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Air Force to merge two command and control units at Ramstein

Former 17th Air Force commander Maj. Gen. Ron Ladnier, left, and Col. Andy Redmond, then incoming commander of the 617th Air and Space Operations Center, unfurl the 617th flag at an activation ceremony in May 2009. The Ramstein-based 617th and the 603rd Air and Space Operations centers will merge to meet Pentagon cost-cutting measures announced this week.

JIM FISHER/COURTESY OF THE U.S. AIR FORCE

By JOHN VANDIVER | STARS AND STRIPES Published: January 7, 2011

STUTTGART, Germany — As part of Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ plan to reduce spending, two Air Force command and control units in Germany will be consolidated, U.S. Air Forces in Europe said.

The 603rd Air and Space Operations Center and the 617th Air and Space Operations Center, both at Ramstein Air Base, will merge as part of an Air Force-wide effort to save billions of dollars.

Officials at USAFE and 17th Air Force said it was too early to say when the units will officially merge. They referred questions regarding potential savings from the consolidation to the Pentagon.

André Kok, an Air Force spokesman at the Pentagon, said those details are still being worked out.

Overall, the Air Force-proposed efficiencies outlined by Gates on Thursday total about $34 billion over five years. In addition to the consolidation of the Ramstein units, two more air operations centers in the U.S. will be consolidated, as will three numbered Air Force staffs. The service also intends to reduce fuel and energy consumption within the Air Mobility Command, and reduce the cost of communications infrastructure by 25 percent.

The 617th AOC, which formed in 2009 to help the 17th Air Force carry out its missions in Africa, has about 140 personnel. The 603rd AOC serves a similar role for the 3rd Air Force under USAFE and U.S. European Command. Before the 17th Air Force was re-activated as U.S. Air Forces Africa in 2008, the 3rd Air Force was responsible for operations in Africa.

Originally, the 617th AOC at Ramstein was intended to enhance the command and control capability of the 17th Air Force and also provide communications and intelligence support within the African area of activity. However, funding and resources were a challenge for the 617th AOC from the start.

“We are looking for ways to get what we need to make sure our capabilities are state-of-the-art, and that we have access to all the tools necessary to execute command and control of the air domain for U.S. Africa Command,” said Col. Andy Redmond, commander when the unit was activated in 2009.

However in a prepared statement Thursday, Secretary of the Air Force Michael Donley and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz said the fiscal challenges facing the nation require significant streamlining.

“There is much work still to be done, and the Air Force will work hard to ensure these efficiencies are implemented effectively while continuing to evaluate additional opportunities going forward,” the officials said.

vandiverj@estripes.osd.mil