NATO air chiefs converge at Ramstein

Capt. Elizabeth Aptekar
U.S. Air Forces in Europe

RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany – A NATO Air Chiefs Conference held here from Aug. 30 to 31 brought together the top leaders of NATO’s air forces to discuss their favorite subject – air power.

The air chiefs of 19 nations, including six of the seven new member nations, came together to discuss current operations, the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, support to the NATO Response Force and air policing.

The annual conference was co-hosted by Component Command Air Headquarters Ramstein and Izmir Air Station, Turkey.  

“CC Air-Ramstein and Air-Izmir hold their own meetings with their commanders and this is a culmination of all the meetings,” said Lt. Gen. Glen W. Moorhead, Air Commander Izmir. “This meeting not only helps us think through issues and challenges that we have in the air, but the specific nations’ issues as well.”

CC Air-Ramstein and -Izmir are the two air headquarters’ previously known as AIRNORTH and AIRSOUTH respectively.  The new names reflect the July 1 re-organization which streamlined the NATO Command Structure. The structure originated in 2002 as a result of the Prague NATO Summit. 

“It’s a part of a wider command structure and NATO rearrangement … from the Airmen’s point of view there are no boundaries in the air, so for us to be North or South is meaningless really,” said Air Marshal Philip Sturley, CC Air-Ramstein chief of staff.  “These Headquarters can cover something happening anywhere in the NATO area, so we moved away from the idea of North and South which implied some sort of divide to a more collective way to approaching NATO problems.”

Since NATO is undergoing transformation both internally and externally, the leadership meeting allowed the Alliance members to discuss issues in order to meet the new global security challenges through air power. 

“The air chiefs, like any other group, get together and need to discuss common issues and problems – we are an Alliance and a strong one at that,” said the air marshal.  “We have a forum where everyone has a say. It’s very important to have an open and frank discussion so you can solve problems that affect all of NATO – Gen. Foglesong and the staff here have taken the lead in ensuring that this is possible.”

An example of why these leaders come together to discuss issues is the ongoing effort toward the Alliance’s International Security Assistance Force mission.  According to the air marshal, NATO Air continues to contribute deployed tactical forces performing air tasks ranging from tactical airlift and MEDEVAC through to airborne reconnaissance, deployment of quick reaction forces and close air support.  Air command and control is provided to ISAF by the Air Component at Ramstein Air Base with a reduced forward footprint and the effective use of reach back.

The next event where the NATO air forces will test their interoperability skills together is at the NATO Air Meet scheduled for Sept. 4 to 16 at Konya Air Base, Turkey.  More than 1,500 people from 16 nations will participate with 93 aircraft and plan to conduct about 100 training missions a day. 

 “This is our last meeting before the (NATO Air) Meet to make sure the planning is set and everyone is ready to execute,” said General Moorhead.  “CAOC 6 [Combined Air Operations Centre] will be running the operations so this will not only be good for the aviators, but our command and control folks will get training as well.”

 Out of the 26 NATO member nations there are 24 air chiefs — Iceland and Luxembourg do not have air chiefs.