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Gorenc discusses European Reassurance Initiative, air police mission

Gen. Frank Gorenc, the commander of NATO Allied Air Command and U.S. Air Forces in Europe - Air Forces Africa, shakes hands with MC-12W Liberty maintenance crewmembers during a visit to Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, March 10, 2014. (U.S. Air Force photo/Capt. Brian Wagner)

Gen. Frank Gorenc, the commander of NATO Allied Air Command and U.S. Air Forces in Europe - Air Forces Africa, shakes hands with MC-12W Liberty maintenance crewmembers during a visit to Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, March 10, 2014. (U.S. Air Force photo/Capt. Brian Wagner)

WASHINGTON (AFNS) -- The commander of U.S. Air Forces in Europe - Air Forces Africa said April 5 that the increase in European Reassurance Initiative funds next year will allow his command to improve its presence and facilities on the eastern side of NATO and to deter Russia.

Gen. Frank Gorenc also told the Defense Writers’ Group that his command is working on transferring the air policing mission over the Baltic States into an air defense mission.

The European Reassurance Initiative is set at $3.4 billion in the fiscal year 2017 defense budget request -- four times greater than in 2016. The budget line is in response to aggressive Russian actions in Ukraine.

Building capacity

The ERI increase will allow Gorenc, who also heads the NATO Allied Air Command, to build on what is already a “pretty robust” training program in Europe. He is planning more “heel-to-toe” training -- meaning that training is continuous. It will also allow for more bilateral and multilateral exercises.

“We already had a pretty robust training regime in Europe with our partners and allies, but this will allow us to do another aspect that I am keen on and that is continuing to develop the airfields, particularly on the eastern side of NATO -- the Baltic (States), Poland, Romania and Bulgaria,” he said. “This will allow for an easier place to go, to accomplish high-volume, high-velocity operations.”

Airfields are more than just runways, he said. Airfields need infrastructure -- weapons storage, fueling capabilities, maintenance facilities. “It needs to be an environment that can generate sorties and combat power from the air as part of the joint campaign,” Gorenc said. The reassurance money will allow him to do just that.

The NATO air component is looking at the Baltic air-policing mission. “Air policing is a peacetime mission designed to provide a capability assure the sovereignty of NATO airspace,” Gorenc said. “But air policing is just one part of what I consider comprehensive air defense.”

Air defense is the integration of aircraft, surface-to-air systems and air-space control measures, he said. “We’ve been talking about this inside the NATO context, and we’ve been working on the air police to air defense initiative and so it’s a journey,” he said.

Air policing has been going on over the Baltic States of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania since 2004 when they joined NATO. The three nations didn’t have the resources to conduct the air-policing mission alone, so NATO nations joined to ensure the mission could be accomplished. Other NATO nations -- Luxemburg, Albania and Slovenia -- have similar air policing arrangements.

In 2015, NATO bulked up the air-policing mission after a steady increase in Russian military air activity. There are currently eight NATO aircraft performing the mission.

Gen. Philip Breedlove, NATO’s supreme allied commander in Europe, said last week in Vilnius, Lithuania, that NATO should build up its air police to an air defense force that could be effective in war.

“The air defense journey is important because it gets us in the mindset to be able to quickly transition to a more robust defense of the air in case it is necessary,” Gorenc said.


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