line with the other four scenarios, the need to minimize bureaucracy and movement across areas of authority was highlighted, including the use of an electronic Form 302 form when entering EU territory as such a form would enable just one complete load and unload.

MNDPP: It is vital that all states contributing to the Multinational Detailed Deployment Plan (MNDDP) fulfill their National Deployment Plans, coordinate and de-conflict the process led by the SJLSG, execute expeditiously the strategic RSOM and make effective use of LOGFAS, with the necessary support of trained personnel, reinforced by appropriate access for key mobility stakeholders assured by robust connectivity.

U.S. Army Stryker armored vehicles assigned to Iron Troop, 3rd Squadron, 2nd Cavalry Regiment, travel through the Poland country during the Dragoon Ride, March 27, 2015. The Dragoon Ride is exercising NATO’s freedom of movement and will cover more than 1,800 kilometers from Estonia to Vilseck, Germany, home of 3rd Squadron, 2nd Cavalry Regiment, in support of Atlantic Resolve. (U.S. Army photo by Pfc. Nathanael Mercado / Released)

Photo: U.S. Army Stryker armored vehicles assigned to Iron Troop, 3rd Squadron, 2nd Cavalry Regiment, travel through the Poland country during the Dragoon Ride, March 27, 2015. The Dragoon Ride is exercising NATO’s freedom of movement and will cover more than 1,800 kilometers from Estonia to Vilseck, Germany, home of 3rd Squadron, 2nd Cavalry Regiment, in support of Atlantic Resolve. Credit: U.S. Army photo by Pfc. Nathanael Mercado / Released

Determining Chains of Command, Control, and Communication

Robust C3: Consideration of the robust command, control, and communication needs of military mobility were central to the scenario. To improve all three elements one finding was the need for a central hardened location. Particular emphasis was placed on maintaining and enhancing interoperability. The importance of the Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (VJTF) was paramount during the pre-crisis, crisis, and sustainment phases of an operation and for establishing effective communications and information exchange with civilian authorities to support any deployment from port to the final destination.

Test C3: Chains of command, control, and communication must be tested with the aim of synchronized planning for all the mobility elements and phases based on a realistic analysis of the challenge. Critical information gaps must be addressed in the common operating/movement picture with a high-level plan generated that includes and incorporates the relevant capacities and movement windows. This high-level plan would need to be supported by a low-level detailed plan that enjoys a live feed from convoy movements and tracks critical cargoes and which links into civil and commercial movement information systems. For example, there is at present no operating picture for a brigade moving to reinforce. It would thus make sense to acquire the appropriate civilian system and work it up prior to a crisis rather than develop and run a parallel and bespoke military system.

LOGFAS and a joint mobility command: Connectivity to NATO’s LOGFAS would enable permanently updated data to populate a common operating picture if nations “fed” the LOGFAS system with the latest data. The more sensors there are, the more “visibility” there will be for commanders of all aspects of military mobility. Critically, a new joint JSEC-led mobility command could better manage the battle space if it had an overall view of movement. If supplemented by a standing joint logistic support group, such a command structure would ensure enhanced coherence between joint fighting commands. Such a command structure could be reinforced further by local information from the host nation, industry, and specialist providers, which have been integrated into a NATO or EU knowledge net.

Anticipating Risks to Security

Trust and confidence building: In keeping with many of the recommendations herein, trust and confidence across the stakeholders can only be built through regular meetings, exercises, and experience of how to overcome potential choke points when planning for exercises and operations through a shared culture. In anticipating risks to security, the scenario considered a wide range of potential choke points when moving forces. These included threats to multimodal transport exchanges (e.g., from port to railway) where communication nets change, as well as choke points early in a movement that are often more difficult to predict. Some force components also move at different speeds, or simply do not work together, creating opportunities for an adversary to impose cyber or kinetic disruptions, often without attribution. Non-physical choke points must also be considered, such as the mindset of the deployed force if it begins to fear such disruptions, be they geographic or administrative, and even if these are simply figments of a stressed imagination.

