Lithuanian and NATO troops recently took part in exercises last week in the Gen. Silvestras Zukauskas training area near Pabrade, northeast of Vilnius. The refurbishment of the training area, an ongoing project since 2014 and which has included the creation of a heavy weapons firing range, “takes us to a qualitatively and quantitatively new training level for Lithuanian troops alongside our allies,” according to Lithuania’s Vice Minister of National Defence, Raimundas Karoblis, while observing the exercises on 20 September.
“This training event represents the culmination of efforts that include the completion of the multiple purpose range complex, deployment of a rotational armoured unit exercising military mobility, and a live fire training event that demonstrates the United States’ commitment to our Lithuanian allies and the NATO alliance. These types of events enhance interoperability throughout the alliance, help improve cross-border military mobility and develop our forces’ readiness. Part of the range which Lithuanians, Germans, Dutch, Belgian and American soldiers are using today was funded through the European Reassurance Initiative and will be used in the future by the Lithuanian Armed Forces and other NATO nations. We would like to thank our hosts, the Lithuanian Armed Forces; they have provided outstanding support to the United States Army rotational unit,” commented US Ambassador Anne Hall.
The event was conducted by soldiers of the US 7th Cavalry, the Lithuanian ‘Iron Wolf’ Brigade and the NATO enhanced Forward Presence (eFP) Battalion Battle Group. Live fire exercises at the new firing range involved US Army M1 ABRAMS main battle tanks and BRADLEY armoured personnel carriers, while the Lithuanian Grand Duke Algirdas Mechanised Infantry Battalion provided heavy mortar fire support. The exercise was also observed by Lithuania’s Chief of Defence, Lt.-Gen. Jonas Vytautas Žukas, representatives of the Ministry of National Defence, commanders of the armed forces service branches and representatives of foreign countries’ embassies, among other guests.
The infrastructure development project at the Gen. Silvestras Žukauskas Training Area was launched in 2014 and has included development of facilities for small arms firing, combat vehicle, artillery and aircraft target areas, as well as the heavy weapons training range. Appropriate infrastructure for equipment and ammunition storage is also being established, and facilities for combat vehicles and maintenance are expected to be finished by the end of the year. Once completed, the training area will be the only one in Lithuania suitable for hosting and supporting units up to brigade size – several thousand soldiers and hundreds of combat vehicles.
As Lithuania’s combat training infrastructure is improved, other military training areas and their surrounding territories are being expanded, their infrastructure refurbished and new training fields set up to match the needs of current national military assets. Although development is planned for five training areas, the main current focus is on two important facilities – the Gen S. Žukauskas Training Area and the Gaižiūnai Training Area. The objective is to have the two main Lithuanian training areas, in Pabradė and Rukla, fully ready and in line with NATO standards by 2022.
The projects are financed not only from national funds but also in equal parts from the NATO Security Investment Programme (NSIP) and the European Reassurance Initiative (ERI) and the European Deterrence Initiative (EDI). Countries forming the NATO eFP in Lithuania are also contributing financially.