China Carrier Preps for Flight Ops?

From The Diplomat:

Photos posted to the Internet in China last week seem to confirm that the Chinese Navy has installed arrestor gear and other vital equipment on its refurbished Soviet-made aircraft carrier, the ex-Varyag. If genuine, the installations could represent a big step forward for the first-ever seaborne, fixed-wing aviation capability for the People’s Liberation Army Navy.

One image appears to show a traditional four-wire arrangement on the aft flight deck of the roughly 1,000-foot-long carrier. Another depicts a small tractor of the type used to move aircraft around the deck.

The ex-Varyag, which was speculated to have been renamed the Shi Lang in Chinese service, underwent more than a decade of rework in Dalian shipyard following her acquisition from Russia in the late 1990s. She conducted her first sea trial in July and performed a second, brief, at-sea test in November. These tests didn’t include fixed-wing aircraft. Indeed, much of the equipment necessary to support airplanes apparently had apparently not been installed.

In December, a Chinese government spokesman denied rumors that Russia had refused to sell China arresting gear. The ex-Varyag's deck equipment was being developed indigenously, the spokesman said.

The wires and the tractor should allow the ex-Varyag to begin flight trials with navalized J-15 fighters as early as this spring – assuming, of course, that other requisite gear has also been installed, including air-traffic-control radars, communications, aircraft fueling and repair facilities.

Even with all that equipment in place, it could take years for China to train aviators and deck crew to safely and efficiently launch, recover and maintain carrier-based aircraft. Coordinating ship and plane tactics could require additional years of trial and error. 

A truly effective carrier capability is one of the Holy Grails of modern naval operations. China’s progress toward that goal has been slow but steady.

WWII destroyer USS Laffey returns to SC home after repairs

From Yahoo! News:

MOUNT PLEASANT, S.C. (AP) — With the blare of air horns, cheers and a champagne toast, “The Ship That Would Not Die” returned Wednesday to its home at a maritime museum on Charleston Harbor on the South Carolina coast.

Just after sunrise, the World War II destroyer USS Laffey was towed slowly down the Cooper River to the Patriots Point Naval and Maritime Museum. It was moved more than two years ago to a dry dock so its hull could be repaired at a cost of about $9 million.

A group of about 50 people, including more than a dozen former crew members, gathered on the flight deck of another World War II vessel, the aircraft carrier USS Yorktown, to welcome the Laffey home.

"This means a lot of years of fighting to get her saved again," said Sonny Walker of Abingdon, Md., who served on the Laffey in the early 1960s. "This is the third time. The Germans tried to sink her. The Japanese tried to sink her and then she tried to sink herself sitting here. She’s whipped them all and she’s back again."

The Laffey, built at Maine’s Bath Iron Works in 1943, got its nickname as “The Ship That Would Not Die” when it was on picket duty off Okinawa in March 1945. About 50 Japanese planes attacked and about half got through to the Laffey. The ship suffered 103 casualties when it was hit by four bombs and five kamikaze planes.

The Laffey is also the only surviving American World War II destroyer that saw action in the Atlantic, where it was part of the D-Day invasion. Now designated a national historic landmark, it was decommissioned in 1975 and brought to Patriots Point in 1981.

"It’s where I spent my youth. I grew up on that ship," said 85-year-old Lee Hunt of Charleston, S.C., a member of the original crew when it was commissioned. "I went on it when I was 17 and spent my 18th birthday killing people in Germany in the invasion of France and right on into Okinawa and the Philippines and what have you. This means a lot. I spent a lot of time on that ship."

He said it was no surprise that, by 1945, the Laffey would encounter suicide attacks by Japanese aviators.

"We knew we were going to get hit. Every destroyer out there on picket duty knew they were going to be attacked," said Hunt, who said he had no time to get nervous because he was on the ship and doing what the crew was asked to do.

The renovation was paid for with a state loan, which the museum plans to repay with operating revenues.

Bringing the Laffey back is not so much about ticket sales for a museum as it is about helping preserve the nation’s heritage, said Mac Burdette, the executive director of Patriots Point.

