Home » Aviation » SECDEF Mattis’ New ‘Four Thirties’ Initiative Designed to Reinforce NATO Against Russia

SECDEF Mattis’ New ‘Four Thirties’ Initiative Designed to Reinforce NATO Against Russia

Marines and Sailors with Marine Rotational Force-Europe 18.1 advance to their assault position during a platoon counter-attack during Exercise Hedgehog at Tsooru, Estonia on May 9, 2018. US Marine Corps Photo

THE PENTAGON – For the past few years the Pentagon beefed up its ability to respond to Russian military action, and now it appears the rest of NATO is likewise willing to focus on protecting the alliance’s eastern frontier.

Through a variety of actions, U.S. military leaders have stated they are refocused on Europe, signified by increasing North Atlantic and Black Sea patrols and exercises, setting up new European-based missile defense systems and reestablishing U.S. 2nd Fleet.

NATO members have noticed, and now signed on in principle to the idea Russia should again be the alliance’s primary concern. During a wide-ranging press briefing Tuesday, Secretary of Defense James Mattis applauded NATO members for committing to his “Four Thirties” initiative, which is intended to respond in force within a month to any Russian threat in Eastern Europe.

“We also gained full commitment to what we call the Four Thirties: 30 air squadrons, 30 naval ships, 30 combat battalions all available to fight within 30 days,” Mattis said on Tuesday.

U.S. Secretary of Defense James N. Mattis and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Marine Corps Gen. Joseph F. Dunford, brief reporters at the Pentagon, Arlington, Va., Aug. 28, 2018. DoD photo by Lisa Ferdinando

Mattis’ comments came just as Russian military forces started maneuvering into position for two large September exercises – one involving a large naval force in the Mediterranean, and a 300,000-troop drill far inland.

The July NATO Summit Declaration did not include Four Thirties initiative specifics, including which nations would contribute which types of forces and a timeframe for implementation. However, NATO experts stress the Four Thirties initiative represents an important shift for the alliance.

“Endorsement of the Four Thirties is a recognition that the alliance has to get serious about a contemporary threat posed by Russia and has to address high-intensity conflict. That’s an important recognition,” Ian Brzezinski, former deputy assistant secretary of defense for Europe and NATO policy during the George W. Bush administration, told USNI News.

On a rural highway in northern Estonia, a pilot flies an A-10 Thunderbolt II attached to the 107th Fighter Squadron, Selfridge Air National Guard Base, Mich., from Lielvarde Air Base, Latvia, to practice landings and take offs, during the Exercise Saber Strike 18 on June 7, 2018. US Air Force Photo

While the Four Thirties initiative is significant for involving NATO, the U.S. military leaders can point to two recent adjustments — reestablishing U.S. 2nd Fleet and basing missile defense operations in Eastern Europe — as a reaction to Russian’s decade-long military retool. Both are examples of how seriously the U.S. military is taking a Russian threat.

Adm. James Foggo, commander of U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa (CNE-CNA) and NATO Allied Joint Forces Command Naples, detailed the importance of missile defense during On the Horizon, his podcast about the U.S. Navy’s European and African operations

“We couldn’t do all the missions that we do without our forward-deployed forces in Europe, and we couldn’t do this without partners, either,” Foggo said during his podcast. “When I talk about missile defense, let’s not forget the incredible collaboration we get from our Romanian partners with our missile facility in Deveselu, and we are building another missile facility ashore, and it’s like an Aegis-class ship ashore in Redzikowo in Poland.”

Russian Admiral Grigorovich frigate leaving the Black Sea on April 7, 2017 following US Tomahawk strikes in Syria. Photo by Alper Böler used with permission

Meanwhile, less than a week on the job as U.S. 2nd Fleet Commander, Vice Adm. Andrew Lewis has already traveled to Naples, Italy, to meet with his colleague, Vice Adm. Lisa Franchetti, commander of U.S. 6th Fleet and of Naval Striking and Support Forces NATO.

U.S. 2nd Fleet will be in charge of ships, aircraft and landing forces assigned to the U.S. Atlantic Coast, according to the Navy. U.S. 2nd Fleet will also oversee the training and certification of combat-ready naval forces for operations around the globe. 6th Fleet conducts a wide range of operations promoting security and stability in Europe and Africa.

“Our relationship with 6th Fleet and Naval Force Europe is extremely important as we mobilize the Navy and our fleets to meet the challenges of the global security environment,” Lewis said in a statement released during his visit to Naples. “We look forward to working closely with Vice Adm. Franchetti and her team to provide seamless command and control across the Atlantic.”

NATO’s challenges are ongoing. On Sept. 1 Russia kicks off a large Mediterranean-based naval exercise, involving 25 warships and 30 aircraft, according to a report by the Russian government-controlled TASS news agency.