The worst case: This scenario stood apart from the others because of the threat of an Article 5 contingency which demanded a firm grip of a host of worst-case consequences. Consideration was thus given to the dispersal of forces during movement closer to the Baltic states given the threat posed by a potential flanking attack from either Kaliningrad or Belarus by powerful Russian forces. The primary lesson was that any credible concept of secure military mobility in such circumstances should plan and prepare to be deprived of critical resources, face a series of coercively applied choke points, and resist concerted attempts to undermine NATO cohesion.

Force protection: Effective force protection for forces on the move will demand training and exercising in how to effectively implement both active and passive measures. An essential challenge will be the need for sending nations to entrust the provision of security to national authorities, particularly concerning the use of national infrastructure. For example, force protection cannot be guaranteed when moving into Lithuania, particularly during a gray zone crisis or in the face of a surprise attack, as units are no longer permitted under law to protect themselves with live munitions. Peacetime protection is also now led by interior ministry forces and national and local police and they will need to be up to the task and resilient to infiltration and disruption. Cyber protection is also often devolved to the civilian sector, in many cases the responsibility of railway, road, port, or airport owners. Some of these owners or shareholders are Russian. Enhanced force protection may thus have to be generated by government contractors or transport police.

Materiel protection: Protecting the force while moving does not simply concern personnel. Materiel also needs to be protected. Munitions and containers of other essential, often dangerous, materiel may also move separately from the force and much of its protection will also be the responsibility of a host of nonmilitary authorities. Again, only the proper training and exercising of all mobility stakeholder personnel would help ensure structures can withstand the test of a crisis. Command jurisdiction will also need to be clearly established.

Rear area protection: Critically, it will be vital to establish early a clear definition of the “rear area” when moving from, say, Germany to Poland, with those charged with its security trained for the task. This is because the “rear area” is not generally a commander’s Area of Responsibility (AOR). A clear division of responsibilities must thus be established, particularly if continuity from deterrence to defense to deployment is to be realized within seven days under NATO planning. Defining the “rear area” early will better enable clear contingency and operational planning built on equally clear lines of responsibility within clearly defined boundaries. The status of the rear area should also be capable of being graduated upward, particularly as U.S. forces move forward.

Redundancy and flexibility: Any force movement in such a scenario would benefit from an appropriate level of redundancy and flexibility built into the planning. Moving a force with only limited assets and capabilities along clearly identified and effectively fixed axes leaves forces extremely vulnerable to disruption and possible destruction. Redundancy built into mobility through the use of several means and modes of transport would thus markedly improve resilience. Such an approach would be similar to the British-led Operation Transportation prior to D-Day which successfully masked the landing operations. This basic rule of secure military mobility also applies to command-and-control structures, which if more distributed are more resilient, thus facilitating a greater capacity to adapt and recover. The emergence of a host of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and long-range reconnaissance drones has accelerated and increased the need for such in-built redundancy into planning, systems, and mobility itself.

Countering hybrid warfare: The scenario also revealed the importance of countering the effects of hybrid warfare all and any of which could slow decision-making and undermine cohesion even without a kinetic exchange of fire. For example, sustained cyberattacks on rear choke points could paralyze disembarkation, while disinformation campaigns could create doubt about NATO’s intentions among citizens and critical mobility stakeholders in vital host and transit nations. Subversive actions that fall below the threshold of Article 5 could also create confusion and thus prevent U.S. and other allied forces from sustaining strategic lines of communication and projecting defensive power.

Cyber resilience: Improved cyber resilience, which reaches far beyond the military command chain given the wide swathe of contacts across civil society on which effective military mobility would rely, is needed. To that end, cyber awareness, resources (human, tech, and financial), capabilities (protection, response, recovery) must promote the far deeper integration of cyber defense plans into national crisis management, with robust and effective systems of communication established between national and civilian mobility stakeholders.

Scenario 2: Suwałki Corridor

Scenario 2-01[1]

NEXT APPENDIX

Focşani Gate
LEARN MORE

PREVIOUS APPENDIX

Nordic-Baltic Route
LEARN MORE