"More than ever we need reminders of what dedication and sacrifice are required if we are going to remain a free and independent nation," he said. "Can we do without the Washington Monument that is going to take millions of dollars to repair from the earthquake? No. There are some things that are just worth paying for and this is part of it."

Bold Alligator 2012 to Revitalize Amphibious Operations

From Navy.mil:

NORFOLK (NNS) — Commander, United States Fleet Forces (USFF) and Commander, Marine Corps Forces Command (MARFORCOM) will lead the East Coast’s largest joint and multinational amphibious assault exercise in the past ten years officials announced Jan. 25.

Exercise Bold Alligator 2012 (BA12) will revitalize Navy and Marine Corps amphibious expeditionary tactics, techniques and procedures, and reinvigorate its culture of conducting combined Navy and Marine Corps operations from the sea. 

BA12 will be a live and synthetic, scenario-driven, simulation-supported exercise designed to train Expeditionary Strike Group 2 (ESG 2), 2d Marine Expeditionary Brigade (2d MEB) and Carrier Strike Group 12. Staffs will plan and execute a MEB-sized amphibious assault from a seabase in a medium land-and-maritime threat environment to improve naval amphibious core competencies. 

The exercise will run Jan. 30 through Feb. 12, ashore and afloat, in and off the coasts of Virginia, North Carolina and Florida

"Amphibious forces are a critical element of maritime power projection that ought to be a high priority for support, even in a resource constrained environment, because they are a cost effective option for accomplishing a wide range of military operations," said Adm. John C. Harvey, commander, USFF.

The units involved include the Enterprise Carrier Strike Group (CSG), Expeditionary Strike Group 2 (ESG-2), 2d Marine Expeditionary Brigade (MEB), Iwo Jima Amphibious Ready Group (ARG), 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), Naval Expeditionary Combat Command (NECC) as well as various other ships and units. 

Nine countries are participating in exercise BA12, providing maritime, land and air units or observers. The countries participating with the U.S. forces are Australia, Canada, France, Italy, Netherlands, New Zealand, Spain and the United Kingdom.

One of the exercise’s priorities is to incorporate lessons learned over the past 10 years of challenging combat operations, overseas contingency operations, humanitarian assistance/disaster relief (HA/DR), noncombatant evacuation operations (NEO) and homeland defense.

The exercise will focus on the fundamental aspects and roles of amphibious operations to improve amphibious force readiness and proficiency for executing the six core capabilities of the Maritime Strategy - forward presence, deterrence, sea control, power projection, maritime security and humanitarian assistance/disaster response.

"In today’s world, the Navy-Marine Corps team must remain capable of gaining access to an operational area, and projecting and sustaining a sizable landing force ashore," said Lt. General Dennis Hejlik, Commander, MARFORCOM. "We have the legislated responsibilities to be able to conduct these operations, and we certainly must be ready to do so beyond the ARG-MEU level where we routinely operate today."

The culmination of Bold Alligator 2012 will include three large-scale events within the exercise: an amphibious assault at Camp Lejeune, N.C.; an aerial assault from the sea into Fort Pickett, Va.; and an amphibious raid on Fort Story, Va.

Embedded within their participation in BA12 is the Enterprise CSG’s Joint Task Force Exercise (JTFEX); the Iwo Jima (ARG) and 24th MEU certification exercise (CERTEX); and Riverine Group 1 (RIVGRU 1) Maritime Security Operations Ready (MSO-R) certification by Naval Expeditionary Combat Command (NECC).

Pakistani military accuses US of intentionally killing troops in Mohmand

From Long War Journal:

The Pakistani military dismissed the US military’s investigation into the cross-border incident that killed 24 Pakistani troops in the Mohmand tribal agency late last November, and accused the US military of intentionally attacking the troops and attempting to cover it up.

The Pakistani military issued a formal report today that attempts to rebut the investigation conducted by Brigadier General Stephen Clark, which was released on Dec. 22, 2011. Clark was assigned to determine the cause of the clash that resulted in the deaths 24 Pakistani officers and soldiers during airstrikes in the Mohmand tribal agency on the night of Nov. 25-26. Pakistan refused to cooperate with Clark’s investigation.

