General Tod D. Wolters
Commander, U.S. Air Forces in Europe
Commander U.S. Air Forces Africa
Brussels March 15, 2018
Moderator: Hello. Greetings to everyone from the U.S.-European Media Hub in Brussels. I would like to welcome our participants dialing in from across Europe and thank all of you for joining this discussion.
Today we are pleased to be joined by General Tod D. Wolters, Commander of the U.S. Air Forces Europe and U.S. Air Forces Africa. General Wolters looks forward to discussing U.S. Air Force operations and training activities happening across Europe and Africa. We thank you, General Wolters, for taking the time to join us today.
We will begin today’s call with opening remarks from General Wolters, and then we will turn to your questions. We will try to get to as many of them as we can during the time that we have, which is approximately 30 minutes. As a reminder, today’s call is on the record. And with that, I will turn it over to General Wolters.
General Wolters: Vanessa, thank you for the introduction. Again, I appreciate the support of the Brussels Media Hub for hosting this event. I also appreciate everyone for dialing in to join in the discussion.
For those of you who are joining us for the first time, I say welcome, and I hope you find this format useful.
Last fall we started this series, and today I’d like to continue the conversation with updates that are significant to USAFE and AFAFRICA.
First, at the national level, I’d like to highlight America’s new National Defense Strategy. To meet the national security concerns, the NDS directs three specific lines of effort.
The first, build a more lethal force.
The second, strengthen alliances and attract new partners.
The third, reform the department for greater performance and affordability.
Its clear intent is to develop a more lethal, resilient and rapidly innovating joint force which combined with the robust constellation of allies and partners will safeguard international order.
In perfect alignment with the NDS is our USAFE, AFAFRICA recently published Command Strategy which helps shape our efforts on the preservation and improvement of military readiness and our critical warfighting posture.
Our strategy centers on advancing the core elements – – our forces, our footprint, and our agreements and partnerships.
First and foremost are our forces. The airmen, equipment, units, and organizations assigned or rotationally deployed to USAFE/AFAFRICA that we can bring to bear to address security challenges across all domains and levels of conflict.
Second, our footprint. The vital network of installations, infrastructure, prepositioned equipment, and combat support capabilities required to project air power throughout Europe and Africa.
And lastly, our agreements and partnerships. Everything the Command does to posture and operate in and beyond Europe and Africa is formed on the foundation of our agreements and partnerships. We greatly value these relationships and work hard and seek to develop them further.
USAFE/AFAFRICA’s day-to-day mission is to deliver air power capabilities to meet the requirements of geographic combatant commanders and the NATO Alliance.
One of these critical air power missions is securing the sovereign skies of our NATO allies in the Baltics. This past January airmen from the 48th Fighter Wing at RAF Lakenheath concluded the United States’ fifth rotation of Baltic Air Policing. During this four-month deployment, four USAFE F-15Cs completed roughly 3,000 alert hours, over 170 sorties, and 300 flying hours performing this NATO mission. The jets were scrambled almost 60 times in response to unusual or questionable air activity.
Our support for the NATO Air Policing mission is just one of the many ways USAFE/AFAFRICA employs rotational forces to support our allies.
Earlier this year four B-52 Stratofortress Aircraft from Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota, supported theater integration and conducted joint and allied training to improve bomber interoperability.
Also in January, 12 F-16s from the Ohio Air National Guard deployed to Estonia as part of the theater security package deployments in support of Operation Atlantic Resolve.
Additionally, rotations of C-130 aircraft from Dobbins Air Force Reserve Base, Georgia, and from the Illinois Air National Guard deployed to Portugal in support of Exercise Real Thaw 2018, and to Poland for joint readiness training.
These rotational deployments create responsive air power capabilities and interoperability while strengthening relationships with our allies and partners.
Vanessa has mentioned previously, we greatly value our partnerships. In January, we hosted the first-ever Partnership Flight Symposium combining our African and European partner nations with a focus on aeromedical evaluation operations. This symposium united 50 representatives from 12 [inaudible] with the common goal of exchanging ideas and increasing medical support capacity, and most importantly, to save lives.
Happening next week will be the African Partnership Flight Mission in Senegal with approximately 70 African participants. The African Partnership Flight Mission is a multilateral military-to-military event designed to improve professional air knowledge and skills, build relationships, and help resolve security and stability issues.
Currently underway, in accordance with the longstanding bilateral agreements USAFE under U.S. European Command is participating with the Israeli Defense Forces in a combined missile defense exercise, Juniper Cobra ’18. Activities and preparations associated with this exercise began in late January and will continue throughout the month. Juniper Cobra ’18 is part of a routine training cycle designed to improve the interoperability of U.S. and Israeli Defense Forces. JC ’18 represents another step in the strategic relationship between the U.S. and Israel, and contributes greatly to regional stability.
