March 23, 2009 (by Kent Harris) - An Air Force officer based at the Pentagon has suggested the United States and NATO would be best served by moving F-16s now stationed at Aviano Air Base, Italy, to Poland.
Lt. Col. Chris Sage, assistant executive officer to the Air Force Chief of Staff, delivered his opinion in a paper published in the spring edition of Air and Space Power Journal. In an interview last week, Sage said the paper was written as a project while he was attending the Naval War College more than a year ago. The journal picked it up and posted it on the Internet earlier this month.
A lack of training opportunities and other factors make Aviano a less-than-ideal location in some respects, said Sage, who added that he agrees with U.S. Air Forces in Europe’s stated goal of concentrating more efforts to the east and south.
"It is in the national interest of the United States to continue to transform USAFE
by relocating U.S. F-16s currently in Italy
to new bases in Poland
," he writes in the opening paragraph of "Transforming United States Air Forces in Europe and Empowering Poland."
USAFE and Brig. Gen. Craig Franklin, commander of the 31st Fighter Wing at Aviano, noted that Sage’s proposal was an "academic paper," and declined to comment further.
Sage admitted there would be some major obstacles to such a move:
- Poland doesn’t have a base that would meet U.S. standards, so the U.S. would spend hundreds of millions of dollars on construction.
- Russia would likely oppose putting U.S. forces so close to its border.
- Poland itself would have to agree to such a move.
Officials at the Polish Ministry of Defense did not provide answers to a query sent on Thursday.
But Sage said Poland’s decision to purchase a few squadrons of F-16s make joint training opportunities possible. Poland also has fewer restrictions on its air space than Italy, as well as designated areas where pilots could practice their bombing skills. It’s also closer to former Soviet Republics, such as Ukraine and Georgia, that have undergone turmoil in recent years.
And Poland has been a staunch ally, Sage said.
There are at least a handful of reasons to keep forces at Aviano, including the $600 million construction project ongoing at the base and the base’s proximity to the Vicenza-based 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, which plans to bring about 2,000 more troops to Italy in a few years. Also, Aviano is a sought-after assignment in the Air Force, according to the Human Resources Command.
"Having spent a couple of months TDY there, there is no doubt in my mind that it’s a good place for morale," Sage said.
But he said that flight restrictions, a lack of training ranges and the potential of local population growth leading to even more restrictions make the base less attractive militarily.