The US report said that Pakistani troops first opened fire with mortar and machine-gun fire, provoking a US response. A series of mistakes by both ISAF and Pakistani troops as well as mutual distrust between the parties led to the deadly firefight, Clark’s investigation concluded.

The Pakistani military’s response, which was released today at the military’s public relations website, called Clark’s report “factually not correct” and accused the US military of intentionally killing Pakistani troops in an “unprovoked attack.”

"It is highly improbable that such a large number of mistakes (as acknowledged in the US Investigation Report) could have been coincidental," the Pakistani military said in one of its conclusions.

The Pakistani military said the US investigation into the “unprovoked attack” was an attempt to “contort the facts and confuse the issue.”

"Not only was the response, not in self defence, it was disproportionate, excessive and sustained which resulted in death of 24 soldiers while 13 sustained injuries," the Pakistani report stated. "The unprovoked engagement thus left behind 7 widows and 16 orphans."

"Sustained aggression which continued for as long as ‘90 minutes’ despite US / ISAF being informed about the incident at multiple levels by Pakistan Military within minutes of initiation of US / ISAF fire, belies the ‘self defence’ and ‘proportional use of force’ contention," another of the report’s conclusions stated.

Additionally the Pakistani military accused Clark’s report of intentionally manufacturing evidence of Pakistani military uniforms that were found during the raid on the Afghan village where the clash took place.

"To justify the grave US / ISAF excesses committed on the night of 25/26 November, the Investigation Report tries to contort the facts and confuse the issue," the Pakistani report said.

"Moreover, reports of discovery of Pakistani Law Enforcement Agencies uniforms from Maya Village after the end of Operation SAYAQA is an unconvincing attempt to cover the US / ISAF attacks by giving a misleading impression that Pakistani soldiers on Volcano and Boulder posts may well have been mistaken by US / ISAF to be anyone else," the report stated later.

The Pakistani military also denied one of the key assertions made by the US - that Pakistani forces first opened fire on US and Afghan troops inside Afghanistan. Instead, the Pakistani military claimed the Pakistani troops “were defending against an unprovoked attack.”

"In an effort to provide justification for US / ISAF actions, the Investigation Report has gone to extreme lengths to construct the whole incident as an act of ‘self defence’ and the force used by US / ISAF / NATO as legal and proportionate," the Pakistani report stated. "At no stage did the Pakistani Posts fire on, or in the direction of the Helicopter Landing Zone or the route from Helicopter Landing Zone to Maya Village."

In the final conclusion, Pakistan refused to accept any responsibility for what happened in Mohmand, and instead said the US and ISAF are fully to blame.

"There have clearly been several failures on the part of US / ISAF / NATO (as acknowledged in the US Investigation Report)," the report concluded. "Trying to affix partial responsibility of the incident on Pakistan is, therefore, unjustified and unacceptable."

The Pakistani report is sure to further sour US/Pakistan relations, which are at an all-time low since the Mohmand clash. Pakistan closed down NATO’s supply routes for Afghanistan; ejected the US from the Shamsi Air Base, where drone strikes against al Qaeda were staged; and has said it is reevaluating its cooperation with the US in the War on Terror. The US placed the drone program on hold for 55 days before targeting al Qaeda on Jan. 11. There have been two other strikes since.

Nominees announced for four Pentagon posts

From Navy Ties:

The White House has asked Congress to approve nominees for four key Defense Department positions, including undersecretaries for acquisition, policy and personnel.

President Obama nominated Jessica Lynn Wright to be assistant secretary of defense for Reserve affairs. Wright is currently deputy assistant secretary of defense for manpower and personnel.

In addition to Wright, Obama nominated Frank Kendall to be the undersecretary of defense for acquisition, James Miller to be the undersecretary of defense for policy and Erin Conaton to be the undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness.

Miller is currently the principal deputy undersecretary of defense for policy. If confirmed he would replace Michèle Flournoy, who is stepping down as undersecretary of defense for policy on Feb. 3.

