17th Air Force
Seventeenth Air Force units are trained for air combat operations in
support of NATO’s European Command.
It is responsible for U. S. Air Forces in Europe' s tactical units in
west Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands.
Eleven air bases fall under its direction.
Pegasus symbolizes the unity by air of the vast area of the command and
the courage and combat readiness which unites its elements. His wing is a
modification of the traditional Air Force wing used in the insignia of every
existing Air Force . The star and circle date back to the beginning of
American air power. Pegasus is a symbol of those who stand ready to serve in
an age where distance and time are no more a barrier than they were to his
original owners . Upon approval by the Fairchild Engine & Airplane Corporation
that it has no objection to the 17th Air Force using their symbol, Pegasus,
the 17th Air Force emblem was designed by 2nd Lt. John B. Lawson, aide de camp
to Maj. Gen . Frederic E. Glantzberg. It was drafted by Edward J . Colosimo,
diretor of graphic representation, in October 1954. Official approval of the
emblem was given by Headquarters USAF Jan. 25, 1955. Pegasus is white on a
The circle inside the five-pointed star is red as is the lightning bolt emanating from its nostril.
On April 25, 1953, USAFE activated 17tn Air Force at Rabat, French Morocco.
Seventeenth Air Force assumed an area of command and logistical support
mission with in a geographical area embracing North Africa, Portugal, Italy,
Austria, Greece, Turkey, the Mediterranean Islands, the Middle East, Pakistan,
India, and Ceylon.
Strategic Air Command's 5th Air Division had previously carried out this mission.
To cope with increasing responsibilities in the area,
USAFE established 17tn Air Force.
However, an overall troop ceiling imposed by the French Moroccan
government severally limited the manning of the new headquarters and
necessitated a combined headquarters operations with 5th Air Division.
Although on paper the two headquarters were separate units,
for some months they shared the same commander, Maj. Gen. David W. Hutchison,
a number of staff officers and the same building.
Headquarters SAC urged a physical split of the two headquarters
which was eventually accomplished in June 1954 when
the 5th Air Division moved to Sidi Slimane Air Base, Morocco.
Headquarters USAFE generally concurred in this dual operational
concept mainly because of the troop ceiling which limited 17th Air Force
activities primarily to French Morocco.
Extension of the 17tn Air Force Mission throughout the remainder of
its assigned area of responsibility had to await adjustment of the troop
ceiling, revision of earlier agreements between the U. S. Air Force and the
French Air Force, and the development of firm decisions on proposed
USAFE reorganization plans.
At the time 17th Air Force was activated, its subordinate units
included the 431st Fighter Interceptor Squadron, Wheelus
Air Base, Libya, and the 316th Air Division at Rabat Sale
with the 45th and 357th Fighter Interceptor Squadrons
at Sidi Slimane and Nouasseur, French Morocco.
In 1954 the command functions of 17th Air Force began to extend beyond
Morocco. In March of that year 17th Air Force assumed command of the newly
organized 2nd Air Division in Saudi Arabia and two other units in Libya .
Seventeenth also gained units in Italy, Greece and Turkey. With the steady
expansion of its units and resources, the problems it encountered operating
out of Morocco came to a head. In the face of prolonged delays in reaching an
agreement with the French, 17th Air Force was considered for relocation to
another country. After a series of relocation studies, 17th Air Force moved
its headquarters to Wheelus Air Base .
A few years later the command’s area of responsibility shifted from the
Mediterranean to Central Europe, and once again the headquarters moved -- this
time to Ramstein Air Base , West Germany, in November 1959 . With this move the
command’s mission shifted from logistical and administrative duties to control
of both the offensive and defensive missions in Central Europe. The new
mission entailed operational control of more than 500 tactical and 150 support
aircraft operating from bases in Germany , France , the Netherlands and Italy.
This area of responsibility remained fairly stable until July 1961 when a
reorganization within USAFE and Berlin crisis produced significant changes
to 17th Air Force . As a result, five Bases in Great Britain transferred from
3rd to 17th Air Force control . At the same time , 17th was assigned a unit in
Libya and another in Norway.
The five bases in Great Britain did not remain under 17th’s control for long.
In 1963 the Secretary of Defense directed a reduction in manpower spaces
overseas in an effort to resolve an adverse balance of payments between
the United States and other countries.
