On Wednesday 29 July 2020, the reduction of the US operations at the Spangdahlem Air Base near Bitbourg in Germany, was announced.
US Defense Secretary, Mark T. Esper, made the announcement in a joint briefing with Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. John E. Hyten, and U.S. European Command boss, Gen. Tod D. Wolters; this will affect 11,900 military personnel currently based in Germany, with 6,400 personnel returning to the US and the remainder relocated elsewhere in Europe, as well as the extensive knock-on effect it will have on the local economy.
Mark T. Esper said force changes could start to take place within weeks and estimated the cost to be “several billion dollars”, covering military construction and permanent change of station moves for airmen and their families. A total of 24,000 US military personnel will remain in Germany, with Ramstein Air Base being the largest.
The Pentagon will begin winding down U.S. operations at Spangdahlem Air Base which will involve pulling out Air Force F-16s of the 52nd Fighter Wing which will be moved to Italy. The 52nd Fighter Wing totals approximately 5,000 military personnel (one squadron plus a medical group, mission support group, munitions maintenance group, operations group and other agencies); additionally, the 480th Fighter Squadron has approximately 50 military personnel assigned. The result would reduce the US presence in Germany which hosts one of the largest contingents of US troops in the world and has been a key strategic location for American military operations since the end of World War II.
Details for the winding down of operations at the Spangdahlem US Air Force base are being worked out.
According to the USAFE-AFAFRICA Public Affairs office at Spangdahlem, who confirmed to Chronicle.lu, "At this time, the only units impacted are the 480th Fighter Squadron and 52nd Civil Engineering Squadron. Details for the implementation are still being worked. Some changes will take place soon. Some will take longer. The Department of Defense will ensure that appropriate steps are taken to work through any changes with service members and their families and with our host nation counterparts."
This will not only affect those working on the Spangdahlem USAF base, but it will also have a detrimental effect on the local economy around Spangdahlme which provide services to the military personnel, many of whom live off base.
In 2013, the Spangdahlem US Air Force base saw the 81st Fighter Squadron, the last A-10 unit based in Europe, depart in a downsizing move. Prior to that, the 22nd and 23rd Fighter Squadrons were combined to form the 480th Fighter Squadron in 2010.
The 100th Air Refueling Wing and the 352nd Special Operations Wing, which were planned to move to Spangdahlem, will now remain at Mildenhall in the UK.
According to Air Force Magazine, the White House approved the reorganisation in June, and Pentagon officials began briefing Congress last week. Affected allied nations and NATO leaders were notified in the past few days, Esper said.
U.S. European Command is broadly restructuring to better address the needs of the National Defense Strategy, which focuses on advanced military adversaries like Russia and China rather than insurgents in the Middle East. Major changes are also envisioned for the U.S. Army in Europe, including moving the 4,500-member 2nd Calvary Regiment home to the U.S., rotating Stryker units to the Black Sea region, and basing a lead element of the Army’s V Corps in Poland.
Esper said the strategic goal is to move away from permanent basing in favour of “dynamic force employment,” enabling the military to proactively move troops as missions demand. DOD is also rethinking its brick-and-mortar infrastructure amid fears that permanent bases could be vulnerable to attack. This line of thinking is the same as the Air Force’s bomber deployments that have become prevalent in the Pacific.
“The deployment of rotational forces from the United States we have observed whether it’s the BCTs going from the United States to Korea, to Poland, or the bomber task force, we’re finding that they are deploying at a much higher level of readiness,” Esper said. “And while they are deployed, they are able to sustain a much more fixed focus on their mission and their capabilities.”
Wolters said EUCOM aims to rotate units “in perpetuity in multiple locations.” He said “the flexibility that this affords us certainly complicates a potential enemy against us, and it dramatically improves our operational capability to more effectively deter and defend.”
The Air Force is investing to improve other bases across the region, including facilities in Poland, Estonia, and Romania.
But plans accelerated after President Donald J. Trump said in June he intended to pull U.S. forces from Germany because that nation had failed to invest enough of its own money in defence. Pentagon leaders on July 29 sought to highlight the strategic goals of the moves, but Trump said the impetus is largely to punish Berlin.
“Germany’s delinquent, they haven’t paid their fees, they haven’t paid their NATO fees,” he said, referring to NATO’s stated goal for member nations to spend 2 percent of their gross domestic product on defence. “They’re way off, and they’ve been off for years and they have no intention of paying it. And the United States has been taken advantage of on trade, and on military, and on everything else for many years,” the president said. “Germany owes billions and billions of dollars to NATO, and why would we keep all of our troops there?”