If confirmed, Conaton, the current undersecretary of the Air Force, would replace Clifford Stanley, who resigned last fall.

Kendall previously served as the principal deputy undersecretary of defense for acquisition and is now the Pentagon’s acting acquisition executive. If confirmed, he would fill the slot previously held by Ashton Carter, now the deputy defense secretary.

Iran: ‘Intelligence Agencies Incapable Of Thwarting Terror Plots,’ Says Coordination Council

From Eurasia Review:

Iranian authorities should be held accountable for their inability to deal with the terrorist threat inside the country, the Green Movement’s highest decision-making body said on Monday.

The statement by the Coordination Council of the Green Path of Hope comes at a time when the country’s intelligence apparatus and law enforcement units seem increasingly incapable of thwarting a series of deadly terrorist attacks, including bomb blasts and shootings.

The most recent attack took place on Monday morning when motorcyclists fired shots at a group of soldiers in the city of Khorramabad in Lorestan province, killing an army officer and injuring a soldier.

In another attack, Sunni cleric Molavi Mostafa Jangi Zehi, the leader of Friday prayers in the southeastern town of Rask in Sistan-Baluchestan province, was killed late on 20 January while on the road.

A recent report by the Foreign Policy journal suggested that agents working for Israel’s spy agency Mossad had posed as CIA operatives while attempting to recruit members of the Pakistan-based terrorist group Jundallah to launch attacks against Iran. The group has claimed responsibility for numerous terrorist bombings and assassinations in the province, which have claimed many civilian lives.

On 11 January 2012, Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan, a scientist affiliated with the nuclear programme, was murdered in broad daylight when two assailants on a motorcycle attached a magnetic bomb to his car. Roshan was the fifth scientist with nuclear connections to be killed since 2007; a sixth scientist, Fereydoon Abbasi, survived a 2010 terror attack and was later appointed as the head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organisation.

The Coordination Council said the terrorist operations against the country revealed a lack of security for “nuclear researchers and experts as well as [ordinary] citizens.”

“Carrying out such crimes against humanity and resorting to acts of terrorism, regardless of who the perpetrators are, go against moral principles, human rights and are unjustifiable,” the Council stated, while calling on the Iranian government and the international community to find the culprits behind the incidents.

The Coordination Council said Iran’s intelligence agencies had an obligation to provide the Iranian public with explanations and evidence about the attacks, which it said had led to much restlessness amongst the population.

“Instead of attempts to crack down on dissidents and those critical of the current situation as well as to terrorise opponents, they are in charge of guaranteeing the safety of citizens irrespective of their belief, gender, religion, race, language and culture.”

Following the assassination of Mostafa Ahmadi Roshani on 11 January, a group of more than 230 Iranian opposition activists issued a statement condemning the attack, while at the same time accusing the country’s security agencies of being too preoccupied with supressing political rivals rather than ensuring the safety of Iranian citizens.

“Iran’s intelligence forces, which have directed all their efforts at suppressing domestic adversaries and stifling the voice of protesters and the media, have proven incapable of dealing with these [security] threats,” the activists said. “Regime officials, especially the Intelligence Minister, must be held accountable for the slackness shown in protecting the lives of Iranian experts and researchers.”

US Navy Receives Central Atmosphere Monitoring System IIA from Hamilton Sundstrand

From Naval Today:

In a ribbon cutting ceremony attended by U.S. Congresswoman Grace F. Napolitano and other government officials on Jan. 12, Hamilton Sundstrand Corporationdedicated its new state-of-the art lean manufacturing line for the next generation Central Atmosphere Monitoring System, designated the CAMS IIA.

Hamilton Sundstrand recently delivered its first CAMS IIA production system to the U.S. Navy for the Los Angeles Class submarine retrofit program and the Virginia Class Block III program. Hamilton Sundstrand is a subsidiary of United Technologies Corporation .

“The CAMS IIA was developed to be more affordable to manufacture and service while maintaining the outstanding accuracy and reliability of the existing CAMS systems,” saidAlbert Stefanek, general manager at Hamilton Sundstrand’s Pomona, Calif. site. “This new design along with the use of our new manufacturing area and techniques will make the CAMS a much less expensive subsystem for the Navy.”