As a result, 3rd Air Force regained control of the five bases in Great Britain
and assumed responsibility for Toul Rosieres Air Base, France.
Headquarters USAFE took control of many 17th staff functions
and drastically reduced 17th’s staff.
In early 1965 the mission of 17th Air Force underwent another major
adjustment. At the beginning of the year, 17th had a full-fledges air defense
mission which it discharged through the 86tn Air Division, Ramstein Air Base.
Although its operations were designed exclusively for air defense , the 86th
also possessed and controlled the 601st Tactical Air Control Squadron, which
provided radar control of aircraft supporting U. S. Army combat units . The
anomaly of a unit with an offensive mission under the command of an
organization responsible for air defense was cleared up when the command
reassigned the 601st directly to 17th Air Force and placed the air division
under Headquarters USAFE. As a result, 17th Air Force’S mission became
exclusively offensive in nature .
Meanwhile, the reconnaissance mission of 17th Air Force expanded . In
1959 French President Charles de Gaulle placed certain restrictions on USAFE
operations in France. As a result, U.S. tactical aircraft withdrew and relocated
from France to Germany.
Until 1965 17th Air Force possessed only one main operating base in
France - - Laon Air Base, home of the 66tn Tactical Reconnaissance Wing .
The command activated two additional reconnaissance units in
France that year and assigned them to 17th:
the 25th Tactical Reconnaissance wing, Chambley Air Base,
and the 26th Tactical Reconnaissance
wing, Toul – Rosieres Air Base .
All USAFE units withdrew from France in 1967 when the French government,
as General de Gaulle put it, desired “ to regain on her whole territory t he
full exercise of her sovereignty, presently diminished by the permanent
presence of allied military elements…” Thus, the French directed that NATO
headquarters and forces stationed in France should be removed by April 1,
1967 . The general withdrawal of all U.S . forces from France cost 17th Air
force three operational and three standby bases .
In 1968 several significant changes markedly altered the mission and resources
of 17th Air Force . As part of the dual basing concept, which called
for tactical squadrons to be home bases in the United States with designated
bases in Europe prepared to accept them in emergency situations, three
squadrons of the 49th Tactical Fighter Wing, Spangdahlem Air Base, West
Ger many, and th 417t h Tactical Fighter Squadron, Ramstein Air Base , were
reassigned to the continental United States.
In January and February 1969 the Air Force tested the dual basing concept
for the first time in exercise Crested Cap . The dual-based units deployed
from the United States to Hahn and Spangdahlem Air Bases to provide air
support to the U. S. Army in Europe's first Return of Forces to Ger many
(REFORGER) field training exercise .
During the latter part of 1968 17th Air Force again assumed
responsibility for air defense in Central Europe. The 86th Air Division had
been reassigned to Headquarters USAFE in 1965 to simplify the mission of 17th
Air Force. However , this had created two parallel headquarters at Ramstein
Air Base. By mid-1967, pressure to reduce the outflow of dollars in support
of U.S. forces in Europe had mounted, and studies were underway to identify
methods of cutting expenditures. This resulted in USAFE inactivating the air
division and its air defense Mission, four F-102 interceptor squadrons and
three aircraft control and warning units merged with 17th Air Force . With the
assumption of the air defense mission, the 17th Air Force commander also
became commander of the NATO Air Defense Section Operations Center III,
Boerfink, West Germany.
The range of the command's mission was further extended in 1968 when 17th
Air Force Has given administration of the 7310th Tactical Airlift Wing. This
unit was activated to provide intratheater tactical airlift . During that same
year, 17th Air Force came full circle as it phased out its last remaining role
in the Mediterranean by reassigning Wheelus Air Base, Libya, and Aviano Air
Base, Italy , to 16th Air Force.
In 1972 the USAFE commander in chief directed that Headquarters USAFE
relocate from Lindsey Air Station to Ramstein Air Base. To make way for the
headquarters move, 17th Air Force transferred its headquarters to Sembach Air
Base in October. In addition to its relocation, Headquarters 17tn Air Force
was greatly reduced in size and reorganized to perform a purely operational
role. The command had eliminated 17th's responsibility for day-to-day
management and control of tactical forces.