Later in September, Russia plans to start Vostok 2018, its largest exercise since the Cold War, reportedly involving approximately 300,000 troops, 36,000 tanks, and more than 1,000 aircraft, according to a BBC report.

NATO doesn’t run similar large-scale exercises, said Brzezinski, who is currently a senior fellow with the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at The Atlantic Council. The Four Thirties initiative, he added, signifies a step in the right direction because it puts NATO back in a pre-1989, pre-fall of the Berlin Wall mindset, focused on high-intensity combat operations.

U.S. Marines with 1st Platoon, 1st Reconnaissance Battalion, 1st Marine Division, and Norwegian Coastal Ranger Commandos (KJK) prepare to disembark for a CB90-class fast assault craft, during Exercise Platinum Ren, at Sorreisa, Norway, May 21, 2018. US Marine Corps Photo

After the wall went down and the Soviet threat dissipated, Brzezinski said NATO concentrated on peacekeeping operations in the Balkans and counterinsurgency operations in Afghanistan. Increased Navy patrols in the North Atlantic and the Mediterranean and the continued operations in the Black Sea are all vital elements of countering what is a resurgent Russian threat.

“For NATO, the primary threat now, the primary focus should be the forces that Putin is bringing to bear on the Eastern Front, and that’s pretty significant,” Brzezinksi said.

Acceptance by political leaders of the Four Thirties plan, Brzezinski said, is, “certainly a reflection of political awareness of this reality, and perhaps a little bit a reflection of political will, but the political will is ultimately manifested by the commitment of resources to fulfill this new NATO initiative. And that is still outstanding.”

  • Curtis Conway

    Thank G-d for the United States Marine Corps, and these fine officers who are the quintessential patriots they are, that look out after this nation!

    • Centaurus


    • DaSaint

      Amen to that!

  • Corporatski Kittenbot 2.0

    It is a testament to how bad things have gotten when having a mere 30 battalions on 30-day notice across so many nations comprising 2/3rds of the planet’s wealth is a goal…. rather than something that is the status quo!

    That said, if achieved it will be welcome.

    So, NATO has in place:
    – “enhanced forward presence” brigade in the Baltics.
    – Followed by its high readiness brigade, which hilariously falls to Germany I think.
    – Followed by the Mattis 30-30-30-30 forces.
    – Augmented by local forces in the eastern nations….
    – Plus of course, the US armoured brigade on rotation across the eastern frontier.

    On paper that should be sufficient.

    • Ed L

      Remember those reforger exercises a reinforced marine brigade in 10 days across the Atlantic. And didn’t the Airforce also ferry 60 battalions across to meet up with preposition equipment in a week? Of that was when there were 200,000 American Military personal over there and a few thousand of our tanks. My cousin was in an armored unit that patrol the border near Grafenwohr

    • Centaurus

      So when do we get to have some “muscled up” MQ-25A’s flying in formation with a few Predator drones to provide some remote ISR of the Games ? Just in case some Russians get “lost” ? Oh, sorry, I’ve intruded.

      • Natalya

        This is from Defense News:

        “CAMPIA TURZII, Romania — The U.S. Air Force has constructed a hangar at Romania’s 71st Air Base at Campia Turzii, and it could be used to house MQ-9 Reapers and support intelligence-gathering operations around eastern Europe and the Black Sea, Defense News has learned.”

        “The Air Force would more likely use MQ-9s based in Romania to monitor the Black Sea, which Townshend said is becoming increasingly pressurized as Russia beefs up its naval presence there with little competition from the Romanian or Bulgarian navies to deter it.”

        “Those sensors could be used to furnish a real-time picture of Russian activities in the Black Sea — what ships are moving in and out, submarine activity, the transport of sensors or air defense equipment like the S-400 near the Russian coastline, and how all these platforms are exercised — particularly near Crimea, Townsend said.”

        Plus — The U.S. Air Force’s MQ-9 Reaper drone quietly started flights from Miroslawiec Air Base, Poland, in May.

        So it looks like there will be plenty of ISR missions around and over the Black Sea to keep tabs on Russian movements.

    • Duane

      There is nothing “bad” about this arrangement.

      NATO whipped the Soviets’ behind in the 45 year long Cold War, such that the Soviet empire disintegrated in 1989-1991. Then for another 23 years, there was no credible Russian threat to Europe. So naturally, everybody in NATO, including the US, disarmed and downsized their military forces. The US defense spending as a percentage of GDP is not only a tiny fraction of what it was in the 1980s (3.1% this year vs. more than 10%), but it is only about half of what it was at the peak of the middle eastern wars in the late 00s).

      Then in 2014 Putin invaded the Ukraine and then went into Syria, and everybody in NATO including the US realized that Russia was again a threat to European security.

