Trump Taps Air Force General to Head Up European Command, NATO Forces

Gen. Tod D. Wolters participates in the "Fighting Under Fire" panel and discusses projecting power during the Air Force Association Air, Space and Cyber Conference in National Harbor, Maryland, Sept. 17, 2018. (U.S. Air Force/Andy Morataya)
Gen. Tod D. Wolters participates in the "Fighting Under Fire" panel and discusses projecting power during the Air Force Association Air, Space and Cyber Conference in National Harbor, Maryland, Sept. 17, 2018. (U.S. Air Force/Andy Morataya)

Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan announced Friday that President Donald Trump has nominated Air Force Gen. Tod Wolters as the dual-hatted supreme allied commander of NATO and head of U.S. European Command (EUCOM), replacing the retiring Army Gen. Curtis M. "Mike" Scaparrotti.

Wolters, who has more than 5,000 flying hours in the F-15C Eagle, F-22 Raptor, OV-10 Bronco, T-38 Talon and A-10 Thunderbolt aircraft, currently serves as commander of Allied Air Command and U.S. Air Forces in Europe-Air Forces Africa, headquartered at Ramstein Air Base, Germany; and director of the Joint Air Power Competence Centre in Kalkar, Germany.

The general, whose nomination must be confirmed by the Senate, would become the fourth Air Force officer to hold the NATO post, which has always gone to a U.S. officer.

The first supreme allied commander of the alliance was Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower. The 29-member NATO alliance agreed with Wolters' nomination, EUCOM said in a statement.

Wolters, 59, an Air Force Academy graduate and combat veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan, would take the posts at a time of tumult for NATO as it seeks to build up more agile forces to counter an aggressive Russia.

Trump entered office questioning the worth of the alliance. On Thursday, Shanahan, at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, labeled as "erroneous" reports that the administration is seeking to have NATO members pick up the full costs of stationing U.S. troops in Europe plus 50 percent, the so-called "cost-plus-50" plan.

Earlier this month, in his last appearance before the committee, Scaparrotti, who has been NATO commander since 2016, said, "I'm not comfortable yet with the deterrent posture that we have in Europe" against Russia, despite a steady buildup of sea, air and rotational ground forces.

Scaparrotti said he wanted two more guided-missile destroyers based in Europe and additional carrier presence in the North Atlantic, and he also made the case for continued funding of the $6.5 billion European Deterrence Initiative (EDI) and its military construction projects.

"I cannot stress enough that [European Command's] ongoing and future success in implementing and executing these strategies is only possible with Congress' support, especially the sustained funding of EDI," he said.

Scaparrotti told the committee that he had yet to be informed whether funding for any of the military construction projects under EDI would be drawn off to pay for the border wall under Trump's declaration of a national emergency at the southern border.

Much like Scaparrotti, Wolters has been a fan of EDI. In an interview last year with Military.com, he said that EDI funding was helping in setting up small hubs and airfields on NATO's eastern front for quick reaction forces.

"They're incredibly necessary to improve deterrence," he said.

As commander of USAFE, Wolters has pressed for increased U.S. presence in Europe, improvements in infrastructure, and more high-tempo training exercises.

"We've done well with presence, because we've had assistance from our partners from the NATO perspective to show up," he said last year.

Wolters said the command is "really focused on training and infrastructure. So the number of exercises that we have in the right spots, with the right people, with the right training scenario, with the correct setting are improving with each year -- not just in the numbers of exercise, but what they're focused on."

The White House's $750 billion defense budget proposal released Monday includes a possible cut in EDI funding from $6.5 billion to $5.9 billion, although Congress will have the final say.

The White House summary of the budget proposal said the $5.9 billion would go to "increased U.S. military presence in Europe, additional exercises and training with allies and partners, enhanced prepositioning of U.S. equipment in Europe, improved infrastructure for greater readiness, and building allied and partner capacity."

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.

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