Introduction – History and Purpose
NATO’s enhanced Forward Presence Battlegroup Poland established in 2017 is a multinational Battlegroup comprised of units from four nations: Croatia, Romania, the United Kingdom and the United States. Their mission is to contribute to and strengthen the NATO Alliance’s deterrence and defensive posture in Poland. They operate in concert with the host nation’s 15th Mechanized Brigade headquartered in Giżycko, Warmian-Masurian Voivodeship. As part of their mission, Battlegroup Poland is continuously executing training exercises to enhance their readiness and ability to operate as a multinational, combat-ready force. This training is accomplished through the joint efforts of the multinational staff at Battlegroup Headquarters in conjunction with the 15th Mechanized Brigade. The partnerships forged within and outside the Battlegroup continue to promote the cooperation and strong alliances that are fundamental to NATO’s enhanced Forward Presence mission.
Located at the Bemowo Piskie Training Area, in the Warmian-Masurian Voivodeship, Battlegroup Poland is comprised of units from Croatia, Romania, the United Kingdom, and the United States. The partner countries assign rotational units to the Battlegroup. Currently, the United States Army’s 2nd Squadron, 2nd Cavalry Regiment, “Cougars”, make up the majority of the personnel in the Battlegroup as the framework unit. Cougar Squadron is equipped with the Stryker Infantry Carrier Vehicle, an advanced and fast-moving wheeled vehicle, which gives the Battlegroup the ability to rapidly move soldiers across the theater of operations as well as maneuver them around the battlefield. Legion Troop, from the United Kingdom’s Light Dragoons, serves as the Battlegroup’s primary scouts and reconnaissance unit. As a reconnaissance unit, they specialize in the ability to move quickly and stealthily in front of the Battlegroup in order to gather information and communicate it back to the commander. They are equipped with Jackals vehicles which were specifically designed for deep reconnaissance, rapid assault and fire support missions. The Battlegroup also contains extensive indirect fire capabilities which includes the Croatian Army’s MLRS Battery. The “Seamounts” utilize self-propelled multiple launch rocket systems which can rapidly fire 122mm rockets up to twenty kilometers. For more precise targets, the Battlegroup also has a battery of M777 howitzers from Bulldog Battery, 2nd Cavalry Regiment which can engage targets with near pin-point accuracy. Finally, the Romanian Army’s “Blue Scorpions” provide air-defense capabilities to the Battlegroup.
Training and Battle Rhythm
Operation WOJTEK FIRES: Taking the training to an advanced level
As NATO’s enhanced Forward Presence in the region, Battlegroup Poland remains ready to respond at a moment’s notice to defend against threats to the Alliance. In order to fulfill this mission, the Battlegroup operates on a nearly ceaseless training schedule to ensure that it can maintain the high level of readiness to “fight tonight”, and if necessary to defend against aggression. To accomplish this, the partner units in the Battlegroup must work constantly to maintain their individual unit readiness through physical fitness training and conducting maintenance on vehicles and other equipment. Each unit in the Battlegroup also conducts their own role-specific training which focuses on improving proficiency in their fundamental skills and jobs before proceeding to more complex training events. As an example of this, the Stryker infantry units in the Battlegroup started their training cycle by validating their marksmanship with individual and crew-served weapon systems. After confirming their proficiency with individual weapons, the units then advanced to their collective training events that test the ability of squads (9 Soldiers), platoons (40 Soldiers), and finally troops (150 Soldiers) to maneuver together and conduct operations in increasingly complex training exercises. Along with each unit’s training to sharpen their own skills, the partner nations in the Battlegroup collaborate through multinational training events. These exercises allow the partner nations to learn from one another and establish best practices that will help them to improve their performance in subsequent multinational exercises. These exercises serve a particularly important role for the Battlegroup’s operational capabilities because they provide opportunities for Allied countries to integrate their assets and methodology and establish standard operating procedures that strengthen the collaborative ability and effectiveness of NATO’s forces.