Another ongoing exercise is Iniochos ’18, a Hellenic Air Force led, multinational flying exercise. Fourteen F-15Es and about 300 support personnel from the 48th Fighter Wing, RAF Lakenheath in England, arrived in Greece this month to strengthen our relationship and maintain joint readiness and interoperability with our allies and partners.
USAFE’s support of Baltic Air Policing and the employment of theater security packages are a direct application of the Air Force’s portion of European Deterrence Initiative funding which is projected to reach more than $1 billion in 2018. Along with these missions, the 2018 EDI budget continues to support the prepositioning of Air Force equipment and airfield infrastructure improvements in at least six different countries.
Finally, let me say America’s airmen in Europe and Africa are resourced and trained to fight as a part of our larger military team. Our unrelenting focus is on maintaining and improving our readiness to perform the critical national security missions we have been assigned.
Thank you for the time, and I look forward to fielding your questions.
Moderator: Thank you, General Wolters, for those remarks. We will now begin the question and answer portion of today’s call. Our first question comes to us from Carlo Angerer from NBC News.
Question: Good afternoon, General Wolters.
Today NATO released its report that also looks at spending, and some of the allies are still not hitting the two percent target that especially the U.S. wants to see. Do you see that up or on the ground that allies are not spending enough? And where would you like them to spend more so that they could support your operations?
General Wolters: Carlo, if I could, I’ll just first of all reveal to the facts as I know them at this very moment. Europe and Canada have increased defense spending over the past three years, and as we sit right now in 2018, eight countries will meet the two percent with 15 nations on pace to reach or exceed two percent by 2024. So I think that is very, very good news with respect to the two percent spending.
My second comment is, as you can well imagine, is to scrutinize what actually goes into the spending, and we’re very, very focused on ensuring that from a bang for the buck perspective, we look at cost, capability and capacity. And given those facts at this very moment, we feel that the trajectory of spending is improving, and I’m firmly convinced that given this trajectory we’re on the right glide path for future success.
Moderator: Great, thank you.
Our next question comes to us from Kjetil Stormark from ALDRIMER.NO in Norway.
Question: Thank you very much. I have a couple of questions.
First, do you consider there to be a need for strengthening the total available NATO air power on the northern flank in peace time? And if so, could that entail requesting having a permanent presence of U.S. fighter aircraft in Norway in peace time?
And also, is there a need for strengthening [inaudible] and air reconnaissance and surveillance coverage in the Arctic and on the northern flank?
General Wolters: NATO has been and will continue to be very very focused on the north and high north, and the relationship that we have in NATO Air Command with respect to all the activities that take place with the great Norwegian Air Force are strong and continuing on a positive glide path.
What I can tell you is that we’re determined to support our allies in all the collective efforts of navigation of international waters and certainly freedom of navigation with respect to the airspace. That remains the number one assumption going into the equation.
And as we continue to work side by side with the Norwegian Air Force, that will remain our primary focus. And with respect to exercises in the region and rotational resources, we have the packages that we need to continue to be successful in the future.
Moderator: Thank you. Our next question comes to us from Rolando Santos from TVI, Portugal.
Question: Good afternoon. General, there’s a big discussion going on right now in Portugal regarding the environmental impact of United States Air Force activities at Lajes Base, the Azores. What I’d like to know is, can you tell us when the Portuguese authorities will [inaudible] the Air Force regarding the environmental situation? Especially contamination. And if that happened right from the start or if there was some kind of delay on communicating that situation.
I’d also like to know if you can give us a quick outline of any decontamination activities that are planned for Lajes Field. Thank you.
General Wolters: Rolando, what I can say is we’ve had queries as recently as last February with respect to the activities that are ongoing at Lajes, and I know that you’re familiar with those.
What I do know is that we remain committed to our partnerships. We’re committed to its ongoing and enduring presence at Lajes. Portugal remains a key ally. We are absolutely, positively dedicated to finding solutions to the environmental concerns and we will continue to cooperate on all the environmental cleanup projects that exist at Lajes.
I know that our whole of government along with the U.S. Embassy are working very, very hard to address these concerns. And what I can tell you is, we’re focused on several environmental cleanup contracts, and I know those contracts have been recently awarded, and I can’t give you the specificity on the exact [–tape skip–]. We’ve actually doubled our bilateral discussions on the environment since last year and we’ve resolved many issues at several identified sites.
Again, Rolando, I would put this in the category of the transparency is fantastic, and side by side with the Embassy we’re continuing to improve conditions with respect to the environmental cleanup projects.
Moderator: Thank you.
Our next question comes to us from Steve Losey from the Air Force Times.
Question: Hi, General. Thank you very much for this.
