„Affiliations“ – shaping Europe’s defence at NATO’s Eastern flank – are are sluggish business

NATO battle staff training "Griffin Lightning" at Multinational Corps Northeast Headquarter 2019 at Szczecin, Poland

NATO battle staff training „Griffin Lightning“ at Multinational Corps Northeast Headquarter 2019 at Szczecin, Poland – foto: ©HQ MNC NE / STRATCOM

To affiliate military formations is the take of the hour when it comes to shape better European defense structures on the Eastern flank. The bulky term means as yet mainly the incorporation of brigades from East European countries into division structures of Germany and newly also NATO over ramped up training cooperations. This should lead to concerted practices and thereby enhanced interoperability which leads to better fitness to fight – so the theory went. The respective affiliated brigade stays under national subordination without any organic changes in the command structure.

This affiliation network becomes denser and denser. Recently NATO announced that Poland affiliated its 15th Mechanized Brigade to the Multinational Division North East (MND-NE) and Lithuania its „Iron Wolf“ Brigade. The MND-NE – a pure corps staff – coordinates activities of the enhanced NATO Forward Presence Battle Groups deployed in Lithuania and Poland. A spokesperson of the Lithuanian MoD to the author: „The signed document identifies three areas of affiliation which include training and exercises, strategic communication and situational awareness. It means that the affiliation creates conditions for the training of MND-NE Headquarter.“

Lithuanias calculus

Prior to this – in October 2018 –  the Lithuanians already affiliated the „Iron Wolf“ Brigade to the German armored divsion which is respectively in charge of generating capabilities for the NATO Enhanced Forward Presence Battalion Battle Group in Lithuania. The Lithuanian calculus therefore according to the MoD in Vilinius: „It enables ensuring that the Iron Wolf Brigade is ready to act within a higher military unit and its interoperable with the German-led NATO enhanced Forward Presence in Lithuania. The agreement allows the Iron Wolf Brigade to achieve readiness to act in composition of a superior military unit.“ Furthermore, training on procured German armament like the Vilkas/Boxer infantry fighting vehicles or the PzH2000 self-propelled artillery systems is another motive for Lithuania to affiliate troops to German division stated the MoD.

The Polish motive

Poland’s armed forces have a „cross-affiliation“ with the German army since 2015. The German 41th Mechanized Infantry Brigade which lacks an own main battle tank unit should integrate a Leopard tank bataillon from the 10th Armoured Brigade of Poland*. Vice versa the Polish get a mechanized infantry unit from the German side-brigade. In contrast to the smaller Lithuanian partner – who is aiming on effective bandwagoning within the expansion of miltiary defence structures in Europe – the Polish Leitmotiv to affiliate with the Germans is more practical in nature. The Poles are eager to advance with their expertise on Leopard tank technology and operations according to Polish defense experts like Marek Świerczyński from Polityka Insight.

The German aim

The core motive for Germany to affiliate is its ambition to place itself as lead coordinator of an European armies compound within NATO / EU structures. The stratgic frame for affiliations on the continent is mainly Germany’s „Framwork Nations Concept“ (FNC) within NATO*. Ditto the United Kingdom with its Joint Expeditionary Force and France with its Intervention Initiative launched undertakings for captainship within the forming of Europe’s defence integration. The German FNC concept aims on the build up of an „Army of the Europeans“ through armament clusters and in the outlook with consolidated larger formations of national armies.

exercise "Griffin Sword" with the German and Polish cross-attachment units 2018 at Jägerbrück, Germany

Exercise „Griffin Sword“ with Polish and German cross-affiliation units 2018 at Jägerbrück, Germany – foto: Martin Eckert / by kind permission of www.military-database.de

Czechia and Romania

Additonal affiliation projects of the German land forces are: With Czechia’s 41th Rapid Deployment Brigade over the 10th Armoured Division (German side brigade: 37th Mechanized Infantry Brigade). Over the Rapid Deployment Forces Divsion with Romania’s 81th Mechanized Brigade and the 52th Engineer Bataillon suplemented with a Recon and NBC defense platoon. Both undertaktings are aiming on enhanced interoperability but not on integration of the units like with the Polish attachement according to the German land forces. The fields of work with Czechia and Romania:

  • Common activities of staff elements of affiliated units
  • Analysis, processing and exchange of past and present doctrine
  • Common training and exercises
  • Education of subject matter experts
  • Development of concepts, including the development of future common projects and their inclusion in national defence planning processes, and a prospective common vision
  • Cooperation with regard to procurement and logistical support in the use of material, systems and equipment in the areas of force protection (including CBRN protection), signals, command and control, and medical support
  • Harmonization of military requirements
  • Testing of systems and equipment

