U.S. Air Forces in Europe and U.S. Air Forces Africa commander Gen. Tod D. Wolters during an interview with Stars and Stripes at USAFE headquarters on Ramstein Air Base, Germany, Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2016. Wolters is also the commander of Allied Air Command.

U.S. Air Forces in Europe and U.S. Air Forces Africa commander Gen. Tod D. Wolters during an interview with Stars and Stripes at USAFE headquarters on Ramstein Air Base, Germany, Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2016. Wolters is also the commander of Allied Air Command. (Michael Abrams/Stars and Stripes)

RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany — The Air Force will continue a robust schedule of training in eastern Europe as it secures forward basing throughout the region and enhances cooperation with NATO partners, the new commander of U.S. Air Forces in Europe–Air Forces Africa said Tuesday.

“When you train hard, you’re confident in what you can do … because you can meet the requirements and expectations of the combatant commander,” said Gen. Tod D. Wolters in his first interview with Stars and Stripes since taking command of USAFE-AFAFRICA in August. The proper training can also serve as an effective deterrent, he said.

“It keeps folks that want to contest what you’re doing a little farther at bay, so they’re not as motivated to start conflict with an organization that’s highly trained,” he said.

“Deterrence” is the overriding focus of senior military leaders in Europe, where tensions with a resurgent Russia have prompted them to emphasize a force posture designed to deter potential aggression from adversaries.

Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, commander of U.S. European Command, “has been very clear in his messaging to me that we’ve transitioned from a phase of assurance to deterrence,” Wolters said.

As part of that shift, USAFE is training in ways it hasn’t since Cold War days, such as conducting exercises focused on testing the resilience of airmen and their installations in case of a direct attack from an adversary, including from the air.

“You want to make sure that the forces that you’re in charge of are as resilient and as strong as possible,” Wolters said, that they can “endure and sustain … for long periods of time.

“If you take that conversation all the way up to the installation level, we all want to ensure from a deterrent standpoint that our bases are as survivable … as they possibly can be,” he said.

While it looks to batten down the hatches at home, USAFE-AFAFRICA is also focused outward at securing “ample access to forward bases so we can be as flexible as possible,” Wolters said.

“The key is, as we gain more partners in the region, that we have the ability to take forces from” partner and allied nations “and sprinkle them throughout the region and be in a position where, if I had to take a force that existed in Belgium, for example, a fighter attack aircraft and snap it forward … into the Baltics, that I would have an installation … that was adaptable and compatible to receive that kind of resource,” he said.

And “being interoperable” is also important, Wolters said, “so once we can get to that location, you can actually, as I like to say, ‘get a lot of juice for the squeeze’ once we start to utilize those resources forward.”

The Air Force has tested this concept with help from European Reassurance Initiative funds, a Pentagon effort aimed at strengthening deterrence and reassuring allies in the region. This past spring, for example, the service deployed F-22s to RAF Lakenheath in the United Kingdom and sent some of the aircraft on to Romania, for exercises along the Black Sea with other Europe-based aircraft, and to Lithuania.

But Wolters said there’s still a lot of work to be done in that area.

“We’ve made some dramatic improvements over the course of the last 24 months, and we’re excited about the next three years for what we have in the can, so to speak,” he said.

Even as the Air Force looks to continue rotational deployments of airmen and aircraft to Europe, it’s preparing for the first overseas permanent basing of the F-35 joint strike fighter at Lakenheath.

Wolters said personnel are in place and construction is in progress to receive the aircraft in several years.

As “the USAFE commander, I can’t get that F-35 to our region fast enough,” he said. “We’re excited to have it. It serves as a fantastic deterrence piece … It is lethal. It force-multiplies to a great extent what we can do with the rest of our forces,” he said.

Wolters, an Air Force Academy graduate whose active-duty career has spanned 34 years, has spent a fair share of his career in the cockpit of a combat jet, having flown the F-15C, F-22 and the A-10, among others.

But he can’t be pinned down to name a favorite.

“They’re all favorites,” he said. “For a person of my age to be in a position to where I’ve been able to look back and say that I’ve had the opportunity to fly those aircraft, I can just look you in the eye and say I love them all.”

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Jennifer reports on the U.S. military from Kaiserslautern, Germany, where she writes about the Air Force, Army and DODEA schools. She’s had previous assignments for Stars and Stripes in Japan, reporting from Yokota and Misawa air bases. Before Stripes, she worked for daily newspapers in Wyoming and Colorado. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Virginia.

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