In 1973 17th Air Force experienced more changes in its assigned units.
Following the Jan. 1 inactivation of the 39th Tactical Electronic warfare
Squadron at Spangdahlem Air Base, the 8lst Tactical Fighter Squadron was moved
from Zweibruecken Air Base to Spangdahlem Air Base and assigned to the 52nd
Tactical Fighter Wing. The 38th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron was
reassigned from the 26th Tactical Reconnaissance Wing to the 86th Tactical
Fighter Wing. The following day, the 26th TRW, Ramstein Air Base, and the
86th TFW, Zweibruecken Air Base, exchanged base assignments. Actually , the
change was in name only, less personnel and equipment. This change dictated
partly by the concept of consolidating like aircraft having a like mission
(all reconnaissance units and operations would henceforth be centered at
Zweibruecken) and partly to prepare Ramstein for the relocation of
Headquarters USAFE. On June 1, after USAFE had the bulk of its personnel
moved to Ramstein, the 60lst Tactical Control Wing moved from Sembach to
Wiesbaden Air Base . The wing returned to Sembach Air Base in January 1976 .
The Wing vacated Wiesbaden to provide facilities needed by U.S.Army bridgades
deploying to Europe and to consolidate Air Force resources in the Ramstein,
Sembach, Kaiserslautern area.
As a result of a Secretary of Defense directive to consolidate all
Department of Defense airlift forces under the Military Airlift Command, 17th
Air Force's 322nd Tactical Airlift Wing, Rhein - main Air Base, West Germany,
was inactivated in June 1975 and its duties assigned to MAC.
In late 1976 three additional fighter squadrons Were assigned to 17th Air
Force . Due to the anticipated arrival of the new F-15 Eagle at the 36th
Tactical Fighter Wing, Bitburg Air Base, West Germany, Headquarters USAFE
announced plans to retain Bitburg’s assigned F- 4 resources within the command.
To accommodate the retention, three fighter squadrons were activated Nov. 15,
1976: the 313th at Hahn, the 480th at Spangdahlem, and the 512tn at Ramtein.
The activation of these squadrons was part of an overall USAFE increase in
tactical airpower throughout Europe. In 1977 three squadrons of F- 15s were
assigned to the 36th Tactical Fighter Wing. At the same time, a second wing
of European - based F - 111 swing - winy fighters were assigned to 3rd Air Force in
the United Kingdom. Addition of the F-15s and F- 111s was intended to increase
U.S . combat capability in Europe at a time when several improvements in Warsaw
Pact forces had been clearly recognized.
Seventeenth Air Force units underwent another realignment in 1977. In
May the 601st Tactical Control Wing reorganized to provide a better management
and operational framework for the tactical air control system, which had
recently expanded into the NATO 2nd Allied Tactical Air Force area of Northern
Germany. As part of that reorganization, three units of the 601st were
reassigned directly to 17th Air Force: two C- 130E squadrons -- the 7th Special
Operations Squadron and the 7405th Operations Squadron , which were assigned to
the newly activated 7575th Operations Group, Rhein-Main Air Base, and
Detachment 5 of the 601st TCW, which was redesignated the 7100th Air Base
Group , Lindsey Air Station.
The decade of the eighties was one of expansion for both Headquarters
17th Air Force and its units. In October 1980 CINCUSAFE indicated he wanted
the peacetime and wartime (added in 1981) roles of the numbered air forces
expanded . While the authorized positions at Headquarters 17th Air Force
increased only from 46 in 1981 to 51 in 1985 , the number of people assigned
jumped from 45 to 76, respectively. In June 1981 the 17th Air Force commander
assumed court-martial authority for all U. S. Air Force personnel in Germany
except those in Berlin, at Ramstein and Rhein - Main Air Bases , and
Gei1enkirchen. In January 1982 USAFE activated a combat operations staff at
each of the numbered air forces in recognition of their wartime roles. When
Headquarters 31st Weather Squadron moved to Sembach in August 1982 to improve
weather support to 17th Air Force, its bases and the Allied Tactical
Operations Center Sembach, the squadron commander became dual-hatted as the
17th Air Force staff weather officer. Additionally, in October of that year,
the Air Force gatnered all communications units in Germany under the country group
concept, and the 2005th communications Wing commander became the 17th
Air Force deputy commander for communications.
