9 January 2015

US to shrink NATO Infrastructure in EU, boost Ukraine-linked rotation

DPA: 09. January 2015

Washington (dpa) -- The US military will further reduce its physical footprint in Europe while expanding support for rotating troops throughout eastern and central Europe, Pentagon officials said Thursday.

The announcement came at the end of a two-year review of the US military infrastructure in Europe that will see changes mainly in Britain, Germany, Italy and Portugal, said Derek Chollet, assistant secretary of defence for energy, installations and environment.

The return of 15 US military sites to the host countries and other changes will save 500 million dollars a year in infrastructure costs in Europe and  "help support" the central and eastern Europe rotation schedule, officials said at a press briefing. 
The US said it plans to use the savings to build the capacity of its newer allies as well as Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova.

Most affected by the changes will be Britain. The US will permanently station its first two squadrons of the long-awaited F35 joint strike fighter jets - expected to be introduced from 2018-2021 - at the RAF's Lakenheath air base while pulling out of Mildenhall, Alconbury and Molesworth bases.
The Lakenheath decision, while not part of the infrastructure review, will require adding 1,200 personnel to support the F35s.

Chollet and John Conger, who led the two-year review, said that the reductions in physical plants will not diminish the US commitment to its European allies nor the current deployment of 67,000 US troops in Europe.
The rotating troops in eastern and central Europe have been "piggy-backing on existing facilities" that are not necessarily meeting their needs, Chollet said.
"A lot changed from a year ago," Chollet said, adding that the threat from Russia to Ukraine lent new urgency to the two-year review process. 

Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia: Long-standing, multilateral, multifaceted, U.S Army Europe-led security cooperation exercise 

The officials did not mention specific additions of infrastructure in eastern and central Europe.
In total, the infrastructure changes will mean the elimination of 1,200 military support positions and the relocation of 6,000 US personnel.
Up to 1,100 host nation positions could be eliminated, and another 1,500 local employees could be affected by relocations, officials said. 
"The savings that we will gain will allow us to maintain a strong force presence into the future," Chollet said.

Secretary of Defence Chuck Hagel acknowledged that some local workforces would be reduced, and said he valued the "tremendous support" they have provided for decades.
"In the end, this transformation of our infrastructure will help maximize our military capabilities in Europe and help strengthen our important European partnerships," he said in a statement. 

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