Schissler (Air Force)
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An Air Force pilot with the 493rd Expeditionary Fighter Squadron, flies over Lithuania in an F-15C Eagle during an April 24 training mission with the Lithuanian Air Force. The U.S. Air Force assumed command of the NATO Baltic Air Policing mission for a four-month rotation from January to May. (Airman 1st Class Dana J. Butler / Air Force)
Ramping up in Europe:
Should the U.S. decide to conduct a “show of force” in Europe, European allies should do the same, a top U.S. Air Force official assigned to NATO said Tuesday.
In light of recent events in Ukraine, U.S. military leaders are outlining both long- and short-term strategies, but “the hope remains other member nations will contribute over time,” said Lt. Gen. Mark Schissler, deputy chairman, North Atlantic Treaty Organization Military Committee.
“I would rather see five nations contributing in four different places than see the United States contributing all the forces in five different places,” Schissler said during an Atlantic Council event in Washington, D.C. Involving more U.S. airmen or soldiers remains “purely hypothetical,” he said, “and NATO would prefer to see other nations contribute their airplanes and their ground forces because that would be a more powerful signal than to have the largest member of NATO provide most of the force.”
The U.S. recently deployed 600 troops from the Army’s 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team from Vicenza, Italy, to Poland and the Baltic states to participate in joint exercises with an “expected duration of two months,” Schissler said. He also credited the Air Force with adding six F-15C jets in March in Lithuania — instead of a normal four-jet policing mission — and with adding F-16s in Poland.
“This was a relatively unplanned deployment, and their training, what kinds of things they will do is still being determined,” Schissler said.
While appreciating the air policing mission, the Baltic states expressed that they wanted to see land forces, which the U.S. was able to provide quickly, Schissler said. However, Air Force Gen. Philip Breedlove, the U.S. European Command commander and NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander, and his staff are “working on” more long-term prospects, Schissler said.
“The symbolic 150-man company is not sufficient enough to repel another nation state,” Schissler said. “We have to figure out ... how to retool and rebuild our strategy for NATO and our collective security responsibilities,” he said.
The remaining challenge for NATO is to strategically position forces — Schissler suggested a total land, air and sea capability — but being unaware of Russia’s next move is a disadvantage.
“I think it would take an extensive amount of NATO’s capability to defend the Baltics if the intent of Russia was to invade, but we’re not there yet,” he said.
Speaking directly on Ukraine, Schissler said NATO’s main goal is to remain steadfast to deter conflict without crossing a line.
“NATO exists to provide security to its members [and] it’s no question that the members will come to the aid of other members,” he said. “Ukraine is a different situation. ... We don’t have an agreement to provide forces on the ground, that’s not our intention, we see the solution to that being political. It’s the complete difference of, ‘Are you a member or are you a partner?’ ” Schissler said.
Schissler said he recently witnessed improvements in Latvian forces after U.S. forces arrived. If the Ukrainians are willing to participate in NATO exercises in the future, “their military would get better over time,” he said.