NATO nerve center in transition
- By Dan Verton
- May 17, 2000
FRANKFURT, Germany — A year ago this month, at the height of NATO's air
war against the Serbs in Kosovo, the U.S. military transformed a small airstrip
near Frankfurt International Airport into the nerve center of one of the
most successful real-time surveillance operations in history.
Rhein-Main Air Base is indistinguishable from the urban sprawl that surrounds
the Frankfurt airport. But that's where the U.S. Air Force built a home
for a squadron of joint surveillance target attack radar systems (JSTARS)
aircraft during the war in Kosovo.
For 78 days, the JSTARS crew members took off in full view of the public
and directed NATO aircraft to Serb targets using JSTARS' sophisticated array
of radar sensors and data communications systems.
But Rhein-Main is in transition. The United States on Dec. 23, 1999, agreed
to cede control of the base to Germany by 2005 and will consolidate its
military air operations at Ramstein and Spangdahlem air bases.
Most of Rhein-Main will be transferred to the Frankfurt airport, a spokesman
for the base said.
Although the U.S. reportedly will receive $400 million for returning the
base to Germany, some of the information technology infrastructure upgrades — including underground fiber-optic cable — installed by the Air Force during
last year's Operation Allied Force will remain in place, according to a
spokeswoman for U.S. Air Forces Europe headquarters.
"If it's cheaper to remove it, that's what they will do," the spokeswoman
Aside from a small staff of military personnel, "Freedom Birds" — charter
flights that ferry troops between the United States and Europe — represent
the only major activity at Rhein-Main today, according to spokesman for
the U.S. European Command.
"We are still a contingency base and maintain the capability to do what
we did during Allied Force," the base spokesman said.