SPANGDAHLEM AIR BASE, Germany — After accepting a U.S. Air Force offer to use the base as the springboard in Canada's intensive global search for strategic hub locations offering operational support to its deployed troops, the Canadians are coming to Spangdahlem.
Under an agreement with close allies Germany and the U.S., Canada has begun to implement a plan to use Spangdahlem Airbase as a critical transit and marshalling center for existing and potential international Canadian Forces commitments.
"With the mission in Afghanistan, we have experienced the challenges of maintaining a 12,000 kilometer (7,400 mile) supply chain and it hasn't been easy," said Maj. Gen. Daniel Benjamin, commander of the Canadian Operational Support Command. "Our first priority was Europe in the development of what will eventually become a network of hubs worldwide to meet any contingency that causes our government to deploy troops for military or humanitarian purposes. Spangdahlem was in the top ranks on a short list for the first hub and we are grateful for the enthusiastic response that expedited the final choice."
The base has been used by the Canadian Forces since mid-2007 as an occasional refueling stop in flights to Afghanistan and other theaters, but that role is about to be expanded later this year. A small team of CF personnel will be working with their U.S. Air Force counterparts to coordinate a regular weekly rotation of three to five operational support flights.
This is expected to be a relatively seamless operation because the air forces of the two countries are working to integrate Canadian aircraft into the U.S. Air Mobility Command's automated movements management system. In addition to 60 years experience as a primary peacekeeping force for the United Nations, the CF more recently has increasingly been assigned a spearhead combat role in trouble spots around the world as part of its commitment to NATO and other alliances.
More than 2,500 troops are currently deployed in Afghanistan and involved in some of the toughest fighting around Kandahar.
General Benjamin, whose 2,000-member command was created three years ago specifically to plan and coordinate the logistics of Canada's far-flung military missions, said the Afghan mission has provided some pointed lessons about the need for "safe harbors" around the globe. "Our NATO obligations used to be mainly centered in Europe and we could count on using the significant facilities and services provided by the alliance members there."
With NATO itself forced to look outside its traditional European sphere to address such concerns as the war on terrorism, Canada has to develop new ways to find strategic springboards for its troops and ways to sustain them in the field half a world away, he said.
While the CF has successfully answered the Afghan supply chain challenge with a combination of heavy-lift aircraft and sealift carriers, he said, future deployments require strategically-located hubs to shorten the time and distance for final jump into theater. Transport aircraft are much better used flying time-sensitive resources shorter distances from hubs where supplies can be pre-positioned and augmented by sealift.
Spangdahlem, already being referred to in the Canadian military as "Euro-Hub," becomes the first in what is expected to become a web of seven locations to be developed and kept in readiness for theater activation and support. U.S. Air Force personnel at the base won't notice much of a CF presence - perhaps a half-dozen CANOSCOM specialists - as the Canadians work with their American and German counterparts to plan for any future contingency.