Regional challenges, budget effect USAFE/AFAFRICA

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Devon Suits
  • Air Force News Service
Gen. Frank Gorenc, the commander of U.S. Air Forces in Europe and U.S. Air Forces Africa, spoke about the impact of sequestration and some of the current challenges USAFE/AFAFRICA faces on Sept 15, at the Air Force Association Air and Space Symposium here.

USAFE and AFAFRICA is an interesting command because it is the only MAJCOM that provides oversight to two combatant commanders, Gorenc said.

According to the general, the command structure provides a forward presence to the expeditionary Air Force construct; operational support for missions in Europe and Africa; and support to operations outside the AOR through participation in the air and space expeditionary force construct.

“We have a saying in Europe … we are forward, we’re ready and we’re ready now,” he said. “We enable much of the movement and much of the ability of the U.S. Air Force to do expeditionary operations because we have infrastructure and force structure to enable us to do the mission.”

One of the biggest challenges USAFE/AFAFRICA faces is the uncertainty about the future of forces in result of sequestration.

Currently, USAFE and AFAFRICA has approximately 57,317 military civilian and dependents spread out through Air Force installations and more than 90 geographically separated units.

“USAFE, since 1989, has decreased by all measures and in all areas by 75 percent,” he said, which included cuts in personnel, installations and aircraft.

“The bottom line is we use four percent of the Air Force (operation and maintenance) budget,” he said. “We are full partners of the idea that there is infrastructure that we can save money on. We are also full participants in the European Infrastructure Initiative. The bottom line is with the massive downsizing we have accomplished, in the end, there is not a lot there.”

Gorenc highlighted that the effects of sequestration in fiscal year 2013 forced several squadrons to stand down, causing them to lose their level of readiness and ultimately effecting the future development of forces.

“The Chief of Staff of the Air Force has focused us on fiscal 2023. What do we want our force to look like in 2023 assuming we do not get relief from sequestration? That is where we’re at —were going to have some hard choices.”

In order to meet cost saving initiative set by the Secretary of the Air Force, Deborah Lee James, and Chief of Staff of the Air Force, Gen. Mark A. Welsh III, Gorenc challenged all the leadership in USAFE to find ways to make every dollar count.

Gorenc provided examples of Airmen throughout USAFE that found ways to save approximately 1.8 million dollars annually by finding ways to reduce man hours or developing more proficient ways to complete tasks.

“Our Airmen are stepping up big in the innovation area. The important part is not how much we save. The important part is inspiring an environment that Airmen can feel empowered and where they can bring up ideas to save money. That is what we are trying to do across USAFE and that’s what we are trying to do across the Air Force.”

In addition to cutbacks caused by sequestration, the general said USAFE faces the challenge of ambiguous warfare, otherwise known as hybrid warfare.

“Ambiguous warfare is used to describe what I thought the Ukraine crisis represented,” Gorenc said. “The crisis has been interesting for us, because in the end Putin has found a way to limit the asymmetrical advantages of NATO.

“When Crimea happened, there was this concept and discussion of ‘little green men.’ They were people that looked like they were in the military, but had no insignia … and they were running around doing things that looked military.

“The thing we couldn’t figure out was evidence or attribution to who they are,” Gorenc said. “Who are these people and why were they in Crimea and why did they aid in the annexation?”

Another example of ambiguous warfare that Gorenc highlighted was the issue of advanced surface to air missile systems in the hands of unknown forces that fire them from unknown locations.

There was an airliner shot down with no real attribution to who did it or why they did it, he said. In addition to that, the Ukraine has also lost a squadron worth of aircraft, flying sorties in their own air space.

“This is the air domain equivalent to ‘little green men,’ and it is going to hinder our ability to do operations,” he said. “This ambiguous warfare changes the way we operate in the air.”

USAFE also has to deal with the challenge of flying in a contested air space.

“Today one-third of Poland is under Russian (integrated air defense) coverage and there are other parts of NATO air space where that is also true,” he said.

The idea of contested air space is not exclusive to any particular part of the world, he said, but USAFE is going to have to account for this and make tactics, techniques and procedures.

“Air dominance is the ability to do anything we want from the air,” Gorenc said. That is the American, coalition and alliance way of war and I don’t see it changing. Ukraine offers us a valuable opportunity to look at a problem were going to have to deal with.”

While USAFE deals with the uncertainty caused by unknown forces, AFAFRICA faces the challenges of the tyranny of distance and transnational threats

“The tyranny of distance in my area of responsibility is enormous,” he said. This is caused by the lack of established transportation infrastructure throughout Africa, causing a continual need for air transportation and support in the AOR.

In addition, drug trafficking and human trafficking continues to be security issues that challenge the region.