V Corps

A Case Study in Deterrence for Split-Based Headquarters with Regionally Aligned Forces


Lt. Col. Blair Wilcox, U.S. Army
Maj. Adam Steveley, U.S. Army
Dr. John Bonin


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Soldiers from 1st Battalion, 66th Armor Regiment, 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, ready their armored vehicles for review by Lithuanian President Gitanas Nausėda 27 May 2022 at Kaunas, Lithuania, during Defender-Europe 2022

The war in Ukraine is transitioning. As Ukraine and Russia approach the third offensive window in the spring of 2024, the operational dilemma for commanders in the United States remains calibrating the appropriate U.S. force presence and command and control (C2) to deter further aggression while simultaneously mitigating unintended escalation. V Corps, headquartered at Fort Knox, Kentucky, has occupied a prominent role in determining a solution to this dilemma since its recent reactivation, deployment, and enduring presence at its forward headquarters in Poznań, Poland. Additionally, the corps has increasing operational and strategic influence in Europe during competition activities below the threshold of armed conflict due to its forward posture. However, looking forward to the next five years, the sluggish Ukrainian counteroffensive amid competing U.S. strategic priorities in Asia will force U.S. Army Europe and Africa (USAREUR-AF) and U.S. European Command to answer the following questions: What is V Corps’ role in Europe? How should V Corps fight?

This article’s intent is a professional discussion based upon relevant experiences from corps operations in competition since the culmination of Army 2030 redesign experimentation. This analysis hopes to provide important caveats that will inform bridging solutions between current dependence on rotational, modular division forces for large-scale combat operations (LSCO) and the Army 2030 concept of a fully resourced division available for multidomain ground combat. Fundamentally, combat troops provided through rotational, six-to-nine-month modular-division deployments create significant risks in credible postures to deter a resurgent Russia. The analysis identifies the risk and presents recommendations to improve competitive advantages early in crisis and avoid conflict.

Part 1. Defining the Problem

Army 2030 concepts identify divisions as fully organized with organic assets (non-modular) and decisive units of action during large-scale ground combat.1 The potential of achieving this capability, permanently based in Europe, seems unlikely in the next seven years, however. Stated priorities in the National Security Strategy, in addition to eastern European infrastructure limitations, preclude nonmodular solutions to European land warfare by 2030.2 There must be an interim recognition and guiding principle for divisions and corps where the modular division, not the fully equipped ideal, on a rotational basis is the unit of action initially available to fight in large-scale ground combat. This article provides a practical bridging solution to how V Corps, as a caveat, must fight in the absence of expected materiel as the primary U.S. corps among multiple other NATO corps-level formations. Army 2030 design experimentation terminated prior to the Russian invasion on 24 February 2022 and requires refinement based on current practice.

Part 2. How the Corps Fights: Current Doctrine

Competition doctrine. How should the corps fight during competition and conflict according to doctrine? During competition activities, Field Manual 3-0, Operations, defines two explicit roles: (1) operational control responsibilities for Germany-based units (12th Combat Aviation Brigade, 41st Field Artillery Brigade, and 2nd Cavalry Regiment) and (2) exercise management.3 Doctrine also states that it is normal for the corps in competition to have an engineer brigade, a military police brigade, an expeditionary sustainment command (ESC), an operational fires command, an expeditionary military intelligence brigade, and a medical brigade in general support. As the Mission Command Capability Development Integration Directorate has correctly noted in its forthcoming “Operational Concept and Organizational Design” for the 2030 corps, “In the active component, however, there are only three expeditionary-military intelligence brigades (E-MIBs); three signal brigades; one chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear brigade; two explosive ordinance disposal (EOD) groups; three expeditionary sustainment commands (ESC); and two theater enabling combat aviation brigades (TE-CAB) to support four corps.”4

Problem. Currently, the corps cannot fight as doctrine dictates without modularity. Two years into the Ukraine crisis, V Corps has not received an assigned or aligned ESC or sustainment brigade. Despite not having these formations, V Corps is responsible for a support area in Poland with only rotating division assets for tasking. Current expeditionary military intelligence brigade support is rotational, and the current expeditionary military intelligence brigade has obligations at Fort Liberty, North Carolina, that contend with upcoming fiscal year 2024 exercise requirements in the European theater. Additionally, the 18th Military Police Brigade and the newly activated 7th Engineer Brigade have only one battalion each and are assigned to 21st Theater Support Command (21 TSC). At a time when V Corps most requires support in competition, it must rely on modular and rotational solutions to prepare for LSCO. Army 2030 updates should be explicit about this interim reality and provide recommendations for risk mitigation in the event of crisis and conflict.

