Once again - we need REFORGER
call it what you want, but do it
The airlift fellas are at it again - doing the right thing and showing how critical they are to the fight.
U.S. and European allies will conduct a massive air exercise in Germany this June on a scale unseen since the end of the Cold War, military officials said.
Some 220 allied aircraft and 10,000 personnel will take part in Air Defender 23, against the backdrop of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Around 100 U.S. aircraft, all from the Air National Guard, will come together with allied planes to practice combat, distributed operations, and degraded command and control. U.S. F-35s, F-16s, F-15s, A-10s, KC-135, KC-46s, C-130s, and C-17s will all take part, as well as hundreds of Airmen from 35 states.
The exercise will include mock enemy aircraft, known as Red Air, as allied “Blue” crews train how to fight with each other against a potential foe.
We’ve discussed the “Defender XX” series before, and it is great to see it continuing. Everyone knows what a fanboi I am of the Cold War era REFORGER exercises, so you can guess what the topic today is: we are way overdue for a major sealift exercise on par with what the air bubbas are doing.
Air Defender will mostly take place in Germany, but planes will also operate from forward operation locations in the Czech Republic, Estonia, and Latvia, and airbases across the continent will host participating aircraft.
A German military spokesperson stressed that the exercise was organized by Germany, not NATO headquarters, but it will include support from the alliance, and 22 of 24 participating countries are NATO members, along with prospective NATO member Sweden.
“We have to take responsibility to stand up and say ‘OK, we are ready to defend the alliance,’” Chief of the German Air Force Lt. Gen. Ingo Gerhartz said.
Gerhartz, who has headed the Luftwaffe since 2018, was the driving force behind Air Defender, taking inspiration from the Defender series of large-scale ground exercises, said retired USAF Gen. Jeffrey L. Harrigian, who led U.S. Air Forces in Europe and NATO Allied Air Command from 2019-2022.
Bravo Zulu to Gerhartz. He’s spot on.
Let’s see, the major ports in Europe are, in order; Rotterdam, Antwerp, Hamburg, and Amsterdam. With that lineup, the natural thing would be for a Dutch-Belgian lead nation construct- perhaps with an assist by the British - and get this going.
If you don’t want to call it REFORGER, then OK, find a better name.
Harrigian said European allies saw a need to modernize their air forces even before Russia’s invasion. The dangers were highlighted at a 2019 NATO meeting in which the alliance deemed Russia a “threat” to security in the region, which enabled regional air forces to gain support for better equipment and training.
“That was a key political decision,” Harrigian told Air & Space Forces Magazine. “Because if we mass legitimate capabilities, it’s going to deter Russia, and they’re not going to want any part of what we could potentially do to them. And everybody got it.”
If that argument can be made for strategic airlift, then the sale should be easier for strategic sealift.
In any war - but especially in Europe - it is sealift that is going to get, or not get, your forces and their supplies there to get in the fight.
“We need to exercise at this larger scale,” retired Gen. Phillip M. Breedlove, the former NATO Supreme Allied Commander, told Air & Space Forces Magazine. “We do not do it often enough.”
Gerhartz, whose nation will have around 60 aircraft participating and will provide logistical and command and control support, agrees.
“We have to be much more capable of defending the lines and it’s not just about talking or showing slides,” Gerhartz said. “We have to prove it, we have to demonstrate it.
“How do you inform Russia? Well, we won’t write them a letter. I think they get the message when we deploy.”
Yes, I know that if we did the sealift version of this we would expose all sorts of problems from lack of hulls, to readiness, to manning shortfalls, to port issues, to convoy escort requirements, etc … but we should welcome that bad news, those hard facts.
It is much better to be embarrassed and beg Congress for more funds at peace than be defeated and sign letters of condolences to families of thousands more than necessary dead at war - and then explain your failure to Congress and the American people.
Let’s do it.