RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany — The Air Force is awaiting approval from Congress so it can start construction on two facilities in Europe for airmen who call in airstrikes for Army combat troops in Afghanistan.

A $12.9 million Air Support Operations Squadron complex is planned for an Army base in Vilseck, Germany, while a similar $10.2 million facility is slated for Aviano Air Base in Italy. Both facilities are part of nearly $100 million in military construction projects in Europe for which the Air Force is awaiting money.

Congress approved funding for the projects earlier this month, when both houses passed the fiscal 2011 Defense Authorization Act, and President Barack Obama signed it into law. But the release of funds is contingent on Congress and the president also approving the fiscal 2011 Defense Appropriations Bill.

The construction of the air support complexes underscores the significance of a career field in which the Air Force is looking to double its manpower in coming years.

By 2014, the Air Force is looking to double staffing in the tactical air control party career field, which includes joint terminal attack controllers — the airmen trained to call in airstrikes on enemy targets. As of this fall, the Air Force employed slightly more than 500 active-duty JTACs, according to the Air Force.

The additional JTACs are needed to support Army ground troops. The airmen are seen as vital to reducing the number of civilians killed in airstrikes in Afghanistan, an issue that Army leaders cited as key to turning around the war there.

The new complexes in Germany and Italy will include administrative offices, vehicle and equipment maintenance bays, radio equipment storage areas, an armory and training space.

The 2nd Air Support Operations Squadron at Vilseck supports the 2nd Stryker Cavalry Regiment at Vilseck and the 172nd Separate Infantry Brigade at Grafenwöhr, Germany, deploying with those units’ soldiers. The squadron recently doubled in size — to more than 40 personnel — when it consolidated with a tactical air control party detachment from Schweinfurt, Germany, and a bigger facility is needed, USAFE officials said.

The 8th Air Support Operations Squadron supports the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team at Vicenza. It moved from Vicenza to Aviano in 2007 and is operating out of a temporary facility.

But construction on the facilities and other projects on this year’s list won’t proceed until the money begins to flow, U.S. Air Forces in Europe officials said Tuesday.

During the appropriations approval process, funding amounts could be changed or scrapped entirely, USAFE officials said.

But for the air support squadrons, that’s highly unlikely, said John Faulkner, a USAFE civil engineer and senior program analyst, since the projects to date have passed through congressional committee review “with flying colors.”

Prior to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, it would have been more challenging to get that funding approved, said Master Sgt. Jay Lemley, USAFE chief of standardization and evaluations for all tactical air control party airmen in Europe.

“There is now an institutional understanding that we need to be supported and as much as possible,” Lemley said. “Close air support to the Army is really a life-and-death situation.”

Other Air Force military construction projects awaiting funding approval in Europe include:

• Kapaun Air Station, Germany: 128-room dormitory, $19.6 million.

• Ramstein Air Base, Germany: Unmanned aircraft system satellite communications relay compound, $10.8 million; C-130J flight simulator training facility, $8.8 million; de-icing fluid storage and dispensing facility, $2.8 million.

• Aviano Air Base, Italy, 144-room dormitory, $19 million.

• RAF Base Mildenhall, taxi-way extension, $15 million.

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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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