AIR FORCE NEWS

U.S. Air Force Preparing for ‘High Volume’ Operations in Europe

4/5/2016
By Jon Harper
An F-22 Raptor

The Air Force is looking for additional ways to prepare for a potential war against an advanced adversary in Europe, a top commander said April 5.

The efforts come at a time of heightened tensions with a resurgent Russia, which has been probing NATO air defenses and deploying forces abroad.

“Another activity which I’m keen on … [is] continuing to develop the airfields, particularly on the eastern side of NATO: the Baltics, Poland, Romania and Bulgaria, and then a couple of other projects elsewhere that would make … an easier place to go to accomplish what I call high-volume/high velocity kind of operations,” Gen. Frank Gorenc, commander U.S Air Forces Europe and Allied Air Command, told reporters at a breakfast in Washington, D.C.

The service needs additional airfields with strong runways, ramps, fuel and weapons storage, he said.

“All of those kinds of things that would allow us to react and to accept force if necessary in order to create an airfield environment where we could generate … sorties [and] combat power from the air as part of the joint campaign,” he said. “My focus and my concern is to make sure that we have the available infrastructure to accept incoming rotational forces, or if something happens on a large scale … that we would have the ability to bed down all of the aircraft, or any kind of reinforcement that comes into Europe.”

The Air Force is also looking at utilizing under-developed airfields in the event of conflict as part of its Rapid-X initiative.

“Rapid-X is basically the idea that we’re going to deploy airplanes in a very agile and quick way to accommodate missions maybe from bases that don’t necessarily have the full infrastructure,” Gorenc said. For example, “we would bring in four aircraft and then go ahead and rearm them and maintain them and then they go fly another mission, and then we leave that base.”

“That’s important to make sure that we’re able to fully explore all of the locations that are available to us in Europe, maybe not in a robust way as we would … a big base with lots of infrastructure, but to be able to take advantage and create challenges for any potential adversary with respect to being able to interrupt our operations,” he added.

Officials are eyeing eastern and southern Europe as areas where those types of makeshift bases could potentially be located, he said. 

NATO is contemplating a mission shift from “air policing” to “air defense” as Russia continues to probe NATO and international airspace, Gorenc said. The air defense mission would include a greater focus on the integration of aircraft and surface-to-air systems and “airspace control measures.”

“We’ve been doing air policing for a long time … with respect to the ability to react to any kind of potential incursions or any potential safety concerns in international airspace, and we use it every single day,” he said. “But the air defense journey I think is important because it gets us in the mindset of being able to quickly transition to a more robust defense of the air in case it’s necessary.”

The air chief wants to see more fifth-generation fighter aircraft deploy to Europe. Last year a small number of F-22 Raptors were sent there on a rotational basis for training and to examine the infrastructure requirements for stationing the jets.

“I always am interested in getting fifth-generation capability to Europe,” he said. “We certainly asked for it [this year]. The question is does it prioritize high enough … against all of the worldwide requirements?” There hasn’t been any formal decision about additional F-22 deployments to Europe in 2016, he noted.

The F-35 is another fifth-generation aircraft on Gorenc’s wish list.

“I can’t wait” to get the joint strike fighter, he said. “There are so many European allies already committed to the program, I believe that the very foundational premise of NATO will be moved along in a big way with the F-35 because of the interoperability that will afford from the very beginning. … I see nothing but exponential capability floating out of that system.”

Calls for sending more stealthy planes to Europe are being made at a time when Russia has deployed advanced anti-aircraft capabilities in the region. 

“Anti-access/area denied parts of Europe, particularly on the eastern side, continue to expand from sea to shining sea, from the Barents to the Baltics to the Black Sea now to the Mediterranean,” Gorenc said. “We see a continual movement of the development of modern long-range, layered, surface-to-air missile systems that would counter and create uncertainty for freedom of movement in the areas covered by those systems.”

Russia’s modern, long-range anti-aircraft capabilities in Kaliningrad provide coverage well into Baltic and Polish airspace, he said.

“The uncertainty to freedom of movement even inside of NATO sovereign airspace, that uncertainty created by those systems is enough … to take pause,” he said. “These are unbelievably capable systems.”

Photo: Air Force

Topics: Aviation, International

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