Seventeenth Air Force also saw the number of suborainate units almost
double in the l980s. Supporting the 1979 NATO decision to deploy ground
launched cruise missiles in Europe, three of the new missile sites were
located in 17th Air Force's area or responsibility. In 1984 and 1985 the
command activated the 485th and 38th Tactical Missile Wings at Florennes Air
Base, Belgium, and Wueschhein Air Station, West Germany, respectively. In
November 1985 USAFE established an advanced echelon of the 486th Tactical
Missi1e wing at Woensdrecht Air Base, the Netherlands. Also in 1985 the
command established an electronic combat capability and resturctured its
combat support functions. On June 1, the 65th Air Division and the 66th
Electronic Support Wing were estab1ished at Sembach Air Base. The division had
responsibi1ity for the 60lst Tactica1 Contra1 Wing at Sembach, the 52nd
Tactical Fighter Wing at Spangdahlem Air Base, and the 66th ECW and its
subordinate unit, the 42nd Electronic Combat Squadron at RAF Upper Heyford,
England. In mid - June the 316th Air Division and 377th Combat Support Wing
were activated at Ramstein Air Base. The 316th had jurisdiction over the 86th
TFW and the 377th CSW at Ramstein. In April USAFE redesignated the 7100th Air
Base Group at Lindsey Air Station as a combat support wing and gave it
responsibi1ity for the munitions support squadrons and collocated operating
bases in 17th Air Force's area of responsibility.
During 1984 and 1985, the command activated the 485th and
38th Tactical Missile Wings at Florennes Air Base, Belgium,
and Wischheim Air Station, Germany, respectively.
On June 1, 1992 the 65th Air Division and 66th Electronic Combat Wing
were activated at Sembach.
The command continued its role in electronic combat and
air defense until September 30, 1996, when it was inactivated,
due to reorganization and realignment in the wake of the end of the Cold War.
A new beginning with U.S. AFRICOM
In February 2007, the creation of U.S. Africa Command was announced.
By December, the Air Force had begun organizing its Air component
for the new command, later to stand-up as 17 AF, the unit which began
in Africa in 1953.
The Seventeenth Air Force of today, also known as Air Forces Africa,
supports U.S. Africa Command via command and control of air forces
to conduct sustained security engagement and operations as
directed to promote air safety, security and development.
For the foreseeable future, 17 AF will operate as a functional staff without
assigned weapon systems, headquartered at Ramstein AB, Germany.
At time end of 1977 17th Air Force was equipped with the most modern and
versatile combat weapons in its history, ranging from highly sophisticated
fighter aircraft to an extensive network of radar equipment that provided
tactical air control in the European theater. These aircraft included the
single - seat, all - weather F- 15 fighter; the twin - seated F- 4C/D/E aircraft; and
the RF - 4C , equipped with the most modern reconnaissance systems available. In
addition to its tactical fighter force, 17th Air Force was assigned two
squadrons of OV-10 forward air controller aircraft , a squadron of heavy lift
CH-53 helicopters, two operations Squadrons flying the C- 130E, and a support
squadron equipped with UH -1N helicopters and T-39s.
A year later 17th Air Force lost its airlift support mission when MAC
assumed control of the UH-1N helicopters and the T- 39 support aircraft. At
Camp New Amsterdam, the Netherlands, the 32nd Tactical Fighter Squadron began
receiving F-15 aircraft. By year' s end, the squadron possessed 16 Eagle s .
Under a program dubbed Creek Realign III, 17th Air Force F/RF - 4 aircraft
underwent extensive relocation to compensate for the aircraft displaced by the
F-15 conversion at Ca mp New Amsterdam and the introduction of A- 10 aircraft in
the United Kingdom.