The CAMS IIA initiative was sponsored by Congresswoman Grace F. Napolitano of the 38th congressional district. “This is a win-win-win program,” said Congresswoman Napolitano.“Hamilton Sundstrand gets the benefit of the added business, the Navy gets new technology and less expensive submarine analyzer, and the local economy is stimulated with new jobs and orders.”

Ultimately, the CAMS IIA will be installed on all new production US Navy nuclear submarines and will be back-fitted on all existing submarines.

Based in Pomona, Calif., Hamilton Sundstrand Pomona develops and manufactures a range of analytical detection products that support space, defense and homeland security applications.

With 2010 sales of $5.6 billion, Hamilton Sundstrand is headquartered in Windsor Locks, Conn. Among the world’s largest suppliers of technologically advanced aerospace and industrial products, the company designs, manufactures and services aerospace systems and provides integrated system solutions for commercial, regional, corporate and military aircraft. It also is a major supplier for international space programs.

United Technologies Corp., based in Hartford, Conn., is a diversified company that provides high-technology products and services to the aerospace and building industries.

USA: Navy Examines Early Retirement Option for Some Enlisted Retention Board-Separating Sailors

From Naval Today:

As announced by the Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert during an All Hands Call at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam (JBPHH) Jan. 19, the Navy plans to offer voluntary early retirement to certain Sailors separating due to the Enlisted Retention Board (ERB).

A NAVADMIN outlining official guidance and application procedures for voluntary early retirement is forthcoming.

The National Defense Authorization Act, signed into law Dec. 31, 2011, reinstated the authority for the Department of Defense to implement Temporary Early Retirement Authority (TERA) for Sailors who have completed at least 15 years of service. TERA is a temporary, voluntary program that offers voluntary early retirement at a reduced monthly stipend to eligible members with 15 to 20 years of active service.

“Our Sailors have served honorably and our Navy is committed to doing all we can to help them and their families successfully transition to the civilian sector,” said Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy (MCPON) (SS/SW) Rick D. West“We have aggressively pursued the option to offer early retirement benefits to eligible Sailors since Temporary Early Retirement Authority was granted. This is the right thing to do, and it ensures we provide the strongest possible transition benefits to those who qualify for retirement under TERA.”

Sailors who will have completed at least 15 years of active service as of Sept. 1, 2012, and who were not selected for retention by the ERB, will be eligible for early retirement benefits under TERA.

Eligible Sailors who desire early retirement under TERA must submit an application. As TERA is not an entitlement, all eligible members must apply to receive benefits, and all applications may not necessarily be approved. Detailed application procedures will be promulgated in a future NAVADMIN. Eligible Sailors who wish to apply for TERA will have their ERB results held in abeyance to facilitate their application for voluntary retirement.

Sailors whose TERA application is approved will be retired voluntarily no later than Sept. 1, 2012, and will not be entitled to involuntary separation pay (ISP). However, Sailors will remain qualified for enhanced ERB transition benefits until their retirement date.

“We strongly encourage Sailors who are eligible for voluntary early retirement under TERA to discuss this option with their families and with their command retention team,” said Chief of Naval Personnel Vice Adm. Scott Van Buskirk“Additionally, we’re encouraging Sailors to continue to take advantage of the multitude of transition assistance benefits and resources available to them during the next few months.”

“Sailors eligible to apply for early retirement should request to remain in the Navy through Sept. 1, 2012. NPC is now accepting Short Term Extension (STE) requests to extend a Sailors Soft End of Active Obligated Service (SEAOS) to Sept. 1, 2012, to ensure eligible Sailors have the opportunity to receive TERA benefits. Sailors should submit a request for an STE to NPC for expedited processing and approval. Further instructions on submitting STE requests are forthcoming. Because of their time-sensitive nature, commands are encouraged to expedite these requests. Once program application procedures are established, Sailors may still be able to separate prior to Sept. 1, 2012 if their application is approved and they have accumulated 15 years of service.”