LSCO doctrine. In LSCO, the corps operates as the senior tactical echelon, synchronizing assets across all domains to degrade the enemy in the deep area to shape high payoff targets and set manageable conditions for subordinate commands to shape.5 The corps will focus seventy-two to ninety-six hours out, guarding against “reaching down” into the division fight, while degrading enemy integrated fires commands, integrated air defense systems, C2, and enemy aviation.

So what? Resource constraints in competition compound in LSCO. Army 2030 visions and current doctrine create an impression of fully resourced divisions available for a distant fight. Crisis in Ukraine and the urgency of operational support in the land domain have stressed staffs at the corps and division levels. Staff officers above brigade require doctrinal clarification concerning “how the corps fights” because of how dissimilar conditions are to what is described, particularly regarding competition. Additionally, policymakers may believe extant capabilities exist inside formations when, in fact, they do not. The appearance of the V Corps Chrysler patch on a USAREUR-AF task organization chart implies a fully equipped corps. Further investigation, however, reveals a lack of assigned units and enablers to fight as doctrine dictates. Doctrine, authorities, and training must address the extant realities of the fighting force today and provide a bridging caveat between now and the Army of 2030 to increase relevance.

Part 3A. How V Corps Fights—LSCO

During LSCO, the corps would fight as it trained during Warfighter Exercise (WFX) 22-01. During WFX 22-01, the corps deployed to Grafenwöhr Training Area in Bavaria with the tactical command post (TAC) in an adjacent motorpool. The rear command post remained in the United States, operating from Fort Riley, Kansas. After Russian incursion, the corps deployed to Ansbach, Germany, in March 2022 where it fought from an abandoned Department of Defense middle school. The TAC operated from Victory Corps Forward at Camp Kościuszko (Camp K). In the event of real-world conflict, the main command post (MCP) and tactical command post would forward deploy into either Eastern Germany or Poland in conjunction with other NATO land forces and under the command of a NATO land component command (LCC). (The battlefield geometry would largely be determined by the enemy situational template.) The corps TAC would manage the operational fight while the corps MCP displaces from Fort Knox in a contested environment. Once established, the MCP would perform corps functions by synchronizing assets across all domains in the deep area to enable the division fight in the corps close area. Depending on commander discretion, the rear command post retains the flexibility to remain at Fort Knox during conflict to secure the rear area or displace to Germany.


Of note, V Corps is not currently validated to fight as a NATO multicorps LCC or a U.S. European Command joint task force (JTF). The corps would require augmentation as well as validation during a Warfighter exercise to perform those roles. Additionally, NATO accreditation would be required to serve as a NATO asset.

Part 3B. How V Corps Fights—Competition

Although the corps is trained and validated for LSCO, the largest measure of its success (and reputation) is developed during competition activities below the threshold of armed conflict. In fact, the degree to which the corps is successful in competition likely diminishes the probability of conflict. Corps activities below the threshold of armed conflict, therefore, are decisive in preparing for conflict that will remain elusive if the corps is successful. In competition, V Corps has four roles: permanent forward presence, rotational forward posture, exercises, and engagements.  The following discussion explains the predominant competition activities and highlights risks in the current environment.

Permanent forward presence. In its current design, Victory Corps Forward (VCF), located at Camp K in Poznań, is V Corps’ permanent presence in Europe. At the beginning of 2023, USAREUR-AF authorized the first permanent change of station (PCS) opportunity for V Corps soldiers. The tours are unaccompanied and one year in duration. The “Korea model” for U.S. service members on PCS served as the baseline for V Corps PCS rotations in Poland. Infrastructure constraints (housing, youth services, commissary, and schools) remain the largest hurdles for moving families into Poland. Notably, VCF is not considered the V Corps TAC. The TAC deploys out of VCF and will require augmentation from the MCP for operations in LSCO. V Corps’ permanent forward presence helps facilitate its operational control of German-based brigades: 2nd Cavalry Regiment, 12th Combat Aviation Brigade, and 41st Field Artillery Brigade.

