On 2 August I visited Ramstein, Germany to attend the Assumption of Command Ceremony of General Frank Gorenc as he formally accepted responsibilities for four different posts: Commander of Allied Air Command, Director of the Joint Air Power Competence Centre, Commander of U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Commander of U.S. Air Forces Africa. I know from experience that four 'hats' can be difficult to juggle, but I have every confidence that General Gorenc is up to the task.
A key pillar of NATO's deterrence is the strength, flexibility and high quality of its air power. In Operation UNIFIED PROTECTOR over Libya, NATO jets flew some 26,000 sorties, including more than 9,600 strike missions. This effort was launched in record time in order to protect Libyan civilians in harm's way. The high level of interoperability among NATO nations enabled this swift response. And after more than 10 years of experience fighting together in Afghanistan, we have achieved an unprecedented level of cohesiveness among Allies and partners. We are operating as a seamless integrated team right now and we aim to maintain this level of cohesion. We will do this by intensifying our education, training and exercises across the air, land and sea domains.
To that end, we have a number of exercises scheduled this fall that will enhance and certify the capabilities of NATO's Response Force. The first is Exercise BRILLIANT ARROW, which will involve 40 fighter aircraft, 2 airborne early warning platforms and approximately 800 exercise participants in central Norway (25 Aug - 5 Sep). This will be the first live-fly exercise planned and conducted by General Gorenc's team at HQ AIRCOM, putting aircraft from nine NATO Allies into a tough, realistic scenario that will include air defence units on the ground. The intent is to ensure the units and HQ AIRCOM are prepared to assume the NATO Response Force (NRF) mission in 2014.
But air power is just one part of the NATO team. We must also train hard on the land and the sea. So in late September and early October Exercise Brilliant Mariner will focus on training our maritime forces in the certifying their readiness for their NRF rotation. On land, there have been a variety exercises that have already occurred and in October our Special Forces will conduct Exercise BRILLIANT SWORD in Italy. All of this training will finally culminate with Exercise Steadfast Jazz, which takes place in early November in a number of Alliance nations including the Baltic States and Poland. Air, land, maritime and Special Forces components will all be exercised, as well as the headquarters staff from Joint Force Command Brunssum which will be expected to lead NATO joint operations next year.
As a fighter pilot myself, I am keenly aware of the importance of these kinds of exercises. My aim is to make sure that our NRF deployable headquarters and troops are ready to deal with any situation in any environment. The NRF and associated training is essential in maintaining and enhancing the ability of forces from across the Alliance to work together, which will be increasingly important as our mission in Afghanistan winds-down and we prepare to meet future challenges.
I would be remiss if I did not mention the critical role played by our forces involved in airborne early warning and surveillance, as well as in air policing missions. One of NATO's roles in peacetime is to preserve the integrity of NATO European airspace and to safeguard NATO nations from air attacks. Air Defense, to include the functions of air surveillance and air policing, is a key element in maintaining the security of nations. As you can imagine, you can't stop an aircraft at a traffic light or at a national border. Many complex systems and smart people are working around the clock to preserve the integrity of NATO airspace, maintain our situational awareness, and keep us safe. These efforts build confidence and demonstrate the solidarity and resolve of the Alliance.
I'm often asked about the future of air power within NATO. In my view, the short term focus must remain on retaining the required capabilities ensuring NATO air power remains ready and capable despite the current period of economic uncertainty. The long term perspective must focus on preparing for the future by looking out beyond the current planning horizon. Within the context of the future security environment, NATO's air power must adapt to the speed and unpredictability of strategic and technological developments that will emerge in the next decades.
Visiting Ramstein Air Base was a poignant reminder of the great work our airmen and women do within the NATO Alliance as they keep our skies safe and secure. I have spent almost a third of my military career in Europe, and my recent tenure in the posts that General Gorenc has just assumed was certainly one of the highlights. The experience of working together with men and women from 28 Allies and many other partner nations was unparalleled, and continues for me in my new role as SACEUR in Belgium. I wish General Gorenc every success in his new command roles. He and his team will remain a key part of our larger NATO team as we continue to secure our future together.
"From the Cockpit"
Supreme Allied Commander, Europe
Commander, U.S. European Command