Air Force moves drones, airmen to base in Romania
By JOHN VANDIVER | STARS AND STRIPES Published: January 5, 2021
STUTTGART, Germany — The Air Force has moved 90 airmen and an unspecified number of MQ-9 Reaper drones to Campia Turzii Air Base in Romania, boosting military capabilities in a region where allies have expressed concern about Russia’s military might.
“The forward and ready positioning of our MQ-9s at this key strategic location reassures our allies and partners, while also sending a message to our adversaries, that we can quickly respond to any emergent threat,” Gen. Jeff Harrigian, U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces Africa commander, said in a statement Monday.
The MQ-9s will operate under the 31st Expeditionary Operations Group, Detachment 1, until the squadron is fully operational, the statement said.
The units are subordinate to the 31st Fighter Wing at Aviano Air Base in Italy.
The Reapers will boost surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities in the Black Sea region, where the U.S. has regularly accused Russia of dangerous intercepts of aircraft, and other incidents have caused tensions to flare.
In 2008, Russia fought a brief war in the region with the Republic of Georgia, and still has troops in that country’s breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. In 2018, Russia opened fire on Ukrainian vessels in the Black Sea’s Kerch Strait and took Ukrainian sailors captive.
In addition to surveillance missions, the MQ-9s will “fly freedom of maneuver missions and integrate with joint and coalition forces in the region,” USAFE said.
Former Defense secretary Mark Esper in August said he envisioned a larger force in Romania and that more deployments there were likely. Last year, USAFE sent MQ-9 Reaper drones based in Poland on a temporary rotation to the Turzii site. Air Force fighter jets also have made rotations to Campia Turzii.
The Pentagon has spent millions of dollars in recent years to upgrade the Cold War-era base in central Romania and enable larger missions, and the National Defense Authorization Act for 2021 includes $130.5 million to renovate Campia Turzii, in what would be the biggest overseas military construction project under the Pentagon’s European Deterrence Initiative.
That initiative was launched shortly after Russia invaded Ukraine’s Crimea region and instigated conflict eastern Ukraine in 2014, to reassure allies of a continued U.S. commitment to their security.
The funds are intended for upgrades including dangerous cargo landing pads, more parking aprons for tactical fighter aircraft rotations, fuel storage and a depot to support a deployable air base system.
Campia Turzii currently hosts two squadrons of Romanian-built LanceR-C interceptors, a modernized version of the MiG-21, and two Puma helicopter squadrons.