A reorganisation of NATO's regional commands begun on 1 September will give allied air forces in the alliance's southern flank "a more responsive airpower command and control capability", says US Air Force Lt Gen Michael Short, commander of NATO's Airsouth.

The phased changes will close NATO's 5th and 6th Allied Tactical Air Force headquarters at Vicenza, Italy, and Izmir, Turkey, respectively, and create five interim combined air operations centres (CAOCs) around the Mediterranean to monitor airborne threats, police the air and conduct NATO's peacetime air training. If a threat emerged, the CAOCs would serve as the core for a rapid build-up of response forces. "We would augment to whatever degree we think is necessary to produce the sorties that we require," Short says.

The CAOCs will be at Larissa, Greece; Poggio Renatico, Italy; Monsanto, Portugal; Torrejon, Spain and Eskisehir, Turkey, and will be modelled "to a great degree" on the CAOC at Vicenza, which continues to handle military air traffic and police air sovereignty over the Balkans.

The reorganisation reflects further streamlining by NATO to eliminate mid-level policy centres and a shift to north-south areas of responsibilities from the Cold War emphasis on east and west.

"The southern region now gets the attention it deserves," Short says. "We're no longer focused on the north German plain and the Fulda Gap [Central Germany]."

Each CAOC will be manned at 50% by the host nation and the remainder by airmen from all the NATO nations. Short adds: "There will be Greek airmen stationed in Turkey and Turkish airmen stationed in Greece," as well as representatives from Hungary, Spain, the UK, the Netherlands and beyond "to give us a different blood type, if you will, in the south".

An earlier, similar shift north of the Alps affected NATO operations much less than is anticipated in the south. According to USAF Gen John Jumper, commander of Airnorth and US Air Forces in Europe, the northern realignment was "more of an administrative matter than a profound change in the way we do business".

Source: Flight International