Risk #1: Manning and talent. One-year unaccompanied tours in Poland often dissuade the highest talent potential from within the Army. Military families would be more likely to select V Corps from the marketplace of available jobs if they could reasonably expect long duration tours in Europe with families or stability at Fort Knox with families. The guaranteed separation created by the requirement for permanent forward presence deters talent and stresses corps directorate talent management. Furthermore, assigning V Corps divisions and brigades would allow highly talented officers to stabilize their families as they conduct unaccompanied tours prior to assuming key developmental or Centralized Selection List billets in Europe. This would allow for longer tour times in the European theater of operations, expand an officer’s understanding of the operational environment prior to filling a key billet, and provide greater stabilization for families. These incentives would likely draw the highest talent.


Furthermore, split-based presence poses challenges for operational awareness within the headquarters. Camp K retains a comparative advantage for operational awareness due to its colocation with down-trace units and higher headquarters that may not be fully conveyed to the MCP during handovers with staff elements. The efficacy of a split-based C2 headquarters is the vestige of a preconflict Europe and risks efficiencies to effectively campaign in competition.

Rotational forward posture. The largest (emergent) responsibility for the G-5 (plans) shop at V Corps is managing the rotational force posture for what is currently two divisions, three brigade combat teams, one rotational aviation brigade, one division support battalion, and select enablers. As the United States began to build combat power in Europe throughout 2022, V Corps found itself in the unenviable position of bearing all the risks of readiness once units arrived at forward operating stations with none of the command authority to influence training and readiness during stateside events. This produced an environment where, early on, III Corps and U.S. Army Forces Command were delivering units unfamiliar for the tactical problem set in Europe. V Corps’ planners spent over a year drafting “business rules” and conducting planning sessions with III Corps and Forces Command to communicate training requirements and institutionalize V Corps equities in readiness and deployment activities with modest success.

The rotational model for force employment degrades effective deterrence for three reasons:

  • the United States has not practiced a contested deployment across the Atlantic, diminishing distinguishable credibility for expeditionary deployment in LSCO;
  • unit readiness consumed during deployment and reception, staging, onward movement, and integration activities precludes the ability to arrive and move immediately to battle positions; and
  • NATO interoperability requirements take time to build and have largely been achieved by the outgoing unit by the time of redeployment. The rotational force postures will, at best, assure allies and partners of continuing U.S. investment; however, it is insufficient to deter by threat of punishment.

Risk #2: Readiness and rotations. The six-to-nine-month rotational model for divisions and brigades does not provide the required expertise, planning time, or opportunities for substantive engagement, particularly with a corps that is split-based. Divisions will struggle to be the “decisive echelon” if rotational for less than twelve months.

Additionally, V Corps in competition is currently the tactical headquarters (HQ) while simultaneously performing several functions of the LCC and ARFOR (the senior Army component of a combatant command). The transition to crisis and conflict would quickly overwhelm the staff, particularly with continued management of brigade-and-below rotational forces entry into theater from the United States.6

Risk #3: Sustainment. The Army created an echelon of command for tactical C2 (V Corps), but it did not simultaneously source its echelon command for sustainment (an expeditionary sustainment command). 21 TSC retains support requirements from Estonia to Bulgaria with only an additional rotational division sustainment battalion at echelon (operational control to V Corps).

Exercises. If position and equipment are the “means” of strategic competition, exercises are the “ways” to gain competitive advantages “left of conflict.” Exercises enhance a competitive edge in three ways:

  • they communicate capability and resolve outwardly (to adversaries and fence-sitters),
  • they increase readiness and interoperability inwardly (both within alliance/partnership structures and within units), and
  • they are a mechanism for operational flexibility in crisis.

Preplanned and communicated events allow commanders to respond to crisis without risking escalation due to the appearance of precoordinated training, as 2nd Cavalry Regiment did during initial crisis after the invasion in February 2022.