      Stuff happens, perceptions change, and nations react. It is all very normal and practical and reasonable.

    • muzzleloader

      The German military is now a paper force.

  • DaSaint

    “We also gained full commitment to what we call the Four Thirties: 30 air squadrons, 30 naval ships, 30 combat battalions all available to fight within 30 days,” Mattis said on Tuesday.

    So Russia decides to take back the Baltic republics, and folks have 30 DAYS to get their acts together and contribute forces? Really? How long did it take Russia to effectively seize Crimea? It was a lot less than 30 days.

    I would have thought that we should have 30 hours to get forces mobilized and committed!

    • Duane

      There is no comparison with Russia’s Crimean invasion. The Ukraine is not and was not a NATO member. Ukraine is a very weak nation, politically and militarily, and no match for the Russian army.

      The “Baltic states” includes far more than just Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia. The Baltic theater also includes Poland, Sweden, Finland, Norway, Denmark, and Germany, which collectively have significant military assets between them, as well as (except for Sweden and Finland) NATO membership and Article 5.

      However, the greatest military assets of NATO (those of the UK, France, and the US) are located outside the eastern European frontier.

      SecDef Mattis’s “four thirties” is about force readiness, prepositioning of troops, equipment, and supplies, and last but not least making a political commitment to defending the eastern frontier.

      All of the above was missing in the Ukraine a few years ago, and so Putin saw the low hanging fruit and picked it!

      • DaSaint

        I don’t know why you recite the obvious. I know why this is important. I know Ukraine wasn’t part of NATO.

        My point is that there was no 30 day response if Rusaia crossed the Iron Curtain and invaded Germany. The plan was to respond immediately by the rest of NATO, so I don’t understand the built-in ‘delay’ for commitments.

        • Duane

          I recited what should have been obvious to you but it obviously was not obvious to you … otherwise you would not have used Crimea as a go by for what is likely to be a real threat.

          As for what you call a “delay”, it is, in the real world, a statement of reality. Nations cannot mobilize for war instantaneously in the real world. Including the US. 30 days is a tiny response time. How long did it take the US military to respond to Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait? How long did it take for the US to begin effectively fighting back against Japan after the Dec 7 bombing of Pearl Harbor?

          It took a helluva lot longer than 30 days.

          • DaSaint

            Duane, did NATO planning during the cold war articulate that members would have up to 30 days to respond to a Russian invasion of the Western Allies? Were our forces in Germany just positioned to hang out for 30 days? No they were a tripwire. And what we need is the same. Us forces, mixed with other NATO forces need to be on the front lines. so that its understood that a breach of the borders by Russian forces would likely involve killing US forces, and eliciting an immediate response.

            Not a 30 day window to gather forces and respond. Do you have any idea how far Russian forces could get in 30 days?

          • Duane

            No matter what we do, if Russia attacks somewhere with a large concentration of forces, they will make a significant advance. But that is far from being a sustainable military or political gain.

            Just look at the Ardenne Offensive, otherwise known as the Battle of the Bulge. The Allies had two plus million troops and history’s largest ever armored forces staged along the western front from the North Sea to the Med, while what remained of German troops and armor was outnumbered. The Allies in early December 1944 thought the war was all but over.

            Yet, the Germans figured out that the Allies were concentrated north and south of the lightly defended Ardenne Forest, which Allied commanders thought was infeasible as a battleground. The Germans made a great concentration of their remaining forces, and quickly created the “bulge”, and nearly broke through.

            But the bulge was unsustainable, and after the allies brought up Patton’s Third Army with its armor, and got supplies thru to the defenders, the German advance collapsed.

            The lessons learned from the Bulge – for the Allies, the costliest battle of WW2 – was not that the Allies needed another million troops to prevent the enemy from making short term gains.

            The lessons learned were to make sure that we have the prepositioned troops, equipment, and supplies and logistics of transport to quickly respond to any sudden incursion, such that the enemy can be out flanked and cut off from their logistics train, isolate them, and then methodically kill them off.

            That is precisely what the Mattis Four Thirties plan is all about.

            No defender can be strong everywhere all the time in the real world. We have to expect the Russians will attack wherever they think we are weakest, and then they will count on the Allies not being able to move up reinforcements or supplies in time to counter the incursion. This plan is intended to remove the safety valve the Russians are counting on.

        • SDW

          C’mon folks, the 30 days are from some degree of mobilization. Even if only those units at the highest readiness start steaming/flying from the States to Europe within 48hrs of mobilization the next levels will start preparations. It seems that the “30s” are about the immediate mobilizers and not just those filling their role as human tripwires.

