Springboard for Airpower

March 1, 2004

Gen. Robert H. Foglesong, formerly Air Force vice chief of staff, is commander of US Air Forces in Europe, commander of Allied Air Forces Northern Europe, and air component commander of US European Command. In January, he met with the Defense Writers Group in Washington, D.C., to discuss issues, opportunities, and challenges facing his command, as well as broader considerations affecting the entire Air Force. Below are some of his comments.

Force Structure

“Most of the work that I’ve been doing … has been focused on whether we’re right-sized from an Air Force perspective in Europe and whether we’re postured in the right place, whether we’re located in the right places. … That’s a work in progress. …

“The US Air Force started right-sizing about a decade ago. … At one time we had 12 fighter wing equivalents in Europe. Too many. … We clearly didn’t need that many. We’ve got about 2.5 fighter wing equivalents now. So there’s some balance there. … That was kind of a smart thing for us to do. And, frankly, airpower can get [to Europe] pretty quickly. [Given a] requirement to move a squadron or to get something overseas, we can move pretty quickly over there, so it gave us the latitude of moving stuff back to the United States.”

South and East

“It makes sense for us to have our forces postured in locations to handle this Global War on Terrorism. … Some of this has to do, in our case, [with] where there are large ramps—where there are large runways. Then, there’s other investment that’s required. … We’re looking south and east. That makes sense to us to posture our forces in positions … [where they] could be employed quicker. And, by the way, we have incredible airspace constraints in the western part of Europe now. So the eastern part of Europe is more advantageous to us from that perspective.”

Old Europe

“There are certain bases that are going to be … enduring bases. … It’s incredible the construction that’s going on at Ramstein [AB, Germany] right now. The transportation—the hub part of [US military operations]— will continue to be important, and, as part of the drawdown of Rhein–Main [AB, Germany], the construction work that’s going on at [Spangdahlem AB, Germany] is also pretty significant. You wouldn’t want to get to a point in Europe where you only had one hub. … So, I think, from a transportation perspective, we’re going to have some bases over there that are going to be enduring for a long time.”

The Turkish Question

“[Turkey is] a very important strategic partner of ours. … From a military perspective, I will tell you they’ve got some incredible [training] ranges there. … We would like to engage with them militarily where it’s appropriate. … We have a good working relationship with the chief of their air force now. …

“The iron effectively left Incirlik [AB, Turkey] at the end of hostilities [Operation Northern Watch and Operation Iraqi Freedom], but Incirlik is active again in a sense. The Turks have let us bring tankers in there, and we’re operating some tanker assets out of there now.”

Reconstituting USAFE

“My focus initially was on reconstitution. When we got our forces back [from Operation Iraqi Freedom], were we going to be able to reconstitute in a timely manner, and, in case the President decided we need to do something else, … would we be ready to go? I’m delighted to tell you … we have had the opportunity to come back and do a significant amount of reconstitution. We think we’re on the right glide slope. …

“There are pockets out there that will take longer to reconstitute because we used them for longer periods of time. [But] the forces in Europe have had a chance to come back, take a deep breath, … then start the training process.”

Replenishing Weapons

“When you’re trying to replenish [Joint Direct Attack Munitions], you don’t replenish them overnight. That takes months and sometimes years to replenish those kinds of things. And airplanes that come back that are being pushed into depot earlier—that process happens in due course. … But the process is established, and the milestones are established. … I don’t see the units saying we’re short of iron—we can’t do our training because we’re having to reconstitute the iron.”

The New NATO

“Think how far NATO has come over the last couple of years … to be able to organize itself in a way … to do out-of-AOR [area of responsibility] operations like we’re doing in Afghanistan. I think it’s a pretty extraordinary movement by an organization that, for decades, was focused on the Soviet Union. …

“Eventually, there will be a certification process [for the new NATO Response Force. There will be] some system to certify that the air forces and ground forces and naval forces are all hooked up. … The ‘air contract,’ if you will, is to have forces available that can provide up to 200 sorties a day. That’s kind of the level we’ve been asked to provide planning for—and resources. …That would include lift. … What we’re asking countries to do is to source resources like we do in our

AEFs [Air and Space Expeditionary Forces]. …

“So, we would draw up the requirement that said, in order to provide 200 sorties a day, these are the kind of assets that we think we’d need. … Some countries will come in and say, ‘OK, we can provide a little [tactical] lift, or we can provide some fighter support.’… Then we kluge that all together in a mechanism that we then know precisely who’s on the bubble. Then both Air North and Air South … can actually go out and do tactical evaluations of the units that have been volunteered by the nations to be part of the NATO Response Force. And that’s part of the certification process—to make sure their pilots can deliver the ordnance or can deliver the goods or provide the air refueling capability needed.”


“On the air element side of [the NRF], I will tell you we’re focused … in Air North on ensuring … that we’re hooked up with the other NATO air forces, and all of them are hooked closely together as far as tactics, training, and procedures. Our US experience and our NATO experience is that we rarely go into a contingency unless we’re hooked up with our allies and coalition partners, in some way. So it’s a good thing when … we’re on the same playbook. …

“We’ve got a lot of different waveforms and radios in NATO. That’s one of the things we talked about in [the NATO air chiefs] meeting—the common threads. Some of that is very expensive to unplug and re-plug … We’re looking where opportunities are available. … That’s long term, frankly. That won’t happen overnight. That’s over years, as they acquire new iron or as they modify their iron to make sure we’re on the same equipment.”

