NATO is desperate for frontline air defenses. The Old Gepards from Romania are the best.

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In 2017, NATO set up a new battle group to bolster failing defenses along the alliance’s eastern border.

NATO’s Enhanced Forward Presence Battle Group in Poland – widely known as the “Poland Battle Group” – could be one of the first mechanized units to take part in combat in the event that Russia attacks the Baltic states .

The Battle Group Poland is an impressive force with around a thousand soldiers and dozens of armored vehicles. But it is also a reminder of a serious flaw in NATO’s force structure. Incredibly, the Battle Group monopolizes almost all of the 30-nation alliance’s short-range air defense vehicles.

More precisely, twin Gepards of the Romanian army. The flashbacks of the Cold War which, with the resurgence of Russia, suddenly became very important again.

Four countries are contributing troops to the Poland Battle Group, which is training to fight alongside a Polish army brigade. The US Army sends a squadron of approximately 50 Stryker wheeled combat vehicles equipped with 30-millimeter guns. The Americans are also sending 155-millimeter towed artillery.

The British Army provides a troop of Boy Scouts aboard Jackal trucks. The Croatian army sends out 122-millimeter wheeled rocket launchers. But it is the contribution of the Romanian army that makes the battle group really special.

The Romanians send some of the 40 or so Gepards they acquired from the German army as the latter shed its short-range air defenses a decade ago. These Gepards, which combine a Leopard tank chassis with short-range radars and pairs of 35-millimeter guns, are among the only SHORAD systems remaining in NATO.

It’s a problem. There may have been a point in the years following the collapse of the Soviet Union when NATO was doing well without close-range air defenses. Gone are the hundreds of attack helicopters and close air support planes that threatened to destroy NATO formations along the front line.

Now Russia is rearming. Not only with new and improved attack helicopters and attack planes, but also armed drones. In the middle of the last decade, the erosion of NATO SHORAD was a crisis in its own right. SHORAD “is a very rare ability,” said German Army Brigadier General Markus Laubenthal.

Several NATO countries are developing new SHORAD systems or, in the case of Poland with its grip of Soviet-era ZSU-23-4s, dusting off the old ones. The United States moved the fastest to create something new.

The US military launched a $ 1.2 billion program in 2016 to quickly equip around 100 Strykers with air defense equipment including radar, a 30-millimeter cannon, a Stinger missile quad-pack and a double launcher for Hellfire missiles.

The first of these short-range maneuvering air defense vehicles began arriving in Europe this spring and is expected to be combat-ready in the fall. Meanwhile, the Romanians used their 1980s Gepards to protect the Polish Battle Group.

“The Gepards bring incredible capability to the Battle Group,” said US Army Lt. Col. Jason Adler, Stryker Squadron Commander. During an exercise this spring, American mortar teams fired illuminating shells to help Romanian crews on Gepard train for night shooting.

The International Center for Defense and Security, an Estonian think tank, has recommended that NATO deploy more short and very short range air defenses in the Baltic states. The alliance “should encourage forces deployed in the region to include VSHORAD / SHORAD systems in their inventories,” the think tank advised.

The problem is that 40 Romanian Gepards and a hundred American M-SHORADs do not represent much capacity.

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