The Abilities of the British, French, and German Armies to Generate and Sustain Armored Brigades in the Baltics

by Michael Shurkin

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Research Synopsis

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Research Questions

  1. What is the current capacity of three of the United States' major NATO allies — Britain, France, and Germany — to generate armored units for a hypothetical deployment to the Baltics?
  2. Could they muster a full brigade each?
  3. How quickly could they do that, and for how long?

Britain, France, and Germany had been cutting military budgets, until the Russian intervention in Ukraine revived the possibility of a land war against a peer adversary. This report, based on research conducted in 2016 and information valid at that time, assesses the current capacity of Britain, France, and Germany to generate armored units for a hypothetical deployment to the Baltics. Could they muster a full brigade each? How quickly could they do that, and for how long could they sustain the units?

The author found that the three countries could muster and sustain a heavy brigade each, albeit at different rates; sustaining these forces would require significant strain. More specifically, Britain and France would be able to marshal and sustain at least one battalion-size combined arms battle group within a few weeks, with Germany perhaps taking longer. The French probably would arrive first, possibly within the first week. Surging more forces to get the deployments up to brigade strength would take more time: a few weeks in the French case and possibly more than a month in the British or German case. For all three armies, the effort would be a major endeavor that would leave the forces with little spare capacity for any other contingencies, and there are questions about the capabilities that those forces might have at their disposal or their aptitude for the kind of warfare that fighting the Russians might involve. For the French, the problem is that their army already is badly overstretched; for the British and Germans, the problem is the size of their deployable force, although both are now working to expand.

Key Findings

British Army Conclusions

  • The British Army can provide an armored task force within 30 days and would require 30 and 90 days to scale up to a full armored brigade.
  • Britain should be able to sustain at least one armored brigade indefinitely, although there are lingering doubts associated with the undermanned nature of the Adaptive Force, which will be called upon to provide units to relieve the units of the Reactive Force.

French Army Conclusions

  • France can probably field one medium or heavy battalion task force within a week. Generating the equivalent of a full armored brigade probably would take several weeks to a month.
  • The toll of France's ongoing operations — especially Operation Sentinelle — on French Army readiness introduces a significant degree of uncertainty regarding France's capacity to sustain a brigade and that brigade's proficiency. This uncertainty will linger until France finds a way to lighten the load currently carried by its ground forces, particularly in the army's homeland security role, while also growing the overall size of the force.

German Army Conclusions

  • The German Army most likely would require a week or more to mobilize an armored battalion; a full brigade probably would take a month.
  • Because the Germans will have to strip other units of equipment to provide for an armored brigade, they will have a hard time fielding a larger force or engaging in other operations until equipment shortages are addressed.

Research conducted by

This research was sponsored by the U.S. Army Deputy Chief of Staff (G-8) Quadrennial Defense Review Office and conducted by the Strategy, Doctrine, and Resources Program within the RAND Arroyo Center.

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