Unless you are Washington budgetary policy wonk, you could be forgiven for missing the recent announcement that the National Defense Authorization Act for 2021 is seeking to allocate a $130.5 million to renovate an airfield in central Romania. The request by the U.S. Air Force to make major upgrades to Câmpia Turzii Air Base is great news for both NATO allies and partner nations Ukraine and Georgia in the Black Sea Region (BSR).
Since Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea, the BSR has grown in strategic significance and been the receipt of increased scrutiny from Pentagon policymakers as well as United States Europe Command (EUCOM). The decision by the Air Force to renovate Câmpia Turzii reflects the Pentagon’s growing recognition of the region and the need to match Russia’s investment in the region. According to a Lt. Gen Ben Hodges, former commander of the United States Army Europe, the BSR is a fulcrum of Russia’s current military strategy, “What was once a Russian naval backwater is now the centrepiece of Moscow’s power projection into the Mediterranean … It is evidently more willing to use force in the Black Sea region than anywhere else along the Eastern Flank.” Furthermore, Russia’s growing disregard from the Montreux Convention, regulating military traffic through the Bosporus, only adds to the fluid security situation in the Mediterranean and the Black Sea.
Should the request be accepted by Congress, it would represent the Pentagon’s largest overseas military construction project under the European Deterrence Initiative. Specifically, the upgrades to the Soviet-era base call for dangerous cargo landing pads, additional parking aprons to supporting additional tactical fighter aircraft squadron rotations, fuel storage and a depot to support a deployable airbase system. Per the request, “An adequate tactical fighter aircraft parking apron capable of supporting larger North Atlantic Treaty Organization weapon systems is not currently available at Câmpia Turzii Air Base”, which lends even more credence for the upgrades. At the moment, Câmpia Turzii is home to Romania’s 71st Air Base and hosted NATO’s 2008 Summit.
Building a better springboard in the region is important for several reasons. Primarily, it would allow for more response options to intercept Russian air assets, which has become a regular and dangerous occurrence. Currently, most operations revolve around Mihail Kogălniceanu Air Base in Constanța on the Black Sea coast., A more robust presence would also increase intelligence surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities for the Alliance, at time when getting an accurate picture of moving Russian military assets and patterns could not be more valuable. As Moscow looks to build “a sphere of privileged influence” according to RAND Corporation’s Stephen Flangan, the increasing American presence in the region is reassuring for non-NATO Allies Ukraine and Georgia who are constant recipients of Russia’s intimidation and military exhaust. The upcoming 20th edition of the annual Exercise Sea Breeze, between Ukraine and multinational NATO forces in the Black Sea designed to improve interoperability in the maritime, air, and land domain is vital. As it relates to the region, the Russian Defence Ministry’s announcement that forces deployed for the 2020 Kavkaz exercise will be withdrawn from NATO border areas is a positive development and one less threat to monitor.
As Moscow demonstrates an endless appetite to consolidate their position in the BSR, it is safe to assume the BSR will constitute a major area of security activity and potential flashpoint in the future. Considering this, let us hope the upgrade request for Câmpia Turzii is rubberstamped. Now more than ever, more resources and dynamism in the region is needed. Fingers crossed on the future airdrop of support.