- The US and its NATO partners have spent the past few years working to boost their deterrence amid tensions with Russia.
- Part of that effort has been forward-deploying forces to Eastern Europe.
- Now the US Air Force is upgrading its facilities along NATO’s eastern flank and testing out its capacity to set up airfields on short notice.
The US military and its NATO partners have spent the past few years beefing up their presence in Eastern Europe to deter Russia, and now the Pentagon is spending more to boost its ability to act fast in case of conflict.
The Air Force is currently working to improve an air base in Romania in order to host US combat operations.
The $US40 million in construction and upgrades over four years are meant to improve readiness by expanding what squadrons from the Air Force and partner forces can do at the 71st Air Base in northwest Romania, according to a Defence News report.
Most of that money, nearly $US25 million, will be spent on infrastructure needed to support missions and flight operations, including runway improvements and hangar construction. Nearly $US10 million will go to building facilities to store weapons and fuel. Other funds will go to other improvements like paving roads around the base and repairing lights there.
The Air Force does not maintain a permanent presence at Campia Turzii. But it has cycled its forces in and out.
In April 2014, the Air Force deployed F-16 fighter jets to Romania as part of a pre-planned joint exercise. In mid-2015, 12 A-10 Thunderbolts involved in a theatre security package arrived at the airbase for joint training with Romanian forces – including live-fire exercises. In spring 2016, the Air Force deployed two F-22 Raptors to Romania on a mission to “bolster the security of NATO allies.”
This summer, 12 F-15s and nearly 200 airmen from the 131st Expeditionary Squadron were deployed to Campia Turzii for training as part of another theatre security package.
But Romania is just one area of focus in Eastern Europe as the Air Force and other branches work to build readiness and their deterrence capability.
Funding for the European Deterrence Initiative, which was created after Russia’s incursion in Ukraine and originally called the European Reassurance Initiative, has spiked over the past few years. The 2019 request for EDI from the Pentagon was nearly double what it got for the program in 2017.
Such enhancements are “incredibly necessary to improve deterrence,” Gen. Tod Wolters, head of US Air Forces Europe and Africa, told Military.com this summer.
Building up facilities in Eastern Europe was meant to support “strike, superiority, surveillance, command and control and [air]lift,” Wolters said at the time. “All aircraft are involved.”
In addition to $US40 million in spending at Campia Turzii between fiscal years 2015 and 2019, the Air Force will spend a little over $US31 million on infrastructure and fuel storage at Amari air base in Estonia, just under $US4 million on infrastructure upgrades at Lielvarde air base in Latvia, and $US3 million on munitions storage at Siauliai air base in Lithuania.
South of the Baltics in Poland – which has been pushing hard for a permanent US military presenced and offering to pay for it – the Air Force plans to spend $US4.1 million on an operations facility at Powidz air base and more than $US14 million to upgrade the airfield at Lask air base.
The Malacky-Kuchyna air base in Slovakia will see more than $US80 million in spending, most of it funding work on munitions storage. Sliac air base, also in Slovakia, will see $US22 million in spending on airfield upgrades.
The Air Force also plans spend just over $US55 million on runway construction, airfield upgrades, and fuel storage at Kecskemet air base in Hungary and more than $US12 million to build facilities, upgrade runways, and add munitions storage at Graf Ignatievo air base in Bulgaria.
Those upgrades will allow those bases to host more operations and to be more livable to the personnel stationed there – both from the US and the host country. But in the event of conflict the resources needed to run those bases – assuming they are still intact– will be stretched thin.
To address that, the Air Force is also trying about its deployable base system, known as DABS or the “air base in a box.”
DABS, contained in a set of standard shipping containers, has everything an Air Force unit would need to set up shop at another country’s airfield and begin operating, including temporary buildings, vehicles, construction gear to repair runways, and electrical equipment.
DABS is much cheaper than building a new, permanent air base, but the system and the storage needed for it still costs hundreds of millions of dollars – the Air Force plans to spend $US361 million on DABS gear in fiscal year 2019.
“When we deploy forward, we have very generous hosts, but in a crisis, they’re going to need their capabilities for their priorities, their mission sets, and we’re going to fight jointly and operate jointly,” Brig. Gen. Roy Agustin, director of logistics, engineering, and force protection, for US Air Forces Europe, told Defence News during a trial run of the system at a base in Poland.
“Rather than add a burden by adding our [requirements] – ‘Hey, can you provide us power, can you provide us lodging?’ – if we can bring that organic capability with us, we are both more capable and there’s more synergy as a result,” Agustin said.
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