My question has to do with Russian military activity. Of course for the last couple of years there’s been repeated instances about potentially unsafe encounters with Russian aircraft. Could you characterize what you’re seeing, what USAFE is seeing as far as Russian military activities? Are their activities increasing, growing more concerning? Can you characterize that?
And my second question to you is, can you describe any further what USAFE is going to do to, over the rest of the year, to display support for allies and send a deterrence signal to Russia? Are we looking at further deployments of fighters, airmen, and other aircraft through the rest of the year?
General Wolters: Steve, first I’ll characterize the observed activity in the air domain with respect to U.S. observations of Russian aviation. What we saw in ’15, what we’ve seen in ’16, what we’ve seen in ’17, and now what we’ve seen in ’18 shows a steady pace of Russian aviation. Nothing with a dramatic increase, nothing with a dramatic drop-off.
Each and every one of the air policing encounters that we have with Russian aviation we document and we track and we characterize. And well over 95 percent of those incidents where we have air activity, we have observed safe behavior on behalf of the Russian aviation force. So that really addresses your first concern.
The next concern I will tell you, it’s my job as the NATO Air Com Commander to ensure that our forces are ready. I focus on our forces’ responsiveness, I focus on the resiliency, and I focus on the lethality. And their job in life is to protect the sovereign skies of our great NATO nations. That’s exactly what they are doing. And we do so via a very, very robust exercise and training scenario calendar.
What we accomplished in ’16, increased in size and increased in relevancy in ’17, and now what we are doing in ’18 is an ever so small increase in the size and relevancy of our training and exercise events, and the readiness of our forces is steadily improving over time and that’s what our primary focus is.
Moderator: Thank you.
Our next question comes from Oriana Pawlyk from Miltiary.com.
Question: Hi, General Wolters. Thanks for doing this.
I wanted to clarify on that Israeli exercise. Do you anticipate working with Israeli F-35s for that exercise?
And secondly, could you give us, for my second question, just an update on what’s been going on with operations at Incirlik. I know there’s been some tumult in the last couple of years since, you know, dependents had to move and there was just some reshifting of assets. Can you give us a little bit of an update, what’s going on with the base there as well? Thank you.
General Wolters: First of all, if I can start from the last to first, what is taking place in Turkey is the fielding of the same number of bases that we’ve had over time, and the relationship that is ongoing from a mil-to-mil perspective, and certainly in the air domain with us and Turkey remains very, very strong. A strong NATO partner, our aviation relationship is incredibly powerful, and I would characterize at the end of the day all the activities that are ongoing in the air domain between us and Turkey to remain incredibly strong.
With respect to the ongoing exercise in Israel, at this time we do not have F-35 participation from a live-fly standpoint, but certainly from a planning standpoint and a contingency standpoint. The activities of the Israeli F-35s have certainly been folded into the equation.
And as you well know, one of our EUCOM lines of efforts is to continue to support Israel in great fashion, and that’s exactly what is taking place and ongoing with the current exercise. Thank you.
Moderator: Our next question is from Radu Dobriţoiu from Romanian Radio.
Question: Good afternoon, sir. I’m from the Romanian Radio Broadcasting Corporation.
Sir, in the future is there a desire for a permanent presence, rotational presence, of the United States Air Force on the territory of Romania? I talk about MK and [inaudible] air bases. We are very close to Russia.
General Wolters: I will tell you that our relationship with your Romanian Air Chief is very strong. I just was able to send a note of congratulations to him for his appointment, and I was just able to send a note that addressed some of the air defense resources that have been recently acquired by your Air Force.
You can anticipate that the rotational presence with our U.S. Air Force assets will continue to increase in Romania as they have over the course of the last several years, and just as you pointed out, the wonderful Air Base that you have, MK, that’s in the far eastern side, I anticipate more exchanges with our rotational forces there over time.
We’re very, very excited to work with your Air Force. We’re very, very impressed with the improvement of your F-16 capability, and we certainly look forward to seeing all the wonderful things that will occur with the Air Force and with your Armed Forces with respect to the utilization of the Patriot missiles.
Moderator: Thank you.
The next question is from Jennifer Svan, with Stars and Stripes.
Question: Hi, General Wolters. Thanks for the opportunity to speak to you today.
My question is about the KC-135 move to Ramstein from the UK. Last fall it was reported that that move of the tankers had been delayed by about two years. I was wondering if you could talk about the hurdles being worked through right now to make that happen, and are there any updates that you can talk about, any updates on that time line?
General Wolters: Well Jennifer, as you well know, we had forecast to bring those KC-135s down into Ramstein. Ramstein is a wonderful air force base, it’s right next to Kaiserslautern, and Kaiserslautern’s inside of Germany, so we are working by, with and through our German partners for the basing movements. We’ve had some environmental challenges. We are working through all those. Those are in constant deliberation. We certainly have had some changes with respect to the disposition of the movement of air frames and the changing nature of views of how we can utilize these resources.
