Foglesong: USAFE reorganization doesn't mean cutting personnel
WASHINGTON — The future re-posturing of U.S. forces in Europe won’t necessarily translate into a decrease in the number of airmen stationed there, said Gen. Robert Foglesong, commander of the U.S. Air Forces in Europe.
That’s because, for the past decade, the Air Force already has gone through a substantive downsizing, reducing Air Force presence in Europe from 12 fighter wings equivalents to 2½ and closing bases that peppered Europe, primarily in Germany.
In Europe, between 4,000 and 5,000 airmen make up a fighter wing, which typically consists of three squadrons, each with 18 to 24 aircraft.
“We used to have a lot of iron over there,” Foglesong told defense reporters during a breakfast meeting Tuesday that touched on several topics.
USAFE has five main operating bases in Europe and about 35,000 active-duty, reserve and civilian employees. It has had six main bases for more than a decade.
It’s more a matter of where personnel might be stationed, and putting forces in countries east and south of Western Europe “are reasonable assumptions,” Foglesong said.
For now, the Air Force does not need to boost its overall end-strength, Foglesong said.
“My sense is that right now, we’re OK. We have figured out how to ‘mine’ … uniforms who are not in the trigger-pulling business [and put those personnel in warfighting positions],” he said.
Since taking command in August, Foglesong also has been focused on connecting with NATO counterparts as the members embark on maturing the newly created multinational rapid response force, working to ensure the involved countries read “from the same playbook” in providing equivalent air power in areas of tactics, training, procedures and communications.
Key areas of interest among participants are blue force tracking — knowing who on the ground is enemy and who is friend — and air policing across the close-knit European borders, especially if threatened by terrorists, he said.
Part of the development of the rapid response force is a certification process to make sure each of the countries measure up, he said. While still in the planning process, an example could be a requirement that a country provide assets to conduct 200 sorties a day. But fighter aircraft isn’t the only need as other nations might provide strategic airlift support, medical support and communication technology, he said.
Communication capabilities also must be enhanced within U.S. services, he said, citing close air support communication between the Air Force and Army as an example.
In Vietnam, aircraft flying low to the ground provided close air support. Today, technology allows that capability to be delivered from 30,000 feet up — and the two services still hit snags in communicating with one another, Foglesong said.
“In a sense, the Air Force and the Army … had drifted apart on close air support,” he said. “We need to get our act together.”
The Air Force’s participation in the global war on terror has thrown the typical 90-day Air Expeditionary Force rotation cycle a bit out of whack as airmen instead have been deployed for 120 days and longer.
The AEF concept divides the force into 10 “packages” eligible for deployment in a predetermined sequence. By spring, Foglesong anticipates the majority of the service will return to its normal AEF cycle.
Stripes reporter Marni McEntee contributed to this story.