ERB Sailors who will reach 15 years of service after Sept. 1, 2012, will not be eligible for TERA and must separate in accordance with ERB policies no later than Sept. 1, 2012, or at the end of their operational deferment, as applicable.

Major European pullout could start in October

From Army Times:

As many as 10,000 soldiers — and as many as 25,000 dependents — are expected to withdraw from Europe as the U.S. juggles shrinking budgets and force reductions with maintaining strong relationships with its allies, officials said.

On Jan. 12, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said that two brigade combat teams — instead of just one BCT as originally planned — will be withdrawn from Europe.

Panetta is quoted in a press release on the Defense Department website as saying two of the four BCTs that are permanently stationed in Europe will be replaced with rotational units, similar to the way Marines and Special Forces units staff their European requirements.

Gen. Peter Chiarelli, Army vice chief of staff, would not go into detail regarding the withdrawal because the services are not allowed to comment on the president’s budget until it is released.

But he said senior Army leaders are “excited about the capabilities and the ability to do rotational forces into Europe.”

Details on how and when these rotational units will begin training in Europe are still being worked out, but Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling, commanding general of U.S. Army Europe, said he anticipates the rotations could be anywhere from three weeks to two months long.

“This is a guess on my part,” he said. “And the size of the unit that would be rotating, I don’t know, probably a battalion at a time. The development of the course of action that Mr. Panetta referred to is still in the early stages of development by the Army staff.”

About 41,000 soldiers and about 100,000 dependents are now in Europe, most of them in Germany. Three of the four BCTs in Europe are stationed in Germany; a fourth is in Vicenza, Italy.

Officials refused to name the departing units, but two of the units — the 170th BCT and the 172nd BCT — seem the likely targets.

Three-year tours in Europe are much-sought-after assignments for soldiers and their families. Many of them seek to go back again and again.

Soldiers in Europe live in American-style garrisons that have all the amenities of home — shopping centers and other MWR facilities, Defense Department schools with interscholastic sports, churches and movie theaters. Many soldiers enjoy living and traveling in Europe. The proposed cutbacks would greatly reduce the number of family postings in Europe.

Hertling said he and his staff have been involved in discussions to possibly reduce the brigade combat teams in Europe by two instead of one.

“We know there’ll be additional force structure changes and we have made some recommendations on that, but I can’t confirm or deny that because I have not been given permission to speak on that,” he told Army Times on Jan. 13.

In addition to possibly cutting two BCTs, Hertling also has offered up the departure of about 2,200 other soldiers. These personnel, along with those from two BCTs, would total about 10,000 soldiers.

“I have also offered to the Army some other smaller organizations that I don’t think contribute as much to our mission here as they would in the United States,” Hertling said.

These include “a couple of [military police] companies, an engineer brigade headquarters, a couple of truck companies, [and] some logistics units,” he said.

However, “Those are all in discussion. What we want to do is refine the force to the point where what we have over here is contributing to the combatant commander’s missions as opposed to just being stationed here,” he said.

ADJUSTING THE EUROPE MISSION

Losing 10,000 soldiers would bring the number of soldiers in Europe to 31,000.

“I can adjust my mission to be OK with that number,” Hertling said. “When you think about all the other things that are going on, force reductions, budget deficits, equipment challenges, this is our contribution to what the Army is being asked to do.”

In addition, Hertling said, the brigade combat teams are just part of the overall Army force in Europe.

“Everybody’s really focused on brigade combat teams, [but] we’ve got 40,000 people over here,” he said. “We already knew we were losing 4,000 [soldiers], but we still have the training command, sustainment command, air defense, engineers, MPs, signal, intelligence, all those things that fall under the big category of enablers.”

And those units support not only European Command but Africa Command, Special Operations Command, Cyber Command and Transportation Command, Hertling said.

“There are a lot of combatant commanders that we support,” he said.

Army spokesman George Wright said that “at this time, the units [that could be withdrawn] have not been identified [and] there is no timeline for their withdrawal.”

