WASHINGTON, April 5, 2016 —
The commander of U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces Africa said today that the increase in European Reassurance Initiative funds next year will allow his command to improve its presence and facilities on the eastern side of NATO and to deter Russia.
Air Force Gen. Frank Gorenc also told the Defense Writers Group here that his command is working on transferring the air policing mission over the Baltic Republics into an air defense mission.
The European Reassurance Initiative is set at $3.4 billion in the fiscal year 2017 defense budget request -- four times greater than in 2016. The budget line is in response to some really aggressive Russian actions in Ukraine.
The ERI increase will allow Gorenc to build on what is already a “pretty robust” training program in Europe. He is planning more “heel-to-toe” training -- meaning that training is continuous. It will also allow for more bilateral and multilateral exercises.
“We already had a pretty robust training regime in Europe with our partners and allies, but this will allow us to do another aspect that I am keen on and that is continuing to develop the airfields, particularly on the Eastern side of NATO -- the Baltic Republics, Poland, Romania and Bulgaria,” he said. “This will allow for an easier place to go, to accomplish high-volume, high-velocity operations.”
Airfields are more than just runways, he said. Airfields need infrastructure -- weapons storage, fueling capabilities, maintenance facilities. “It needs to be an environment that can generate sorties and combat power from the air as part of the joint campaign,” Gorenc said. The reassurance money will allow him to do just that.
The NATO air component is looking at the Baltic air-policing mission. “Air policing is a peacetime mission designed to provide a capability assure the sovereignty of NATO airspace,” Gorenc said. “But air policing is just one part of what I consider comprehensive air defense.”
Air defense is the integration of aircraft, surface-to-air systems and air-space control measures, he said. “We’ve been talking about this inside the NATO context, and we’ve been working on the air police to air defense initiative and so it’s a journey,” he said.
Air policing has been going on over the Baltic republics of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania since they joined the North Atlantic Alliance 2004. The three nations didn’t have the resources to conduct the air-policing mission alone, so NATO nations joined to ensure the mission could be accomplished. Other NATO nations -- Luxemburg, Albania and Slovenia -- have similar air policing arrangements.
In 2015, NATO bulked up the air-policing mission after a steady increase in Russian military air activity. There are currently eight NATO aircraft performing the mission.
Air Force Gen. Philip Breedlove, NATO’s supreme allied commander in Europe, said last week in Vilnius, Lithuania, that NATO should build up its air police to an air defense force that could be effective in war.
“The air defense journey is important because it gets us in the mindset to be able to quickly transition to a more robust defense of the air in case it is necessary,” Gorenc said.
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