Risk #4: Exercise support and staffing. Training and validating the corps while simultaneously building its infrastructure was a significant challenge. At times, the corps staff felt they were “flying the plane while constructing it.” Nevertheless, when building future headquarters capacity, exercise support must remain a central pillar within each directorate. Modified table of organization and equipment (MTOE) and manning increases to authorize a G-37 Training and Exercise (TREX) Directorate is essential. Currently, the G-37 TREX is constructed from existing manpower. To ensure an internal culture of training and readiness, staffing the G-37 with a colonel as the director initially will equip the staff for rapid validation.

Soldiers from V Corps

Engagements. Throughout Lt. Gen. John Kolasheski’s tenure as commanding general of V Corps, the corps was able to move quickly to improve interoperability across NATO’s eastern flank. By well-developed relationships, demonstrated tactical competence, and a reputation as America’s tangible commitment to European security, V Corps’ engagements were more successful than what would be possible only through the rotational division construct.

Risk #5: Corps G-5 in competition is not current operations. The tendency for a corps headquarters in competition is to focus on current operations and crowd the division planning horizon. The G-5 in competition, however, straddles the operational/tactical divide and must enable theater strategic objectives between three and five years out. Developing a corps subordinate support campaign plan and operational approach that bridges tactical force posture with an understanding of long-term operational goals provides an essential service for the theater.

Part 4. How V Corps Should Fight (Competition Caveat to Army 2030)

The corps should fight with 150 soldiers and a permanently stationed presence at Camp Kościuszko. The stated presence of 235 (about one-third of the corps) for rotational forward presence creates a significant burden upon the MCP. Individuals begin to rotate to the forward command post to satisfy a “tax” divorced from an analysis of requirements. This manning program begins to undermine the performance of the MCP as individuals begin to assume O1A/O2A (branch and combat arms immaterial) current operations roles while in Poland rather than their branch-required tasks.

The following are recommended mitigations to reduce risk identified above and increase V Corps’ competitive advantages in competition.

Risk #1: Manning and talent. Authorizing permanent PCS billets at Camp K will help V Corps to compete for talent in the AIM (the Army’s talent management system) marketplace more effectively (people want to live in Europe). Furthermore, specific authorizations for PCS will create continuity and remove the unpredictable nature of VCF manning at the directorate level. (Ultimately, V Corps headquarters needs to be “wholesale” located within Europe.)

Recommendation #1. Of those 150 assigned to Camp K, the majority ought to be from the G-33 (current operations). Situational awareness for battle tracking and current operations is increased with a forward presence. Subordinate units can pick up a phone and reach someone at corps far easier when they are in the same time zone.

Recommendation #2. As part of the 150, senior officers (V Corps liaison officers) should be allowed to PCS with families and live in Wiesbaden, Germany, collocated with USAREUR-AF HQ and working from the V Corps annex on Clay Kaserne.

Risk #2: Readiness and rotations. When 1st Infantry Division’s deployment was extended to twelve months after the incursion, the expertise they had obtained and provided to V Corps was invaluable. Creating permanence by assigning a division to V Corps and increasing rotations to twelve months (minimum) mitigates the risk of combat power lost during brigade rotations. It also promotes division ownership of the European theater and enables long-term concurrent planning. Furthermore, increasing division permanence assists corps staff with brigade and below tactical command—particularly during rotational force reception, staging, onward movement, and integration—should escalation occur.

Soldiers from the 7th Infantry Regiment conducted section live fire 22 May 2022 at Grafenwöhr, Germany. The regiment is part of the 1st Infantry Division and V Corps in Europe, which works alongside NATO allies and regional security partners to provide combat-ready forces, execute joint and multinational training exercises, and retain command and control for its rotational and assigned units in the European theater

Recommendation #3. To build expertise and combat-credible formations, V Corps needs an assigned and permanent division HQ in Poland. This nonrotational division will decrease continuity gaps and assist the corps in fine-tuning tactical employment of forces while V Corps helps manage brigade and enabler rotations from its split-based locations. Minimally, should divisions continue rotations, they should be twelve months in duration. In addition, permanently align the armored brigade combat teams with rotational missions to USAREUR-AF.

