NATO is in the early stages of developing a “full slate Chinese menu” of airpower capabilities, said US Air Forces in Europe-Air Forces Africa Commander Gen. Frank Gorenc in February. This arsenal will be available to support NATO’s newly formed Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (VJTF) commander.
The task force was formed in part to provide assurance to Eastern European NATO states worried about Russia’s continued aggression in Ukraine. It is intended to serve as a “responsive, ready, and fit” force that can quickly respond to crises when they arise, said Gorenc. Seven NATO members—Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, and Slovakia—were under Soviet domination during the Cold War and today share land borders with either Russia or Ukraine.
The spearhead force, which NATO ministers first agreed to during the 2014 Wales Summit and officially approved in early February, will primarily be made up of troops based in Germany, the Netherlands, and Norway, although all 28 Alliance countries will contribute to the effort. Gorenc said NATO officials are still trying to determine exactly how the force will operate and what it will look like.
Regardless of its makeup, the force must be able to address the concept of “hybrid warfare” that Russian President Vladimir Putin has evoked in Crimea and eastern Ukraine, “to introduce ambiguity into the situation,” said Gorenc. “That ambiguity, I think, was designed to take away the asymmetric advantage that airpower brings.”
The continued buildup of Russian forces in and around Ukraine serves as a “vivid reminder” that the Air Force needs to maintain a “very high level of readiness” in Europe, said Gorenc. The Fiscal 2016 budget provides just under $1 billion for the European Reassurance Initiative, which funds an increase in NATO deployments meant to counter Russia. Of that, the Air Force will get “roughly” $300 million, to be used to improve airfields in the Baltics, Bulgaria, Poland, and Romania, said Gorenc.
“In my NATO air command hat, what we’re trying to do is really agnostic to airframes,” he told Air Force Magazine in a February interview at the Air Force Association’s Air Warfare Symposium in Orlando, Fla. “We’re trying to figure out the exact air effects that the VJTF would expect, … but one thing that’s pretty clear is, air will be a big part of it.”
“Those projects are modest, but [they are] directly designed to be able to allow that airfield to support an increased sortie generation capability, so we’re very, very excited about that,” he said.
The funding also will be used to cover the operation and maintenance cost “that will accommodate training” as well as participation in NATO exercises. “That money was timely. That money was … focused, and that money will allow us to contribute air into the reassurance effort,” said Gorenc.
A big part of that reassurance effort is the introduction of theater security packages in Europe. Some 300 airmen and 12 A-10 Warthogs from Davis-Monthan AFB, Ariz., deployed to the 52nd Fighter Wing at Spangdahlem AB, Germany, in mid-February, marking the Air Force’s first European TSP.
The theater security package will support Operation Atlantic Resolve—a demonstration of the US’ commitment to NATO and to maintaining security in the region—conducting training alongside NATO allies across Europe.
Although USAFE-AFAFRICA requested fighter support, not specifically A-10s, for the first TSP, Gorenc said the deployment is “a match made in heaven.”
Now that combat operations have ended in Afghanistan, many European allies and partners are back home and have joint terminal attack controllers who require training. Although the Warthogs will be based out of Spangdahlem in far-western Germany for their six-month rotation, they will deploy several times to Eastern Europe in support of “a whole string of exercises” that are part of Atlantic Resolve.
For example, the A-10s will support a detachment of Army soldiers training in Poland, as well as exercises in Bulgaria and Romania. The combination of A-10s with ground forces requirements “is advantageous to everybody,” said Gorenc.
“The Air Force has been rotating forces as a part of [Operation Atlantic Resolve] for the past year,” said USAFE-AFAFRICA Vice Commander Lt. Gen. Noel T. “Tom” Jones in a release. “The TSP is another way the Air Force is increasing [its] rotational presence in Europe to reassure our allies and partner nations that our commitment to European security is a priority.”
Gorenc said the command will continue to request fighter support through TSPs to support Atlantic Resolve missions. Whether those rotations will be back-to-back and what assets will be made available is yet to be seen.
“I would imagine the emergence of Russia and the way they are acting out in the Ukraine will give it reasonable priority, and I think we’ll be reasonably successful,” he added.