By Kris Osborn
U.S. Army Europe has experienced a massive decrease in aviation assets in recent months, leading battalion commanders to express concern that the fleet size is not adequate to addressing the fast-changing security environment in the region.
An overall reduction in the Army force presence in Europe has contributed to the reduction as well as a service restructuring plan which removed rotary wing assets from the active force, moving them to the National Guard, Col. Chris Waters, Commander, 12th Aviation Brigade, told reporters.
“As a result of the Army’s restructuring we have less capability than we had before – in my assessment this has created an aviation deficit in EUCOM (European Command) for rotary wing. We’re going about trying to figure out how to resolve that deficit. We are having a challenging time building readiness. One of the purposes of regionally aligned forces is to build and sustain readiness,” Waters explained.
In total, Waters’ unit has been reduced from seven battalions down to two. Regarding some of the specifics; the unit’s fleet of 48 Apache attack helicopters has been reduced to 24, Black Hawks have been decreased from 60 down to 30 assault helicopters, 12 Chinooks have been reduced to 8 and MEDEVAC (Medical Evacuation) helicopters have been reduced from 30 down to 6.
Waters added that the fast-changing current security environment in Europe is a circumstance which requires a larger Army aviation presence.
Citing tensions with Russia due to ongoing fighting in Ukraine, an increasing flow of refugees into Europe resulting from turmoil in Syria, and recent terrorist attacks in Paris as complicating factors, Waters said efforts were underway to help U.S. Army Europe replace some of its reduced fleet.
“The Russians are a high-end near peer adversary. They are employing hybrid capability ---- and then you throw on top of that the potential social and economic turmoil and extremist potential security threat from asymmetric groups such as ISIS and other organizations like that. In our view, Europe is as central an environment to U.S. and international security as there is,” Waters said.
In addition, U.S. Army Europe is designed to provide a large portion of the ground support to NATO’s ongoing Operation Atlantic Resolve – a multi-national effort to counter potential Russian aggression and deter further action.
“Operation Atlantic Resolve is the resulting operation in which the U.S. and NATO are reassuring partners that we are there with them and also providing measured deterrence,” Waters said. “if you look at the European continent and you have 51 Nations and 28 NATO partners. There is an expanse from Estonia in the North all the way down to the Black Sea region further south. It is a tremendous operating environment. You are not just operating in one countries’ airspace,” Waters added.
Waters added that while upcoming NATO exercises will certainly bear counter-terrorism training in mind, the real concern with the Paris terrorist attacks is the need to take every measure necessary to ensure soldiers in Europe are protected.
Installations and all locations where U.S. and NATO forces are located are increasing their vigilance against lone-wolf gunfire-type attacks and potential attacks from small groups of terrorists.
“The one thing that keeps me awake at night is the protection of their soldiers and their families,” he said.
U.S. Army Europe has made a request for more helicopters and in the meantime Waters said his units were taking a number of corrective or adaptive measures to address the fleet-size situation.
“I don’t expect we are going to get force structure back in the future. The way we are addressing the deficit is we are using rotational forces, we are enabling our allies and we are trying to get Guard and Reserve capability. Clearly we are not supporting the volume and the capacity that we were before,” Waters said.