air force in europe

usaf europe

U.S. Air Forces in Europe, headquartered at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, is a major command of the U.S. Air Force. It is also the air component of the U.S. European Command, a Department of Defense unified command and the U.S. component of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.


As the face of Europe has changed since the fall of the Berlin Wall, USAFE has changed as well. USAFE has transitioned from a fight-in-place fighter force postured for a large-scale conflict, to a mobile and deployable mixed force that can simultaneously operate in multiple locations. Since the end of the Cold War, USAFE's role in Europe has also expanded from tasks associated with warfighting to a mission that includes supporting humanitarian and peacekeeping operations, and other non-traditional tasks.

In peacetime, USAFE trains and equips U.S. Air Force units pledged to NATO. USAFE plans, conducts, controls, coordinates and supports air and space operations to achieve U.S. national and NATO objectives based on taskings by the commander in chief, United States European Command. Under wartime conditions USAFE assets, augmented by people, aircraft and equipment from other major commands and the Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve, come under the operational command of NATO. The command's inventory of aircraft is ready to perform close air support, air interdiction, air defense, in-flight refueling, long range transport and support of maritime operations.

In fulfilling its NATO responsibilities, the command maintains combat-ready wings dispersed from Great Britain to Turkey. USAFE supports U.S. military plans and operations in Europe, the Mediterranean, the Middle East and parts of Africa. USAFE remains a formidable force in Europe despite a rapid drawdown that saw its main operating bases cut by 67 percent following the end of the Cold War. As witnessed in the command's support of contingency and humanitarian operations throughout Europe and parts of Africa, USAFE remains a highly responsive combat command with a strong, capable force.

Personnel and Resources

More than 32,000 active-duty, reserve and civilian employees are assigned to USAFE. Equipment assets include about 230 fighter, attack, tanker and transport aircraft, and a full complement of conventional weapons.


USAFE is organized geographically through two numbered air forces: the 3rd Air Force, headquartered at RAF Mildenhall, England, and the 16th Air Force,
headquartered at Aviano Air Base, Italy.


USAFE originated as the 8th Air Force in 1942 and flew heavy bombardment missions over the European continent during World War II. In August 1945, the command was given its current name, U.S. Air Forces in Europe.

During the Berlin Airlift, USAFE airlifted more than 2.3 million tons of food, fuel and medical supplies with the aid of the U.S. Navy and the British Royal Air Force. With the formation of NATO in 1949, the United States was committed to help defend Western Europe and USAFE again strengthened its airpower.

By the end of 1951, the command's responsibilities had expanded in Europe and eventually to French Morocco, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Greece, Turkey, Italy and Spain. The increased responsibilities led to far reaching changes, including a major reorganization in 1967 when France withdrew from the NATO military command structure, forcing all foreign troops to leave.

In March 1973, Headquarters USAFE transferred from Lindsey Air Station, Wiesbaden, West Germany, to Ramstein Air Base. NATO's Allied Air Forces Central Europe was then established at Ramstein in June 1974, and the USAFE commander took command of Allied Air Forces Central Europe in addition to commanding U.S. Air Force units in Europe.

The Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, ratified in 1988, mandated the first ever elimination of an entire class of weapons from U.S. and Soviet inventories. USAFE completed removal of its ground launched cruise missiles and other weaponry in March 1991, when the last 16 missiles were removed from Comiso Air Station, Italy.

USAFE mobilized and moved more than 180 aircraft and 5,400 people to the Persian Gulf area in support of Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. In addition, 100 aircraft and 2,600 personnel were deployed to Turkey for Operation Proven Force, which denied the Iraqis a safe haven for their military forces in northern Iraq. USAFE also activated aeromedical staging facilities and contingency hospitals. More than 9,000 patients, mostly suffering from noncombat-related illnesses and injuries, were evacuated to Europe and more than 3,000 were treated at USAFE medical facilities.

After Desert Storm, USAFE provided immediate emergency relief to Kurdish refugees fleeing Iraqi forces by implementing Operation Provide Comfort, a no-fly zone enforcement over northern Iraq. As the initial Operation Provide Comfort drew to a close, Kurdish leaders asked for continued protection. Operation Provide Comfort continues today with USAFE maintaining a deterrent presence in Turkey.

Since the Gulf War, USAFE has been operating at a double-time pace to save lives and meet the demands of real-world contingencies at hot spots throughout the European theater. This frequently puts the command's troops on the road supporting critical operations in northern and southern Iraq, the former Yugoslavia, Somalia, Rwanda and a host of other locations.

USAFE has participated in several major humanitarian efforts, including Provide Hope I and II, which airlifted food and medical supplies to the people of the former Soviet Union, and Provide Promise, the airlifting of supplies into a war-torn Yugoslavia from July 1992 until December 1995.

Following 16 years of civil war in Angola, USAFE provided airmen and C-130 aircraft for Operation Provide Transition, which relocated government and rebel soldiers within the country in a United Nations effort to support democratic elections. USAFE also provided air protection over the skies of Bosnia-Herzegovinia in Operation Deny Flight. Along with allies from NATO countries, USAFE aircrews applied airpower in Operation Deliberate Force, the bombing campaign that paved the way for the Dayton Peace Agreement. USAFE's application of its diverse air assets delivered peace Implementation Force people and equipment for Operation Joint Endeavor and maintained sustaining airlift for the operation.

USAFE airmen today are engaged in a wide range of active U.S. military efforts in Europe, including realistic U.S. and NATO exercises and real-world contingencies. The command also plays a major role in furthering democracy in the former Eastern Bloc, as USAFE people take part in Partnership for Peace exercises and Military-to-Military contact programs.

Point of Contact

Headquarters U. S. Air Forces in Europe
Public Affairs Office; Unit 3050, Box 120; APO AE 09094-0120
DSN 480-6559 or commercial (011) 49-6371-47-6559

 January, 1997




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