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Head of Air Forces Europe: Funding for Wall Won’t Hurt Buildup Against Russia

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NATIONAL HARBOR, Maryland — The head of U.S. Air Forces Europe says he isn’t worried about the recent transfer of funding for military projects in the region to the border wall effort in the southern United States.

Gen. Jeffrey Harrigian, commander of U.S. Air Forces in Europe-Air Forces Africa, told reporters here during the annual Air, Space and Cyber Conference that moving European Deterrence Initiative (EDI) funding into the Trump administration’s $3.6 billion construction effort doesn’t mean that training will stop, or that the overall Air Force mission will be impacted on the continent.

Instead, he said, the development gives the command time to evaluate where best to position equipment purchases already in the works.

The EDI — begun in 2014 as a result of Russia’s annexation of Crimea and originally called the European Reassurance Initiative — has helped the Air Force fuel its ambitious outreach to partners in Europe. It has also helped it plan modular airfields and equipment stations that it wishes to construct or beef up in response to Russia’s aggressive behavior in the East.

Roughly 30 projects tied to the effort, spanning places like Estonia, Bulgaria and Hungary, would be postponed in order to allocate funding to the barrier along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Related: Read all about the Air, Space and Cyber Conference

“I don’t think there’s a specific area that I could tell you [where] we’re going to be impacted, because we leverage EDI for a number of different things,” Harrigian said Tuesday.

“Trying to get after a specific capability, I’ll tell you I am not overly concerned where we’re at right now because we’ve been on a pretty successful journey building out the areas that we will be prioritizing, all across Europe [and up to] the Baltics,” he said.

“We’re constantly relooking at where are the best places to put those capabilities, because some of that is not buildings, but weapons, airmen and, of course, [we’re] doing that in coordination with out partners,” the general said. He did not elaborate on what type of equipment could be moved or on which future locations are being considered.

He added that anytime he can “turn jets” from partners and allies or leverage equipment they already have, it saves the Air Force the requirement “to put people there.”

Harrigian said that the service is still in the process of sorting out where infrastructure initiatives should be placed across Europe, despite the effort going on nearly five years.

“The area that we’re really focused on is agile basing,” he said. “We’re going to continue to invest” in training for that initiative.

The U.S. has already dedicated millions to build up small hubs designed to house a quick-reaction force in Europe.

Gen. Tod Wolters, previously the USAFE commander and now the NATO Supreme Allied Commander, told last year that the goal of modular bases is to effectively build up locations closer to Eastern Europe to someday support “strike, superiority, surveillance, command and control and [air]lift.”

The mission sets “require all of our aircraft inventory, and those aircraft that are part of the NATO element to do the same,” he said in July 2018.

Harrigian said the training element must first be perfected, especially if partner nations are involved.

“As we look across the European [area of responsibility], there’s a lot of concrete, plenty of runways, and really what we’re really trying to work through is not so much laying in infrastructure … but the interoperability to help us with the speed that we would need to operate at,” he said.

— Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at Follow her on Twitter at @Oriana0214.

Read more:  Air Force to Institute New Fitness Requirements for Commanders

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