To train its staff officers for divsion detachments is a core interest for Czechia within the affiliation project. Its armed forces are solely organized in a brigade structure. Romania has the intention to integrate more military ressources in the Black Sea Region where NATO partners are rarely present. On the tactial level the German land forces see a special benefit for their units from antiaircraft defense over Czechias S-10M2D on Pandur. Within the Romanian affiliation the engineer bataillon with the recon and NBC platoons „especially suplemented our Rapid Forces Division capabilities“, a spokesperson of the German land forces expressed to the author. The „main challenge“ is the buildup of a common command structure over secure radio communications and digital command and control systems. The roadmap for the affiliation Romania – Germany according to the MoD in Bucharest:

  • Signing of a TA (Technical agreement) in 2020
  • Integration of a ROU representative in the DSK HQ in 2020
  • Achieving non-technical interoperability (doctrines, SOPs, TTPs), by 2022, subsequently revised until 2024 based on CIS requirements
  • Implementation of a common training program for officers and NCOs, by 2023
  • Achieving the final interoperability in 2026 which will include: interoperable command posts (CP), doctrines, SOPs and TTPs suitable and adapted to the requirements, compatible CIS, cohesion, common mind-set and a common training program for leaders

Burdens and delayers

All affiliation partners of Germany on the Eastern flank are procuring German land systems or are interested to do so for modernizing their armies to NATO standards; get rid of Sowjet/Russian technology. A development which is especially seen suspicious in France – Germanys most important defence partner in Europe – which fears that the FNC also leads to a priviliged armament market for Germany. Another negative political factor are the authoritarian tendencies in Eastern Europe, especially in Poland and Hungary. The armed forces of the latter are eager to enhance their interoperability with the Bundeswehr over armament aquisitions and affiliation projects. Intensive talks and planings are underway. But Hungarys prime minister Viktor Orban is considered in Germany as symbol par excellence for a rightwing-populist eager for dictatorship. If he escalates his anti-democratic policy further, there will come the point, where military cooperation comes under pressure from the public.

The affiliation run has also several burdens on its military vector. Some officers are sceptical on the desired effect of more combat strength, fearing that „to much“ affiliation will undermine the homogenic character of units and in this way their fighting capabilities. Also officers for cross delegations – the glue for every affiliation project – are a stressed ressource in times of evermore military collabos on NATO, EU or bilateral and multilateral levels. The lack of staff officers within the German armed forces is an open secret. The Bundeswehr can staff its ranks on NATO and MoD level but the subsidiary bodies are suffering. Poland which wants to implement itself as the military lead power in Eastern Europe affords projects like the Lithuanian-Polish-Ukrainian Brigade. Poland provides the personal intensive staff of the brigade at Lublin.

A general hurdle for affiliations is the absence of selected units in deployments. For example more than two hundred soldiers of the 411th Mechanized Infantry Bataillon – the German unit which should drill integration into the 10th Polish Armored Brigade – only recently returned from Afghanistan. Further difficulties: The „cleaning“ of the Polish officer corps under Poland’s former defense minister Antoni Macierewicz who elbowed disliked high-ranking officers out of the military en masse. A lot of the fired were cooperation routiniers who manged Poland’s armed forces NATO integration. Among them major general Janusz Bronowicz who implemented the affiliation with the Germans as chief of staff of the land forces. During 2018 the German partner brigade switched from the 34th Armoured Brigade to the 10th because the former had to give up its Leopard tanks due to a regrouping of Polands tank forces. These Leopard II tanks are on the A5 standard, those of the 10th only on A4.


So affiliation is a sluggish business for the militaries. The road map of the very first of Germanys Eastern affiliations – the German-Polish cross-attachment – is two years behind schedule and probably has to be stretched in time. Originally Germans and Poles had the ambition to accomplish a full cross-integration on brigade level this year, the proposed final stage five of the affiliation road map. De facto the process is still at the beginning of stage two – adjutsing tactial and operational procedures over cooperation in training and exercices. Instead of a consistent handling from milestone to milestone of the roadmap, the method changed to a slowly but surely approach with little steps. The current work area is the integration of a Polish tank platoon in the German brigade for joint action during the NATO drill „Allied Spirit“ in 2022*.

* The details of Germany’s FNC in my article for bpb (in German…)

*  More on the German-Polish tank cooperation in this article on pivotarea (in German…)