The Kosovo conflict pushed the USAF's European forces to the limit - and created a training backlog



An air power victory in the Kosovo conflict did not come without cost to the US Air Forces in Europe (USAFE), which commands 26,000 active-duty airmen at 14 installations across Europe, including six main operating bases.

For the USAFE, the 78-day air campaign involved deploying up to 80% of each of its base's airmen and up to 75% of each base's assets to forward operating locations. In addition, the USAFE bases accommodated extra aircraft and airmen dispatched from the USA to round out Operation Allied Force's air component.

"The Kosovo operation drained us," says USAFE commander Gen John Jumper (left) at his headquarters at Ramstein AB, Germany. "It took everything we had. I'm not sure we could have done much more than we did. We were stressed about as much as I think we could be stressed, and it's going to take fully six months to get back to the readiness levels we need."

Global duties

The Kosovo air campaign was the crescendo of the USAFE's long list of commitments in a post-Cold War era that, instead of delivering the much-vaunted peace dividend, has served up new duties of patrolling no-fly zones over Iraq and the Balkans, increasingly frequent humanitarian aid missions and deployments to hot spots around the world. At the same time that the USAF's responsibilities abroad increased, a reduction in the US military, combined with a realignment of forces overseas, sharply pared the numbers of airmen assigned in Europe as well as the number of USAF bases.

Nevertheless, Jumper believes that the USAFE's force structure size is "about right", albeit "stretched very, very thin" - particularly in rated, or pilot, staff positions at headquarters where manning is at 64% of establishment. Internal restructuring may be in order at the headquarters level, and further manpower redistribution will follow over the next five years as the USAFE leaves Rhein-Main AB near Frankfurt. Operations will be moved to Ramstein, with overflow shifted to Spangdahlem AB.

Jumper's forces are recovering from the Balkan air campaign's heavy impact on manpower, supplies and the command's aircraft. "We were able to produce the mission-capable rates on our aircraft that we have come to expect from the performance of our air force. Those were very high during the contingency," the four-star general says.

"It did cost us wear and tear on aircraft, obviously," he says. "We nearly doubled the USAFE allocation of flying time for the period we fought the war compared to what we had anticipated in training. It's hard to anticipate what impact that will have, and we can't ignore things like that. These aircraft are not new. We have an ageing inventory, especially when you look at some of our [Lockheed Martin] C-130s and other aircraft."

While the air war forced an increase in flying hours, aircrew training took a back seat. "From a training perspective, we've got a backlog of pilots and crewmembers that need to be trained," Jumper says. "In this regard, our fighter community suffers probably a little more than our big aircraft community." He says the crews of aircraft such as tankers are better able to keep up with training than fighter aircrews.

Jumper says a reconstitution plan is under way for training in "things like the airlift world, airdrop proficiency, airdrop training, short-field and assault landings and in the fighter community". These drills, he says, were unable to be performed during the Kosovo operation. There is also a backlog of new people waiting for training "because virtually everyone was deployed".

Also requiring reconstitution is the USAFE's store of Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM), AGM-130 stand-off missiles and ALE-50 decoys, which have dwindled significantly. Jumper says purchases of these weapons will receive increased emphasis, post-Kosovo, especially those of JDAM. "Due to its great success - probably better than we ever expected - we depleted our inventory rather quickly. Not because we had failed to buy them, but because we had just started buying them."

Night flying a priority


Improving USAFE units' night-flying capability via additional training and equipment will be at the forefront of Jumper's post-Kosovo priorities - in tankers and strategic transports as well as for fighters. "I think it's just as important for them to have a robust night vision goggle capability as it is for the fighters. It's a great safety enhancement when you've got crowded airspace, as we did, a large refuelling operation and many orbits of large aircraft platforms that are performing surveillance and reconnaissance and intelligence collection."

Source: Flight International