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September 16, 2009—NATO has expanded from 16 nations to 28 in just over decade, but the manpower and equipment assigned to US Air Forces in Europe has been steadily declining since the end of the Cold War. This has created a mismatch between resources and missions that is growing steadily worse, Gen. Roger Brady, USAFE commander, told AFA’s Air & Space Conference Sept. 16.

“This is not a partnership we can take for granted,” he said.

Using fighters to illustrate resources in general, Brady noted that the command had 450 fighters at eight bases in 1991. By the end of next year, USAFE will be down to 150 fighters at three bases, and up to three of the command’s eight squadrons are deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan at any given time.

Reductions of this scale have come at a cost. In the past six months, USAFE has cancelled two important exercises with NATO allies because the command simply did not have the forces available, he said.

There is strategic risk in a lack of engagement with the allies on the enormously significant continent, emphasized Brady.

He said that only five of NATO’s members meet the self-imposed target of spending two percent of gross domestic product on defense (one of them is the US), and it is becoming politically easier on the continent to support European Union initiatives instead of NATO missions—the trends are not positive.

USAFE “can’t afford to lose any more force structure,” he added in an interview, because the US forces are important providers of both deterrent and partner-building capabilities.