Hertling said his initial recommendation of which brigade should be removed from Europe is still pending, and he would not say which unit he proposed should be removed.

However, all signs point to either the 170th BCT, which is in the process of redeploying from Afghanistan to its home station in Baumholder, Germany, or the 172nd BCT, which is scheduled to come home from Afghanistan in the spring. The 172nd is based in Grafenwoehr, Germany.

Both brigades were scheduled to begin conversion to the modular heavy brigade combat team upon redeployment. After initial delays, the Army announced that the 172nd would go ahead with its conversion in 2013. The 170th’s conversion remains on hold.

The other two BCTs in Europe are the 2nd Stryker Cavalry Regiment in Vilseck, Germany, and the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team in Vicenza, Italy.

SOONER RATHER THAN LATER

Hertling also has said he has recommended the withdrawal of the BCT be done sooner than the original deadline of fiscal year 2015. No decisions have been made about the timeline, but Hertling has recommended it be completed “long before” 2015, possibly beginning as soon as fiscal 2013, which begins in October.

If a second brigade is removed from Europe, it likely will happen within a year or so after the first brigade is withdrawn, Hertling said.

As discussions continue, Hertling is concerned about making sure affected soldiers and their families are the first to know.

Moving soldiers and families from Europe presents unique challenges, Hertling said.

“It’s not like being at Fort Hood, where you can move across the street to another unit,” he said. “This challenge in Europe is truly like a Rubik’s cube. It’s not just bring a unit back from combat, tell everyone they’re leaving, send some across post, send some to other units, send some to school and take the flag away. You can’t just do that in Europe. Every time you think you’ve got one part of the cube right, there are three other parts of the cube you’ve got to consider.”

Panetta said Jan. 12 that the change in the Army’s presence in Europe is part of a new 10-year defense strategy announced last week by President Obama.

It’s an obvious attempt to save money because rotating troops will not be accompanied by families.

“We will continue to maintain our presence both in the Middle East and Asia,” the secretary said. “Yes, we’ll have the Navy and the Air Force, but in my experience, in any conflict you need to have the potential use of ground forces.”

“Getting the Army to deploy to areas conducting exercises providing, most of all, a partnership with countries in Latin America, Africa, other countries where we can show the flag” is important, Panetta said.

As the Army replaces the two brigade combat teams with rotational units, the Europeans actually will see more U.S. forces because the American forces in Europe have more often than not been deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan, Panetta said.

DoD officials have spoken to European leaders about the withdrawal, and they understand why the change will be good for the U.S. military and NATO allies, senior defense officials traveling with the secretary said.

The DoD release said that Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno is “particularly excited about the ability to develop that rotational capability,” Panetta said. “It will keep the ground forces very meaningful in the future.”

When the units do start rotating into Europe, Hertling anticipates the Joint Multinational Training Center in Grafenwoehr will play a key role.

“We started the redesign of JMTC in 2005, and we started advertising to the Army that we have a unique facility here,” he said.

Today at JMTC, seven countries provide observer/controllers to train with American troops, Hertling said. Multinational partners train alongside U.S. troops on any given rotation, and the facility is where about 30 percent of the operational and police mentor and liaison teams train before they deploy to Afghanistan to work with Afghan forces, he said.

“We have evolved significantly here in Europe,” Hertling said. “We are not a Cold War force. We are really geared toward asymmetric warfare, full-spectrum operations, while training our troop and coalition partners in counterinsurgency. We will train the Polish brigade, the Georgian battalions, the Romanian counter-[improvised explosive device] folks. We had 11 countries here the first week in December for OMLT and POMLT training.”

U.S. Army Europe works with 51 partner nations — 33 of them closely — and having units rotate in from the U.S. will give more soldiers the opportunity to train with their allies, Hertling said.

However, the downside is that these units will only be in Europe for short periods of time, he said.

“You build trust through relationships, and relationships occur not just through individual training events,” he said. “If you’re a unit coming out of someplace in the U.S. to do a set rotation, it is a huge opportunity to learn something you might not learn in the U.S., but the downside is you’re not here long enough to develop the kind of trust and relationships you do if you’re living here.”