The USAF will be pulling out of Royal Air Force bases Mildenhall, Alconbury and Molesworth, among other smaller base closures across Europe. Is it time to stop subsidizing Europe's protection or are we underestimating the threat from Russia?
Amid all these changes, bases in Germany will be gaining Mildenhall's Spec Ops MC-130s and CV-22s, along with its KC-135R. The only good news for the UK is that RAF Lankenheath's F-15Cs and F-15Es will be replaced by F-35As in 2020.
European Infrastructure Consolidation, as the DoD calls it, has been in the works for years as an alternative to highly political and special interest driven Base Realignment And Closures (BRAC) process here at home. Basically, US lawmakers fight to the death when it comes to closing a base in their constituents' back yard, but they really don't care about those overseas. Thus they are easier to close in order to save some cash.
In addition, some would argue that BRAC, especially in its most recent evolutions, has had a dismal track record of actually saving the DoD money at all, often times moving units multiple times in a single decade after many millions of dollars were spent on infrastructure improvements at each one of their 'new' homes. Some studies have even shown that BRACs have cost money not saved money, especially in the near term.
With RAF Mildenhall's tankers heading to Ramstein Air Base and its special operations MC-130s and CV-22 Ospreys heading to Spangdahlem Air Base, both of which are in Germany, and RAF Lakenheath relinquishing its Eagles and Strike Eagles for F-35s by 2020, USAFE's hard air power will be split up among an even smaller handful of bases than ever before. Really, just Aviono Air Base in Italy and the bases mentioned above will have permanently stationed aircraft of any substantial numbers and tactical capabilities.
It was just four years ago that Spangdahlem Air Base lost its F-16CJ Wild Weasels and just over a year ago that the same base lost Europe's only remaining A-10 Warthog squadron. What will be left in Europe by 2020 will be a pair of F-35 squadrons in the UK and a pair of F-16 squadrons in Italy. In all they will add up to between 80 and 90 multi-role fighters, aside from aircraft on temporary deployments to the region. This is if there are not further cuts made before the F-35s arrive at Lakenheath in 2020.
Some see this type of consolidation as a bad move at time when a resurgent Russia has grabbed territory on Europe's backdoor and is drastically increasing its presence in Northern Europe and in the Arctic. If anything, these proponents for a larger US presence in Europe say that we should be increasing our air combat capabilities in the region, not further consolidating them. Meanwhile, others say that we should not be in Europe at all, and that America has done nothing but subsidize the security of rich European nations since the end of the Cold War by maintaining an air combat and large military presence there. One that comes at great expenditure of the US taxpayer.
What do you think? Do you agree with this latest European Infrastructure Consolidation act? Should we be withdrawing our ever more scarce air combat capabilities from Europe or should be bolstering them in the region?
Tyler Rogoway is a defense journalist and photographer who maintains the website Foxtrot Alpha for Jalopnik.com You can reach Tyler with story ideas or direct comments regarding this or any other defense topic via the email address Tyler@Jalopnik.com