USAFE Stands Up 6 July, 1987 (Part 2)

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Even though REFORGER assumed a major priority in the US reinforcement of Western Europe, the first priority was airpower. The trickle of warplanes leaving the United States for Europe on 6 July would shortly transform into a nearly constant stream as more active duty and eventually Air National Guard and reserve squadrons tagged for Europe came online. Combatant command and wing commanders in the US were not the only ones grappling with deployment and redeployment issues. Some of their counterparts in Europe were contending with similar problems, especially US commanders in the United Kingdom.

The 10th Tactical Reconnaissance Wing based at RAF Alconbury was in the midst of changing missions when Romanov’s coup was launched. The wing was transitioning from RF-4C Phantoms and their reconnaissance mission to A-10A Thunderbolt IIs. The wing was scheduled to be designated the 10th Tactical Fighter Wing in August of 1987. In June, the wing’s RF-4Cs departed England, leaving a hole in USAFE’s reconnaissance capabilities on the eve of battle. Air Guard squadrons flying the RF-4C would eventually fill the void. However, the pinch was felt during the first week of hostilities when combat losses and limited availability caused some disruption in tactical reconnaissance.

The 81st TFWs problems was strikingly different. The 81st was a combat wing made up of four A-10 squadrons based at RAF Bentwaters-Woodbridge. It was regarded as a super-wing that’s primary wartime role was to provide close air support for NATO ground forces trying to halt a Soviet advance into West Germany. Detachments of the wing’s aircraft were often rotated to forward operating locations in Germany as a hedge against a surprise Soviet invasion. Under current war plans, the 81st would fight from West Germany while Bentwaters hosted newly arrived fighter wings from the US.

Fortunately for USAFE, the 81st was well versed in its wartime mission and practiced for it regularly. The forward operating locations at Sembach, Leipheim, Alhorn and Norvenich Air Bases were fully stocked with ordnance, ammunition, fuel, and spare parts. Pilots and maintainers had spent so much time at one or more of these sites in the past that they were intimately familiar with them. So when the 81st’s commander Colonel Bill Studer received his orders from 3rd Air Force, the wing was ready to go. Within three hours the first C-130 carrying maintainers and other wing staff had arrived at Sembach.

CINC-USAFE was not entirely satisfied with the speed of the deployments and redeployments. General Bill Kirk, USAF was a realist by nature, and a perfectionist by trade. The former F-4 driver understood that the clock was running against him and NATO. War was coming and it would likely arrive before his command was completely reinforced and ready for action.  He was pushing his wing and base commanders to prepare their units for war as fervently as he was pushing Tactical Air Command and the Pentagon to send him as many aircraft and pilots as fast as possible. “I have enough gas, ammo, and spare parts to get through ten days of intensive air ops,” he confided to his TAC counterpart General Bob Russ. “For now just send me as many aircraft and pilots as you can before the balloon goes up!”

 

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