Recommendation #4. To provide the credible LSCO capability needed and reduce the armored brigade combat team (ABCT) rotational burden, the 2nd Cavalry Regiment should be converted from a Stryker brigade combat team to an ABCT and assigned to the forward division HQ. The Stryker equipment set could replace one ABCT set in Army pre-positioned stocks to allow for rotational Stryker brigade combat teams.

Recommendation #5. V Corps must be manned, equipped, and validated as a JTF and NATO-ready corps.

Risk #3: Sustainment. V Corps requires an ESC to better facilitate the concept of sustainment. Commensurate with the increase in mission command capability, sustainment requires a command echelon to assist with theater support requirements.

Recommendation #6. To relieve the sustainment burden on 21 TSC, reassign 1 TSC, currently at Fort Knox in support of Army Central Command, as the V Corps ESC. This collocates the corps ESC with the MCP at Fort Knox and aligns Army assets with priority requirements. Identify a reserve theater support command for support to U.S. Central Command.

Risk #4: Exercise support and staffing. The tyranny of the present for the corps’ “close area” in competition is the movement of personnel and equipment within its area of operations. This adversely affects the corps’ participation in exercises.

Recommendation #7. Exercises are the mechanisms to achieve mobility and advantage in competition. All exercises in the Victory area of operations must be treated as an operation and battle-tracked in the current operations and integration cell.

Risk #5: Corps G-5 in competition is not current operations.

Recommendation #8. Use the operational approach and corps subordinate support campaign plan to develop a thirty-six-month calendar that identifies critical decision points (around exercises, cultural events, and unit transitions) that the corps commander can influence to achieve competitive advantages during competition and prevent crisis. Synthesizing exercises, engagements, and posture over the long term helps the commander think and enables granular division planning.

Part 5. Defense-in-Depth and Deterrence (Theory)

V Corps is leading the tactical edge of experimentation to determine the minimum combat power needed to deter lethal action against NATO. One division mission command element, one armored brigade combat team, and one rotational aviation brigade was insufficient to deter violence in Ukraine; however, it appeared suitable to deter violence against NATO. The United States is currently calibrating the right force posture and force mix to assure allies and partners and deter Russian aggression.

Unlike our powerful USAREUR prior to 1989 with some 215,000 soldiers, the United States has assumed a de facto “defense-in-depth” strategy within Europe. This is similar to what the Romans did to secure its empire in the third century. As described by Edward Luttwak, in his analysis Grand Strategy of the Roman Empire, a defense-in-depth strategy is “based on a combination of static frontier forces and mobile field armies.”7 As opposed to a permanent forward-basing solution with forces across the entire border (preclusive security and deterrence by punishment), defense-in-depth strategies rely on smaller formations that could abandon perimeter fortifications and augment strongpoints to defend against an incursion (deterrence by denial). Luttwak refers to the mobile, defensive force as an “elastic defense” and the static strongholds as the central component of defense in depth.8 Defense-in-depth strategies developed a reliance upon local part-time peasant-soldiers called limitanei to defend gaps in the frontier due to lack of mobilized forces; thereby, accepting degrees of incursion that would be managed by more capable mobile forces or massing available limitanei.

This strategy presents strategic and operational risks. First, the probability of violence (failure of deterrence) is higher due to the problems of misperception and private beliefs about the potential for military success by the adversary.9 Furthermore, the strain on the force and reliance upon less-experienced troops creates risks that undermine regional state control and its ability to satisfy its ultimate obligations to the governed: security. In addition, it is politically infeasible for NATO to abandon the territory of its members. The United States and NATO are adopting the Roman approach to border security albeit with increased expectations for defense because of Article 5.


The strategy of rotating mobile forces between strongpoints across the eastern flank as an economy of force alternative to a large, standing presence in Europe is consistent with the Romans’ solution to defensive strategy in the third century. As the United States pursues a similar strategy, it would be wise to protect against the dangers presented to the force. The limited supply of mobile forces required the Romans to enlist limitanei, who, though proximate to the land they were defending, were not as well trained or reliable as full-time troops.10 Executing a defense-in-depth strategy stresses the NATO professional force and requires economies of scale with allied and partner reserve forces serving as the equivalent of the limitanei.11 The U.S. defense in depth in Europe will deter by denial as long as partnerships with professional military forces remain strong. It is reasonable to conclude that, if the Russian threat diminishes, the incentive for our allies and partners to invest heavily in defense will wane. The Army was right to reactivate V Corps. Conditions since 2020, however, have changed. To mitigate strategic risk in the future, the permanence of V Corps’ posture in Europe, trained as a JTF for U.S. European Command contingencies and as a NATO LCC, with an assigned division and other recommendations as argued above will sustain a combat credible posture even as the political winds and attention shift away from Europe once the Russian threat diminishes. The risk mitigations discussed in this analysis present competition strategies for echelons above brigade to help articulate “how the corps should fight” with a modular division to prepare for conflict—or avoid it.


