In addition to relocating some US forces from Germany to Poland, the US continues to develop its strategy to forward deploy military assets closer to Russia’s borders. As part of the Pentagon’s European Deterrence Initiative (EDI) – created in 2014 to counter Russian aggression and hybrid warfare – the US Air Force now plans to build a major air operations hub in Romania.
Southeastern Europe is becoming increasingly important in the US and NATO plans to counter Russia.
These moves will also put US forces closer to the Black Sea, where Russian military activity has been growing since its 2008 war with Georgia. NATO allies Bulgaria, Romania and Turkey all lie on the Black Sea, as do NATO ‘partner states’ Georgia and Ukraine. Russia also borders on the Black Sea.
The Air Force is asking for $130.5 million in the National Defense Authorization Act for 2021 to renovate the former Soviet Campia Turzii Air Base in central Romania, reports Stars and Stripes. This would be the biggest overseas military construction project under EDI.
“Campia Turzii Air Base is one of the primary sources for United States European Command and its Service Components’ ability to respond to an evolving European security environment,” the Air Force stated, reported Stars and Stripes.
The funds would go toward major upgrades at the base, “including dangerous cargo landing pads, more parking aprons to support additional tactical fighter aircraft squadron rotations, fuel storage and a depot to support a deployable air base system.”
America’s European Command (EUCOM) has increased its missions in Romania in recent years, but most of its operations have revolved around rotational ground force deployments by US Army units, based and centered on Mihail Kogalniceanu Air Base.
The Air Force has deployed some fighter aircraft to Campia Turzii on a rotational basis. These deployments have included F-15C Eagle fighter aircraft from the 159th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron in July 2017, and F-16C Fighting Falcons from the 301st Fighter Wing, Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base Fort Worth, Texas, in May 2019. Last year, US Air Forces Europe (USAFE) also rotated MQ-9 Reaper drones, based in Poland, temporarily to Campia Turzii.
However, as Stars and Stripes noted, improvements are needed if the U.S and allies are to expand operations. “An adequate tactical fighter aircraft parking apron capable of supporting larger North Atlantic Treaty Organization weapon systems is not currently available at Campia Turzii Air Base,” said the Air Force.
Without the improvements, the Air Force would be limited in what it can send to Campia Turzii, “impairing mission capability and readiness,” the Air Force said in its budget request. The Air Force clearly wants these increased capabilities.
The Black Sea has also seen increased attention by US and NATO air forces. In May, reported The Drive, a pair of B-1B Lancer bombers “flew together with Ukrainian Su-27 Flanker and MiG-29 Fulcrum fighter jets for the first time ever during a training mission over the Black Sea.” Polish MiG-29s and Israeli-upgraded Romanian MiG-21s, as well as F-16 Vipers from both Poland and Romania, also escorted the bombers to and from Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota.
Romania continues to receive used but upgraded F-16AM MLU Vipers from Portugal. As more used F-16s are bought, they will eventually replace Romania’s entire MiG-21 fleet.
We can expect more US and NATO military focus on Romania as well as Poland, as the US reorients away from Germany as its primary NATO presence – to more operationally relevant forward basing across central, northern, and southeastern Europe.