          In my view, the biggest question is what would the “optimistic” governments of Western Europe call for any mobilization or demand for “little green men” to stand down if the Russian aggression took the form of cyber-sabotage or a “spontaneous” plea for Russia’s intervention (on humanitarian grounds, of course) to safeguard the peace- and motherland-loving Russian speakers along the Baltic States’ borders. Unless the complacent people of Poland, Germany, Hungary, France, et al. see smoke columns and hear artillery AND don’t believe the weeks and months of open and hidden disinformation about Russian intentions Article 5 will be forgotten faster than you can say “Welcome Ivan!”.

    • Ed L

      The poles might be able to hold out for while, 1000 tanks 3,000 armored vehicles 75k active 30k territory guard. OPH Frigates. Germany France and Belgians (no Tanks) have about thousand Tanks

  • omegatalon

    Maybe French President Macron needs to read this article because he said 4 days ago of how Europe can no longer rely on the United States to honor our commitment to NATO (this is because Trump called them out for not fulfilling their financial obligations as promised in the NATO charter).

    • Corporatski Kittenbot 2.0

      Indeed…. In Macron’s speech he said Eurpe (for he believes it to be 1 entity) should move away from the US and have closer military ties with Russia.

      Europe can’t afford 2 competing military mega-bureaucracies.
      NATO has to go.

    • Duane

      He said that because Trump repeatedly said he considered Article 5 to be non binding, and because Trump, without Congressional authorization, launched a trade war against our NATO allies.

      • Chesapeakeguy

        Yeah, Duane prefers the days of his beloved Democrat bending over so that any and all foreign powers could have their way with us. And they certainly did.

  • So, what percentage of these 30 ships, 30 squadrons, and 30 battalions are actually provided by the Europeans?

    The EU has 5.5 times the GDP of Russia and 3.5 times the population. There is no good reason why they need us to protect them.

    • Duane

      The majority will come from European NATO members.

      But the US also needs to be part of the asset base. We are the largest economy with the largest military and need to be engaged. We signed a treaty to do just that.

      Remember that the function of these assets positioned in or close to east Europe is to dissuade Putin from doing his best to recreate the Soviet Empire … in other words, to prevent war. Once the shooting starts, we will be at war and incurring massively higher costs to get to the war. It is far more cost effective to prevent war than to fight war.

      Most people today do not realize that most of the US military (about 95%) is garrisoned stateside, or homeported in the US. Only 1/6 of today’s Navy ships are forward deployed at sea at any one time, and for the Army and Air Force the deployed proportion is far less.

      • Current forward deployed forces in Europe include 5 ships, 8 squadrons, and 15 maneuver/aviation battalions – 31% of the proposed forces. Of course, these figures do not include ships and aircraft based elsewhere but sent to Europe for short periods so I’m guessing that in reality we’re supplying over 50%.

        Also, in 2017, 15% of active duty personnel were stationed overseas, and that figure is currently going up.

        • ChrisLongski

          Not like the days when we had two corps in USAREUR.

  • publius_maximus_III

    Ian Brzezinski, any relation I wonder?

    I think the European response to Russia’s aggression will always be tepid as long as GASPROM can shut off its gas supply in the middle of winter at the drop of a hat. Europe needs to increase its LPG shipments from the USA, and reduce it’s reliance from the east — a Win-Win, yes?

    • Corporatski Kittenbot 2.0

      Instead of diversifying, Europe has spent the last years becoming more dependent on Russian gas.

  • Secundius

    The US Navy Expeditionary Force has a Grand Total of SIX CB90 class “Boghammars”, buying their First in 2007…

  • ChrisLongski

    I used to participate in something called “Reforger” to deter Russian aggression against NATO allies.

    • Secundius

      Yeah, I remember those…

      • ChrisLongski

        I always enjoyed it. We would hitch up our jockstraps, arm our choppers and go hunting for pesky little critters on the ground called Commie Tanks.

        • Secundius

          Only involved in two of them, one of which while having the Flu…

          • ChrisLongski

            Oh yeah — it was tough to get on the Sick Lame and Lazy list when Reforger was coming up. Swine Flu vaccine-induced illness practically disabled our whole brigade — but we still went…

  • Ken

    It might be wise to dust off the history books on how Hitler went through the low countries to France with lightning speed, bit of a worry if Russia does the same.

  • Matt Conley

    How many of the “30” battalions and air squadrons are non-US? Last time I checked, Germany was hard pressed to put 30 working aircraft in the air?

    • Secundius

      And where specifically does it say that NATO, let alone Germany is Getting Involved in the “Four Thirties” Program. It said that NATO leaders [liked] the idea, not that were Backing the idea for themselves! I’m rater dubious that Russia can even field 30,000 of the 300,000 troops they can even muster. Let alone field 36,000 “Operational” Tanks and 1,000 “Flyable” Aircraft’s…