  1. Kevin Hadley, Savannah Spencer, and Justin Martens, “How the Army 2030 Divisions Fight (Formerly known as Waypoint 2028),” version 3.5 (white paper, Fort Eustis, VA: TRADOC Proponent Office—Echelons Above Brigade, 2 February 2023), 3.
  2. The White House, National Security Strategy (Washington, DC: The White House, October 2022), 23–36, https://www.whitehouse.gov/wp-content/uploads/2022/10/Biden-Harris-Administrations-National-Security-Strategy-10.2022.pdf.
  3. Field Manual 3-0, Operations (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Publishing Office [GPO], 2022), 4-19.
  4. Mission Command Capability Development Integration Directorate (MC CDID), “United States Army Futures Command Operational Concept and Organizational Design Concept for the 2030 Corps in a Senior Tactical Role, v0.9 DRAFT” (Fort Belvoir, VA: MC CDID, 14 June 2023), 13. (This document is not yet available for public release.)
  5. V Corps original document, “How the Corps Fights” (2023).
  6. Army Techniques Publication (ATP) 3-92, Corps Operations (Washington, DC: U.S. GPO, 2016), 1-1. Based on the failed 2003 experience of V Corps as Combined Joint Task Force 7, ATP 3-92 recommends against a corps operating as a land component command and tactical headquarters during major operations.
  7. Edward N. Luttwak, The Grand Strategy of the Roman Empire: From the First Century A.D. to the Third (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1976), 132.
  8. Ibid., 130.
  9. James D. Fearon, “Rationalist Explanations for War,” International Organization 49, no. 3 (Summer 1995): 381, https://doi.org/10.1017/S0020818300033324.
  10. Luttwak, Grand Strategy, 171.
  11. The White House, “Ordering the Selected Reserve and Certain Members of the Individual Ready Reserve of the Armed Forces to Active Duty,” The White House, 13 July 2023, https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/presidential-actions/2023/07/13/ordering-the-selected-reserve-and-certain-members-of-the-individual-ready-reserve-of-the-armed-forces-to-active-duty/. The Biden administration’s 13 July 2023 decision to authorize Army Reserve and Individual Ready Reserve (IRR) mobilization for the U.S. European Command (not to exceed three thousand Army Reserve soldiers, 450 of whom can be IRR) demonstrates the strain defense-in-depth strategies have on the active force.


Lt. Col. Blair Wilcox, U.S. Army, serves as the deputy director for the Strategic Landpower and Futures Group at the U.S. Army War College. Previously, he was the lead strategic planner in the V Corps G-5 and authored the V Corps Subordinate Campaign Plan and Operational Approach. He deployed with V Corps after Russian incursion in February 2022 and served as the chief of plans. Wilcox holds a BS in international relations from the U.S. Military Academy and an MS in political science from Binghamton University.

Maj. Adam Steveley, U.S. Army, serves as an Army strategist for the Military Surface Deployment and Distribution Command. Previously, he was the strategic plans officer in the V Corps Commander’s Action Group. He served in V Corps for three years and was with the command from its reactivation through its deployment to Europe following the Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2022. Steveley holds a master’s in public administration from Ohio State University.

Dr. John Bonin is a Distinguished Fellow at the U.S. Army War College. He has held a variety of field and academic positions during thirty years as an infantry officer. From 2003 to 2005, Bonin served as a key member of Task Force Modularity and as the War College’s doctrine advisor from 2003 to 2020. He graduated from the U.S. Military Academy in 1972 and earned a doctorate in American military history from Temple University in 2006. He retired as a full professor and the Elihu Root chair of military studies in 2020. Bonin has written extensively on Army topics.



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