Spangdahlem's F-16s aren't leaving Germany for Italy just yet
By JENNIFER H. SVAN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: September 15, 2020
KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany — No date has been set for the last remaining U.S. fighter squadron in Germany to move to Italy, the leader of U.S. Air Forces in Europe – Air Forces Africa, Gen. Jeffrey Harrigian, said.
Six weeks after Defense Secretary Mark Esper announced that nearly 12,000 troops would leave Germany — including the 480th Fighter Squadron and the 52nd Civil Engineering Squadron, which would go from Spangdahlem Air Base to Aviano Air Base in Italy — “details for the implementation are still being worked,” USAFE officials said Tuesday.
As plans crystallize around the Pentagon’s realignment plan, announced in July, airmen and their families will be kept informed so “they know what their future looks like,” Harrigian said Monday in a call with reporters.
When Esper made the announcement in July, U.S. military officials in Europe said some moves could begin in weeks and that Spangdahlem’s civil engineers could be the first to go.
The plan would fulfill President Donald Trump’s demands to remove thousands of troops from Germany, which he has frequently called out for not meeting its NATO defense spending obligations.
The Pentagon has said the realignment will move more F-16s closer to the strategic Black Sea region along NATO’s southeastern flank.
The July announcement triggered alarm among Spangdahlem families, who expressed concern about how quickly they might have to move from their homes in the rural Eifel region of western Germany.
But there was still “a fair amount of work in front of us to understand the necessary details required” to carry out the move, Harrigian said.
Among the issues still needing to be ironed out is whether Aviano, which already supports two F-16 squadrons, has adequate facilities to be able to handle a third one, he said.
“We want to make sure we get it right,” Harrigian said. The move would take some time to put in place, he added.
German officials in Spangdahlem said the Air Force, which pledged to keep them informed of any new developments regarding the proposed move, had been quiet since the Pentagon’s announcement.
“We have not heard anything regarding the move,” Spangdahlem Mayor Alois Gerten said.
As the Air Force in Europe reviews plans to move Spangdahlem’s F-16s, it’s also preparing for the arrival of the first F-35s in the fall of 2021 at RAF Lakenheath in the United Kingdom, Harrigian said.
Trump’s plan to shrink the U.S. mission in Germany also means that KC-135 tankers from the 100th Air Refueling Wing and CV-22 Ospreys operated by the 352nd Special Operations Wing at RAF Mildenhall will not be transferring to Germany, Esper said in July. The U.K. base would have closed if the aircraft had moved.
But keeping Mildenhall open “made sense,” said Harrigian, “particularly given the great support that we get there, the infrastructure that we already have” and the need to retain operational flexibility at bases across Europe, Harrigian said.
Air Force leaders are looking to ensure assets are in the right locations, “particularly in those areas where we know we’re going to be impeding and needing to deter … Russia,” he said.
Stars and Stripes reporter Marcus Kloeckner contributed to this report.