Seventeenth Air Force units saw significant improvements in force
structure during the first half of the 1980’s . During the fall of 1980 , both
the 36th Tactical Fighter Wing and the 32nd Tactical Fighter Squadron
transitioned to the newer F- 15 C/U models. In April 1982 the last F- 4D left
Spangdahlem Air Base, completing the 52nd Tactical Fighter wing's conversion
to the F- 4Es. The 86th Tactical Fighter Wing received its first F- 16C for
maintenance training in its conversion from the F- 4 to the lightweight F- 16
Fighting Falcon in September 1985, while the 50th Tactical Fighter Wing began
preparing for its transition from the F- 16A to the F-16C in 1986. In April
1986 the 86th Tactical Fighter Wing received its first operational F-l6C
fighter while the last F- 4 assigned to the wing left Ramstein Air Base shortly
thereafter. Seventeenth Air Force lost other aircraft as well. In response
to the congressionally - mandated ceiling on European troop strength, the 601st
Tactical Control Wing’s entire fleet of OV -10A bronco aircraft and its
associated manpower returned to the United States in the summer of 1984.
COMMAND AND CONTROL
The elaborate radar equipment of 17th Air Force centered around a mobile
and a fixed radar network . The mobile tactical air control system guided U. S.
and other NATO aircraft to the location and aid of ground forces. Aside from
the mobile units, there existed a network of six fixed radar sites situated at
strategic points throughout West Germany to keep a continuous watch on
airspace along the Iron Curtain .
Modernization of the tactical air control system continued with the
completion of the architectural design for the expansion of the Allied
Tactical Operations Center Sembach. The elaborate radar system revolved
around the mobile tactical air control system and the fixed radar sites. On
Nov. 15, 1978 , the third phase of a test program to i nteg rate both the
offensive and defensive radars into a Salty Net system was completed
successfully. Seventeenth Air Force also increased its radar coverage and
capability with the introduction and conversion to the Ali/TPS - 43E radar .
On Dec. 17, 1979, USAFE allocated funds for the installation of the
German EIFEL computer system for the Allied Tactical Operations Center. This
system allowed for more rapid receipt, retrieval, procession, and
dissemination of tactical information. Another major program undertaken was
the transfer of radio equipment used by tactical air control parties from the
M-151 Jeeps to the M- 113A1 armored personnel carriers. Besides increasing the
tactical air control parties' mobility on the battlefield, the M-113Als
provided increased protection for U.S. Air Force personnel.
The European troop strength limitation also affected the tactical air
control system as USAFE inactivated several of the 601st Tactical Control
Wing’s tactical control squadrons and flights to meet the manpower ceiling.
But as this mission was drawing down, the role and capabilities of ATOC
Sermbach increased . In July 1982 the EIFEL-1 system at the ATOC reached its
initial operational capability . In May 1982 ATOC Sembach became an integrated
component of the NATO command, control and communications system and was
designated a NATO organization. In August of that year, 17th Air Force
accepted the ATOC bunker after completion of its Phase II expansion. The ATOC
reached its initial operational capability in May 1984.
With the expanded and improved capabilities highlighted above, 17th Air
Force continues to be a key member of the U. S. Air Force in Europe and part of
the allied defense of NATO’s central region.
17TH AIR FORCE UNITS
60 th Air Divisiun, Sermbach AB, West Germany
316th Air Division, Ramstein West Germany
26th Tactical Reconnaissance Wing, Zweibruecken AB, West Germany
36th Tactical Fighter Wing, Bitburg AB, West Germany
38th Tactical missile wing, Wueschheim AS, West Germany
50th Tactical Fighter wing, Hahn AB, West Germany
52nd Tactical Fighter Wing, Spangdahlem AB, West Germany
66th Electronic Combat Wing , Sembach AB, West Germany
86th Tactical Fighter Wing, Ramstein AB, West Germany
377th Combat Support wing, Ramstein AB, West Germany
485th Tactical missile Wing, Florennes AB, Belgium
486th Tactical Missile Wing, Woensdrecht AS, the Netherlands
60lst Tactical Control Wing, Sembach AB, West Germany
6910th Electronic Security wing, Lindsey AS, West Germany
7100th Combat Support Wing, Lindsey AS, West Germany
7575th Special Operations Group, Rhein- Main AB , west Germany
32nd Tactical Fighter Squadron, Soesterberg AB , the Netherlands
601st Air Support operations Group, Frankfurt, West Germany
60lst Air Support Operations Center Squadron, Roedelheim, West Germany
602nd Air Support operations Group, Stuttgart , west Germany
602nd Air Support Operations Center Squadron, Stuttgart , west Germany
RF - 4C
EF-111A / EC - l30H
BGM - 109G