Crossing Theater Lines

“We’re in the process in the United States Air Force of trying to lash up our air operating centers around the world. This has been a real priority for General Jumper [Air Force Chief of Staff]. … The reason we’re doing that is this Global War on Terrorism doesn’t care one iota about boundaries. … It’s desirable for us to know what’s going on in CENTCOM [US Central Command], and it’s desirable for CENTCOM to know what’s going on in our AOR. …

“On 1 December, I stood up my 24/7 air operations center, and we’re lashing up with other air operations centers. … It’s important that we all have what we’ll call a common air picture. … There’s a lot of energy going into making sure we’re hooked up in a more global fashion than what we traditionally thought—each combatant commander [having] his own footprint and the boundaries between them. … The Secretary of Defense has been very clear about this: This is a global war. We’re going to have to work back and forth across those boundaries.”

The Army Can Be Intimidating

“We really have the most inspirational and intimidating military in the world, we really do. I’m very proud of the United States Air Force because I think they represent a lot of that, but so does the US Army. It’s an inspirational Army. They go out and do incredible work. … [They can] be intimidating.

“So the Army deserves all the help the United States Air Force can give them right now. Because, while we’re back home and we’ve got some of the opportunity to reconstitute, they’re out there slugging away.

“I’m always reminded of when I was doing some interesting work in the negotiation business in Kosovo—what a great air war that was for us; … it was a great chance for us to beat our chest and proudly proclaim what airpower can do—[but] three days later I happened to go to Pristina and guess who was standing on the street corners up there? I’ll tell you who it wasn’t. It wasn’t the United States Air Force. It was the United States Army and the Marine Corps.

“I was reminded of [that fact] again in Afghanistan. Jack [Army Gen. John M. Keane] and I kind of laughed about this—not in a humorous way—but [USAF] took great credit … in the air campaign that went on in Afghanistan, [but] guess who had to go into those caves and pull those people out? Well, it wasn’t [USAF]. We may have been on the ground down there with them to assist them to a degree, but it was that inspirational and intimidating Army.”

Close Air Support

“In a sense, the Air Force and the Army had … drifted apart over the years in close air support. And it wasn’t because somebody, years ago, made the decision that we wanted to drift apart, it was just that that had happened. … We thought we were doing close air support. We had let ourselves believe we were doing close air support for a decade. … The last time that we believe that we did close air support—bad guys mixed with good guys, the classic definition of close air support—was in Vietnam. …

“So … three decades later, … here we are doing close air support in OEF [Operation Enduring Freedom]. So our cultures had moved away, and … so had our dedication to a couple of things. One was making sure … we sent the right people and the right number of people with the Army when they deployed forward to go into combat. And, two, we needed to get our act together … on talking with each other. … We need to make sure we’re all on the same frequency with handheld radios, talking to somebody up in an airplane. And, even better, not talking: If we could send data straight up to the airplanes. …

“Close air support … used to be defined as seeing and hearing an airplane. It made you comfortable if you were a forward air controller on the ground because you could see the airplane. You could tell him, ‘My smoke’s over there, go two clicks [in] this direction, and that’s where the target is.

“Now, we had a new form of close air support that was being delivered from 30,000 feet. It depended upon somebody on the ground who could get you a very finite set of coordinates and somebody in the airplane who could fat-finger them in a very precise way. … So it was an uncomfortable thing, to a degree, for the ground forces, that all of a sudden have to accommodate this change in culture. …

“ There’re new ways of doing business, and we had not hooked ourselves up in a way that we should have over the last two decades. Nobody’s fault. This is not being critical, it just happened that way. … The Army and Air Force have had several meetings on this and really have made great strides. … We figured out how to talk to each other; we figured out how to lash up with each other; and … we had general officers embedded with Army general officers and Marine general officers. … So if the Army general officer needed something, all he needed to do was turn around and say, ‘I need a little help.’ … So we … now have remarried, I guess. But we still have work to do.”

Future of A-10s

“It does bring a capability … that we’re going to keep around for a significant period of time. It’s going to depend, of course, on how long the airframe can last. There are certain points where it gets too expensive. … But for right now, the A-10’s got a lot of legs left on it, and we have just proven that. We just revalidated that that airplane has a mission that’s very valuable to us.”

End Strength

“There’s always the question of: Do you have enough people? … My sensing is, right now, that we’re OK. … We have figured out how to ‘mine,’ if I can use that term, uniforms from areas that are not in the trigger-pulling business and put them in the trigger-pulling business. We have been able to convert slots that we can either contract out—we can buy the service from somewhere—or we can have a civilian who’s not in uniform do the job for us. And then we can take that manpower position, and, instead of turning it in, we take that manpower position and redistribute it into those areas that were highly stressed for us, like security forces and comm and intel.

“That doesn’t happen overnight because there’s a training tail that goes with it. … But I’m starting to see the results of all that. In our security forces, for instance, we have added literally hundreds of people. … If you go talk to our security forces right now, they feel a lot more comfortable about what we’re asking them to do. So that process is starting to work. Actually, it’s well down the path of working.

“It’s premature for me to say … that we need more manpower. What we need to do is continue down the path of mining these individual manpower positions so we can covert them into our more stressed career fields.”