STUTTGART, Germany — The Army will lose about 25 Germany-based Apache attack helicopters and a series of other choppers as part of an Army reorganization that will force the service to rely more on rotational forces to maintain much of its aviation firepower in Europe, according to a Pentagon announcement Wednesday.
In addition, the Ansbach-based 12th Combat Aviation Brigade will lose about 1,900 troops and 2,850 family members in moves that also will force the closure of two Defense Department schools in the area by the end of this school year — Illesheim and Rainbow Elementary, according to military and school officials.
“The 12th CAB restructuring will mean that while some U.S. personnel and assets will no longer be permanently assigned to Ansbach, aviation capabilities will be maintained by augmenting remaining aviation assets and personnel through a continuous rotation,” U.S. Army Europe stated in a release.
Army airlift capabilities are in high demand as the military works to increase its presence across eastern Europe to reassure allies after Moscow’s intervention in Ukraine last year.
Still, Army officials emphasized the reorganization should not be taken as a sign that the military is shifting away from Europe, where U.S. commanders say security can no longer be taken for granted.
While the 12th CAB will lose nearly 2,000 troops in Germany by 2016, the Army said it will still keep a constant presence of 1,000 soldiers through a combination of permanently stationed and rotational forces.
To maintain capabilities, the Army will provide a rotational assault helicopter battalion, two MEDEVAC teams, and an Air Traffic Service Company to complement the 12th CAB in Germany, USAREUR said. The rotations, which are to be nine months long, are expected to cost about $15.5 million.
The units are expected to take part in Operation Atlantic Resolve missions, the military campaign in the Baltics and Poland that is focused on training NATO partners bordering Russia. The Army also has extended its part of Atlantic Resolve into Romania and the Republic of Georgia.
“Aviation assets in Ansbach will be augmented even further in the event we need to surge capabilities beyond normal levels,” USAREUR stated. “The net result of this restructuring is that Army aviation assets in Europe will be more ready, present, and operationally flexible. This is particularly important in the current strategic environment.”
The effort to bring in rotational aviation assets is already under way. In March, the Army sent 450 U.S.-based soldiers and 25 Black Hawk helicopters to Germany for a nine-month mission. The deployment coincided with the arrival of the 1st Armor Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, from Fort Stewart, Ga., which is now serving as the Army’s regionally aligned force in Europe.
Major 12th CAB units that will be inactivated include the 3rd Assault Helicopter Battalion, 158th Aviation Regiment and the 5th General Support Aviation Battalion, 158th Aviation Regiment. The units, based at Katterbach, Germany, include fleets of Black Hawk helicopters.
The 12th CAB will keep about 25 Apaches in Germany, but will lose those assigned to the 3rd Attack Reconnaissance Battalion, 159th Aviation Regiment, which will reflag in Alaska.
USAREUR declined to provide a breakdown of the aircraft that will ship out of Europe as a result of the reshuffling. However, if the units in the announcement are anything like standard Army aviation units, Europe stands to lose about 86 helicopters in the realignment. Besides the two dozen Apaches, USAREUR would give up 50 Black Hawks — including 12 medical evacuation birds — and a dozen Chinook heavy-lift choppers.
The Army’s decision to move toward a Europe aviation presence that’s more reliant on rotational forces is part of a broader military shift that has been underway for several years now on the continent. For example, the Marine Corps maintains multiple rotational task force units in Europe that carry out missions ranging from crisis-response efforts in Africa to training allies across the Black Sea region.
The rotational model also enables units to avoid added costs associated with accompanied tours, such as housing allowances and schooling costs for children.
Since the end of the Cold War, the Pentagon has steadily shrunk its number of bases and permanently assigned forces in Europe, now roughly 67,000 troops, down from a Cold War high of about 400,000. Today, the Army maintains only two combat brigade teams in Europe.
Before Russia’s intervention in Ukraine, it appeared that the U.S. was considering additional cuts in troops and bases. However, concerns about a newly assertive Russia prompted the Pentagon to pause further drawdown plans.
Instead, the Pentagon moved forward in January with a plan to consolidate numerous bases in Europe and reposition assets rather than making major cuts in force strength.