Closing Spangdahlem

The USAF has begun to close its airbase at Spangdahlem, Germany. It is home to the 52nd Fighter Wing, which should command three fighter squadrons. One squadron of 24 F-16s was deactivated in 2010 as part of the ongoing drawdown. It was recently announced that its squadron of 20 A-10s would be deactivated in 2013. This leaves the 52nd with just one squadron of 24 F-16s at Spangdahlem supported by almost 4000 airmen! The total base population is a city itself with 15,000 airmen, civilian employees, and family members. This massive overhead wastes millions of dollars a month. The USAF should close Spangdahlem in 2013 to save money and cancel its plan to deactivate several fighter squadrons in the USA. is a horrible location for a fighter base. Heavy air traffic in central Europe leaves no room for air combat training and the flying weather is often lousy. Fighters must redeploy to airbases hundreds of miles away to conduct routine training missions. This airbase is located in the world's most peaceful and most expensive region, where any threat of attack disappeared over a decade ago. 

The Air Force rotates overseas personnel every three years, which requires the shipping of family household goods, pets, and children from the USA. After a family and home is expensively forward-deployed to Germany, the Air Force deploys their dad yet again for missions in the Middle East. Since Europe lacks large fighter training areas, the squadron sometimes flies to Nellis AFB in Nevada for training. Keeping the large Spangdahlem airbase open to support just one fighter squadron where it is unneeded and can't even train is a massive waste of resources.

Closing Spangdahlem would allow the deactivation of the 52nd Fighter Wing headquarters and support overhead, which require three times more airmen than its remaining fighter squadron. The two other support units at Spangdahlem could be deactivated. The 606th Air Control squadron can move to Italy, since the identical 603rd Air Control squadron at Aviano will be deactivated in 2013. Of course it makes more sense to simply deactivate the 606th instead. The 52nd Munitions Group headquarters will disappear soon after its remote squadrons at their outdated "share-a-nuke" sites are disbanded.

The USAF would still have its larger airbase at nearby Ramstein, which is closer to U.S. Army bases in Germany. Closing Spangdahlem makes perfect sense to everyone but Air Force Generals. They see airbases as Air Force property and never voluntarily give up "their" bases. It's an interesting duty station and many officers have fond memories of the base. The new 52nd Wing commander recently stated that he was optimistic the base would remain open, even though his "fighter wing" will consist of just one fighter squadron. 

Generals recently invented a new role for this fighter base, saying its serves as an important air mobility transit hub. However, nearby Ramstein is our primary air mobility base in Europe, and USAF's austere Moron airbase in southern Spain is a much better location for wartime surge traffic. Most of the flights to Spangdahlem are to support the base itself and the nearby Army base at Baumholder that will soon close. The few other visiting aircraft can use other airbases in Europe. Air transit traffic is rapidly declining as American forces drawdown in the Persian Gulf and the U.S. Army deactivates two brigades in Germany. Meanwhile, the USAF recently upset Congress with plans to deactivate seven fighter squadrons to save money.

USAF 2013 Downsizing Plan - Deactivate seven fighter squadrons (six in the USA and one at Spangdahlem), plus one air control squadron in Italy. Five of these are A-10 squadrons that represent 30% of our dedicated ground attack squadrons and were recently upgraded to the C model.

The USAF could save more money and retain six fighter squadrons in the USA if it deactivated both fighter squadrons at Spangdahlem and closed that airbase.

Alternative 2013 Downsizing Plan - Deactivate two fighter squadrons, one wing headquarters and support squadrons, plus one air control squadron, all at Spangdahlem, and close that airbase.

Preserving six fighter squadrons in the USA by closing an unneeded and expensive airbase in Germany is a better military option. The Spangdahlem airbase can't deploy anywhere and can't kill anyone. It's also better to layoff 840 German workers employed at Spangdahlem than laying off Americans in the USA, and many millions of dollars in USAF business would stay in the USA.

Our civilian leaders must overrule our Generals, who argue that Spangdahlem is too nice to abandon since a $375 million construction boom is underway. New base housing units have just opened and a new medical clinic is scheduled to open in August, followed by a new base exchange in October. A new fitness center and a new commissary are being built. Plans are under way to construct a new child development center, a new high school and middle school, and expand and renovate the elementary school. Thousands of Germans are prospering from this USAF economic stimulus spending, while Air Force Generals propose disbanding fighting squadrons in the USA and closing American airbases.

Congress must freeze the millions of dollars flowing to Spangdahlem projects, pending an independent review. That review should conclude that a huge overseas airbase is not needed to support a single fighter squadron. This airbase would not disappear as the Germans would take over, and American fighter squadrons could deploy to Spangdahlem occasionally for deterrence and training, but then there is no threat in that region and air combat training is not permitted. Our civilian leadership must force our Generals to close some of "their" unneeded overseas bases, rather than deactivate more and more combat units.

                                            Carlton Meyer


March 2021 Update

The 52nd Fighter Wing at Spangdalhem spent months to prepare for an immediate deployment exercise. This entire "wing" only managed to deploy 100 airmen and 12 F-16 fighter aircraft to nearby Ramstein airbase that is only two hours drive away within a few hours. A wing from South Carolina could probably match that feat in the same time frame.

Jul 2020 Update

Many have asked me to comment on President Trump's recently announced plans to pull some troops out of Europe. This was a spun as punishing Germany for letting its military decline via funding cuts, but Germany had just defied the empire by completing a new natural gas pipeline to Russia, so the imperialists are retaliating. 

If Trump was serious about saving money and better positioning our military forces, he would have started this his first year in office, not four months before the elections. As a result, nothing will happen until after the elections, then even if reelected, Generals will stall action his last four years in office. They'll happily spend more money on new facilities, but not close anything because bases belongs to them!

Details are vague but I'll review what I've read. Let's start with Spangdahlem airbase. Trump's plan follows my 2012 recommendation "Closing Spangdahlem". Keeping an airbase open with 15,000 airmen, civilians, and family members for a single fighter squadron is insane; two other squadrons had been deactivated when the Cold war ended. The Air Force had announced plans to spend millions of dollars to move a refueling squadron to this base from England to justify its existence. Trump's plan cancels this move and orders the single F-16 squadron to the Aviano airbase in Italy to join two other F-16 squadrons. Spang has horrible flying weather and no nearby aerial maneuver areas so training there is impossible.

This simple move will save lots of money if the 52nd Wing headquarters and its support units are disbanded and the airbase is turned over to the Germans to operate. It would still be a NATO airbase available to American aircraft for operations, except Germany will have to hire several hundred people to operate and maintain the base. The US Air Force will shed some 4000 overhead positions and an equal number of civilian employees with this common sense move. If something happens to threaten central Europe in the future, F-16s from South Carolina can deploy to Spang within a week.

This makes so much sense that Spang may close even if Trump loses the election or loses interest in this topic. The Air Force has been downsizing its air fleet for years and could just disband the squadron at Spang and distribute its F-16s to under-strength squadrons worldwide, to include the two at Aviano. Nevertheless, Spang bureaucrats have already announced they plan to keep their jobs and this airbase with no aircraft open.

Overseas Base Closure List