Air Force leaders are crossing their fingers that F-15 fighters will stay at least another year in Europe through the “Europe Reassurance Initiative,” a $1 billion funding plan the White House proposed in June currently in the hands of congressional members.
“As part of that billion dollars, we would propose monies in order to keep those F-15s in Europe for an additional year, … so we’re hoping Congress will approve that as a good way forward,” Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James told reporters during a joint briefing with Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh Tuesday.
Although the proposal would only be good for one year, James said there could be a secondary proposal depending on the European situation one year from now.
The Air Force proposed in the fiscal 2015 defense budget request in February to retire 51 F-15C Eagles, including 21 based overseas, a majority of which are with the 493rd Fighter Squadron, RAF Lakenheath, England. But the fighter mission is critical to maintaining a forward air presence given the latest developments with Russia’s repeated incursions in Ukraine.
“We will have to adapt using the forward force structure in Europe, the F-16 force structure and others, to cover the missions that the F-15Cs would cover,” Gen. Philip Breedlove, commander, U.S. European Command and NATO Supreme Allied Commander, said in a Sept. 2 Air Force Times interview.
“One of the things that hurts the most about losing the F-15C is it presents to me a unique tool in that it is a defensive capability … It’s easy for me to put them forward in a situation like we found ourselves in, in this recent challenge and say I have put defensive counter air forward,” he said.