How will modified DEFENDER-Europe 20 exercises proceed amidst the COVID-19 pandemic?

by PAC Intern Julia Benbenek

DEFENDER-Europe 20 was meant to be a series of US-led multinational exercises with NATO forces. 29,000 US soldiers from the US and European stations were to participate on training grounds in 10 European countries including Germany, Poland, and other Baltic states. It would have been the largest deployment of US forces to Europe in over 25 years. Supreme Allied Commander Europe Tod D. Wolters described the purpose of the project as, “a platform to strengthen the readiness and interoperability of Allied Forces.”

Due to the outbreak of the novel coronavirus, many of the exercises were canceled or modified. In mid-March, the transfer of troops from the US to Europe was suspended. Fortunately, by that time, over 90% of the equipment tasked for DEFENDER-Europe had been already transported. Army officials reported that 6,000 soldiers and 3,000 pieces of equipment had been loaded on aircrafts or ships bound for Europe.

On May 13th, the Polish Ministry of National Defense announced that Allied Spirit, a DEFENDER-Europe 20 linked exercise, will take place at the Drawsko Pomorskie training grounds, nonetheless. The exercise was originally scheduled for May, but it got rolled back to June 5th-19th. The exercise will involve roughly 4,000 US soldiers from the 1st Cavalry Division Headquarters, 3rd Infantry Division’s 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, and 3rd Combat Aviation Brigade in addition to approximately 2,000 Polish soldiers from the 6th Polish Airborne Brigade, 9th Polish Armored Calvary Brigade, and 12th Polish Mechanized Brigade. The primary objectives of the exercise include conducting a division-size river crossing, exercising theater architecture, and enabling a common intelligence operational picture.

Soldiers at Allied Spirit X in Hohenfels, Germany in April of 2019 (Source:

The Polish Ministry of National Defense stated that the joint decision with the US Department of State was reached after a thorough assessment of the current situation and the deployed teams. Furthermore, in a statement, Army Europe assured that the health of the participants will be a priority: “Modified from its original design to ensure the safety of soldiers due to COVID-19, the U.S. and Polish bilateral exercise will feature a Polish airborne operation and a U.S.-Polish division-size river crossing. All COVID-19 precautionary measures will be taken to ensure the health and protection of participating armed forces and the local population.”

The decision to proceed with the exercise Allied Spirit demonstrates the US’s and Poland’s commitment to enhancing military strategic readiness. Moreover, according to the Polish Ministry of National Defense, the operation indicates, “a mutual confirmation of excellent Polish-American relations. It shows that, despite the pandemic, our troops are interoperable and capable, and prepared to conduct operations.”

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Julia Benbenek is an intern at the Polish American Congress and an undergraduate student at Georgetown University pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Foreign Service.

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