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Rhein-Main transition on track

by Louis A. Arana-Barradas
Air Force Print News

8/10/2005 - RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany -- The more than $465-million project to return Rhein-Main Air Base to Germany by Dec. 31 is “on track,” the Rhein-Main Transition Program chief said.

Col. Tom Schnee, of U.S. Air Forces in Europe here, also said by Oct. 31 the command will finish shifting Rhein-Main’s key airlift mission to Ramstein and Spangdahlem air bases in Germany.

“The transition is progressing extremely well. We’re on the timeline,” he said, “and we’re on schedule to make this happen -- and turn the keys over.”

The ambitious Rhein-Main Transition Program has been ongoing since December 1999, when the United States and Germany signed an agreement to return the base to the host nation. In return, Germany allowed relocating the base’s key airlift capability to Ramstein and Spangdahlem.

But to move Rhein-Main’s huge strategic airlift mission to the two bases requires completing 37 major construction projects. This has spurred a building boom at both bases.

At Ramstein, which already has an airlift capability, there will be 14 mostly infrastructure upgrades, including new runways, taxiways and ramp areas. The base will receive about 65 percent of the Rhein-Main workload.

Spangdahlem, still a busy fighter base, will receive 23 projects that will give it a new mobility infrastructure, including revamping its runway to handle strategic and tactical airlift aircraft. This base will get the remaining 35 percent of Rhein-Main’s workload.

Colonel Schnee said the transition program is fast paced and leaves little room for error because there is a cap on funds and a deadline to meet. But he said it was not always like that.

“Several years ago, we were two years behind and several million euros over cost,” he said. “Now we’re on the timeline for the critical projects, and we’ve got the funding just about right.”

The colonel credits a renewed effort by the partners in the transition for getting the program back on track. The Air Force’s transition partners are the German states of Rheinland-Pfalz, home to Ramstein, and Hessen, home to Rhein-Main and the Frankfurt Airport Authority.

The partners will provide most of the funds, about $305 million, the colonel said. NATO is also providing funds, all for upgrades here, “because Ramstein will become the premier strategic airlift hub for NATO in the north.”

The partners also paid more than $63 million for the cost of the project’s design.

“We’ve done a super job working with our host nation partners to overcome major obstacles and keep the program on the timeline,” the colonel said.

One major obstacle was getting permission to start construction. The German government, for the first time, allowed construction at the bases while the proposal was still going through the German legal system.

The changes will allow USAFE to bring its mobility capability into the 21st century, said Brig. Gen. Michael A. Snodgrass, the command’s director of plans and programs. The command’s leaner European footprint will not diminish its overall mobility capability in the theater, he said.

“We’ve actually taken a fairly large footprint at Rhein-Main and broken that up into two small footprints at Ramstein and Spangdahlem,” the general said. “But together, our flow-through -- our capability -- is going to be at least as good as it was at Rhein-Main, or better.”

The general said Airmen and civilians will benefit from the transition. Air Mobility Command personnel who manage airlift and mobility operations at the bases will also reap rewards. With better facilities and equipment, he said, the command will have a “much more reliable capability in support of our policies here in this region, as well as supporting other combatant commanders.”

Additionally, he said, NATO will inherit a premier strategic airlift capability.

“We are seeing NATO forces deploy around the world in support of our common interests,” General Snodgrass said. “(The changes) allow us to better support those NATO nations.”

But others will also benefit from the transition, Colonel Schnee said. The changes, he said, “Gives Frankfurt International Airport the opportunity to expand.” Others that will benefit, he said, are the communities near the bases.

“It’ll bring in new economic benefits to the areas surrounding Spangdahlem and Ramstein,” the colonel said.

If the plan goes according to schedule, the Air Force’s 60-year legacy at Rhein-Main will end in December. But that does not mean Air Force cargo jets will never again land at the base that shares a runway with the Frankfurt airport.

“We could go to the German government and ask for their help” if during a contingency operation Ramstein and Spangdahlem could not handle all the air flow, General Snodgrass said.

Over the past decades Rhein-Main has been the place American servicemembers stationed in Europe arrived. That earned the base the name, “Gateway to Europe.”

On Oct. 1, Ramstein will inherit that legacy and the right to say it’s the new gateway, Colonel Schnee said.

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