From September 15th to 17th, Battlegroup Poland conducted Operation WOJTEK FIRES in the Bemowo Piskie Training Area which tested the Battlegroup’s ability to coordinate and execute its extensive fire support capabilities. In comparison to the preceding Cougar Crawl Live Fire Exercise in August, which tested fire integration within the Battlegroup, WOJTEK FIRES took the training to a more advanced level. It introduced a new challenge to the Battlegroup by tasking it to simultaneously integrate its organic artillery assets with five U.S. Army AH-64 Apache helicopters from the 101st Combat Aviation Brigade, 101st Airborne Division which took part in the exercise as part of their Atlantic Resolve rotational assignment. The Apaches had the opportunity to call for fire and observe fires from both the Battlegroup’s Croatian MLRS and U.S. M777s Howitzer. Furthermore, the training provided the Croatian, UK and US forward observers the opportunity to work with the Apaches under day and night live fire conditions.
One of the principal goals of this exercise was to develop shared procedures that can be utilized by all of the units in the Battlegroup so that they can operate together more effectively and efficiently. Commenting on the success of the exercise Captain Antonio Burazer, Seamount Battery Commander noted: “All elements of the exercise were integrated into the unified system through procedures of the call for fire, fire execution and fire support. Conducting the exercise during night, accompanied with the fog, was particularly challenging. However, our continuous training and cooperation gave us confidence and produced results”. Captain Coleman Gracey, the Battlegroup’s Fire Support Officer, emphasized the long-term benefit that this event will provide to the Battlegroup, “through planning a multinational fires exercise based off of a complex scenario, Battlegroup Poland was able to create shared Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures and execute in a realistic tactical environment. The lessons learned during Wojtek Fire will be codified in the Battle Group Standard Operating Procedure and utilized by future rotations.” The Battlegroup’s Fires Standard Operating Procedure will ease the transition of future rotational units into the Battle Group and will establish increased multinational cooperation and understanding.
The exercise demonstrated not only the importance of technical interoperability, but also the advantages provided by the positive professional and personal relationships that make the Battlegroup into a more cohesive team. During WOJTEK FIRES, forward observers from Legion Troop took the opportunity to cross-train on the U.S. M777 howitzers and gained a better understanding of the crew drills required to process fire missions. Captain Bryce Higginbotham, Bulldog Battery Commander, highlighted the importance of such relationship for the success of the exercise, “the bond between Bulldog Battery and Legion Troop undoubtedly has made this process more efficient…WOJTEK FIRES is yet another great example of how we are building technical and procedural TTPs all the while strengthening the human element of interoperability.” The human connections that are strengthened through training together in the Battlegroup not only makes it a more effective fighting force but also strengthens the bond between the respective nations and NATO as a whole.
Excellent relationship with the Host Nation
The Battle Group has also taken advantage of the opportunity to build strong connections by training alongside its host-nation partners in Poland. The Battlegroup staff works closely with the Polish Army’s 15th Mechanized Brigade within which it is integrated in the mission to provide assurance and deter aggression in northeast Poland. Battlegroup Poland has always maintained a cooperative relationship with the 15th Mechanized Brigade, as a subordinate unit, knowing that each partner can benefit from their shared relationship. Both units consistently find ways to train alongside one another which enhances the value of the training for all of the nations involved. This collaboration demonstrates their unity of effort and builds trust which is essential for the stability and security of the region.
During this rotation, Battlegroup Poland and the 15th Mechanized Brigade have joined forces to conduct multiple multinational exercises. In September, a team from the Battle Group’s staff integrated within the 15th Mechanized Brigade for their DZIK-20 exercise to train on defensive operations, battle tracking, and Command Post operations. At the same time their respective staffs are also developing plans for upcoming exercises such as BULL RUN 13 and TUMAK 20, which will further strengthen their maneuver, fires, and reconnaissance interoperability. Notably, this BULL RUN Exercise will be the 13th iteration of the exercise in the history of the Battlegroup. This exercise is especially important because it tests the Battlegroup’s ability to alert, martial, and deploy and demonstrates its ability to respond rapidly in defense of the alliance.