So I can just tell you, Jennifer, that those deliberations are ongoing, so I can’t comment on the final disposition of those, but the cooperation that has existed with the U.S. Air Force and with the German Air Force, and I’m pretty certain that I can speak for our Embassy conversations with the German government, have all been very open and all very, very transparent. And we don’t see any significant snags except for the fact that these things just don’t occur overnight. And because of the changing nature of the landscape, they’re not getting worked as fast as we would prefer, but the deliberations are still ongoing. Thank you.
Moderator: Thank you.
We have a question in writing from Octavian Manea with the 22 Weekly in Romania.
The alliance is increasingly concerned about the proliferation of access denial ecosystems, A2AD, in key points of the NATO operating environment. In your opinion, in what way do these specific capabilities shape regional security trends? Do they affect the deterrence potential of NATO? And what can be done to gradually offset their effects?
General Wolters: Well Octavian’s question is very pointed, and Vanessa, I will tell you that our biggest concern is certainly the capability of our forces. And when folks want to talk about the A2AD environment, I am quick to steer them in a discussion about gaining access to what is typically referred to as a higher threat environment.
What we do to counter that is exercise and train against those specific threats, and ensure that we have a competitive edge against those threats, and that’s what we will continue to do. And the more ready we are, the better our capability we will have, and the better edge that we will maintain. And that will remain our focus in USAFE/AFAFRICA.
Moderator: Thank you.
Our next question comes to us from Peter Fabricius, from the Daily Maverick.
Question: Thanks, General.
I wonder if you can just give a very brief view of your main live operational activities at U.S. Air Force on the African continent. Where you are most engaged, and some idea of the size and scope of it.
General Wolters: Peter, we’re engaged in all quadrants of the continent. We certainly pay close attention to what is taking place on the eastern side with respect to the activity in the vicinity of Somalia. We’re certainly focused from the activities on the north, the northeastern side with respect to what is taking place in Libya. And certainly if you extend all the way to the far western side, with the potential catastrophes that can occur as a result of the influence of Boca Haram. We are certainly paying attention to there.
And in that environment, as AFAFRICA service and support, we’re focused on, with each passing day, improving our ability to conduct intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance activities and certainly improving our ability to improve logistics, and lastly, making sure that we can do all we can from a command and control perspective to be as responsive as we can possibly be.
So the entire continent is certainly of concern to us in AFAFRICA, and as you can tell, based off your study, when you talk to the AFRICOM Commander with respect to his objectives, we are aligned hand in glove to the objectives and the lines of effort that are passed on to us by the AFRICOM Headquarters team.
Moderator: We have time for one more question, and it will go to Carlo Angerer from NBC News.
Question: Thanks again for the briefing.
One more question I have is that during his retirement ceremony last December General Hodges of the U.S. Army in Europe said that one of the things that he regrets during his tenure is to not have done more exercises with the Air Force or with the Navy. Are you looking at working together with the other services more? Making sure there is more interoperability?
General Wolters: Carlo, exactly. I wish I could control the resource of time, and if I could find a way to invent a 36-hour day and a 500-day year, I’d be in a position to where I would be satisfied with the number of exercise activities that we conduct on a weekly/monthly basis with our partner domains. Certainly with U.S. Army Europe, certainly with NAVEUR, and stepping into the NATO world with all of our components.
What we have to focus on is transparency and alignment. The fantastic news is that General Scaparrotti, our USEUCOM Commander has been very, very focused on this same issue, and he has delivered, over a year ago, strategic guidance that governs how we approach each one of the exercises. And the reason General Scaparrotti did that was to maximize our bang for the buck, to get as much transparency and alignment that we can possibly muster out of all the side-by-side components. And General Hodges was a fantastic U.S. Army Europe leader, and I certainly remember his retirement speech, and I think he was spot-on. But I suspect if you talk to any of the commanders who are always focused on exercises and training events, they will all tell you they just can’t get enough side-by-side training with their sister components.
It’s an area, Carlo, that we will continue to focus on because together, side-by-side with components, [inaudible] an effective force. Thank you.
Moderator: Thank you. Unfortunately, that was the last question we have time for today. General Wolters, do you have any closing words you’d like to offer?
General Wolters: No, Vanessa. Thank you so much for opening up [inaudible] USAFE and AFAFRICA. And my final comment is my promise to the team, we’re working to keep our forces as ready as they can possibly be, and today I’m proud to report that our forces are ready.
Thank you very much.
Moderator: I’d like to thank you, General Wolters, for joining us, and to thank all of you for participating and for your questions.